My life-changing experience

Written by Janne

When I look back on my life, I see it as a roller coaster ride – constantly up and down. Since middle school I’ve had periods of depression. There have been times when I felt better and when it seemed as if I didn’t have depression anymore, but then it all came back. Depression is a kind of condition that tends to come back very easily.

It has always been very hard for me to accept stuttering. Most of the time I’ve been worried what other people might think of me. For example, I have a feeling that people who understand that I can’t speak fluently think that I have something wrong with me. In some cases they think I don’t know what to say, but really I just can’t.

The worst day of my life was when I discovered that I could not accept a job because of stuttering. I was very surprised, because I was sure that stuttering does not interfere. The work was to talk to the computer earphones and I had to speak specific words, there and now. I tried this job for three days and by the third day I was so tired of the stutter. I’ve never been so tired, I forced myself to speak, but still nothing. It seems to me that because of trying so hard I think I hurt my tongue or something. Words did not come out of my mouth the very moment I needed them – the very words I had to say. There was also a catch that the words were supposed to sound the same, but mine weren’t. When I got home that evening of the third day, I cried for the first time because of stuttering. That was the first time the stuttering was such a major obstacle that my whole world collapsed. I felt so ashamed of the people who saw it. At that moment I just wanted to disappear.

In relation to stuttering, most of my life I’ve felt lonely about it. I actually had the feeling that I was the only one who is stuttering. I had very big self-esteem problems and I didn’t talk to people much.

Three years ago, I joined the Estonian stuttering  Association and I think it has changed my whole life. I had no idea that stutterers could be so nice, so supportive and friendly. I’ve never seen such heart-warming people. I also started to attend speech therapy evenings, and a few times I’ve organized them myself. All these events have raised my self-esteem and, because I have received so much good feedback, it has changed me a lot.

As for the youth camp, I had plans to attend Italy last year, but I fell ill. Afterward I know it was good that I didn’t come because my English was worse the last year than this year, so I’m afraid I might have been even less involved than this year.

My English is poor, because during my school time more or less all the knowledge went in one ear and out the other. That was largely because my social phobia at the time was very high and most of the time I could only feel anxiety, and it was at a very high level. You know, school violence and stuff like that. I just couldn’t focus on what the teacher was saying. At home, I tried to study for hours, but I couldn’t remember much, because even while being at home, I couldn’t forget the school environment.

Later, I tried to learn English and started from scratch. I think the biggest contribution to my English was made by the youth camp.

Even before my trip to the Netherlands, I was worried a lot about how I would manage. Upon arrival, I began to realize, slowly, that maybe I had assumed for myself too high of a goal. Initially, it quite scared me when I saw how many people wanted to talk to me, I probably hadn’t thought about it. I tried to adapt to this environment. The good thing was that the Estonian team was very supportive and that was probably the reason why it was easier for me to cope with the new situation.

There were many interesting workshops in the camp, which were very beneficial because I had to get out of my comfort zone. In my case, also, since I don’t speak English very well, it was already a challenge to understand what other people were saying. This is amazing, but with each passing day I began to understand English better.

Of course, the Estonian people helped me a lot, translating for me when I didn’t understand. In addition, I prepared a lot for the workshops, at least as much as possible. I confess that this whole program was difficult for me. In fact, really hard, I felt like this kind of camp was the biggest challenge I’ve ever had. I was feeling really anxious and those few sentences I knew in English, I was actually forgetting them because of the anxiety.

My turning point was when, after the active listening workshop, I felt that I cannot take it anymore. It was all too much for me. Then I did something I would never do in front of a stranger – I cried, and I cried a lot. For me, crying is a weakness even though I know I shouldn’t think so. I tried hard not to cry, but the tears did not listen to me. I think I cried at least for 30 minutes. Every time I said something to the Estonian person I was with, I started to cry again. I honestly had the feeling that I would never run out of tears.

After that I remember having „a clearer picture“, something opened up in me.  I felt better, even though I was completely absent from one workshop. Later it was a bit easier because all the organizers found out that my English is really quite bad and that as there were some workshops where one has to talk a lot, I just wouldn’t be able to do it. In fact, with each passing day, I realized more and more how nice the people in the camp were. They were all amazingly supportive and understanding. Thanks to such a supportive environment, it did a lot of good for my development. I really felt safe and comfortable, and the longer I spent in the camp, the more at home I felt. Yes, I still had my social phobia, but thanks to such a wonderful group of people it was easier to cope with.

This camp has broadened my horizons in a lot of aspects: about people, countries, stuttering and most of all – about myself.

I finally got to understand that people who stutter are actually deeper, so very sincere and that they also have a lot of deep and interesting facets – and that knowledge makes the world quite a lot of a better place for me. It was great to get a lot of new and interesting information about country specifics on country evenings. In fact, this very much broadened my horizons and that all countries have something unique. Stuttering is something that is difficult but at the same time it binds the people who stutter and that is a very powerful feeling. In fact, there is no need to be ashamed of stuttering because that’s why I was able to attend this very life-changing youth camp. Stuttering has made me just a person who I am today and I am more than confident that without it I would not have had such valuable experience that I have – all because of stuttering. I came to know myself for many reasons. I realized that even though the goal of going to a youth camp, despite my lack of English skills, seemed to be too high of a goal, in fact it was a big enough goal that I could accomplish. Yes, it was a difficult and rocky journey for me, lots of setbacks, lots of tears, etc., but I did it. I involved myself and did as much as I was able to, and I think that as a result I did quite a lot, in spite of the fear that was constantly inside me. Finally, I was more confident, I felt better in such a large company and I realized that, for me, the camp there was a very big step forward. Especially because of difficulties one actually learns the most. In fact, I really liked the camp and I really enjoyed the surrounding environment, and all and everything that was there.

Despite the fact that I did a lot of workshops, and all of it mostly at the expense of breaks, I’m very grateful that I took the time to prepare, because thanks to this I was able to participate as much as I could. Thanks to all this, I was able to make such a huge leap for my own development and these workshops were exceptionally good for my development.

The evening of the open microphone was very wonderful. I was actually surprised that I took part in it and the idea for it came to me that morning. I didn’t have much time to prepare, but enough time to write at least something. I think I was able to go to the open microphone just because I didn’t have time to worry about it and that I went on stage relatively early. Honestly, I’ve never been shaking so much, I think my whole body was shaking, and not to mention my voice and the fact of stuttering. But the more I talked, the easier it became and finally when I finished it was incredible that I did it. Then after that I got so much support and applause that when I got back to my seat I cried, again. The whole evening was very emotional, so in the end I didn’t even understand what I was crying for.

Thinking back, it is very life-changing to cry, sometimes a lot, because it solved a lot inside me. For example: I am no more ashamed of writing about crying anymore, not ashamed of writing that I cried. In fact, crying is not a sign weakness but rather a sign of strength, because I dare to express my emotions – because I dared to stand out for who I really am, because I dared to be vulnerable. 

Finally, I want to write that I am very grateful for the opportunity to attend this camp. It was very important for me, the journey was difficult, but in the end very important for my personal development. I am grateful to have met so many nice, understanding, caring, supportive people. Because, in fact, thanks to the other wonderful people who were there at the camp, I got the experience I had. Without you, I wouldn’t have advanced so much in the camp. I am grateful to the people who came to look for me in my room, in the few moments when I decided to escape. Because of just that I decided not to give up and try to participate as much as I can.

Now that I think back to our time at the camp, I have such a big love for you all in my heart, because spiritually this camp created a very powerful feeling inside me. I’m sure that if I should get another chance to take part in this youth camp, I will be talking more English and that all of this is not so hard for me. Because I developed a lot in English and I am actively studying it. After such a camp, it will be easier than ever.

Long live the stuttering because this is actually the best thing that has ever happened to me!

My life-changing experience

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