Make Room For The Stuttering

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This comment was left on my blog last night. I wanted to share it with readers, because, it has to be shared. This could be any of us!

I am considering joining Toastmasters, something I’ve been advised to do for years, but am now getting nervous because I’m finally going to do it. So..I’m here researching what to expect from Toastmasters and I came across your blog.

I have been a closeted stutterer most of my life and the fear of being exposed as a stutterer is often greater than the actual emotional pain of stuttering. Your blog is very inspiring to me and I hope that one day I can reach your level of acceptance. I think you make great points about how choosing not to hide your stutter can open up a new world for you.

For some reason, when I was approaching middle school, it didn’t bother me to tell people that I stuttered when they’d ask (usually with a grin or impending giggle on their face) “why do you talk like that?” It was nothing, back then, for me to respond by saying “well, because I stutter!”..a year later, my stutter went away for some reason.

I remember volunteering to read aloud, always thinking that my stutter might present itself–but I didn’t care, I spoke freely. I joined the Spelling Bee, I could show my classmates and teacher just how articulate I really am; I was confident, for real, for once. Then, for whatever reason, my stutter and all of its insecurities came back the next year.

I began stuttering when I was 9 and throughout the course of my life, thus far, my speech impediment has gone away 3-4 times in my life. I have finally reached a point, now that I’m pushing 40, that I am not trying to ‘make it go away’–I am merely trying to be the best person I can be. I am finally ready to eliminate my fear and conquer what I have allowed to hold me back in so many ways throughout my life.

I will not allow this to control me, instill fear in me or take hold of me any longer. I’ve “dumbed it down” and relaxed myself in slang because it proved to be an easy out for me. I could navigate that, and all the persona that comes with it much easier than I could master working on speech techniques and trying to overcome the only thing I needed to overcome–my fear of being laughed at. My fear of being pointed at. My fear of being rejected for something that is a part of me.

Your blog gave me the validation I needed to go ahead and join a Toastmasters chapter and work toward becoming that articulate person once more. Thank you!

 

“Are you sure?”

I was covering the phones this past Friday afternoon in my office for colleagues who were in a meeting. We answer the phones by saying good morning or afternoon, and state the name of our school building.

One call I answered I stuttered pretty good on all three words of our building name. The caller laughed and then said, “Are you sure?” and laughed again. I so wanted to say something to her, but didn’t.

She went on to introduce herself as being from the department of social services. I wondered if she laughs at clients who might sound different than she does on the phone.

I wasn’t in the mood to hear a sarcastic “are you sure?” that day. I politely and professionally helped her and then cursed at myself when I got off the call.

Would you have said anything to her about laughing?

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? :)

tomato-soup-grilled-cheese-sandwich-large-51094She 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?


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