About the presenter: My name is Marija Cvetkovic, I am 28 years old. I was born and live in Zadar, Croatia, southern Europe. I've been stuttering since I was 3 years old. After grammar school and 3 years of high school, I spent one year in an U.S. high school in the state od New York. I have a bachelors degree in kindergarden teaching but work as an accountant. I am a member of Croatian Stuttering Society since 2001; mostly I am active on our online Forum.

You can post Questions/comments about the following paper to Marija Cvetkovic before October 22, 2003.

Breaking the cocoon and discovering who I am

by Marija Cvetkovic
from Zadar, Croatia

I uttered my first words when I was three years old, which was pretty late. Usually there is that blabbering phase every toddler goes through (e.i. bah-bah, vah-vah) but I didn't have it - I went straight for the sentences. Mom says.

In kindergarten I was annoyed when we were supposed to tell a story because my kindergarten teachers didn't get that I JUST CAN'T DO IT and the thing with me not being able to do it and them forcing me to do it can only make me feel inferior, ashamed, frightened and in the end - angry (toward them and toward myself). And so often I used crying to release my anger. They should have said: "OK, while we're talking, Maria will draw us a picture to go along this story" - especially since I was good at drawing. But even if I wasn't, they should have thought of that. I'd learned to read before I went to the kindergarten, and I could count to 100 before anyone in my group. Grammar school was better than high school. I was embraced well, mostly as the best drawer in the class, and probably because of my personality (although I didn't know then and I've found out only recently that I have one). Sadly, I can't draw a horse any better now than I could then, so I would say that my drawing talent ended its development right about 8th grade. I didn't pursue it.

My average grades were A's and B's and I would end the year with an A-/B+ average. I wrote poetry in our school's literary section and was very frustrated not being able to read my poems aloud to another people in the way that I had heard them in my head. A couple of times my poems were read on a local radio station together with others from my school, but it was nothing like I would have read them. It was VERY frustrating. During periods of my mother language, Croatian, or any foreign language period, I would never read aloud. I feared reading and the teachers knew that so they didn't force me, although I suffered not being able to read - because I thought, if I didn't stutter I would read better than all the other students. Why are they hurrying so much; look, he skipped the whole word here!; how can you NOT read this right?! I always knew the answers in my French or English classes, I would even whisper it to others, but when the teacher would ask me to repeat it aloud, I would block and I couldn't. So many times I knew the answer, I knew a story about a topic, I had a question that no one else thought of, but I had to bite my tongue, realizing I would not be able to say it aloud. And reading papers? A living hell. I'd always read it 20 times at home, only to break into tears in the classroom the next day after not being able to utter the first sentence in five minutes. Luckily there were always volunteers wanting to read it for me.

At the end of 8th grade many girls wanted to be in the same class again (a reminder: we stay with the same 30 people from 1st to 8th grade, than usually change to a different group from 9th to 12th). But not me - I wanted to go into a whole different environment..

I was the only one who enrolled in a biology-oriented high school. The whole first semester I was a lone wolf, I would sneak out from every lunch period (which lasted for 25 min.), I'd go buy a snack, and return to the class just before the bell rang. So, by the time everyone in the class formed cliques and met new friends, I was still very much apart from everybody. I joined a group of three girls but interestingly enough, every time the four of us would walk down a street, it seemed like a street was made exactly for three to walk in a row, no more. So I would let them walk in front and I followed. Somewhere around that time I felt courage to arrange with my home room teacher and these three friends that I write an essay, presenting myself to the class. One of the threesome, Elena, read it. For me it was a big deal but I have no idea how the class took it. Some of them said their eyes got teary, but it's more likely that they had just listened out of politeness . Today I don't even want to remember it. I wouldn't want to go through that kind of exposure today. And today, I would have done everything different in high school anyway.

During 10th and 11th grade there was a war going on in Croatia so the class didn't see each other much. Although I loosened up and found my dear friend Gorana in that class, I still feared the school atmosphere. I still cried if my name was called out and I couldn't say the answer because of a block. I was misunderstood by many professors who failed to see the challenge in my problem, who didn't try to find some solutions to make me equal with other pupils. They would say: "Take it easy, don't rush, I used to stutter too when I was little" That was the last thing I wanted to hear. They didn't see what a humiliation that was for me in front of the class. Those were the moments when I felt like shooting them. Or me.

What would have been a better way to handle it? COME TO THE BOARD AND WRITE IT. But it wasn't all that bad. Since I couldn't tease the professors myself, I kept writing down all the so called "pearls of wisdom". It is quite a lovely collection to read and laugh.

After 11th grade I left for United States for several reasons. First was that I was scared of graduation (which includes an oral exam before a commission of three adults) - I knew I would HAVE to speak in front of the commission; and I would have rather run away than go through that. Then, equally important was the war situation, and constant invitations from my two aunts to come to the U.S. I left in the summer of 1993 and returned home in the summer of 1994. It wasn't a hard thing to do, leaving home and going so far away, because I wanted to close the doors and start over from the beginning, in a completely new environment where no one knew me or my problems - and if they didn't know my problems, I could pretend not to have them. I can say that this logic works extremely well. I would recommend it to everybody to leave home, to throw him or herself in the water and start swimming alone. A small note for Europeans: if you have an opportunity to study in the US for a year, leave during 10th or 11th grade and not the 12th because if your intention is to come home for college studies you'll have big problems with gaps in your knowledge

. In the U.S I breezed through school because I already knew a lot of things from, say, 7th grade. I did very well in writing, and all in all I was a "nice girl" but it was my own fault that I didn't do more, which I could have - if I hadn't stuttered. It was my hurdle, although no one there seemed to mind and they did everything to make me forget about my stuttering. There wasn't that frozen look in their eyes when I would block; no whispering, no giggling. Everyone was so warm to me, so considerate, cooperative; it was hard to believe! All of that finally led to me coming to a realization that my peers had since they were in kindergarten -- that I am as important as anybody else, that my opinion weighs equally, that I can say what I mean, I can say I disagree, I can sometimes say something stupid, or make funny faces, I can be who I feel I am and not be ashamed of it - and moreover, it is even expected of me. To be Marija Cvetkovic, the one and only Marija Cvetkovic,. Today I feel if I hadn't gone to America then, who knows what would I be like today, but I am sure I'd still be limping in my social-emotional-psychological development. I thank my aunts for inviting me there!

After my return from America I barely made it into a Biology-Nutritional College in Croatia's capital Zagreb. After a year of resting my brain cells in an U.S.-school it was hard to get along with all the new material to be learned and my will for studying had melted away. I left our metropolis and enrolled in a kindergarten-teacher 2-year college in my hometown Zadar. I got my diploma in 2001 so now that's my professional calling although for the time I am in a totally different line of work. During the summers of 1997 and 1998 you could have seen me joggling with beer-glasses on a city beach Borik. I was a bartender. Regarding speech, that job was a great challenge. I had heard stories that people who stutter were getting fired when they tried working as waiters (a guest would laugh at them or complain to the boss). But I went with my head against the wall - again. And it all worked out more than well because I was the one behind the bar and there were a couple of children who stuttered who came asking for a drink. This way I saw how it was from the other side. I saw what a pity it was when people were afraid of me just because I was behind the counter, and how much I had missed doing the same thing, being afraid of that salesperson behind a counter. It is so simple to be simple and you're more dear to everybody being in the same level with them. There is no reason for me to feel superior behind a counter, and equally, no reason for a person in front of the counter to feel inferior. Most of the childreen are aware of this when they are 6 years old and they fearlessly go buy bread, and here I am, realizing it at age 22! But better late than never!

When I was 17 I hated myself, people and my life, but now I am more than satisfied with how the things have arranged. When I was 17 I thought I'll always stay the way I was then, but it is just unbelievable how much a person can change and what numerous beautiful things can happen when you lift up your head out of your own mud and allow those things to happen. Of course I still stutter and I have my good days and bad days, but there is so much more to life than stutternig, things I couldn't conceive as a teenager, basing my whole life upon my stuttering, upon my flaw -- like a horse that has blinders on. It is terrible to waste youth in a mud, yet worse, a mud of your own making. And all it takes to get out of this mud and switch to a beautiful meadow of life is a bit of courage (because even a bit of courage is really a lot), two or three firm bangs upon a desk with a fist, two or three YES's and two or three NO's at the right time - and the curtain rises. Finally you'll see who you really are. And from that point on everything goes upwards.

Then you'll become so important to yourself that you'll make - like I am making right now - your web-page. Not because you're being conceited, but like in the L'Oreal commercial: because you're worth it!

You can post Questions/comments about the above paper to Marija Cvetkovic before October 22, 2003.

June 17, 2003