Nilukshi Cooray - Just not another woman

Published on: November 2012
I wonder how to define myself, a completely able woman or a differently abled woman? My innate feelings always remind me of the great cross that I have to carry throughout my life. It is not a simple task to admit that I stammer because this very small difficulty in my life encourages people to start pitying me and approach me from a different lens. For some people, I am perfectly fine other than the fact that I stammer once in a while. How-ever, for some other people, I am a woman with a speech and language disability; but for myself, I am a woman but not just another woman.

There is a general saying that no one is perfect. Therefore, each and every one of us carries our own barriers and hardships throughout our life time. These difficulties can be exhibited in speaking, writing, thinking critically, body appearance or dealing with people. Since from an early age, I had difficulties to speak fluently like the other people in public, most of the time, I felt disappointed and vexed. However, with the continuous support from my loving father, I slightly managed my difficulty in speaking named "STAMMERING". He persuaded me to participate in oratory contests and articulate my ideas in a slower motion. He tried to change my future.
nilukshi cooray just not another woman,speaking,writing
Stammering drags people away from having the so called perfect and fluent conversations and articulating one's ideas smoothly. To be honest, at first, I did not feel comfortable at all to express my thoughts (even to tell my name which has six long names) and ideas as I always stuck with some words and some certain letters. Furthermore, during my schooling, because of the misbehavior of some of my friends and even teachers, I thought that I would not be able to become a high profile person. My school friends really loved me but did not understand me. For them, my speeches were great fun. They did not consider my feelings when they imitated the way I spoke. It was tragic. I hated it when they made fun of my way of speaking because after all, I thought that they were making fun of me. That is the unheard story of my school life.

When I entered to my university life, it was much more miserable than school life. The first year of my university life is unforgettable. To my surprise, I did not talk almost at all in any of my classes. I kept silent even when I knew the answers for my professors' questions. I was afraid to stammer in front of my other classmates who were from different other nationalities. Sometimes, when my professors pointed at me and asked any question, I preferred to give the wrong answer or use grammatically wrong sentences to avoid stammering. During those times, I felt very dissatisfied about myself because my professors were not able to see the real Nilu. I received really good grades for my writing assignments but rarely for my presentations. When I had a presentation the next day, I was unable to sleep well. I kept practicing for the sake of finishing it. I did not have the courage to stammer and just be myself. Once when I was doing a presentation in my class, one of my friends imitated the way I spoke right in front of me. I could not bear it at all and stopped my presentation in the middle of it and sat down. My eyes were full of tears. I felt my entire life had paused for a moment. I wanted to tell her that everyone does mistakes and it is not nice of her to let me down in front of the whole class. This small incident grew deep fear inside of me not to speak in the public. However, my very first advisor, Professor Katrina Lewis (someone I revere) understood my special needs and encouraged me to speak. In her classes, she used to ask questions from me to make sure that I was ready to face university life.

Her attention towards my speech and language impediment did not stop just at encouraging me to speak. She spoke to my university head and helped me to attend the Communication Workshop in 2010 in Mukundapur (in India) organized by The Indian Stammering Association. This workshop helped me to learn how to control stammering. Particularly, it aided me to realize that there is no cure for stammering, and I must admit myself as a stammerer to face my life confidently. Dr. Satyendra Srivastava (the workshop conductor) inspired me to view the reality that stammer-ing is not the end of the world. He taught me how to use the techniques of bouncing, prolongation, slow reading and deep breathing to handle stam-mering. To my surprise, for him, being a stammerer is a privilege. I also wanted to make stammering the privilege of my life. I do not want anyone to suffer just because of stammering. I badly want the general public to know that having these disabilities is not our fault and it is how God has made us. I consider stammering as a special cross which God has given me since I am very special to him. God tests people and their ability to survive through giving them hardships again and again. He also wants me to also fall down again and again and then realize it is a part of my life.

I am thankful to my advisor, Professor Katrina Lewis for helping me out when I really needed her special attention. Without her invigorating words, I would not have done many things which I achieved during the past few years of my life. With her kind support and my other professors' encouragement, for the first time in my life, I faced an interview to attend the summer program at Stanford University in California. I must say that I stammered and stammered during the interview but the interviewer was very patient and asked me the same question again and again to ensure that I gave the answer which I wanted to give. She did not laugh at me or treat me in a different way but gave me full support through listening very carefully. After all these hard work, I got selected to attend the Stanford Summer Program in 2011. With all my experiences, it is obvious that hard work pays off someday. Thereafter, I tried many other tasks and both failed and succeeded. However, my failures were my inspiration and great lessons for the future.
It is also true that for the most part of my life, stammering kept me away from public speaking. Am I supposed to let stammering keep me away from the wonderful things which I want to do in the future? My answer is "NO". Stammering gave me enough hardships and now, it is my turn to make stammering to become my privilege. The Third One Young Summit in Pittsburgh (2012) forced me to stand and end my fear towards public speaking and stammering. At that very moment when I went near to the microphone, my whole body was shaking and my eyes were full of tears. These tears reminded me that there are not any more tears to fall down in the name of stammering. At that moment, I felt released. Now, I love the way I am and waiting for a real opportunity to show how talented and wonderful I am in public speaking.

My life struggled and changed with stammering. I am thankful to stammering for being an indivisible component of my life. I am totally prepared to take any chances or challenge to share my experience in public, including any conferences, seminars, and public gatherings, to encourage others who are like me. I think I'm justified in calling myself Not Just Another Woman.
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