When I hear the word “stutter”, many thoughts and feelings go through my head. This has been a word I have heard all throughout my childhood and is a word which I believed defined who I was. From the first moment around the age of 8, little did I know I would be entering a journey full of challenges, hardships, and strength.
Being Different... and Unique
Growing up I did not truly understand my stutter, and why I had it. When I looked around at my peers, it was so difficult to comprehend why they were able to talk so well and freely, while I had great difficulties forming sentences and trying to get my thoughts into words. I would avoid specific words, rely on my sister to do most of the talking at family get togethers, and would talk very fast in order to get out all my thoughts before any stuttering tried to creep in. This ultimately diminished any self-confidence and made me feel like an outcast. I would always ask myself “why was I given this stutter?”. I was never able to fully accept who I was, and because of that, I tried to hide my stutter from the world.
I always believed that once I got older, I would grow out of my stutter and I would be able to talk ‘normal’. But what is ‘normal’? We live in a world where everyone tries so hard to fit in and be accepted by society. However, how boring would life be if everyone was seen as ‘normal’ and didn’t have any variety or differences to them. After years of denial and shame because of my stutter, I realized that my stutter is what makes me unique and different from others, and I loved that. As I continued to live my life with a stutter, I began to understand that all the challenges and difficulties I faced because of my speech impediment not only increased my confidence, but also helped me to become a better person. I learned to accept my stutter and understand that although it is a part of me, it does not define who I am. Growing older and going through many life experiences has taught me that my stutter is not something I will grow out of and is something which will be with me for the rest of my life. Understanding this helped me to accept and love my stutter and has allowed me to be a more empathetic person.
Advocating for Oneself and Others
There is very little awareness about what stuttering is and how you should respond to someone who stutters. Because of this, I always felt the urge to become an advocate for stuttering in order to create more awareness and discussions about the topic. People who stutter have the unique ability to teach others how to be patient, how to give their full undivided attention, and most importantly teach people how to be empathetic of the struggles of others. For so many years I hid my stutter and wasn’t able to fully embrace myself and live my life as my true self. I decided that I was done living a lie and wanted to be fully open about my stutter. After attending my first CSA conference last year, I was amazed at how many people there were that stuttered and were going through the same battles as I was. After this event, I began to get more involved in the CSA community, formed new friendships with people who stuttered, and started to have open discussions with my family, friends and even strangers about living my life with a stutter. Being so open and vulnerable talking about my stutter created a sense of empowerment in myself as I was finally able to talk about something I have been hiding for majority of my life, and I was also able to inform others about a topic which was not known or spoken about much.
Not Giving Up on Dreams
For so many years I lived with constant fear about my future, such as if I would ever get into my dream school, be able to get a job where I can interact with others, and live a life full of happiness. I always believed that due to my stutter, I would not be able to achieve anything big and would have to settle for a life which I did not want. Today, I am proud to say that I am in my fourth year of Honours Kinesiology at the University of Waterloo, with hopes of becoming a Physio Therapist. I have always had a passion for helping rehabilitate individuals who have undergone injuries and teach them various ways on how to heal and get back to their regular daily activities. For the longest time this was a dream I believed I could not achieve because of the amount of social interactions and conversations needed with clients, which I believed I could not do because of my speech impediment. However, today, I am now more confident than ever that I will be able to achieve my academic goals with a speech impediment, and not let my stutter hinder me, but instead push me to work harder and be successful.
Although my journey with stuttering was not easy, it has taught me so many amazing aspects about myself which I wouldn’t have known if I did not have a stutter. From living a life suppressing my true talents and abilities to now living a life without fear and humiliation of my stutter is such an exhilarating feeling. My story does not end here. It’s just the beginning. I’m excited to continue living my life as my true, authentic self and not letting anything or anyone stop me. My name is Leah. I am a person who stutters. But I am also so much more.