Sybren Bouwsma – 41 years old from the Netherlands. I have been stuttering all my life and I am a board member of the Dutch Stuttering Association Demosthenes and a member of the board of the International Stuttering Association (ISA). I attended and organized several international meetings for (young) people who stutter. I have a background in Public Administration, Ethics and Social Research and graduated as Outdoor Life Coach. I am now working as Nature Coach and Online Coach and facilitate workshops in international projects focussing and building up self-esteem and confidence. See orangeraven.org for more information.
The theme for this year is bouncing back and becoming more resilient. In my life my feeling towards my stuttering has changed from an obstacle and limitation in my personal life to a driving force in my personal development, in my social skills and in my career as a coach and facilitator. In a way stuttering has helped me to really ‘be’ myself and at moments I can see it as a gift. For me what follows is a story of my way to resilience.
I am quite a happy and positive person, but throughout my life my stuttering has given me a feeling of being different and feeling not good enough. For a big part of my life I have dealt with a low self-esteem.
Particularly in my youth stuttering and some other conditions have set me apart from other people of my own age. I was often by myself, it was hard to make friends and I also was bullied. Because of my stuttering I had trouble defending myself verbally and it was hard to feel at ease with myself. I really hated the fact that I had a stutter. I had dreams of becoming a social worker but felt I could not realize this dream because with my stuttering I would not be able to do it.
After growing older and after many speech therapy sessions, I slowly learned to accept myself and started to see that stuttering is just a small (but important) part of me. I also realized that because of my stuttering I actually had developed other qualities: my ability to listen, to be non-judgmental towards others and to have empathy. These important social skills helped me in making contacts as people easily felt at ease with me and I grew in self-confidence.
Even more important is that in my early 20’s I became active in a self-help group with people who stutter and then later I became a member of the board of the National Stuttering Association in the Netherlands. For the first time in my life, I met a lot of other people with a stutter. I felt an immediate connection. With stuttering as sometimes being the only thing in common, I learned to deal with a wide range of people, and this helped me in my communication skills and in my personal development.
Shortly after becoming active in the stuttering association, I also found out there was a lot going on at the international level with people who stutter. I attended a more than week-long European youth meeting with people who stutter and made friends for life. At the global level, I became inspired by the activities at the World Stuttering Conferences in Croatia, Argentina and the Netherlands. Although my stuttering still impeded me in several aspects of my life, I also started to see how it brought me in closer contact with other people and with myself. And that I could better use my stuttering to help achieve my dreams instead of just hating it.
My stuttering recently became a driving force in my personal development and in my career. A few years ago I lost my job in social policy research due to a reorganization. Of course I was disappointed about it, but at the same time I felt this was an opportunity. I had a desire to help other people and to work in a natural setting. After some research I found a training in Outdoor Life Coaching which I participated in so I could learn how to become a life coach in nature. But as a life coach and working directly with people I felt my stuttering could be an obstacle. However, I decided to follow my heart, take the plunge and see how I could find my way in that.
After my training in Life Coaching, I came in contact with an organisation in Italy that wanted to organize European youth meetings in nature. With my international contacts in stuttering I realized this would be an ideal setting to organize activities for young people who stutter. With my own youth meetings in mind, I know this would be a great way for young people to connect, to learn from each other’s experiences and culture and to grow in self-esteem.
To date I have organised four European meetings with young people who stutter (unfortunately, the meeting for 2020 was cancelled because of COVID-19) and several others with young people with other disabilities. I also became involved in an international project to write a manual about stuttering for social workers and so from a side path, I am connected again to my earlier dream of social work. Recently, I have decided to focus on public speaking and storytelling, among others by giving workshops at the World Conference in Iceland last year about ‘Another way to look at bullying’ and ‘The positive side of stuttering.’
Of course there are days that I really would like to speak fluent and to not feel different. But in a growing number of my activities I can see that my stuttering is a gift and that it is the only way I can truly be myself. I really hope that with my activities I also can inspire other people who stutter to start to see their stuttering as a gift.
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