Today is an important day.
It's a day I didn't know existed until this year.
A day that brings awareness to something very personal to me.
A day, that just a few months ago, I would've been ashamed in celebrating.
Today is International Stuttering Awareness Day.
And why is this day so important to me?
Well, because... I am a person who stutters.
I started stuttering at the early age of 5. I vaguely remember attending different types of therapies and seeing various speech pathologists and counselors- without really knowing why.
I wasn't aware I "stuttered" until I got to middle school. I'll never forget the moment I realized something was different with the way I spoke.
I was in the cafeteria lunch line getting ready to order my food.
"I'll have a bbbb-bagel please."
A kid in front of me didn't waste the opportunity to mimic me. "Bbbbb-bagel?" Followed with a snarky laugh.
I just looked at him, puzzled as to why he would say that. Did I pronounce it that way?
I stuttered without realizing it.
I was now aware.
I always struggled with school. Not because I wasn't smart or couldn't comprehend the material given, but because simple activities such as reading out loud, giving presentations, or even asking a question in class, caused so much anxiety and fear that I dreaded going to school.
The first day of classes were the absolute worse!
"Please introduce yourselves and give us an interesting fun fact."
Every time I heard that sentence I wanted to cry.
"Hi my name is Fiorella. I get anxiety when I'm put on the spot. I get flustered having all eyes on me. And my fun fact: I'm probably going to stutter on every word that comes out of my mouth!"
Up until a month ago, there were only three people who I spoke openly about my stuttering. My mom, my dad, and my sister. I never shared with anyone else. Not even my close friends.
It had been my deepest darkest secret that I constantly tried to hide.
I learned tricks and ways to get around my stutter. I would avoid certain situations or words that I knew I would get stuck on. Some days, no matter how hard I tried, every word that came out of my mouth was a stutter.
For someone who doesn't stutter, it's probably difficult to comprehend the affect and power that stuttering has on someone. The constant fear, stress and emotional damage it provokes, is much more than you could ever imagine. After all, everything in life involves having to speak. When you're not able to do so in the manner that you'd like, it's frustrating and debilitating to your self-esteem and worth.
Stuttering is like an iceberg. The visible part, which is the stutter, is just the tip. Most people have no idea that stuttering affects the person more in the internal and psychological level.
It's hard to describe what stuttering feels like. You know what you want to say, but when you open your mouth nothing comes out, also known as a block, or a stutter occurs, which can be in the form of a repetition or prolonged sound. There's no reason why this happens, it just does. Which makes it that much more frustrating.
Telling someone to "slow down" or "relax" doesn't help and actually comes off as patronizing.
Stuttering is a genetic and neurological disorder, where the brain sends the wrong signals to the vocal folds, causing them to shut while speaking. Most people associate stuttering with nervousness because when people get nervous, what do they do? They stutter. Well, more like they experience minor disfluencies - which is different from actually stuttering.
While nervousness can play a factor, it's not the cause of stuttering, as most people would assume. As of now, there is no cure, since the origin of this speech impediment is still unknown.
Research has proven that if you continue to stutter by the time you are 8 years old, chances are you will continue to do so in your adult years. There are many speech therapies that help in controlling and managing your stutter, but unfortunately some of these methods tend to wear off and only focus on the "tip" of the iceberg, not the emotional component.
In August of this year, I attended a three-week intensive program at The American Institute for Stuttering in New York. Little did I know how much my life would change after AIS.
I don't think I've ever been more challenged and pushed to my breaking point than I have in those three weeks I was there.
For the first time in my life, I was in a room full of people who stuttered. Who knew exactly what I was going through. The fears, the frustration, the embarrassment. I'd never met another person who stuttered before the intensive, so seeing and hearing someone stutter for the first time made me feel extremely uncomfortable.
How could a person who struggles with stuttering feel uncomfortable being surrounded with someone else who stutters?
In a way, coming face to face with something I've hated about myself for so long made my stuttering more of a reality.
I had not yet come to terms nor accepted the fact that I stuttered.
I quickly learned that in order to improve your speech, you must first learn to accept it.
Acceptance does not signify you've given up. It just means you are no longer allowing it to consume your life. For so many years, I let stuttering dictate my every move. Infiltrate my mind. Paralyze me with fear.
But at the end of the day, the only thing holding me back, was myself. Not my stutter.
The American Institute of Stuttering taught me to have confidence in myself. To love myself. To muster up the courage to write this post. If you would've told me six months ago that I would be sharing my struggles with the world, I would've never believed you.
But here I am now.
Open and honest.
"Feel the fear and do it anyway."
The real magic occurs when you step outside of your comfort zone. When you confront your fears. When you start to truly believe in yourself and face your demons head on.
I spent a big portion of my life worrying about how people would perceive me if they heard me speak. If they heard me stutter. I wasted my energy stressing over something that was out of my control.
I've come to realize that no one cares if I stutter or not. It's not something that difines me or takes away from my value.
I'm so much more than my stutter.
No matter who you are, we all deal with our own struggles, insecurities and fears.
Thank you Brandon for being so brave and sharing your message with the world in your video. It sometimes does feel like we're standing over a scary ledge. But once you let go of all your doubts and fears, no one and nothing can stop you!
"What if I fall? Oh but my darling, what if you fly?"
Stuttering is probably one of the most misunderstood and complex disorders out there. Even as a person who stutters, I must admit, I didn't know much about it. I didn't want to. All I cared about was finding the magic pill that would make me fluent.
But that's not the answer.
Raising awareness is just as valuable. This is why days like today are so important. It sheds light on what stuttering really is and how it affects millions of people worldwide. But most importantly, it lets people like myself know that we are not alone.
If you stutter or know a person who does, below you'll find amazing resources that has helped me in the past couple of months.
National Stuttering Association: Find local chapter meetings in your area. Attending these support groups has helped me throughout my journey of acceptance.
Stutter Talk: Amazing podcasts that offer guidance and support for someone who stutters. Highly recommend checking them out.
American Institute of Stuttering (AIS): is a leading non-profit organization in the United States that offers state-of-the-art treatment to people who stutter, and support to their families.
Megan Washington TED Talk: One of my favorite TED Talks. Such a bold and powerful speech from Australian singer/songwriter Megan Washington.
Hopefully this post will encourage and motivate anyone who deals with their own struggles, to learn to love and accept themselves. It has taken me until this year to finally achieve that- and I can tell you, there is no better feeling.
"Don't be ashamed of your story, it will inspire others"