Thank you. . .
I want to thank Judy Kuster and EVERY person who is on this stage. I am honored, and humbled to be here. I also want to thank you all for coming to today, and being advocates for your clients. I encourage you to listen to every word spoken. It may save a life. Mentally, and physically. A speech pathologist saved mine. You could do the same.
So who am I? I'm Scott Palasik. I can stutter sometimes. And, I thought of about suicide and attempted to kill myself. . .
The following story I'm going to tell will be told backwards, because that's how I reflect on my life, now.
Not supposed to. . .
I bought a house this past May (2013). Our first house. I'd heard that when you buy a house there is a stack of paperwork this high (show with hands) and you sign so much your hand hurts (shake hand). That is 100% and completely. . . true. . . But I loved it! When I was done, I walked outside, looked at all of the trees in our back yard. We have an Oak tree, Catalpa tree, two Maples, and a Birch tree. It was spring so the trees were blooming and gorgeous. I looked up between the green leaves and pink blooms from the Catalpa tree and found the blue sky above and thought. . . I wasn't supposed to be here. . . and yet I was. . .
My first faculty job was at the University of Southern Mississippi. Wonderful people, some of the greatest students I've ever had the pleasure to meet and hang out with in a classroom. Students used to always stop by my office. I was on the first floor and everyone who passed by would subsequently drop in. One day, an undergrad I kind of knew walked in, followed by a graduate student I knew, and a faculty member I was getting to know. It was the end of my first year, May 2011. They presented me with teacher of the year, as voted on by the students. As I received the award I was honored, humbled. It took all I had to not cry. I of course hugged them all, I'm a hugger (show hugging motion). After they walked out I held the plaque up and saw my reflection in the gold plate. My heart sank as I thought, I wasn't supposed to be here. . . and yet I was. . .
I had a cousin, Jonathan. He taught me what being larger than life really was. He has a stocky guy, red hair (slick back hair motion), had a smile that would light up a room and a laugh to fill that same room. He cared for everyone, saved everyone. He was also bipolar. The day after Christmas in 2005 he killed himself. After a lot of tears, and writing a song about him I thought. . . .It wasn't supposed to be him. And yet, I was still here.
I've been in bands, wrote music, but it wasn't until I started doing solo shows that I realized something. I was 25, and I had control of my actions. I booked my first gig. Nothing long, but I was playing solo songs I wrote, and a few covers. I stood on an empty stage, in a smoky bar. My hands shook. As I looked at my hand to start strumming I saw the bones through my skin, and thought. . . I wasn't supposed to be here. . . And yet I was. . . I then began to play.
My first client in graduate school was a little boy who was five years old. He was perfect! I'd been waiting for client just like him, because he was just like me. I had to call his mom before the appointment. Of course at that time I stuttered quite severely . It was something like this "Hi, I'm, ah-ah, S-s-, ah, like, ah-ah, Sc-sc-scott, ah-ah-ah, S-s-scott ah P-p-p-alasik." She immediately called my supervisor and said, "He can't see my son." I was heartbroken. I cried. About eight weeks later I had this same boy in a stuttering group I was leading. For some reason my speech becomes more relaxed around kids and dogs. Who knew? So, I now have two dogs. Anyway, after the session the mother came up to me and said, "Scott, I didn't know." I watched her walk away and I remember feeling so proud of her, as a parent. Then, I thought, I wasn't supposed to be here. . . yet I was.
One of the proudest moments of my life was when I graduated with my associate's degree in business and accounting. I was sitting in an audience of undergrads getting their first college degrees; in accounting, automotive, and other junior college studies. My mom took like a 1000 pictures, which I love her for. She still uses film! She's amazing. . . I remember looking around that junior college gymnasium and thinking. . . . I wasn't supposed to be her, and yet I was. . .
Supposed to be?
So where was I supposed to be. . . . Dead. . .
I worked in a seafood and steak restaurant as a cook from the time I was 14 until about 23. The summer before I began college I stopped talking. Didn't say a word. I was so angry about stuttering, pissed at stuttering, pissed at the world. This resent and rage became a way of life stripping away feelings of joy, and love. Particularly toward myself.
I would wake up thinking about death, and fall asleep hoping I wouldn't wake up. Many nights I would drive home. . . closing my eyes, listening to sounds of the road. Hoping to end the bombardment of darkness in my mind and the horrible speech I was producing. With my eyes closed and driving I imagined hitting a car, a tree, a house, going off the road and into a bottomless ravine, never to be seen or heard of again. No pain, no sorrow, no anger, no nothing.
These nightly drives with my eyes closed half the time became regular. Sometimes I would veer off the road and swerve back just missing mailboxes and trees. Sometimes I'd be inches from oncoming cars. I was getting closer to what I THOUGHT I wanted, but couldn't close the deal.
A friend of mine at work noticed my behavior changes. She noticed I wasn't talking, smiling, or engaging. She got mad at me and said , "Bub" (my nick name)! You gotta talk." I just shook my head (shake head). She called a speech pathologist right there in front of me. I had nothing to lose, I was certain I would be dead within the year, so I didn't care who talked to me, or talked at me like most people did (or so I thought). So I said I'd go.
My first therapy session was interesting. I walked in, nothing to lose. Death was soon, I was thinking about other ways, like walking into traffic. The SLP said, "Hi." I sat down, she said, "Talk to me." I asked, "About what?" She said, "Anything." Our first session was mainly quiet. I didn't say much but my typical one word answers. She didn't say much, waiting for me to just talk. I stood up and she said, "Same time next week?" I thought she was joking. I again thought, "I have nothing to lose," and I said "Okay". I came back. I came back every week for a year and half. Every week until I graduated with my associates degree and was about to start school at Syracuse in Communication Disorders. She kept me in the room. We never talked about suicide.
At Syracuse I decided I need more speech therapy, so went through a full eval. A group of graduate students, doing the testing asked THE question. The one question I hadn't talked about openly. They asked if I thought about suicide. . . ..I said, "yes." They referred me to a psychologist on campus who I saw for a year. We talked about all kinds of things, most I can't remember, but I was still alive. This was the first time I had talked about my suicidal thoughts and my attempts.
I owe my life to my friend Gina, my first SLP Jackie, and a team of students along with one psychologist at Syracuse. Without them I would be dead. . . I wouldn't have graduated with an associates, BA, MA, PhD. I wouldn't have a band, a solo career, my first client. I wouldn't have been around to mourn the memory of my cousin Jonathan or know what it feels like to buy a house.
Now, I stand before you an SLP, an artist, a counselor, and a survivor of my own mind. And I say, proudly and humbly, I was supposed to be here. . . Today. . . thank you so much.