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Learning to Love Myself as a Person Who Stutters

“I hate you!”

“You’re such a weirdo.”

“Why can’t you be like everyone else?”

“You’re slow… were you left behind when brains were given out?”

“Clearly a mistake was made you were born.”

I can’t even begin to describe the onslaught of insults I heard growing up. No matter how old you get, some scars never go away, no matter how much you’d offer in exchange to make that happen. Some of them have actually made me laugh because of the ignorance that was on display.

I’ll never forget the time I was in the midst of severely stuttering when a question was asked of me by a tourist when I was walking around the National Mall. As I was fumbling with my response, I heard, “You know, we just came from the Georgetown Steps where they filmed ‘The Exorcist’ — maybe we can exorcise his speech.” Then there is the opposite end of the spectrum, where you can instantly recall how your emotional wall was wrecked by the jagged blades that sink into your flesh and haunt you forever… such as the time someone thought I was epileptic because my facial tics were on full display for everyone to see.

I won’t lie and say my life is perfect. It literally has taken me every ounce of my energy my soul has to arrive at the point where I can embrace the fact I am not just a person with one disability, but two — stuttering and Asperger’s. I know it can be brutal to have to face the world with one, but when you realize you have two… all hell can break loose in your world. I keep thinking back to the classic scene from the 1976 Oscar-winning film “Network,” when Peter Finch’s character, Howard Beale, says the legendary line, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” Except with me, I’m looking at the sky and yelling, “Are you happy now? You’ve had your fun… why did you choose me?” But I now know the answer why.

I have been endowed with these special gifts I can channel into bringing about positive changes in the world. At a time when everyone is running around yelling and being angry all the time, I can provide hope and just maybe make the world a little bit better for someone. I feel like the last of a dying breed, but I believe I am living proof that you can make something out of yourself. After so many years of struggling, I have accepted that life is about the simple things. It’s about gratitude. It’s about waking up and realizing you can commute to work and have something to claim as your own. It’s celebrating having an apartment, a small piece of hospitality where you can have independence to come and go as you please. It’s the smile on your face when you come home at exactly 5:23 p.m. (or later, after the gym) and a black cat is perched right there on the windowsill, intently focusing on you with laser-like accuracy. Lastly, it’s reflecting on this journey you’re on, and screaming happily with glee that you’re alive.

The hardest things in life don’t have road maps. I know that it might be a cliché to say that, but it’s true. If only there was a MapQuest for my high school years, my college experiences and my professional struggles, maybe things would have worked out differently. Most of us have dreamt about what things would be like if we were “normal.” Yet I am normal. I am part of the human race. I have learned how to love myself. I feel now it is important to share my strategies with you.

First, and most imperative, surround yourself with positive influences. Seek to find those who will encourage you to grow and transform your life. Sometimes the relationships you once had will deteriorate through no fault of your own, and if they do, that’s quite all right. I once read that someday you’ll reach a point where you find out who never mattered and who always will. These are the people you will want to remain close to.

Secondly, do something to give back. “The takers eat better, but the givers sleep better.” No matter what your challenges are, you are needed. We all have value. When it comes time for us to leave this earth, you want to be remembered as someone who was unselfish with their time. I am extremely active with the National Stuttering Association, an organization that means everything to me. It’s allowed me to be accepted and flourish, but it has also helped me to realize that your words matter. Regardless of your disability, your stories can help raise others up. Get involved!

Finally, allow yourself to fully enjoy this wild ride we call life. Yes, there will be times when you’ll want to scream “Stop the world, I want to get off!” There are going to be frustrations and setbacks where you will question your direction. The Declaration of Independence could not have said it any better when it speaks about the inalienable rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” We also have another one to add: the right to belong. That’s something no one will ever be able to take away from us.

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Getty image by SanderStock.