My Disability, Speech Impairment
I almost died when I was being born. The doctor told my mom to prepare the funeral arrangements. I can't believe my mom heard those horrible words. Well, as you can tell, I am here, alive. I proved that stupid doctor wrong. I was born with a cleft palate, underbite, and other health issues. My mom had a hard time feeding me because of how my mouth was. I had multiple operations. Most of my younger memories consist of being at the hospital or at doctors' appointments and my mom taking me to the taco stand afterward.
I had a hard time pronouncing words. Of course, it didn't help that English was my second language. My first language is Spanish. I had speech therapy at school for many years, which I hated. First, my mouth and tongue would hurt for practicing movements that I wasn't used to doing. It was challenging since I have an underbite that made it hard to make the correct sounds. Second, speech therapy made me feel different, and I felt alone since I didn't know anyone else that also needed to do speech therapy. I remember learning about a classmate also going to speech therapy, and I got excited that someone else went too. I wanted to be their friend but was too shy to talk to him. I also learned that he didn't want to let anyone know that he did speech therapy which made me question whether I should hide that I go to speech therapy. Third, I hated leaving my classes. I liked my speech therapist, but she would always pull me when the class was doing something fun, not when there was a test or days where we read aloud.
Kids would make fun of me for the way I spoke. I remember often coming home and crying in my mother's arms. I remember her sweet words to me. But, most of them, I felt, were sweet lies. I knew she was only trying to comfort me. I knew no one would understand the pain of having someone make fun of you for something you have no control of. My big sister has always been my protector, defending me from kids making fun of me. It wouldn't matter if she had to stand up to a boy. I felt bad putting her in those situations but I loved knowing I had her on my side because I knew how hard she hit. I also remember her friend defending me too on a school bus so I guess I always had angels around me, protecting me.
As I got older, I was able to learn how to speak better. However, when I talk fast, I run into problems because I don't pronounce things correctly. One of the scariest things I did was apply for a hotel operator position. That changed my life. From not talking much to talking all the time, answering phones was a significant change. My voice was gone after a few weeks because I wasn't used to it. No, it wasn't easy. I had people being rude, saying they couldn't understand me, yet they could tell me the information I told them. I had people asking if I was wearing braces because of how I sounded. Many times, I put the phone on pause to take a break to cry. I had the same experiences in person, and those are worse.
Today, I am writing this after doing multiple jobs that required me to talk to patients, clients, community partners, and consumers. After hosting what feels like hundreds of workshops and presentations. I still got it done. I did not let anything stop me. I am not going to say it's easy; it's not. I still get nervous. I get anxious. My thoughts of "what if they don't understand me," What if they are making fun of the way I speak," still run in my head. Sometimes, I feel sad afterward, but I move forward. I learned not to be too hard on myself, overcome my challenges, and not care about what others think about me. Sometimes it's hard not to care about what others think, but I realized the less you care, the freer you feel. Cheers to many more workshops, presentations, conversations, and now singing (at home, of course).