Anita S. Blom, born and raised in the Netherlands, is living in Sweden. She worked as an operation manager for the Workers’ Educational Association. She was 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 was a national and international keynote speaker on stuttering, had her own stuttering consultant company and was a project leader of several stuttering projects. She was also a leader of national and international children and youth camps for over 20 years.
Anita, aka Scatsis, has stuttered since she was 9 and had a troublesome youth because of her stuttering. She went from being silent, to giving stuttering a voice, from pre-school children to the European Parliament, now inspiring people who stutter of all ages, they can make a difference. Do check out her previous papers to the ISAD online conferences.
Due to health issues she now has to take it slow, but is still an inspiration to many, acknowledged by Voice Unearthed on the Wall Of Inspiration, and many others. Her device, that’s now been used all over the world is “Sure I stutter. What are you good at?”
A while ago I saw a drone video of the village where I lived in my teens. And suddenly I choked. I thought I was over the traumatic memories from my youth, but just in a flash it all came back.
The bullying. It wasn’t the physical stuff, through physical actions and emptying my bag in the toilet, that hurt me the most. Not even them calling me “fish”, as I opened my mouth but couldn’t get the words out. It was the being ignored that put scars in my soul. My peers walking away, turning their backs on me. No one showing up at my graduation party. My teachers telling me I didn’t do my homework simply because I couldn’t speak in front of the class, telling me that I was a hopeless case and should stop studying, and even denying me to sing on stage, as there was “no space”, and instead placing me behind the stage background to sing.
The non-acceptance. From my parents to whom stuttering was something wrong, attention seeking, and meant to be cured or hidden. From my teachers who told me to “just stop stuttering, seeking attention and being a nuisance in class, taking up so much time stuttering” and I would have friends and better grades.
The betrayal. From my first SLP who physically abused me and the second one who mentally abused me. The quacks who promised a 3-day “cure”, and then blaming the client for being the reason why it didn’t work.
I tried to commit suicide, but (luckily) failed, and tried to keep my head above water through playing the saxophone. I was in five different bands, as they never judged me, my music was fluent, and I was missed when I was not there. They were my lifebuoy. One band even made me a goodbye video when I moved abroad. 🙂 Another lifebuoy was theatre and singing. One of the bands used to have a boring annual meeting. Until I asked some mates if they would join me and do some theatre sketches, which became the annual highlight. Yes. Me on stage. I was not only the actress and singer, but also the presenter. As on stage, I didn’t stutter. But again, that very band from my village turned their back on me when I told them I was moving abroad, and they went from being my friends to completely ignoring me my last months, now making fun of my speech.
Today, years later, I know I can. I finished school despite a very serious viral illness that kept me away from school for months, speak several languages and moved abroad. I’ve travelled the world as a speaker, THANKS TO my stutter. I’ve addressed PWS and SLPs, pupils and teachers, politicians and even the European Parliament and even had a job as a translator during a meeting about a subject I knew nothing about. I went back to school as an adult, not for the sake of learning, but to simply face my demons, stayed for two years, and got straight A’s in ten subjects, all from languages, math, psychology and leadership. They asked me to stay for a position as a teacher, without even having a teaching degree. And even raised the bar by letting me teach IT to all teachers in my village, and teach English to a class of dropouts! Me. Who feared and hated school! Who was told not to aim for higher studies because I was a hopeless case. And at the age of 40 I wrote a poem to my parents and they finally accepted me for who I am. I now have my own family and have friends all over the world.
So what made me bounce back? That first guy approaching me at the swimming pool, asking me why I was sitting alone, as obviously the group next to me were my schoolmates. He and I were a couple for several years. My first boss telling me I was a great asset, changing my summer job into a steady one. My other boss not employing me for the job I applied for, but for a better one, as I had the language skills he needed. My next bosses saw my teaching skills, which I didn’t even know I had. Meeting others through stuttering support groups, knowing I was not alone and I was good enough, and within a few years I was on the local, national and international board. Going back to school as an adult, simply to face my demons and this time having great classmates and supportive teachers. Meeting absolutely amazing SLPs and other therapists who give their knowledge, heart and soul to give me and others the support we need to rise and shine.
All these experiences and people taught me that my future was in MY hands. I still stuttered, from hardly any words to severely, but I had made it this far. Facing my demons, doing the things I was terrified of, no longer blaming every setback on my stutter and having realistic expectations. No, I wouldn’t work as a saleswoman. Not because of my stutter, but because I hate selling things to people who don’t want to buy. No, not everybody likes me, just as I don’t like everyone. My stutter can sound both funny and hard to listen to, so I might as well be the first one to accept it, wear funny buttons and learn public speaking, Speaking Circles, body language, etc. And putting myself out there, talking about stuttering, both in my village and in local, national and international media. I had learned to become resilient and bounce back like that toy clown with the round bottom.
So, what was it in that video that suddenly threw me back into my horrifying childhood? Was it the local dialect they spoke in the video, being very different from the common Dutch? The word “fish”, pronounced as “vusj” being mentioned? It couldn’t be the sites, as the nature there is stunning. Yet… When I drove through that country a few years ago, I absolutely loved the Northern parts, stopped to see the sites, sang for hours, but my voice went silent the more I drove South. On the radio the group Madness sang “Embarrassment” and again I felt it was about me. I remembered another kid in school that was bullied, but I was afraid to interfere, as I was “happy” to finally get a break. And when I came to my village, my smile was gone.
People broke me, but people mended me. They gave me words that lifted me up, pulled me through, made me stronger, and now I was paying it forward. My husband taught me I was worth loving. At work they told me I was a great co-worker. My friends taught me to no longer strive for perfection (who wants to be with a perfect person anyway?), but to simply be good enough. My new teachers taught me I could do anything I set my mind to. My new classmates taught me they were afraid of speaking in public even more than me. Mindfulness taught me SOAL, to Stop, Observe, Act or Accept, and to Let go. NLP taught me to exchange bad memories with good ones. John Harrison taught me speaking skills and to love speaking in public. Fluent people taught me their fear of speaking is way bigger than mine. And oh those kids who asked for my autograph, who fought over me sitting next to them and told me “I want to be your friend” and “How can I stutter” when I came to their school to talk about stuttering and bullying. They helped me to open up my own Pandora box with memories I’ve been desperately trying to forget (kids ask the darnedest questions), to face and explain, and to finally bounce back.
So, after being frozen watching the video from my village, I shook it off. I’m no longer living there. A few years ago I went to a school reunion to be able to close the door to my past. I told the bullying teachers the impact they had, told the new headmaster to make sure the school (including that dreadful cellar…) is a safe place for all, and found myself, literally, in the center of the attention with my former classmates when we all shared about our lives, and the wow’s and sorry’s were many. And I could finally move on.
Today the memories from my youth are like a puppet theatre. I replay them to others. They are education material. About how it shouldn’t be, and about how it can be. Because my story is not standing on its own. During my many years of being a camp leader for children and young people who stutter, I kept on hearing stories similar to mine, but still happening today. Too many children are still being bullied. Too many teachers still don’t see the skills behind the stutter. Too many parents and clinicians focus so much on fluency, they forget about the pride and joy of speaking on itself. We focus on those who stutter. Those who come to the therapy room. Those who come to stuttering support groups. But they are the survivors. We need to focus even more on those who stopped talking.
Do we want a world where fluent speech is rewarded through friendship, grades, recognition, jobs and stuttering means failure? Or do we accept people as they are, celebrate the ISAD and acknowledge those who are “feeling the fear and doing it anyway”, just as we cheer for the warriors at the Paralympics, and combine acceptance and pride with support, f ex through support groups, and speech training based on the wants and needs of the client? And remember, speech training and acceptance are not two antagonists, but go together like a smorgasbord as in my keynote speech, with many different dishes to choose from.
Let’s make our children resilient by giving them the skills to get out of a block but without silencing them by praising only fluency, to love themselves just the way they are no matter their speech, to help them see the many things they are good at and to empower them to go for their goals and don’t let stuttering define them. Help them to find the words and ways to face their bullies, and the pride of having this one day, 22 October, dedicated to them because they are superheroes to whom everyday life is a challenge. And most of all, bring them to camps and online stutter events to show they are not alone.
Lately a lot of VIPs who stutter have been in the media, showing you can be whatever you want to be, and many of them found skills to master their stutter. But to me the real VIP role models are 13-year-old Brayden who addressed the USA. The 16-year-old Hugo who sang for the Swedish Idol jury, telling them he wants to be a role model for kids who stutter. The young singer and rapper making the Sweden’s Got Talent jury stand up and swing. The youngsters who put themselves out there by showing their stutter, comics, poems and stories online. The teens and adult PWS who speak in schools to stop the bullying and make teachers understand. The PWS who go for their dreams, no matter their speech. They are the personified versions of the words resilience and bouncing back. And if you think you yourself can’t make your voice heard, have you ever had one single tiny mosquito in your bedroom? 😉
The hurt, the memories, the triggers, they will always be there. But they turned me into the person I am today. And, as I told a parent who was devastated when she met me, an adult who stutters, suddenly realizing her child might not stop stuttering: “I seem to have turned out alright, don’t you think?” 😉 So let’s all join hands and create a world where PWS proudly joins in on my quote that’s gone viral “Sure I stutter. What are you good at?” 🙂
Keep talking and happy ISAD!
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