Chad Masella: Success Story

“I grew up in Kewtown – Athlone. I was a withdrawn child, growing up in a rough environment. As a young boy, I realised that I wanted to be different and I aspired not to live in the same ways others in the community lived. I had big dreams to travel the world.

“Throughout primary school I didn’t have many friends because my way of being did not fit with the rest of my peers. My teachers said I was a perfectionist – this was because of my dream to become something ‘more’. I guess my perfectionism combined with my introverted character ultimately led me to be further disengaged from my peers, leaving me without the confidence or skills to bridge the gap to being re-integrated into my school community. It was around this time that I started stuttering – I was about 7 years old. Luckily for me, my teacher also stuttered, so I didn’t feel too weird compared to the other kids. Nevertheless, I was teased mercilessly between standard three and standard five.

“When I started high school, my voice started breaking. Instead of deepening, it became high-pitched. So then I was a stutterer with a high, squeaky voice. The most difficult times for me were during English and Afrikaans orals when I had to stand in front of the class. I would just stand there frozen to the spot.

“I loved preparing the orals, but having to stand in front of 40 learners was excruciating. The cumulative years of separation from my peers, deeply impacted my self-esteem and caused me to withdraw even more.

“During my adolescence, I tried to kill myself twice, once when I was 15 and then again when I was 17. I just didn’t want to wake up anymore. Nothing mattered. I would take out the “shotgun”, load it, and write a note to my mom and dad. Then I’d sit with the gun between my legs, pointing to my head for long periods. But I just couldn’t pull the trigger. I felt that I couldn’t live, and I couldn’t die. I just didn’t have the courage to kill myself. Once I also tried to overdose myself, but when I heard my parents coming home, I purged the medicines. It was then that I sat down with my Dad and levelled with him. He hadn’t realised I wasn’t just going through normal teenage stuff and that my withdrawal and alienation was serious. He became more open to listening to me which made me feel that I mattered – he inspired me to accept my differences. My Dad helped me a lot – he would speak to me every morning to motivate and encourage me for the day.

“During this time my mom became distant to me. She suggested that I should be institutionalised so that I could get help. Fortunately for me, my Dad disagreed with her. My pastor was also a support for me. He encouraged me gently and calmly. Between my Dad and my pastor, I felt there was a light of hope. I did a lot of self-work, reminding myself of my dream. I learnt to face the regular orals and deal with them as best as I could.

“Whilst in high school, I started coding and got very involved in the problem-solving aspect of this discipline. It gave me a distraction from myself. In matric, I motivated and pushed myself and got a matric pass which I was happy with.

“After matric, I was at new cross-roads – I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t really have the confidence to follow a path. Then I saw a Life Choices’ coding poster in the Athlone library. Having done coding at high school, I was excited about this possibility. I applied online and did the online test which resulted in me being accepted into the Life Choices Academy.

“This was a major turning point for me. The Academy did not only teach coding but also provided life skills sessions, leadership and personal development sessions and therapy. The facilitator and the on-site therapist offered me valuable support. Between them, they got me to view life (and myself) in a different way. They helped me to re-awaken a goal which I had lost. I felt the most supported I had felt in my life during the 6-month course. The therapist got me to realise that my voice is not a problem and that I was the one that let it become a problem. ‘So what if my voice was weird!’ There were so many other wonderful qualities I could draw on.
“On reflection, if I hadn’t been accepted into the Academy, I wouldn’t have gotten the amazing support I got at Life Choices. I can’t imagine how I would have coped or how I would have taken my life forwards without this holistic intervention.

“At Life Choices I focused on web development. I graduated well in the course and qualified for a 6-month internship. Life Choices once again stepped in and trained us in interview skills and mock-interviews. I went through a number of interviews which was stressful for me. Then I got offered an internship at MMI Holdings. It was a big adjustment, as I had to face my ‘voice condition’ and not become withdrawn again. My manager was very cool. He assured me and gave me affirmations about who I was and what I could become. This helped me to present in front of my colleagues and develop my confidence. During the internship, I learnt that it wasn’t about my ability to speak, but that I could rely on my ability to connect to people. My mentor was the head of the EQ engineers and my title at the company was QA engineer – I got to test the front and back end of systems and its reliability once developed. At the end of my internship I was offered a full time job.

“Through Life Choices I’ve learnt to deal with each day, one day at a time. Seeing it through to the end of each day, I can authentically validate my existence. Fighting through depression has strengthened my character. My next step, once I’ve mastered what I am currently doing, is to work towards becoming a senior EQ engineer for the same company with a focus on mastering Python. I have a new excitement about life and a desire to help others as I have been helped over the past year.”