Stuttering Story

Nonfiction Accounts On Growing Up With a Speech Impediment

Faith and Stuttering — November 1, 2015

Faith and Stuttering

3731777086_27d24e83bc_bIf the words, “Why me, God/Universe/Higher Power?” sound familiar to you, then you are who I want to speak to today. The funny thing about this question is that you don’t have to be a Christian to say these words. You don’t have to be religious at all. You also don’t have to have a speech impediment. Maybe there’s some other affliction you have, some different thorn in your side.

I’ve tried to write this blog a dozen times at least. How do I combine two major aspects of my life into a blog that anyone can relate to? I’m not sure I can. What Christians in my life care about how stuttering affects my faith? And how many stutterers out there care about how my faith ties into all of this? (The latter audience MAY exist, though small.) I could write a series on this topic, but how do I know anyone will care?

When the truth of it is… there are problems in this world that we need to blame something for. Maybe you blame the universe, perhaps genetics (and you may be correct, they don’t really know with stutters, and that’s the problem), and maybe God. I feel confident than any Christian with a stutter has been pissed off at God. I could go as far as say people who aren’t Christians could be mad at their Higher Power, or even AT the idea of a Creator, for cursing them with such a horrid impediment.

If you’ve read any of my posts before, you know I no longer find stuttering to be a horrid impediment. But it hasn’t always been this way. In fact, it hasn’t been this way for very long at all. It was around March 2013 that I first heard someone else (see my highly referenced friend Morgan’s thisisstuttering self-made film) say the words I was so afraid to say outloud. “What the HECK did I do to deserve this? Why me? Why, of all people, do I have this stupid speech impediment?

One of the first times I ever spoke about my frustrations with stuttering was around a campfire during church high school camp. I still remember it so clearly as we spoke about challenges for the next school year. I was afraid that I would have difficultly making friends because of my stutter. I was afraid to BE AFRAID of my stutter. I just wanted fluency. Please, my Christian friends, pray for fluency. (Either no one prayed or their prayers didn’t work because HERE I AM, hahaha.)

I still remember the replies. One girl told me that she was thankful I stuttered (?) because I would otherwise be perfect, and it was comforting to know that I was not. (???) Okay. I mean that’s cool. And honest. Nice. Not very comforting though. Another guy stood up and told me what is probably my LEAST favorite comment to this day from a Christian: “Moses stuttered, and look at what he did!” Like sure OK, but Moses was a big baby about it and I plan to talk more about that another day. If those words are comforting to people — that a religious figure overcame their fear in whatever way worked best, and that their Higher Power still used them— that’s GREAT. It was not for a 16 year old high school girl that was still trying to figure out how to break up with her boyfriend. It just wasn’t relevant to me. I didn’t need God to make the ocean part and free his people under my tongue: I just wanted to say my name without a bunch of bumbling Js all over the place.  Really, I’m not asking for much here guys.

Many pivotal moments of my life that I remember to this day are moments where I realized what I wanted and how it seemed like I was created (Creator, universe, etc) did not line up, and I chose to act in how I believe I was created. Instead of taking Speech and Debate when I was 14 as a extra after-school class, I decided not to. Because maybe I wasn’t made that way, with my stutter and all. Instead of putting “Drama 1” on the top of my elective choice like I wanted, I put “Spanish 1” because, well, it made more sense. I figured if God really wanted me to do these things, He’d force it to happen. He didn’t. Yet I still remember those decisions.

By the time I picked out my college major, it was hardly an issue anymore. It was so engrained in me to limit myself in this area, that a Communications major, or a Theology major (to be a pastor) wasn’t an option. Everyone praised my ability to work with numbers, and I knew I understood business at a basic level, so I picked Accounting. I picked what made sense based upon what I “seemed” to be built for.

Faith never came into play in these situations. I read God through how I saw myself. He gave me this stutter. Me, this once outgoing socialite who’d play pretend by standing on the “stage” at Church and pretending that I could preach (but not only do I stutter, but I’m also a woman… and many churches says NO). Me, this high school junior whose aptitude test results said that my biggest interest was “Public Speaking” and I cried because it was right, and it wasn’t fair. Me, this… this stutterer.

So I was angry. I was angry at myself because I wasn’t good enough to make it go away. If I wasn’t good enough to be fluent, then how could I be good enough to do anything else? Why did God hate me? Did he make me this way because I would have been a prideful brat and a stutter kept me humble? Ok, God, GOT THE LESSON. Fix me now, please? Yet he didn’t. Over and over, no one took my stutter away.

There was a battle: my stuttering reality VS me loving God. Both worlds could not exist as far as I was concerned. So I pretended my stutter would go away. It didn’t exist. Until the day I watched thisisstuttering and heard someone say, “I hate my stutter, but I’m thankful for it. I hate it. But I thank God for it.”

I rewatched thisistuttering recently and it put me in awe how far I had come. The words he spoke no longer felt familiar. I love my stutter (usually), I love who it has made me become (usually), and I am thankful for it truly (…um, usually). I no longer hate my stutter (you get the pattern, but just in case: usually).

But if you do hate something in your life that afflicts you: it’s OK to admit that. In fact, it may be best to admit it. Be angry at whatever higher power you have. Be angry at the universe. But say it outloud. Let it resonate in your bones. I’ve learned that anger and hurt like this doesn’t usually go away until you face it head on, until you admit to yourself that it’s there.

Then begin the process of finding the good. For me, this looked like community. It absolutely and completely was about finding people who could relate: finding other stutterers. As I started to love them and see them as whole and rounded people, I started to see myself in a similar fashion. I think it tends to be highly effective, but maybe there are other ways too.

What do you think? Have you been angry at God or something else? Is your anger at another person? Or maybe at yourself? How have you started the process of being grateful for the things in your life that you hate, often the things you cannot control or change? The afflictions that do not go away? How do you make sense of it all?

What started you on the process of hating this “affliction”—and perhaps it truly is an affliction— a little less?

Am I alone in this, or are you with me?

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.

Why Stutterers Should Have Stuttering Friends: A Post on Loneliness — October 6, 2015

Why Stutterers Should Have Stuttering Friends: A Post on Loneliness

PC: Delaine Downie, 2009

The most embarrassing part of this story is that it happened while watching Twilight in theaters. At least I wasn’t actually watching the movie as I climbed up the stairs, away from my big group of friends, to sit next to one friend that had isolated himself. He was feeling sorry for himself as he watched his ex-girlfriend hold hands with someone else.

I didn’t say anything when I sat down.

He broke the silence, his voice shaking. “Why are you sitting up here? You should be with everyone else.”

“You’re up here all alone,” I replied.

Everyone here is alone. They are each just sitting in their own chair, alone.”

I glanced at him. He was watching me, and his eyes weren’t as watery. “Ok, well then I will sit here, alone, in the chair next to you sitting here alone.”

He made some grunt/sigh noise and caved. He offered to move up to sit in the same row as everyone else, on the opposite end of his ex-girlfriend, so we got up and became part of the group again. He made fun of the entire movie and we got to laugh much more than we would have otherwise.

This moment has always stayed with me, and I thought it was because of how dramatic the situation felt. But I realized when I was the regional conference for the National Stuttering Association, it was because this was exactly how I felt every time I used to hear the words: “You are not alone.”

I would fight those words. I felt so alone. How could I suddenly not be alone? I was alone, alone, alone.

You hear that from the children at the conference: “I’m the only kid at my school who stutters.” I remember that feeling in high school: I was different. I was alone. Even my closest friends could not grasp what I faced on a daily basis. Most teenagers feel this in some way, but it was simply a fact of life I carried with me. No one else understood.

My San Diego Chapter at the 2015 Regional Conference

So flash forward a few years of my life and how did I end up in this room full of about 100 people, feeling completely understood? When the words “You are not alone” used to make me snap back with, “You aren’t me, so what do you know?”

This was my truth that I had to face: “You are alone. Maybe you are. But you don’t have to be. You are alone until the day you realize you don’t have to be anymore.”

Like my friend with his whole “being alone in the seat next to me.” He chose to be alone. It was his choice to stay there, being alone, or realize he had a friend sitting next to him. It sounds dramatic, but is it not exactly what I did with my stutter?

I spent my life avoiding people who stuttered. I was afraid to look in the mirror and see my biggest flaw staring back at me in the eyes of all these people. On TV, even adult stutterers were still so insecure and pathetic; they were still alone and isolated. They were career-driven accountants who could never work their way up because their speech still controlled them. I did not want to find out that was true.

And I didn’t. In fact, I found it to be quite the opposite. I have met public speakers and I have had lawyers pointed out to me (the two careers I had deemed impossible because of my speech.) I have met social butterflies and nerds and comedians. Nearly every person to take the stage makes the audience laugh. I found that I was, in fact, looking in a mirror. But what I saw was kindness, empathy, encouragement, beauty, humor, silliness. I still saw my stutter, but it didn’t feel like a flaw anymore. It didn’t feel like anything. The rest overwhelmed. If our stutter caused us to be people who giggled together over how awkward interactions with fluent speakers could be, then it encouraged humor in us. If being spoken over for years connected us, it also encouraged empathy and kindness in us. If wishing we had been noticed more often connected us, it also brought out the ability and strength to encourage each other. Our stutter connected us because it turned us into a beautiful people.

I was alone. Until I realized that I was not alone. And the people who were sitting on the chairs either side of me were the exact kind of people I needed in my life. I will never be alone again. There are moments I want to run away, moments I am afraid of this new life. I am terrified of the truth that my stutter is not what is holding me back: I am*. It’s always been me. I am terrified of seeing this truth in other people. But now that I have about 50 more Facebook friends, I know I won’t be so alone anymore… at least not when it comes to my stutter.

So I can say this confidently now: I am thankful for my stutter. If for no other reason, I am thankful because it connects me to all of these people. There are other reasons too, but that one is my favorite.

I am not alone… not anymore.

* There are situations where people who do not understand disfluency will limit people who stutter. There are job interviews or networking situations or social situations in which people who stutter will be held back. This is still a fact of life. I don’t mean to dismiss those at all. I am speaking in a more general sense of my own anxiety/shame that has always held me back and my fear of what others are thinking.