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?

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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.

“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.