I have seen the dangers of prejudice, and consequently their effects. Before college I was the target of severe bullying and in some cases coerced into doing things I felt uncomfortable with. It began in grade school where being one of the few kids that stuttered awarded me the nicknames of: Freak, weirdo, moron, and it. Though I had several friends who would stand up for me when I myself couldn’t find the courage to do so, the harassment never seemed to stop. Over time I began to accept it as just a fact of life, that people who stutter are just doomed and shouldn’t be given a chance to shine, only to remain in the shadows. Before long I found myself secluding even further into my shell, even snapping at my friends whenever they asked if I wanted to play a game or just talk to me. Every day when I would go to the bathroom I would recite passages of a book over and over again, which only resulted in me becoming more frustrated and eventually crying in a stall that I was too “stupid” to speak fluently. My parents seeing their son in this destitute state sent me to a school speech therapist, where we practiced pronouncing words that I routinely struggled on. Whenever the therapist would ask me about my day I would just smile and reply, “Oh, my day going great!” knowing full well it was not. Finally reaching the end of my elementary career I couldn’t be more relieved to leave that school and quickly get on with my life. Middle school became more of an obstacle than I realized.
Considering middle school is only two years long, it felt like an eternity. Most of my friends were at different schools so I had to start over from scratch, only I couldn’t find any group or click of kids that would accept me as one of their own. Whenever I introduced myself I would make myself so nervous that my face would become as red as a cherry, unable to even get out my first name. Seeing all of the glares and open mouths told me early on that this wasn’t going to work out at all, so I again found myself amongst others like me who didn’t seem to fit in amongst any group, unfortunately we were all too afraid to form our own group together.
Arriving at high school gave me a glimmer of hope, several of my old friends I saw in class or on the same walk from school, made me feel better. I quickly got back in the grove of things finding all of my friends again, while including their friends in our close circle of pals. Several of the “new comers” didn’t really like how I spoke and became frustrated when I told jokes taking at least two minutes to deliver the punchline, despite my original friends continuing to be supportive of me. What appeared to be four years of hope and new beginnings quickly turned into a nightmare, without notice a lot of my friends began to fight amongst each other with myself in the crosshairs for choosing sides. Some of my friends began to take drugs, some became infatuated with girls, and others disregarded school altogether and stayed home. Reluctantly I choose my friends who were infatuated with girls, since I didn’t want to drop out of school or be involved with drugs. There I was in relationships with girls who never really took the time to get to know me, showing me time and time again all they wanted was sex to which I continued to reply, “No, that’s not how I was raised”. A few years went by and my now even smaller group of friends started to try to convince me to delve even deeper against my morals. Growing up a sheltered life gave me the feeling that I should always obey my parents, and that they are always watching. So when a group of my friends decided after a hockey game we should go see an R-rated movie, I wasn’t on the boat at first. After they continued to hound me as we were walking back to their cars, I finally gave in and went along with them. We didn’t get too far though as me and one of my friends didn’t have a driver’s license. After the person who checked my friends tickets who had a license came to us, I found myself fumbling for an excuse, while I could feel the man’s gaze on me like a hawk. To this day I don’t know if it was by shear dumb luck, or divine intervention but a stranger pulled the ticket viewer aside and talked with him saying we were with him and that he has us covered. My face was as white as a ghost as the ticket checker motioned us to meet with our other friends who were staring blankly at us. Satisfied we weren’t going to be checked again we entered the movie, where the stranger whispered to my friend and I, “Don’t worry guys I have you covered”. I didn’t even pay attention to the movie, I was completely zoned out. Embarrassed and ashamed of my actions I slipped up what we did to my parents when I got home and they were furious, they figured it was time for a lecture on why you should never follow others blindly, which to be honest was more of a appropriate punishment.
In my junior year of high school my mom spoke with my speech therapist, and wasn’t sure what else she could do to boost my confidence. When I got home my mom looked online and found a group called the NSA or National Stuttering Association and that they have stuttering support groups for adults and youth nationwide. She then came across various groups on the site and found there was one in our state. After contacting the person in charge of the closest group, she replied with the directions to the meeting place as well as the days and times they met. My first meeting was earth shattering. I sat with three other people who didn’t appear at all to have a stutter just by outside appearance alone. Our ice breaker exercise was introducing ourselves and saying how we found out about this group. Around the circle we all looked at each other apprehensively until I decided to start, when I encountered my first block word, the people around me waited patiently to hear the rest of my story. The others told their stories, to which I was astounded to find that they too stuttered on certain words or phrases. After leaving the meeting I was determined to come to the upcoming ones.
Several months went by into my senior year of high school where we discussed about our stresses, insecurities, and thoughts on our last year of high school. Talking in this group was like being on a different planet; I even convinced one of my friends who stuttered to start attending as well. Our meetings after our graduation weren’t as frequent as they were in the past, though they still felt like having a natural conversation among lifelong friends. As our meetings drew to a close I left with the realization that there are groups that support people who stutter, and more importantly gives them new confidence in themselves, to tackle the world outside the meeting room.
The first day of college felt to me like a new story, a new chapter in my life. Having no friends to rely on made my first two college years albeit lonely, though the people I got to interact with in my classes were friendly and weren’t bothered when I stuttered. To see them patiently waiting until I finished what I was going to say, filled me with relief and joy. Taking a public speaking class last year helped me gain the courage to battle my fear of stuttering, and even though it will be an ongoing battle, I will never forget the moment where at my final speech with tears rolling down my eyes as I finished everyone was crying and gave me a standing ovation. I can happily say I now have more confidence in myself and am no longer terrified of sharing my opinion with others.
My experiences with college and the stuttering support group meetings, even helped spawn the birth of a support blog that me and a couple of my close friends started to help those who stutter, where we talk about how we interact with a world that’s still a tough place for those who stutter. Over the three years we’ve been in the blogging world, it’s come to my attention through emails and messages that our blog is already making a big difference and is making people think more about stuttering in general. This journey that started out very difficult has turned into something that will surely benefit not only me, but generations of those who feel lost and isolated due to their speech impediment. To know I’ve come this far from a troubled start says a lot about me. I know there will always be people who will judge me for my stuttering, which only encourages me more to not be so afraid, merely to speak my mind and say what I have to say despite their prejudice assumptions.