Breaking Free, One Word at a Time

David LiuDavid Liu It was the first day of high school. My new classmates were going around the room introducing themselves, but all I could hear were my frantic thoughts and hammering heartbeat. How many more people are going to speak before me? What if I stutter again? Before I knew it, it was my turn to speak. “Hi, I’m D-d-d-d.” I contorted my face as I tried to say my name, but the words wouldn’t come out no matter how desperately I tried. When I finally managed to utter, “David,” I gasped and felt the blood rush to my cheeks. In horror, I looked around the room to see some of my classmates snickering; others simply looked confused, staring at me and unsure how to react.

The Start of Social Anxiety

I have had a stutter for as long as I could remember. My friends in middle school were accepting and supportive, but things changed on that first day of high school. For the first time, I felt ashamed of my stutter. From that point on, every time I met someone new, answered a question in class, or read aloud, I told myself that I must not stutter. It dominated my thoughts, the worry and anxiety overwhelming almost every aspect of my life. I felt hopeless.

I told myself I must not stutter, it dominated my thoughtsAt some point, I could no longer bear the anxiety. I wanted to be freed from my stutter, which I saw as a defect in my speech, and I felt I could not do it alone. I decided to join a stuttering support group, where Robert Wellington, one of the long-time members of the group, shared with me the technique he used to overcome his stutter: deliberate stuttering. He explained that stuttering is like quicksand -- the more you struggle, the more you sink. I was locked in vocal tension, sinking deeper until only my head was afloat. To break free, I had to stop struggling. I had to stop hiding my stutter.

The Challenge of Public Speaking

I trained myself to get comfortable with the uncomfortableSo, I pushed myself into public speaking. I gathered the courage to join DECA, a business competition where I presented my solution to a real-world scenario in front of a judge. I took the opportunity to speak to hundreds of parents and eighth-grade students about my school’s STEM program. Every step of the way, there was struggle and fear, but I practiced reading aloud every morning, identifying parts of my speech pattern I wanted to improve. In the end, I pushed through every time, and each success made me more confident in my speech, regardless of the stuttering. One word at a time, I trained myself to get comfortable with the uncomfortable, rewiring my brain to believe it was okay to stutter.

The Freedom of Disclosure

My stutter is a part of who I amI am now seventeen years old. I still stutter, but I have stopped resisting it. I can now speak freely about it to my family and friends. I realize my stutter is not a flaw in who I am, but a part of who I am. I have become more optimistic after witnessing my greatest struggle become a source of strength. I embrace diversity because I have accepted my stutter as a part of what makes me different and unique. I welcome challenges because I have seen how my stutter has helped me grow. It has shaped me in more ways than one.

Going forward, I will continue my involvement in various support groups. Whether someone has OCD, Tourette’s, or stuttering, everyone is bound by our common struggle of self-acceptance. By sharing my story, I hope to inspire others to embrace their differences and pursue their aspirations. Recently, I met a peer who also stutters and even inspired him to join DECA by sharing my own experiences.

I have accepted my stutter, and that renders it powerless. Fear is a stutterer’s self-imposed prison, and I have broken free.


David Liu lives in Markham, Ontario. This fall he is headed to Western University to start a new chapter in his life.