Photo credit: Ed Bowron
Stuttering is something that I’ve been dealing with for my whole life. Unlike many other disorders, it’s not something that is immediately apparent to anyone. Not until you hear me speak, anyway. A stutter is a speech disorder<> in which the flow of speech<> is disrupted by involuntary<> repetitions and prolongations of sounds, syllables, words or phrases as well as involuntary silent pauses or blocks in which the person who stutters is unable to produce sounds. That’s copied directly from Wikipedia. The real definition of stuttering is a feeling of helplessness and anxiety, fear and self-consciousness, as I literally struggle for words. It’s almost like drowning- the struggle for breath, the helplessness, the anxiety.
The familiar fears of having to talk to people, fears of being caught stuttering in social situations, self-imposed isolation, anxiety, stress, shame, became too much for me in my first year of university. I was introduced to a good-looking girl at the bar, and I found myself unable to say my own name- the “ssssssssssssssssssssss-am” was excruciating. She laughed at me. She mocked me. I had to give a presentation to my classmates, and it was the single most embarrassing thing I’ve ever been forced to do. Then came the depression.
My own experience with depression is a cycle in which you tell yourself lies...and those lies become true to you. So, you stick to your own truth that you've set up. My truth was: no girl will ever love you- nobody will ever hire you- you can’t even say your own name- you’ll never be able to speak in public. I’m a soccer player, and when I started playing badly, the coaches benched me. They told me that my “head wasn’t in the game”. I isolated myself completely, afraid to interact with anyone but my closest friends. I lost 40lbs. My trust in strangers was gone.
The turning point came when I asked for help. I’m lucky enough to have a family who cares for me, a family that will do anything to help me. So I dropped out of school, and came home to Sackville. My recovery was a slow process, but with the help of the people who love me, I found my confidence again. I did volunteer work, traveled, surrounded myself with people that I could trust, and made the decision to go back to school. By the end of it, I had lost 3 years of my life to depression.
I now know that I’m a fun guy. I now know that everyone likes me. I now know that I’m handsome, and smart, and funny, and cool. It took a long time for me to believe it, and to stop letting my stutter control my life. The lies that you tell yourself can become so real that you start to believe them, and breaking the cycle is not easy. Family is what got me through it. I’m lucky.
I still deal with anxiety on a daily basis, in classes when I volunteer to speak (yes, volunteer!), when I order a coffee ( ssssmall c-offee, please), when I meet people and have to tell them my name. It’s something that I still deal with every day, but I don’t let it control me. I still notice the way people react when I start to have trouble with a word- they break eye contact, they pretend it isn’t happening, they look embarrassed. I don’t care. I don’t hide who I am anymore. As a business student, presentations are something that I do almost weekly. And I’m good at it. Sure, I still have trouble with every sentence, but I don’t care. It’s liberating, freeing, and has given me a voice.
I’m not embarrassed about who I am. I’m not embarrassed about how I speak. I’m not embarrassed to say that I’ve struggled with depression. Stuttering is not what defines me.