Embracing the Unembraceable

Within two days I have had two guys compliment me on embracing my speech.

One was on a date and the other was the cashier at Subway.

During the date, we talked about characteristics we would change about ourselves, if we could.

I claimed that, "I think most people would assume my voice, but honestly, I'd change my chest (what woman wouldn't) or my two little toes because I can't point them downwards."

He replied, "I knew you wouldn't change your voice, you love it and embrace it too much to want to change it."

Glad I could exude such confidence.

The next afternoon, the Subway cashier asked, "Where are you from, I hear an accent?"

I told him it was a speech issue and he apologized for asking. I assured him there's no need to apologize, I actually like it when people think I'm from a foreign country; it's much better than people assuming I have speech issues.

He remarked, "That's pretty cool that you just embrace it, ya know."

Within 48 hours two people remarked on how I embrace my speech, but I can assure you embracing my speech was difficult and it took years to learn. It took years of hard work and convincing those around me that Apraxia, or my speech, is completely fine. It took years just to convince myself that my Apraxia is not a hindrance. That I, regardless of my funny accent, have the same capacity to find success, happiness, and confidence in myself like everyone else.

While these encounters are pleasant, at the end of the day they only see a glimpse of my personality. They don't see the hard work nor the tears that have brought me to where I am today with complete comfort in my own skin and in my own voice. It's not like I could show them my life resume and explain my whole life story.  I only have a few seconds to give them this impression, along with anyone I meet, that I embrace my funny accent.

The only way I accomplish this embrace is through uninhibited confidence.

By loving what people would naturally assume to be my greatest weakness, how on earth could anyone bring me down?  

After these encounters with 'embracing' my voice. I couldn't help but to laugh. I spent the majority of my childhood hating my voice, hating speech therapy, but as a teenager I began to love my speech. I grew confident in it, quickly learning that confidence has more value than the proper 'R' sound ever could.

If only I knew that years ago! Any time before High School would have been fantastic. I surely wasn't embracing my speech back then!

First day of High School and I was terrified. Middle School sucked completely, please tell me that it gets better.

I was in my first High School class and the sole relief was that no one knew me in the hallways, except for my close friends. There were no bullies I had to be weary of, thank goodness!

Sitting at my first period desk, and all was going well. I didn't talk to anyone, so no one knew about my speech. Phew.

The teacher stood up, welcomed us to the ninth grade, and began to take attendance or role-call.

My least favorite part of school, besides Math class, was attendance. 

Anxiety settled as soon as it was attendance time. The butterflies kicked in, sometimes it felt like I'd vomit honestly. Mentally, I'd tell myself to Just calm down or rehearse how to say 'Here' and pull my tongue back.

No matter my mental episodes, it never seemed to work in real life. Attendance was always the same for years. I would say "Here" aloud and raise my hand. I'd incorrectly say it, kids would stare at me, laugh or chuckle. It was the moment my peers would realize my speech issues.  I knew the routine, so I was quite familiar with its implications.

I despised role-call, but I had done it for 8 years before. I could do it again in High School. I even recall telling myself that, Aly, four years in High School won't kill you. You've already gone through at least 8 years worth of attendance. 

The teacher went through the list, announced my name, and with the butterflies in my stomach, I said, "Here" with my hand raised.

Of course I actually said, "He-uh."

I quickly looked down at my desk just to ignore any potential remarks from my new peers. I was waiting for a chuckle, laughter, comments.

For once there was complete silence. As if, there was nothing strange about the way I said, "Here."

I think the silence frightened me even more than their laughter would have. 

The girl in front of me, turned around, and introduced herself with an amiable grin on her face.

She smiled and remarked, "You have the prettiest accent ever, guys must totally fall for you."

I was perplexed and bewildered. Just a few months ago the guy I liked had called me a retard and now guys love it? High school is weird, this chick is nuts. Maybe she's messing with me.

I told her that it was actually a speech issue and she retorted, "Psh, it sounds like an accent so just tell the guys it's an accent. Guys think accents are hot."

Yeah, right. And I've been in speech therapy for what again? 

I went to five other classes that day and not a single person asked rudely about nor insulted my speech. Maybe that crazy girl was onto something...

For the most part, people even complimented it and said, "Dude, your accent is tight." 

I was too excited with this newfound coolness of my speech. Later after class, a cute guy followed after me into the hallway, just before lunch, and asked about my speech.

I could have said, "It's a speech thing," but why would I? He was cute and given the popularity of my speech, I milked it all.

Taking the advice from the girl in my first class, I told him it was a childhood accent. I quickly made up a story about how I moved to the states from London as a child. He complimented my accent and even said it was cute. He ended up giving me a school tour.  Score! 

From that day forward, I have never felt insecure with my speech.

One day of acceptance from my peers had turned around my confidence quicker than any amount of time in speech therapy.

It also set the tone of my academic experiences. Each day that passed, the more comfortable I was talking aloud, participating in class. I kept up my work ethic, enabling me to express myself in AP and Honors classes, which was a fantastic community. My close friends and I would take the geeky classes, so there was some subtle competition and camaraderie to work together or compete to get the highest grade in the more challenging classes.

For once, I fit in. I attended High School dances, participated a lot in extracurriculars, and was active in the Aquatics program. I was no longer defined by my accent. I was defined by my accomplishments. On the Swim Team, I was known for swimming the Individual Medley or the Butterfly stroke. Academically, I was defined by my grades and it didn't even hinder me in Spanish (I ended up minoring in it in college, I love it so much). When I wrote about Apraxia on my college application essay, I couldn't even fathom it as a hindrance. I saw my speech or my accent as a gift, or a unique trait, that no one else had.

 I slowly found the beauty in being, well, different. I discovered the most powerful and beautiful thing is when a person can take their weakness and make it into a strength. When that happens, there is truly no stopping them. They are a force to be reckoned with.

I discovered the only thing I truly needed to be accepted by others, despite my speech difference, was confidence. I had been missing this key component in Middle and Elementary school, but found it somehow in the teenage years and could convince others that I was normal, like them.

Confidence was how two guys within two days had complimented my ability to 'embrace' my speech.

My speech is one of my favorite qualities. Not only because of the little white lies I have fun with, but it's a constant reminder of what I have accomplished and my potential. It's almost a source of pride now. We all have qualities we do not like in ourselves, but by learning to accept these faults and find the beauty in them-we can all learn to embrace the unembraceable.