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 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.