Become the Inspiration

Maria Steller

I’ve been stuttering since I was 2. My mom says that she first noticed it when she got me a pink toy kitchen for Christmas. I was so excited, I couldn’t even speak.

So basically, I’ve been stuttering for pretty much my entire life. I didn’t really ever think very much of it. I wasn’t self conscious about my stutter, it was just part of who I was.

Childhood Memories

Even though I was at ease with my stutter, sometimes I would be in situations where people just stopped listening to me because I was having a block (when you can’t make any sound) or would start to get bored or even disengage because they couldn’t always understand what I was trying to say.

I remember vividly one time in kindergarten when I was playing an imaginary-game with my friends. I was having a great time. After a little while I tried to go up to one of my friends and say “Pretend that I…” I couldn’t make any sounds. I tried desperately for about 15 seconds before the girl just turned around and walked away without saying a thing.

I don’t know why that specific memory stuck with me, but I just remember feeling so upset, and wondering why she had walked away and thinking that she just didn’t want to talk to me.

Grades 1-3 were pretty much the exact same thing. I didn’t really care about my stutter, and instances like the imaginary game from kindergarten were happening less and less, because more and more people knew that I stuttered. I never really got upset about my stutter, and never really gave it a second thought.

Getting Help

I was in speech therapy through my school, and I loved my speech therapist. She was so nice to me, and would play games with me every session. She was great for my self-esteem and gave me some great strategies to help minimize my stutter, but she hadn’t really made that much of a difference in my speech.

I actually came up with my greatest strategy on my own. Around the house, I remember singing constantly. When I sang, I never stuttered. It was like a break in the tension in my jaw. I didn’t have to take twice the amount of time to say what I wanted to say, it just flowed out. When I was having a block, or was having a particularly bad day for my speech, I put all my words to tunes that I made up, just randomly on the spot. I loved to sing, and still do. I tried doing the same thing with other people, but they just didn’t seem to understand like my family did. 

Dealing with Bullying

In grade 4, everything started to change. Two girls were bullying me, leaving me out of things, and whispering about me behind my back. I went to a very small school, and there were only five-six girls ever in my grade after kindergarten. All of us were friends, whether we liked it, or not. 

I thought that both of the girls were real friends, because they never said anything mean to my face. I was confused. I was always upset about something that one of them, or both of them, had said or done. When people asked what had happened, I could never actually tell them exactly what they had done because I didn’t know. They just made me feel terrible about myself and left me out, especially when they whispered and laughed when I was trying to talk to them. I don’t know if it was just about my stutter, or if they were just being rude, but it wasn’t cool either way.

That’s when my stutter started getting worse again. My self esteem was lowering, and I never wanted to speak in class again. I used to love reading in front of my class, doing presentations, and answering questions. Suddenly, I dreaded it. I felt the stares of my classmates as I spoke, and could practically feel their boredom.

I spoke less and less, and my parents were very worried about me. Then, just before Spring Break, the pandemic struck.

Going Online... And Loving it

School was moved online, and everyone was upset about it. Everyone except me.

People would go on and on about how work was harder, and they missed seeing their friends, but it was the happiest I had felt in a whole year. Afterall, I could still talk to my friends.

Online work was so much easier than work in person. My grades rose, and I was feeling a lot better, mostly because I was away from my bullies.

It had always been a dream of mine to be a YouTuber, so with my parent’s help, I started posting videos.

I posted music, vlogs and even gaming. My followers didn’t seem to mind my stutter, they never talked about it in the comments. It was a creative outlet that I could use to just do the things that I enjoyed, and no one would criticise me for it.

We have a couple of high risk people in our household, so I went into Virtual Academy when grade 5 started. I had the most amazing teachers EVER, and had met some really cool people, who I could relate to a whole lot more than the other kids in person.

My stutter was getting better, and better, especially since all the kids accepted me, rather than wailing on me because I spoke differently than them. That was when I posted my first video about stuttering, Yes I Stutter and I Don’t Care. The sound quality wasn’t great, but it got hundreds of views. That was a turning point for me. I stopped being afraid to speak up.

My friends and I would call everyday during recess, lunch, and after school. We would play games online together, and talk for hours. I was the happiest I had been in two years. The more I stopped caring about my stutter and posting about it to social media, the more confident I felt.

Around that time, I started taking singing lessons online. After that, people started commenting on how nice my voice sounded, boosting my self esteem.

The End of Lockdown and Back to School

The next year in grade 6, I went back to school in person. I had decided that I was done with the two girls’ mind games, and started hanging out with people who had stayed in touch with me during the pandemic. I started an Instagram account, because I wanted to share my love for dance, another way to communicate without stuttering, but also to make a place for positive messages for people who stutter. What we have to say is worth repeating.

One of the two girls who was bullying me had signed up for the majority of my dance classes and had started doing the same thing at dance that she had been at school. I tried my best to ignore it, and I was coping a lot better with it than I was in grade 4, but it still made me feel terrible inside.

Of course, they didn’t stop talking about me behind my back at school, but like I had been doing at dance, I tried to ignore it. I was mostly successful. By then, there were about 10 girls in my grade instead of 5 or 6, so I hung out with other friends, and the mean girls hung out with the people who believed the mean things they said, and didn’t really make an effort to talk to me when I went to online school.

My stutter was still better than it had ever been, and I was grateful that I wasn’t forced to be around my bullies all day anymore. 

That year, YouTube Shorts had become a thing. It became the main thing that I posted on my channel. They got so many more views then the regular videos that I posted, so I made more and more of those. I hit 100 subscribers around the time I switched over, so I just kept going.

At the end of the year, at the year-end dance showcase, I won a trophy for my dancing. I was so happy that my hard work had paid off. Now, everytime I look at it, I remember that all the things that the mean girls said and did, were worth nothing. It wasn't a comment on me, just on their own self-esteem.

The Power of Music (and Youtube!)

In grade 7, I started branching out more. I made a ton of friends who never even commented on my stutter. It felt amazing to be with people who cared more about who I was, than how I spoke.

That year, I started writing songs about how I felt all those years, and kept improving my singing, learning more pre-existing songs. I went full-throttle into my music and even performed in front of at least a thousand people live when I opened a fashion show. I even moved on to the provincial level singing competition, after winning a music festival with an online entry with the song “You Belong With Me” by Taylor Swift.

I still danced, even with that mean girl in my class. I didn’t pay attention to her, and paid more attention to my actual dance than the social politics. 

My best YouTube short, But you don’t look like a teenager, now has over 171,000 views and I’m about to hit 400 subscribers! Sometimes I wonder if my bullies are still out there, disliking my content, but so many other people seem to like it that I don’t worry much about the haters. I have found my place in the world and they need to find theirs.

The school year has just started, and I’m in grade 8. To this day, I still have to use strategies, and my speech crashes if I don’t, but my stutter is part of who I am, and I’m fine with it. After grade 4, I started to embrace my stutter again. It's a part of who I am, and what makes me unique. No one should be afraid to speak their mind.

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