Never Lose Who You Are
Posted November 5, 2011on:
I feel inspired to write this post based on two things I have encountered recently.
One comes from a discussion on the email list group Stuttering Chat. I have been a long-time member of this list. It is an eclectic mix of people who stutter, from all walks of life, different countries, different ages, and most of the regular contributors are male. Some of the comments get very . . . . hmmm, how to say this politely . . . . . they can get quite nasty.
To the point that any new-comer to the group might feel intimidated and maybe unwilling to post an experience, which then defeats the purpose of a stuttering support group, in my humble opinion.
Anyway, we often have what we call “lurkers” on the list, those who read all of the posts, but rarely, if ever post a comment of their own. For a number of reasons, including, I am sure, feeling somewhat intimidated.
This past week, we did have a young girl post for the first time, looking for support as to how best go about setting up a volunteer experience for herself to gain work experience while waiting to get into college. She laments that because of her severe stutter, she has a hard time phoning people and arranging things herself, so she is having her mom do it for her.
The young girl seemed to express remorse and guilt for “letting” someone else handle her affairs. She failed her entry exams for college and will need to retake them next year. She wants to become a doctor, but again, fears her stutter will hold her back.
She was looking for responses, which I interpreted as “she was looking for support.”
I wrote and suggested that she try to re-frame stuttering and see if she could see the strengths she has developed because of stuttering. Things like courage, compassion, effective listening, excellent writing skills (which she obviously possesses, based on her eloquent post.)
One person on the list responded to me, telling me how irritating it is for him to read posts like mine. That it is ridiculous to tell a young person that things will get better, to try to find some good from her situation and focus on her abilities rather than her disabilities.
He stated responses like mine “sugar-coat” everything and are not really helpful to young people. He suggested we tell young people how it really is – that stuttering sucks, that it is hard to be made fun of and feel like you can never raise your hand in class and make routine phone calls.
I admit, I was kind of stunned. How does that help a 17-year-old looking at her future and weighing options, based on things that have not worked for her yet? When I was her age, I was scared, lonely, and felt no one understood me. I would have loved to hear from someone older who had gone through the same experiences and survived, and had the courage to share some of that.
I think that’s important to do. To share our stories about our past with others. I have turned myself around to the point I barely recognize the scared, isolated and withdrawn woman I was merely 5 years ago. Who almost never talked. Who was content to let others do the talking, all because I hated my stuttering and feared negative reactions from others. I hardly ever risked getting a reaction of any kind from others, because I didn’t want to talk, and stutter.
Now, I could care less. A lot of things changed for me. I talk regularly now, (maybe too much) and stutter openly. And most people don’t care, because I appear confident. That’s what is different for me now. And I want to share that with others.
I don’t ever want to lose who I am or was. Because the lessons I have learned along the way can help other people who stutter, especially young people.
The other reason I was inspired to write about this today was that I went last night to see a magnificent, moving theater production of “The Diary of Anne Frank.“
I had asked several people if they wanted to join me. Two said it would be too depressing, two had to work, so I went alone. In a way, I was glad I did. Because then I can feel my emotions unabashedly.
I knew the story: a 13-year-old Jewish girl and her family go into hiding from Nazi Germany. They live in an attic for over two years, and just before they are to be liberated, they are betrayed and captured. The entire family, except the father, perish in the Nazi death camps.
The young girl kept a diary, which was published seven years after her death, and has been produced in movie and stage versions since then.
In one scene of the play, young Anne is talking with 16-year-old Peter, and they are talking about what they would do once they became free. Peter says he would like to experience life not as a Jew, so he can experience freedom and life free of the hardships they endured.
Anne says she would never want that. She would not want to deny her roots. She said, “I would never want to lose who I am.”
That line profoundly impacted me last night, spoken from a young actress portraying Anne Frank, a young girl who left her legacy through words in her diary.
When I got up to leave the theater at the end of the show, tears were streaming down my cheeks. The woman seated next to me turned to look at me. She too had been crying. We just looked at each other,saying nothing. We didn’t need to.
(Writer’s note: I am in no way implying here that Anne Frank’s harrowing story of being a victim of the Holocaust can in anyway be compared to stuttering. There is no comparison.)