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?

Importance of Finding My Voice — October 29, 2015

Importance of Finding My Voice

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Expressive personality with no voice was the IDEA behind this silly picture. 2009.
Every day seems to matter more than the day before it. What I mean by this is that you can’t change the past. You bring the past with you wherever you go, but it’s part of the present now. Your past only matters because it’s forming who you are today.

People pretend all the time like their past doesn’t affect their present. They repress and ignore things that happened in early childhood, a few years ago, or even last week. Yet it comes back to visit. It lives underneath your skin. It breathes even when you pretend that it isn’t breathing.

Last week, I posted that article, “When a Poke Feels Like a Punch.” I wrote that by telling an amusing story that didn’t hurt me very much. In the last week, however, I’ve had a couple moments where others’ pokes have felt like a big giant punch in the gut. One I responded to carefully. One I did not. I panicked and the anger overtook me so much that I swung my arms like a child waking up from a bad dream. I’ll reflect on the real “bruise” of one of these moments.

Growing up, my mom was extremely affirming about my voice. She allowed to “make valid arguments” (ones my Grandmother said was just me talking back) in order to make my point. My mom let me be heard at home. However… most people did not. Another family member (trying to not name names, since who knows who will read this) took care of my brother and me all the time. She enforced a very strict policy about how much I was allowed to talk. I was a chatty cathy with a fumbling, stuttering voice. Frequently, I was encouraged to not speak until I could “slow down” and “control my voice” which really meant I had to be fluent. I was taught by her that my voice was not allowed unless I could “control” it. But I couldn’t. I could slow down, I could try my techniques, but fluency didn’t happen.

It wasn’t just this family member. It was also at school. What I’m about to say can be interpreted different ways, and I do not have a suggestion for a better way this can be done. I understand its necessity. I also need to point out that it hurt my development as a speaker. I was frequently encouraged to not have to speak in front of the class. I was constantly given the “out” so often that I started to believe people did not want to hear my stuttering voice. I understand, as an adult, what was going on. But being the isolated child at school who was told every single presentation that I did not have to do it if I was uncomfortable was strange and confusing. What’s tough here is that I do believe children who stutter should be allowed to opt out if they get so much anxiety that they cannot do it. I also believe that they should be greatly encouraged to do it, “stutter and all”. I am not an SLP and have not studied it, so I’m not an expert. Who knows.

Either way, my voice being challenged makes me feel incredibly insecure. My voice being silenced has felt like a theme in my life: I desired for awhile to become a pastor, but “knew” that women “weren’t allowed” to be pastors. I used to stand on the “stage” at church where my pastor stood and pretend that it was me giving a sermon. But my theology at the time was influenced by the idea that women had to be silent. Why would God make my innate self so LOUD if I was a stuttering woman in church? On top of all that, I was also a victim of a sexual assault by someone I was close to, and frequently felt silenced when I wanted to share what had happened. It’s also the way people frequently make teenagers feel. There are few things as dehumanizing as having your voice taken away from you.

This is true for most disabilities in the US. It isn’t just true for stuttering. People often speak “for” or “on behalf” of another, and sometimes this is necessary, but is it always? How do we decide when to speak if for our whole lives, we have thought it would be better to be silent?

Recently, I was at dinner with my friends and the topic of my stutter came up. One of them complimented my blog and everyone tuned in. It’s incredible because I was unable to have these conversations a year ago. Another girl asked me if I had kids – would they have a higher chance of stuttering? Yes, they would. I mentioned I have a friend whose son stutters, and I know of other parent/child stutterers. She replied, “Wow, that sucks.”

I understand what happened here. It is a struggle to stutter. It’s exhausting and frustrating, and it has clearly affected my self-esteem is terrible ways growing up. However, my reaction to this comment was amusement. “Not really. I mean how great is it to have that connection? You have a parent who ‘gets it’ and can pave the pathway for the kid… providing that the parent has made peace with it.”

I’m still amazed at how far one can come in just a year.

It’s up to those of us who stutter to change the path we are on. It’s up to us to determine that our voices matter – not in spite of our stutter… and not even because of our stutter. I think people will listen. I think most people want to hear our voices. But no matter what the truth of that statement is: Our voices matter — stutter and all.

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

Why Stutterers Should Have Stuttering Friends: A Post on Loneliness

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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.

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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.