Almost 15 years ago I first heard about the National Stuttering Project (NSP). I remember not being sure I wanted to join an organization for people who stutter. I did, however, decide to check them out and see what they were all about and later joined the NSP. I started to get their monthly newsletter, LETTING GO. For a few years, when I received LETTING GO, I would put them aside or read them half-heartedly, saying to myself, "I don?t feel like these people do. This isn't me." I didn't feel I was above others who stutter, but they were able to write about their feelings and were very open about their feelings about their stuttering. I wasn't in their league. My stuttering had always been something to hide.
For much of my life I pretended my stuttering didn't bother me, even though it caused me shame, embarrassment, fear, anxiety, and frustration daily. As a kid and as an adult, I built what I call emotional shelves upon which I placed my hopes and dreams. I thought, "When I don't stutter anymore, I will do this...I can do that... I want to do that... I will feel this..." My shelves holding my dreams were stacked as tall as a skyscraper. Every once in awhile, I'd take one shelf down and look at it. I'd wish for the day that my stuttering would go away and I could realize the hopes and dreams that I had placed upon that shelf. Time passed. Years went slowly by. I still stuttered. And it seemed I would never get to do what I wanted to do.
Some of my dreams were as simple as being able to go to the mall and ASK for what I needed, rather than walk around for what seemed like hours and hours looking for the item. Another dream was to be with friends and take an active part in the conversation without being afraid I might stutter or be interrupted. Other dreams were to make telephone calls without being afraid of being hung up on because I would have a stuttering block and no one would know I was there. My biggest dream was to be able to stand in front of a group of people and just talk.
One day, not so very long ago, I got weary of the "dream shelves" and knew that I HAD to do something to help myself. I called the Speech & Hearing Clinic at the University at Buffalo and asked for help. Within a week I started a journey that helped me to look at my shelves 'the hopes and dreams' more closely. The combination of having a very good speech pathologist and becoming more involved in the National Stuttering Project turned my life around. It's been quite a trip...sometimes it hasn't been easy, and there have been times that I have felt like leaving the thoughts on the shelves! With the encouragement of my therapist and my NSP friends, I realized that I could begin knocking some of the shelves down and start fulfilling some of my dreams.
My emotional shelves took a life-time to build. And they have taken some time to knock down. I now go to the mall and ASK for assistance. I make lots and lots of phone calls, not just calls I have to make, but calls I WANT to make. I go to lunch with friends and find that I can be part of the conversation -- and have FUN doing it. Hopes, dreams and wishes....taken down from those shelves. Now my successes!
I never dreamed that I would wake up one morning and see how many shelves I had taken down. Last summer I knew that my tower of shelves was getting shorter. As Chair of NSP's National Convention in Buffalo, I did many things that I never dreamed I could do, such a speak to a Lion's Club about stuttering and about the NSP, helped with the public relations for the convention by appearing on radio and TV, and the I got up in front of 500 people and spoke for a few minutes a couple of times. My dream of speaking to a group was also realized, with some other dreams fulfilled along the way. Success!
There are still many "shelves" holding more of my dreams that I need to work toward realizing. There are lots of things I still fear, and many things that I think can wait until my speech is better. I know now, however, that I can work on them myself and maybe someday soon, ALL the shelves will come tumbling down. Then I can step over them to the other side -- to being a person who stutters who sees all her hopes and dreams come true!
Bonnie Weiss helped to found the Buffalo Chapter of the National Stuttering Project. She is also a member of the Board of Directors of the NSP, and serves as its National Chapter Coordinator. She works as an administrative assistant/secretary in the Classics Department at the University at Buffalo. At home she is "owned" by two fantastic, fat felines!