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Don’t let obstacles keep you from success

  • Published
  • By Col. Chris Berberick
  • 375th Medical Operations Squadron Commander
People who know me, may or may not know that I stutter. I have stuttered since I was a young child. I remember starting speech therapy before I started school. I continued in speech therapy well into high school. There is no doubt my speech fluency has markedly improved during the course of my life. Don't worry, I do not intend for this to be a lesson on speech impediments or tricks for overcoming stuttering but more my own thoughts and observations on how we view ourselves.

I do not recall ever being held back in any aspect of my life by my speech. I was a smart, outgoing and inquisitive child. I could read well before I ever started school. I read aloud in class, and participated in plays and skits. As I got older, I was involved in spelling bees, debates, and held leadership positions in many extracurricular activities.

I had strong social skills, was invited to dances and parties and had many friends. I was respected by teachers and every job I had as an adolescent I quickly moved into a leadership position. I was sometimes teased for my speech, but I don't have any strong memories of being bullied or even being made to feel bad.

Don't get me wrong, I wish I didn't stutter. I have tried multiple avenues to try and "fix" myself. Hypnosis was interesting, but not at all helpful for me. I tried a couple of different therapy techniques, some involving visualization and a tapping technique. This seemed to help but only for a short term.

A physician friend told me about medications that appeared to be helpful for some people with stuttering. While I stutter in various settings and occasions it is definitely more pronounced when I am nervous. My idea was to try the medication at times when I needed to speak in front of large groups. The medication works by decreasing your heart rate and blood pressure and theoretically leading to a decrease in anxiety. The problem is, my blood pressure is naturally low and my resting pulse is below 60 bpm.

We agreed that I would try the medication on a weekend, because there was a chance I would have side effects. Well, within 15 minutes of taking the pill I couldn't lift my head up. I was so weak, I couldn't even sit up I could only lie flat on my back with my feet raised. I had a headache and was nauseous--essentially fading in and out of consciousness. I also knew there was nothing I could do until the medication wore off, which took about four to five hours. Later that evening, I knew I had suffered the effects of bradycardia (low pulse rate) and hypotension (low blood pressure).

I knew my body had reacted profoundly to not receiving enough blood flow or enough oxygen to maintain normal function. As a nurse, I also remembered that most people go through an adjustment when beginning any cardiac medication. So, I decided I would take it again ... at bedtime. In my delusional mind, this would help because maybe I could sleep through the negative effects.

Well, when I went to work on Monday and told my physician about how the experiment went, they were very unhappy with me. We had a long discussion about why I would put myself at such risk after the first failed attempt. The physician was then rightfully unwilling to go any further with this trial.

I was disappointed but understood their position. I did a lot of soul searching. I do not feel stuttering has held me back in any way. So why was I willing to endanger my health? I am privileged to have a career I love. I am married to a wonderful man and have two beautiful daughters. By anyone's measure, I am successful.

I struggle, because even to me the mere thought of being bothered by my speech is petty and small compared to the burdens of others. But, I admit that at times it bothers me. It bothers me more that it bothers me ... go figure.

I have never had to overcome any obstacle because I stutter. But I am the person that I am because I stutter. I have developed self-awareness. I have learned to be measured in my response. I choose my words carefully. I know words that I struggle with and replace them with other words. I practice (repeatedly) if I know I will be speaking in front of large groups.

We all struggle with something. Some people may not test well. Others may have difficulty in social situations. Some may feel they are not as knowledgeable about certain subjects. Many people struggle with passing their PT test. We all have obstacles in our lives, but we don't have to let them keep us from success.