Stuttering Story

Nonfiction Accounts On Growing Up With a Speech Impediment

Why a Poke Feels Like a Punch: Even Friends Can Say The Wrong Thing — October 22, 2015

Why a Poke Feels Like a Punch: Even Friends Can Say The Wrong Thing

30131_440647912344_3528711_nDespite knowing someone had better intentions, words can hurt. In the stuttering community, we talk a lot about how people make the comments they make about our speech disfluency typically because they “don’t know” what is going on. They don’t “mean” any harm. While this is true and important to identify, I’ll explain why it’s OK that this hurts and why even the lightest behavior can be harmful to you.

First, a story.

A couple years ago, I was getting brunch with a great friend of mine, who I’ll call Scott. Scott is a good guy, and would never intend to harm me. I know that and I understand that. This was also at a stage in my life where I was not comfortable talking too much about my stutter. I was newly aware of acceptance, and the battle was only about to begin.

He was telling me how his older brother has a great memory, but is a terrible storyteller. But how he, Scott, was an excellent storyteller but had a horrible memory. I laughed and said, “Well good thing I have both those things!”

He laughed back and added, “Now if we could just get rid of that stutter!”

Ouch. Thanks, Scott.

It hurt, but I tried to laugh it off. After all, Scott didn’t mean any harm. He doesn’t really care that I stutter. But it stayed with me. I carried it around with me, particularly when I was telling a story. Would this story be better if I wasn’t stuttering?

Eventually I told a close mutual friend about it, and he encouraged me to talk to Scott about it. At the next event I saw him at, I did. He was confused because this same mutual friend teased me about EVERYTHING. “Not my stutter,” I explained. “It’s off-limits, even to him.” Of course, he felt horrible and apologized a bunch. To him, it was just a random joke because people love to tease me. I laugh off nearly every other joke about me. He didn’t expect one this one to stick because to him, my stutter wasn’t a big deal.

I knew that too. So why did it bug me so much?

Let’s connect this to something physical. Have you ever gotten a gnarly sunburn? Or perhaps you were running and fell and got a giant bruise on your leg? Or you got your wisdom teeth out?

What is true about all of those areas for awhile? They’re sore.

Your friend comes up and wraps you into a hug. They mean well. They don’t intend to hurt you. But the sunburn on your back is SENSITIVE. The hug is horribly painful.

If it weren’t for the sunburn, for the bruise, for the recent surgery, touch would not hurt. After I got my tattoo, I couldn’t sleep on that side of my body for a couple nights. It was tender.

It still hurts.

A poke on a bad bruise can feel like the person just punched you in the arm. It was only a poke. But where they poked was so tender that they may as well have slapped you across the face.

So my friend’s comment was small. It was meant as a light joke and not intended to hurt. Kinda like those people who ask you if you forgot your name. Typically, the intention isn’t malicious. Yet it hurts as much as if they had imitated the stutter back at me and told me I was an idiot.

I guess the question is: why?

Part of it is holding onto this hurt. Maybe one person was bullied as a kid. But maybe it wasn’t even as straightforward. Maybe it was just that constant focus on your techniques, on the idea that only fluent people succeed in life. The idea that you’re still stuttering because you’re not trying hard enough. That others look down on you because of your stutter.

The word for these tiny comments, often by friends and loved ones, is “microaggressions”. I learned about microaggressions as I learned about cultural awareness and everyday racism. Discrimination of speech impediments is different from discrimination based on race, so I can’t argue that it’s the same thing, but it does include microaggressions.

Microaggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership. – Diversity in the Classroom, UCLA Diversity & Faculty Development, 2014 (bold emphasis by me)

For stuttering, this could be comments, particular glances, even body language. These things hurt because they are a reminder and a result of something much deeper. The discrimination people with speech impediments face.

Isad_ribbonToday is International Stuttering Awareness Day (ISAD) and I’ve been seeing a bunch of people talk about what “Discrimination Is.” Some of the stories are heartbreaking. People who are discouraged from career paths, openly mocked, fired, not hired, dismissed, ignored… from children who are not given a chance to adults who just want to be heard. Some may think that with all of these horrible things that happen, then why be hurt over a small joke? Shouldn’t we have thicker skin?

But it comes back to the fact that all these small things are a poke on a much bigger bruise that we live with. It’s why microaggressions are so important to at least identify. They may not go anywhere, but being aware of them is an important first step for validating why these comments hurt and why it is OK to stand up for yourself.

Sure, someone may be making a joke. But what they just did was slap the back of a person with a second degree sunburn. It’s OK to say “ouch,” even if it makes the other person feel temporary guilty. It’s OK to say “My stutter is a sensitive topic, and I’d rather you not make jokes about it” even to those who don’t mean anything bad by it.

It’s not wrong for a poke to hurt you when they’re poking a bruise.

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“Is everything OK?” – Responding to Laughter at Speech Disfluency — October 20, 2015

“Is everything OK?” – Responding to Laughter at Speech Disfluency

1960097_10152992908297345_191469683130731795_nOctober 22nd is International Stuttering Awareness Day! So I thought I would do a couple posts during this week…

Yesterday, I had a situation.

It was Monday morning, and I was already not feeling great about the start of the week. The phone rang in our office at work. I answered. “Payroll, this is Jaymie.” She wanted to speak to my coworker who was busy. As I replied to this middle aged woman over the phone, it came out sort of like “She’s in a mmmmmmmmmeeting-“. As soon as the stutter was obvious, the woman on the other side burst out laughing. I don’t mean a chuckle or an awkward laugh. I mean a full-on explosive laughter. Rolling laughter that was not stopping. Hoping it would stop, I kept on “right now. C-c-c-c-can she call you back or do you wwwwant to be transferred to her voicemail?” But the woman laughed the entire time. When she finally replied, it was clear that she was calming down from her laughter. “Voicemail is fine.”

I did my “please hold” business, transferred her, and put my head in my hands. Are you kidding me?

It took me awhile to recover. I still don’t know how to handle these situations. If she had made a comment, like many people do, I could have inserted that what she heard was a stutter. Comments like, “Did you forget your name?” or “Did you forget what you were going to say?” can be answered with, “Actually, I have a stutter” or something of the like. Small chuckles can be ignored, if you want. But roaring laughter? What the heck is a person who stutters to do?!

My coworkers had some suggestions. “Ask her why she was laughing” “Ask her what was so funny” “Email her about it” but none of those seemed right. What if she was laughing at something else? “She would have said something if it was something else – like sorry or something. But since she didn’t, she thought you were in on it.”

I knew they were right – it was pretty obvious. But it also didn’t seem like the way I wanted to deal with it. So what was?

Luckily for me, I met a few cool people at the Regional Conference this year. I facebook messaged one of them and told him the whole situation. “Any advice?”

He did give me specific advice, and also overall advice. First off, he told me that it was OK if I was really angry at first, and also asked about my previous interactions with her – if any. I had spoken to her a few times, and I’m not sure if I stuttered in those situations. It’s likely she thought I was making a joke (what kind of a joke, I’m not sure… but that’s a very common thought in these situations).

How to handle this situation in particular? He advised me to pause at the laughter instead of continuing my sentence. When she’s done laughing, I can ask, “Everything OK?” This will put it on her. Some will realize their error now. Others may note what happened so that I can reply, “Actually, I have a stutter. Sometimes it’ll take an extra moment for me to say something. Is that OK?” I thought this was brilliant advice, and I am absolutely storing the idea for later.

I have further thoughts on when this happens in the workplace by other employees in particular, but for now I’ll focus on the daily situations of this happening. The truth is simple: most people laugh because they don’t know. Very few people would intentionally laugh at stutter. (Unless it’s a friend with whom you’ve already made a comfortable connection with about this, and it’s a particularly funny word. Like salsa. S’s can be hilarious. But this was not that kind of situation.)

Nonetheless, addressing it tends to be a better idea than not. If you CANNOT do it, don’t worry about it. The world won’t end. But most people admit that after it’s all over, they feel better about how it was handled if they say something. When people are given a chance to understand what happened and apologize, they often will. Let them have that chance. You may end up with a good conversation instead of one that leaves you feeling hurt or angry.

I feel it necessary to add that you don’t need to feel bad if you don’t either. You stutter all day. It makes sense that you don’t always feel like talking about it. But when you can do so, please do. Awareness makes an impact, one individual at a time.

No matter who you are… if you stutter and struggle with how you feel about it: I love you and I support you. You are going to be OK. Your stutter does not define you and it does not rule over you. Your stutter is simply a part of how you communicate sometimes. (I’m stealing that quote from someone else.) Whether you feel weak or strong, know that you can be weak or strong with other people who stutter. Others fight this same battle daily, and you are not alone in this.

2nd Annual Regional NSA Conference – My Experience — October 15, 2015