|About the Author: My name is Andrea, I’m 24 and I’m a person who stutters. I live in Göteborg, Sweden and I’m currently a student enrolled at Linnéuniversitetet for a class in creative writing. I also work part time at a sports department store. I’ve stuttered since I could talk and spent many years struggling with acceptance. Now I’m involved with the stuttering community in any way that I can to spread the word about stuttering. I blog about my daily life with a stutter on www.andreasays.se and together with a friend run a girls’ support group on Facebook for women who stutter in Sweden. I’ve always loved writing and it was for a long time the only way I felt I could express myself. This paper is something I wrote about my experience at this year’s National Stuttering Association’s conference in Chicago. It’s about facing your fears and letting go.|
You’re nine. Your bare knees rub against the cool linoleum floor in the classroom that is now a stage for the day. You wait patiently and fiddle with the sleeve of your shirt while a girl a few grades above you lives out the role as Cinderella; spinning around as if she’s showing off the layered, pink dress for you. It’s this year’s theme week, a week where every student gets the chance to try something new. You had hesitantly signed up for drama a few weeks earlier. You let out a giggle in the role as one of the mice, thinking it’s almost your turn.
The sun sneaks out from behind the clouds and casts a dancing shimmer along the wall opposite the windows lining up on one side of the classroom. The clock on the wall above the white board tells you the school day is just about to end. On the board, which isn’t as white anymore because of all the black lines written with a permanent marker, has this week’s schedule on it. The class only have a week to put the play together, time is short, and the air is filled with middle schoolers’ giggles.
You’re up next. It’s time for your line. It feels like a thousand butterflies is flying around in your stomach. Two lines are over in the matter of seconds and you exhale, thinking that you pulled it off. You already can’t wait for the next run-through. You turn to your classmate who is sitting next to you, but before she can say her line one of the teachers clears her throat.
You nod in reply.
”Do you think you could try to stutter less?”
You’re 24. You’re in Chicago for the National Stuttering Association’s yearly conference for people who stutter. You stare on your lap and start tapping with your index finger on the side of your phone, while the murmur fades out in the giant hall. It’s the weekend’s last workshop, closing microphone, and anyone who wants to take the stage can. It’s time for the next person in line, a girl waits for her turn right by the steps leading up to the podium that is placed on the small stage. You take a quick glance around the room. Your roommates are seated beside you and you register several other familiar faces in the crowd. A friend sitting a few seats to your right notices the panic in your eyes and nods in encouragement. He knows what you are considering doing, he knows you want to and it’s true, you want nothing else. The knot in your stomach grows bigger and you can feel the nausea sneaking up on you. You clench the phone in your hand and leave sweaty marks from your palm on it.
The hall fills over a hundred people. On the patterned orange carpet, chairs are lines up facing the stage. It’s a room made for great events, speeches, and important performances. The ceiling is high, and you feel small. You fiddle with one of the holes of your blue denim jeans, shift in your seat and listens only halfhearted to the girl’s story. Fear gets a hold of you, like it has done so many times before and you always tend to listen to it as if it’s a warning. Don’t speak. Don’t say what you want to say. Don’t open your mouth. Don’t lose control. Run. Protect yourself.
You like talking. In fact, when you were little you loved to perform, to dance and sing, to be the center of attention. But for every taunting laugh, for every mimic, for every ridiculed moment, for every “did you forget your name or something?”, for every glance and for every belittling comment, you’ve become quiet. Piece by piece, you’ve faded out and you’ve fumbled in the dark, but for what? What are you so afraid of?
You take an unsteady breath, because you’ve made up your mind now. You will go up on that stage. As you rapidly stand up and mumble in apology when passing the people in your row, you avoid eye contact with everyone. There are only two people in front of you as you line up, your pulse rings in your ears, and you put a hand on your chest above your heart and it screams at you not to do it. Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. It pounds as if you’re sitting halfway out from an airplane, staring down in nothing knowing you must jump and there’s no turning back. It pounds as if you’re standing in front of your class in high school and you can’t get out the words you want to say, the ones you’ve been practicing a thousand times, the ones you’re repeating in your head over and over again – but to no use. It pounds as if you’re standing with a group of boys when you’re 17 and you shake their hand to introduce yourself, but when you try to say your name, one word, three syllables, six letters, all that comes out is an emptiness that will silent you for many more years to come.
You’re up next. You don’t know how, but suddenly the microphone is only a few inches away. You turn your head up as the wall you’ve built starts to tumble down. It crumbles in the sea of people and you let out a soft ”hi” and ”I can’t believe I’m actually doing this”. Then you cry. And they all cry with you because they just know, they understand, they know your fears because they have the exact same ones and they let you be, just the way you are.
You meet your friends’ tearful eyes and you thank them, because they are friends you didn’t have four days ago but who already know the deepest darkness within your heart and how it’s lit up again. Because you’re not in doubt anymore. You’re not alone. You are good enough. You can do anything.
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