Before I began on a journey of accepting myself, stutter and all, I was working on a project with a friend who knows me better than anyone else… often including myself. I was beginning to understand the difference of an extrovert and introvert, and was about to begin my obsession with Myers Briggs Personality Type.
“Do you think I’m an introvert or an extrovert?” I asked him.
He paused for awhile and thought about it. “An introvert.”
Traditionally under my belief of an introvert, I used to think he was correct. I was shy, socially uncomfortable, hated meeting new people, communicated well in writing, and used books as a means to escape.
Upon further reflection, I decided he was wrong. However, I’m not sure the term really matters. What mattered at the moment was me realizing that something else was controlling me to act in a way I did not prefer. I didn’t avoid people because being alone always recharged me or refreshed me; I avoided people because I was afraid. I was afraid because I stuttered.
Most people hide something from the majority of people they meet. When you stutter, the one thing you want to hide is on display as soon as you open your mouth. So to hide it, you have to stop talking. To hide what you are insecure about, you need to sacrifice getting to know people.
Because I’m insecure about my speech, it’s exhausting to think about the repercussions of talking. Does this new person think I’m dumb? Are they uncomfortable? Do they think there’s something wrong with me? Am I wasting their time? Are they annoyed? I could address it the first time they repeat my stutter back to me and start laughing. But then that’s another battle. It’ll make them uncomfortable and I’ll have to deal with thirty apologizes until THEY feel better about making me feel bad. Phone calls are so awkward because there are no nonverbal cues. The caller can’t see that my mouth is open and my eyes are shut, and I’m working on getting a word out. Instead they get impatient. “Ma’am?? Are you still there, ma’am?”
Instead of making them apologize, it’s easier to apologize myself. I‘m sorry that it took me a few seconds to get that word out. I’m sorry I wasted your time. I’m sorry that I exist. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. If I could get rid of my stutter, I would; don’t you understand? I don’t want me to talk like this either.
Most stutterers you meet are kind. They are well-versed in how others feel because they’ve spent most of their lives watching others react and feel. They want to make people comfortable. They think of the underdog. Many people with these kinds of impediments are used to being ignored, so we try to open the door for others to be heard.
Somewhere along the line, I lost who I am because my stutter started to overwhelm the way I think. My stutter was an endpoint. It beat me before the game began. It felt like a losing battle and there was no reason to try. I’ll never beat my stutter.
Instead of it being the end, however, I am learning to let it be the beginning. It’s the way I communicate sometimes. It lets people see that I’m flawed and that I’m not perfect… which means I’m probably comfortable. Great — the people I meet know I stutter — now let’s really get to know each other. If I engage my stutter instead of fight it, then I think I can learn a lot more about other people. What I mean is… it can open the door to a vulnerable conversation. The more comfortable I am in my vulnerability, the more the other person can feel comfortable around me. They too are allowed to be flawed… I clearly have no problem with flaws.
If you have a speech impediment, do you find yourself not speaking as much to hide it? Do you avoid people? What do you think would help you be able to reach out to new people?
If you don’t have a speech impediment, what is your reaction to people who have one? What do you wish we knew?