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I had a situation this week that brought back all the bad memories of reading aloud in school. Oh, how I hated to do that. Like many who stutter, I attempted all kinds of strategies to get out of reading aloud, as I always stutter when I can’t switch words and feel the pressure of others listening and watching.
I remember counting ahead to when it would be my turn and frantically trying to read the section and rehearse it in my head before my turn came. Or when there was only two people ahead of me, I would suddenly have to go to the bathroom or get sick and ask to see the school nurse.
I still have a piece of pencil lead in my hand from when I stabbed myself with a pencil so that I could go to the nurse’s office. Just to get out of reading aloud in class and feeling humiliated.
I sit on the Board of a non-profit literacy organization. We had our board meeting this week. The Director wants to introduce sharing the profiles of some of the individuals we serve at every meeting.
She had a list of about six paragraphs, each describing the profile of an individual on the waiting list to get literacy tutoring services. She thought we should share the wealth and each of us read one of the profiles aloud.
My mind went right to panic mode. My first instinct was to somehow figure out a way to opt out. I did not want to stutter in front of my fellow board members. I was new, so several of them did not know that I stutter. I didn’t want them to find out about my stuttering when I’m at my best with it.
After a quick moment of pondering how I would explain that I didn’t want to read aloud – sore throat, laryngitis – I realized that it would be worse for me to opt out. I just needed to do it like everyone else and be as smooth and confident as possible.
So, that’s what I did. When it was my turn, I read my paragraph and stuttered on about every other word. During the stuttering moments, I felt my face flush and felt embarrassed. But it was over quickly and we moved on to the next item of business on the agenda.
No one reacted. I didn’t sink into the floor or get hit by lightening. The worst that happened is that now everyone there knows I stutter. It’s out there now, so I won’t have to worry about it anymore.
How do you react when something like this happens?
I was interviewed by a friend last Wednesday for an article she wrote about how people who stutter use the internet to form communities. The article is called “The way we talk when we talk about stuttering” and it was published this Sunday January 18 in my friend’s home town of Austin, Texas.
Talking to my friend was a great opportunity for me to reflect on all the different ways I use the internet to form communities.
I have the community that follows this blog, which is still going strong after almost 6 years.
I have the community of women from all over the world that have been part of my podcast “Women Who Stutter: Our Stories” for almost 5 years.
And I have the community that has formed from being a Stutter Social host every other week.
Read the article. It’s great, thorough and mentions me. What more could you ask for? :)
She looked at me sort of quizzically while I placed my order, but she didn’t bat an eye and smiled the same smile she always does when I stop in. I don’t think she really cared that I asked for “lllllllemon” in my ice water.
When the waitress brought my water, it had the lemon I had asked for, that’s all that mattered.
I’ve never really liked going to restaurants by myself. I’ve always found it a bit uncomfortable. I used to imagine people saying to themselves, “Oh, that poor lady, she’s eating alone.”
I’ve gotten over that as I’ve matured and realized that people don’t think about me when they’re dining out.
So, now I feel comfortable going to a few restaurants by myself. Especially since I can do like everyone else does – whip out my smart phone and check emails or texts. Not having to make eye contact with anyone simplifies matters when you’re dining alone.
Well, on this day, the waitress wanted to chat. God forbid, right? Chatting in a restaurant like we used to do in the good old days.
The waitress wanted to know what brought me in at an off time of the day. I was there mid-afternoon and there was only one couple sitting together at the counter.
I mentioned that I was between a-a-a-appointments and had not eaten lllllllunch yet. She asked me what I wanted to order.
I was in the mood for comfort food and asked for a gr-gr-gr-grilled cheese sand-sand-sand-wich and to-to-to-mato soup.
She looked at me and smiled and said she’d wait all day for me to say what I had to say and she hoped I expected everyone else to do the same.
I took a chance and said, “well, not everyone is patient, you know.”
The waitress then simply said, “well, honey, fuck them, then. They’re not worth your time.”
And five minutes later she brought me my soup and sandwich and set it on the table, winked, smiled and went on about her business.
That was the best grilled cheese sandwich I’ve ever had.
We all know the statistics. Only about 1% of the adult population stutters, so it’s common to not meet another person who stutters in our everyday lives.
I’ve talked to many people around the world who have shared that they have never met someone else who stutters, which may add to the isolation of stuttering.
I work in an organization that employs about 450 people, and I’ve met three other people who stutter through work. Statistically, that plays out as it should, but it seems strange that I’ve actually met all three of them. I don’t work directly with any of them but we have occasion to see and talk with each other.
They all happen to be men, which bears truth to the belief that there are 4 times as many men who stutter than women.
I have spoken about stuttering with two of the guys. In fact, one of them always asks me whenever I see him if I’ve done anything stuttering related recently. He’s referring to things he knows I’ve done in the past to raise awareness of stuttering, like organizing talks at local libraries and schools.
One person is a relatively new colleague that I see at least once monthly at meetings. I noticed that he stutters, but I didn’t go up to him and say, “hey, I stutter too,” I did that once with someone and it backfired. The person got offended and profusely denied he stuttered, even though to me it was quite obvious.
Everyone is at a different juncture with their stuttering journey and I don’t think it’s up to me to bring it up when I hear someone else stutter. But if this colleague approaches me and wants to discuss stuttering, I will gladly talk his ear off about it!
In an odd way, it feels good that I’ve met others who stutter in my workplace. Growing up, I never met anyone else who stuttered and always wondered if I was the only one.
It’s good to know I’m not the only one in the workplace.
I tend to stutter the same way on the same words all the time. Even when I try to focus and use a technique or slow down, there are just certain words that come out the same way, every time.
Communication is one of those words. I don’t stutter on the first “c” in the word. No, I block and stutter on the second “c” sound – right in the middle of the word. It usually takes the form of three or four repetitions on the “ca” sound. Communi-ca-ca-ca-ca-tion. I am very aware of when I am in the stuttering moment with this word, as it’s a word I have to say a lot in the presentations I deliver to high school students.
I talk to them about career planning and the essential skills needed to be college and career ready, with good communication being one of those essential skills.
I am not ashamed that I stutter and I am of the belief that good communication is so much more than perfect fluency. But for some reason, when I block and stutter on key words, the same way, every time, I feel quite vulnerable and exposed. Perhaps it’s because this mostly happens when I am speaking to young people.
It’s important to me to be a good role model when I am speaking to people, especially young people. I maintain eye contact when I’m blocking and when I complete the word, I usually smile and just keep moving forward. I like to think that communicating in my own style, with confidence, is good role modeling for young people.
I want them to see that moving through vulnerability can yield good results.
A good friend of mine suggested I do a little dance when I say “communi-ca-ca-ca-ca-tion.” To the beat of the “ca-ca-ca-ca.” I think it would be a good ice breaker when I am giving a presentation on stuttering, but maybe not so much when I am talking career preparation to high school students. They might think I’m nuts and call the security officer.
What about you? Do you have words that you stutter the same way every time? How does it make you feel?
Someone wrote this on one of the stuttering email groups I participate in. It really resonated with me.
“The pain of stuttering is not in speech interruptions as that just takes an extra moment… And the speaker sometimes doesn’t even know it’s happening. What’s painful is feeling different and feeling that the difference is unacceptable to you and to the world….”
How many of us can relate to this? How many of us have had a stuttering moment happen and we felt so embarrassed that we felt different? That stuttering was unacceptable?
I first experienced the pain of stuttering as a young child. I don’t remember what stuttering was really like for me at 5 years old, but I do remember the pain I felt when it seemed that my father was ashamed of me. He would yell at me when I stuttered and make me feel as though I was doing something bad.
As an adult, I stutter pretty openly and confidently but sometimes I still experience the pain and shame of stuttering. And I believe some of that rises up from those early painful memories.
I feel the pain of stuttering when I get stuck and someone laughs at me. Or looks at me quizzically, asking if I’ve forgotten my name or where I work. I am sure everyone who stutters has experienced that and probably more than once.
I feel the pain of stuttering when I feel I’m being judged by someone in authority. That makes me feel inadequate, thankfully only momentarily, but inadequate nonetheless.
I feel the pain of stuttering when I explain myself to put a listener at ease. Sometimes it’s painful because there’s times I just don’t feel like explaining.
I feel the pain of stuttering when I want to chime in with a joke and I stutter on the punchline and people give me “the look.”
There has been more and more awareness of stuttering in the media, especially over the last year. But I’m not convinced that the world is ready for stuttering yet. It’s still not acceptable.
What do you think?
There’s been a couple of good pieces by women recently related to being honest with our speech and our stuttering. I posted Erin Schick’s brilliant poem, Honest Speech, last month.
And today, Katherine Preston has a great piece, Speaking Honestly, published in The Huffington Post.
Both authors are women who stutter and speak to the importance of being authentic with our stuttering. Erin talks about speaking fluently when she stutters and Katherine talks about liking being remembered for her stuttering.
Stuttering is a part of me. For years, I tried to hide it, push it away, deny it. I was ashamed of being associated with stuttering, for I had been conditioned to believe that stuttering was bad and that I deserved the sometimes negative reactions I received from society.
But something changed. I stopped trying to hide it, I began stuttering openly and honestly, I talked about stuttering and began to accept that some people were going to associate me with stuttering. And, THAT’S OK. It’s a part of me. It’s who I am. It’s good to be remembered in today’s world. I rather like having people remember my name.
Just yesterday I was at a school doing some presentations and someone came up to me and said, “I remember you. I took an excellent bullying class from you several years ago and you talked about stuttering. And you came to our school and did a talk on stuttering. It’s so good to see you again. You’re a great speaker.”
That made me feel good, and proud and happy that she remembered me.
Being honest with our speech and with ourselves is so much easier than hiding and pretending to be someone we’re not. I’m sure happy I just let my stuttering hang out these days.