|About the author: Anita Scharis Blom, born and raised in the Netherlands, is living in Sweden. She works as an operation manager for the Workers’ Educational Association. She is chairperson of the local stuttering chapter, board member, international contact and former chairperson of the Swedish stuttering association, vice chair of the European League of Stuttering Associations, and member of the advisory board for the International Stuttering Association. She is a national and international keynote speaker on stuttering and has her own stuttering consultant company. She is also a leader of national and international children and youth camps. She has stuttered since she was 9 and had a troublesome youth, now inspiring people who stutter of all ages, they can make a difference.” Her device is “S-s-sure I s-s-stutter. What are you good at?” firstname.lastname@example.org|
In 2010 I was asked by Pamela Mertz to join her for an interview for her podcast “Make Room For The Stuttering”, and I was proud to do so. Proud, as the podcast is an absolutely amazing collection of strong women, who talk about their stutter and how they deal with life, despite or thanks to their stutter. The title I chose was “Proud of me – Finally!” as it took me many years to accept my stutter and even more to use the word “proud” or “pride” in the same sentence as stuttering. I’m not proud of my stutter. I’m not proud of my glasses. But I learned that, just as I can choose cool glasses or even contact lenses, I can choose to make stuttering a part of my daily life in a way I feel proud of myself. Don’t get me wrong, it took me over 30 years to get there as it was a severe struggle to get past the continuous bullying that followed me all throughout my youth, the non-acceptance of stuttering at home, the suicide attempt, and the struggle to find a job, a partner, a social life, my self-esteem and my self-worth. But I did, thanks to my “stamily” (stuttering family) and true friends who believed in me.
When I turned 40 I wrote a poem, which was my breakthrough towards my parents. They never knew what was inside of me, as stuttering was such a huge taboo in our family. But this poem, changed everything. They suddenly realized the struggle I’d been through and that they almost lost me. From that moment on they learned about stuttering, they followed my journey, my progress and my international speaking assignments and how I now pay it forward. And they were proud. Proud of their daughter who stutters. Until then I was the little girl to my six siblings. The baby. But today I’m the only one of my siblings who travels, who immigrated, who is a public speaker. Proud of their sister who stutters. I was offered a job. Yes, they knew I stuttered, but they also knew that my stutter had made me more determined and focused, but also more understanding towards other people. Proud of their employee who stutters.
Earlier this year I was interviewed by Daniele Rossi for his podcast “Stuttering Is Cool”. Another fantastic podcast where PWS (people who stutter) talk about dealing with stuttering in a fun and uplifting way. The interview shows how far I’ve come and who I’ve become.
But my biggest moment was in 2013. 40 years after my stuttering onset. In my native country, where my stutter started, where people didn’t believe in me, where my stuttering words were not allowed. And there I was, keynote speaker for the World Congress for People Who Stutter, in the Netherlands. The circle was closed.
I’m not happy with my stutter, simply because it’s in my way. It gives me the hiccups. People sometimes cannot wait for me to finish my words. I get headaches and have a problem relaxing my muscles when I stutter a lot. But I feel pride in how I deal with the challenges of life. Even if my stuttering sometimes throws me in the gutter, I still manage to come out of it. So how did I manage to become the person I am today, as my stutter was so tough, I couldn’t speak? Simple. When I was 27 years old I found others who stutter. I saw them speak, I saw them get a job, get married, get children, and do the things they wanted to do, even though it was hard. I was in awe of them leading lives like any other person and I was so proud of them, as I was still wishing I was mute, as mute, in my eyes, was more accepted than stuttering.
I mean, look at PWS. How many people would, after literally and figuratively being foiled, still get up? How can PWS not feel pride when having a job that requires communication skills or a hobby that requires reaching out to loads of people? How about a mother who stutters who speaks up at a parent meeting, a husband who stutters having to make numerous phone calls to help his sick wife, a new employee who stutters who has to introduce himself, a stuttering child who has to give a presentation in school? And these challenges, however small they might seem to others, are major mountains we climb every single day. If that isn’t Stuttering Pride, I don’t know what is! I wouldn’t be where I am today, thanks to these role models. So now I pay it forward.
I’ve been blessed to be a leader of children and youth camps and have been to many national and international meetings of PWS. If you ever doubt that PWS can feel pride, you should definitely go to one. Children performing on stage. Young PWS ordering ice cream in a crowded ice cream parlour. Adults who stutter speaking at the open mike in front of hundreds of people. And some have never done this before, are very scared to do so, but do it anyway. Others are not quite there yet, but have at least taken that first step to come out of the closet to meet others. For them to simply be there makes me so proud! And don’t forget therapists and researchers who do a fantastic job finding breakthroughs. Those who boost PWS to do things they would never have thought they would, and cry their eyes out for plain joy when seeing their clients’ expanding their comfort zones. And those therapists who themselves are not comfortable to speak in public or take that karaoke microphone, but still take that step and rock the house. Proud parents. Proud grandparents. Proud siblings and friends. Not a day goes by when I’m not crying for joy at conferences, sharing their pride.
This year’s theme, Stuttering Pride, has been controversial for some, as the word Pride is so closely linked to the LGBTQ community. But we all share the same meaning of the word. We all want to get acceptance and understanding, wanting to be a part of society without having to hide. To finally show who we really are, out there in the open. To get the jobs and other opportunities like any other person. The word Pride is something we all own, or should own. No matter if you are gay, if you stutter, or wear an ostomy pouch. But why do we first think of the LGBTQ community when we hear the word Pride? Because they USE the word! They OWN it. Just like WE ALL SHOULD OWN IT! Will the first stuttering parade be at the IFA/ICA/ISA world congress in Japan in 2018? Or at the ISA World congress in Iceland in 2019?
Talking about Iceland. Please take a moment to look at this ice-breaking project with members from the Icelandic Stuttering Association, Malbjorg, where they proudly show themselves in a stuttering moment. I’ve seen the amazing photos many times, but they still bring a huge smile to my face. And I hope you’ve seen the videos on the ISA website http://www.isastutter.org/ and Facebook group www.facebook.com/isastutter/ where people from all over the world tell us about respect, dignity and recognition. Many of us don’t like the way we look or sound when we stutter. But look at these photos, these people, who I’m proud to call my friends. Yes, we sometimes look unusual, sound unusual, when compared to the majority. But show me one single person who is perfect. The first person who says “I’m perfect”, isn’t. And would you even like to be with someone who’s perfect? Isn’t being different, all having our specialties, what makes people colourful? Why is different associated with wrong, instead of interesting? The first person with blue hair was unusual. Today we hardly turn our heads. Many of us even like it! The different from yesterday is the normal of today. But it won’t happen by itself.
I’ve said it before and I’m going to say it again. LET’S MAKE STUTTERING SEXY! I’m not talking about showing private body parts, but turning stuttering into something that makes people want to get to know us. There was this guy with the most beautiful blue eyes to drown into, and lashes we girls pay loads of money for. But he was so ashamed of his stutter, he looked down when he spoke. When he told me he stuttered, I was stunned. I was so enchanted by his eyes, I didn’t even realize he stuttered. So wouldn’t it be fantastic if we stutter and people approach us saying “Wow, I heard you stutter. That’s so cool. Do you have time for a coffee and a chat?” Let’s, instead of looking away and hiding our mouths when we stutter, show a smile, like the skilful writer Katherine Preston who wrote “Out With It”, who has the most beautiful smile when she stutters, you simply can’t take your eyes off her.
I made a button saying “S-s-sure I s-s-stutter. What are you good at?” A young guy at a summer camp for kids who stutter saw my badge and his eyes lit up. His mother told me he doesn’t speak much and didn’t like his stutter. So I challenged him and told him he could have my button if he would wear it. After the summer camp he became the chair of the student council of his class. And still wears the button. And now he also has the t-shirt with Stuttering Pride. Needless to say he himself, his family and me are proud beyond words…
For how will people know we’re sexy, intelligent, fun and capable of most things, just like any other person, if we don’t tell them, or show them? How will they know about our struggle and how to help, if we don’t tell them? How will people know there even is such thing as the International Stuttering Awareness Day? We are over 7 billion people on this planet. Let’s all start a butterfly effect. If every adult who stutters on October 22 tells at least one other person what special day it is, we reach out to over 70 million people around the world!!! Not to mention that we get help from all the family members, therapists, students, children who stutter and their friends. Stop hiding, and stop apologizing for something that is not our fault. Start that blog or podcast. Wear that shirt or button. Put that brochure at the library and in the teacher’s room. And most of all, be you. If we manage to show the world that stuttering is simply something we do, the world will see us for who we are.
WE CAN DO IT! The only thing we need to get RESPECT, DIGNITY and RECOGNITION for is STUTTERING PRIDE
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