|About the presenter: Samantha Gennuso has just received her Master's in (ironically enough!) Mass Communication from Boston University. Even though stuttering still presents its challenges, her time at various magazines in New York, including Rolling Stone and Cosmopolitan, has helped her tremendously in becoming more open about her stuttering. It was the American Institute for Stuttering that first introduced her to effective therapy in 2001, and she continues to share her adventures as a stutterer, presenting at the National Institute for Stuttering's annual conferences.|
Listen to Samantha's Podcast by hitting the above.
I honestly thought that I'd seen it all when I showed up in Cleveland, eyes stinging, head dizzy, for my eighth annual National Stuttering Association (NSA) conference. It was a pivotal moment; I was finishing my master's in Los Angeles, a place I'd never been, and I needed the stability of the conference to ground me. I'd been attending this conference for eight consecutive years and it had become more of a social weekend, a way to reconnect with people I only saw once a year, to share the trials of which only other stutterers could possibly begin to relate.
But I was at a serious crossroads, a theme that would prove symbolic that weekend. Pam Mertz, a long time presenter at the conference, had a surprise for us all - a workshop that examined our stuttering in relation to change. What I regarded as strictly a "stuttering weekend" quickly became the culmination of all the real reasons I'd made the overnight trip to be here. My life was changing, and I couldn't blame it all on stuttering anymore.
If I hadn't sat in on this workshop, I probably would not have consented when Pam asked if I wanted to do a podcast with her and be a part of the ISAD conference's Women Who Stutter: Our Stories showcase. I may have wondered what I had to contribute, since I was getting tired of giving the same old stuttering advice to other stutterers. I was starting to feel like a washed up motivational speaker when Pam's workshop on change jolted me back to life. There was so much more to my life than how stuttering affected it and I wanted to make others realize that.
Some changes that inevitably transform us, usually for the better, are college, first job and first love. But stuttering, something I've dealt with since childhood, has always found a way to creep into even the most innocuous of situations, and not always pleasantly. It would continue to seep into what I thought was an airtight adulthood, that even the self-help, self talk, and self examination I had done in the past ten years couldn't completely prevent.
I had discovered the American Institute for Stuttering when I was 15, which targeted my acceptance of stuttering (difficult if you're a teenager with no idea why you talk funny), and I made my way steadily through high school, armed with a new outlook of advocacy for myself that I brandished in the face of insecure teenagers, old-fashioned nuns and mean girls. It was good practice for college, which proved a much more accepting and worldly environment. My alma mater, NYU was a place where, even though stuttering managed to inconveniently trickle into discussions, presentations and meetings, there was enough other good stuff going on in my life to keep it in perspective.
Each experience flashed through my mind as Pam stood before us in that conference room, outlining the changes that had taken a stranglehold on her own life. But her changes weren't only about stuttering either. It dawned on me that in the context of change, stuttering was simply a catalyst to expose deeper issues. I began to think about my life outside of stuttering for the first time ever at an NSA conference - and it was startling.
Though I never let it stop me, stuttering was the first thing I held responsible when I found myself back at home after NYU, unable to find a job, and working at Starbucks (again). True, calling out beverage names before an impatient line of caffeine-starved worker bees seemed more like facing my fears than letting stuttering win, but something had changed. I was no longer the upbeat, optimistic girl at NYU, working at Starbucks to make a few bucks. This time I had no choice but to go back and I was terrified about what it would reveal. Was I really okay with my stuttering? Is this what I'd be stuck doing for the rest of my life? Did Starbucks only hire me because I "had a disability"?
But just as Pam emerged from a painfully life-altering realization - that change, hard change, is a part of life - I too took my life into my own hands and grabbed change by the throat. I first considered speech pathology. But I'm so involved with stuttering already I thought. So I decided to go back to school for the thing I love the most - media.
Choosing Mass Communication, an industry where I'd do nothing but talk, just seemed fitting given my journey so far. I was ready to face change and take responsibility and I'm still doing that as I start my job hunt. I'll never stop. Change is hard but change is good - and no matter what happens, stuttering's not winning this one.