Written by Liana
This was my first youth exchange. I’ve heard about this camp when I was in speech therapy and my therapist mentioned about it. I was curious and excited that I told my father about it, to which he said you don’t need those types of things, they aren’t necessary.
My father isn’t a mean man, far from it but like many people who stutter people around them say these types of things, especially to people like me who are hidden stutterers, because they don’t see what is truly behind stuttering. Shame and guilt. You feel guilty you couldn’t say what you wanted to because someone cut you off what you were about to say or the shame you feel when you can’t say your own name because you have a block. We are raised with this mindset that stuttering isn’t real and it’s something that can be easily cured with confidence and other means etc. The tricky part with stuttering is that everyone has stuttered but not everyone is a stutterer. This causes many people to say and do things that they think are helpful but are in truth are harmful. I’ve had friends tell me ‘’maybe you should have a notebook with you, so you could just write down what you want and show people instead of speaking’’. Thinking these types of comments are supposed to make me feel better. These types of ‘’helpful’’ comments are just making it worse for people who stutter. It makes us feel inaccurate about our speaking abilities and question what we can do.
I don’t believe the people around us saying these things are mean or doing it out of hatred, but simply out of ignorance. Most people don’t seem to understand that stuttering can be a vicious circle where the harder you try the more you stutter, so it isn’t that we aren’t trying but simple it’s something that we can’t control.
What you can do for a person who stutters is to be patience. Don’t look away from them when they are stuttering, keep eye contact and listen to the other person. Even if your intension is in the right place, we don’t need your unprofessional advice about how to speak, we just need to be heard.
Nothing made me more undoubtedly sure about that necessary feeling of being heard then being in this camp with other people who stutter. I’ve always felt insecure and lonely with my stuttering, which made me avoid eye contact with people out of embarrassment and shame of not being able to get my words out. But being in this camp together with people who knew exactly that feeling was life changing. I felt like I could stutter and look someone in the eye without feeling like someone was going to judge me or rush me. I could even stutter for 5 minutes and people would still be there, looking me in the eye and waiting to hear what I had to say. That feeling was impowering. I never felt that way so strongly before. It was amazing but bittersweet feeling knowing that all this time the problem was never in me but simply in those people who treated me poorly.
The week flew by so fast yet I felt like time had stopped because I was living in the moment every second I was at that camp. I didn’t check social media to fill my boredom, I didn’t over think about how I spoke, why did I stutter in this situation or why couldn’t I have gotten that word out faster. But even in this heavenly time loop I was still me. I had my sad moments during the camp because I realised how much people treating me poorly had affected my self-esteem. I always believed that I would be happy if I didn’t stutter, that I could do so much more if I didn’t have this ‘’obstacle’’ in fort of me all the time. But in truth, the fact that stuttering wasn’t the thing making my life sad was something that was hard for me to accept. It felt bad knowing I couldn’t blame stuttering for the solo reason for my low self-esteem and problems which was a painful realisation. I always knew stuttering wasn’t the only reason for my issues but it was painful to feel those negative feelings even in this ‘’heavenly’’ place. I started to feel like there was something wrong with me. That feeling was very strongly present during the camp until I gave my speech about something personal in my life. And I did something that I avoided doing the whole week in this camp in fort of people. I cried.
I wanted help and someone to comfort me but I didn’t want to show weakness. I didn’t know how to ask for help by telling more about myself because I was afraid that even in this safe place someone would hurt me. I feel a little silly about it now but looking back it just shows that if you want people to love you and get to know you more, you have to be honest and open up even if there is a risk of being hurt.
After that open mic speech I gave, I could feel the acceptance. People came up to me and told me that I had made them emotional or cry. And that made me cry again (lol). The only regret I had from this camp was that I should had been more honest when I wanted comfort and to talk to someone when I needed to from the start.
It’s very hard going back to regular life after being around people who were so supportive and understanding because sadly like many people who stutter I don’t have that same support group back home. Which made leaving the camp hard. I think all of us cried at one point during the camp (especially open mic, that was a tearjerker) and many of us cried when we had to leave. But after I got came back home I wrote this on my Instagram:
This week was a very emotional week for me. I had the pleasure of joining erasmus young people who stutter camp in the Netherlands, during this I met 40 people all around Europe who all really touched my heart. I gave a speech about something really personal in my life, surrounded by cameras and film crew which I never imaged I would do. I got letters, gifts and so much praise after my speech that it made me cry (again). I got such loving and amazing friends in such a short amount of time. I gained a support group who truly was there for me during my emotional moments. I never believed I would gain so much from this camp and that I would be so comfortable around people when I stuttered. I truly thank all of you who were there for me and for always supporting me. I hope we all meet again soon ❤️
The power of finding your own tribe of people who know your hardships of going through daily life with stuttering and even with mental health was something I will never forget. I believe even small things like having that mutual understanding is something I think everyone needs to feel at least once in their life to be understood for exactly who you are.
Going to this camp I met so many people who made me feel safe and comfortable enough for me to be able to be myself, which was to be able to stutter around you and to be heard. And for that, I would like to say thank you once again.