Mark O’Malia, M.S., CF-SLP has experience at AIS as a client, graduate student intern, and staff clinician. Below is his story, in his own words. Check out his bio on our Staff & Board page.
The Courage to Stop Running
I remember sitting up nearly every night as a child, calculating all of the different speaking situations that I had to navigate the following day. The self-defeating chatter in my mind was endless. I was in survival mode. Speaking situations felt like landmines, with the inevitable explosion being total and utter humiliation over the way that I spoke.
I started stuttering in my early childhood. Easy repetitions and prolongations quickly evolved into tense, effortful blocks, which tumbled into avoidance, silence, and fear. I became acutely aware of the surprised or perplexed reactions that I received from others, and eventually, I felt that my only choice was to hide. Hide my thoughts. My opinions. My shame, frustration, and guilt that I could never stop my halting speech no matter how many tools or techniques I practiced. For nearly 15 years, I compromised myself so I would never have to turn around and see the monster glaring back at me.
As I entered my twenties, I realized that running away from my stuttering felt more painful than ever before. It was more and more exhausting to keep pretending that I wasn’t struggling, and I knew that I desperately needed to find a different way to cope.
It all started with a blind leap of faith. I found a local support group, met others who shared my experiences, and eventually found a program that approached stuttering from a whole-person perspective. This program was right here at The American Institute for Stuttering in New York.
For three weeks, I was absolutely immersed in all things stuttering. I started finding my voice to talk about and work through the toll that stuttering had taken on me, explored and reduced the different struggle behaviors that formed from all of the time I spent hiding, faced my fears, and finally gave myself permission to stutter. AIS gave me the support I needed to finally stop running from myself.
After that, life opened up for me. While I didn’t leave New York with perfect fluency, I left with the belief that I could handle any speaking situation thrown my way. That I could authentically pursue my passions in life, all the while stuttering with more choice and pride than I ever thought possible.
To say the least, it has been an interesting journey. While the ups and downs are inevitable, I found my freedom the moment I made the choice to step outside of my comfort zone. As a therapist at AIS, I am humbled and privileged to walk with clients down their own path towards finding their most authentic voice, and ultimately, finding the courage within themselves to stop running.
The American Institute for Stuttering is a leading non-profit organization whose primary mission is to provide universally affordable, state-of-the-art speech therapy to people of all ages who stutter, guidance to their families, and much-needed clinical training to speech professionals wishing to gain expertise in stuttering. Offices are located in New York, NY and Atlanta, GA, and services are also available Online. Our mission extends to advancing public and scholarly understanding of this often misunderstood disorder.