“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? :)
Episode 134 features Margaret Heffernan, who hails from Greeley, Colorado. Margaret is 20 years old and a senior at the University of Northern Colorado. She is studying theatrical design and technology with an emphasis in stage management.
We discuss the importance of communication in her work and how she “calls shows” as a stage manager. Margaret realizes that she can be a good communicator even if she’s not fluent.
Margaret’s dad also stutters. We discuss what it’s been like growing up with a family member who stutters, pushing herself through hard things, and not feeling so isolated.
Listen in as we also discuss entering adulthood, self-confidence, approaching job search and interviews, being open and turning a corner, and stuttering without fear. Margaret wrote a great piece describing her thoughts about stuttering, called “I Stutter and Some People Wear Glasses.”
This was a great, honest conversation about life transitions. The podcast safe music used in today’s episode is credited to ccMixter.
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.
Episode 133 features Shilpa Sagwal, who hails from Mumbai, India. Shilpa is 23 years old and is studying for her Masters degree in Chemical Engineering. She is enjoying exploring her world and moving out of her comfort zone.
Listen in as we discuss Shilpa’s journey toward acceptance and how openly bringing up stammering with family and friends has helped her. She feels more supported and is enjoying life.
We discuss what it’s like to be a woman in India who stammers, how it’s a “big big issue.” Women who stammer don’t want to expose themselves and are fearful of almost everything. Stammering is seen as an imperfection. We discuss how women in India can’t speak for themselves anyway and how having a stammer only makes that worse.
We discuss The Indian Stammering Association (TISA) and how Shilpa has found support through weekly meetings and the national conference.
This was an enlightening, honest conversation that could have gone on for hours. Feel free to leave comments or ask questions.
The podcast safe music used in today’s episode is credited to ccMixter.
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.