I sit here with my finger over the publish button.
Do I, Don’t I?
Hi, my name is Lauren, and I am a stutterer.
Why the big announcement, I hear you ask? Well, I stutter and I will probably never be cured, but if I acknowledge that I stutter, the pressure is off then and I don’t have to try and hide it when I talk to you. It helps me compartmentalize that part of myself, so it doesn’t end up ruling my life.
And why is it a big deal, you ask? Well, being a stutterer is hard. Or for a more appropriate ‘H’ word, humiliating.
I am a covert stutterer, as opposed to an overt one. Basically this means I preempt when I am going to stutter and replace the word with another regardless of whether my sentence then makes any sense, or, I get stuck on the first letter of words or the second/third syllable.
I have had this…. infliction… all my life.For as along as I can remember. Even in school. Can you imagine what is is like growing up in school with a stutter? It sucks. I was teased, mocked, mimicked, laughed at.
My grade four teacher tried to help me once. She made every student in the class read out loud and record them. Then she made me, just me, sit in her office and listen to my recorded reading. It was awful. So awful in fact I blocked it from my memory. Only several years ago did it resurface. All I can remember was crying.
But, while it was hard as a child, do you know what is is like being an adult with a stutter?
Don’t think for one minute the teasing, mocking, mimicking stops. Because it doesn’t. And the reason it doesn’t is because people don’t actually realise they have just bagged out someone with a disability. Most people I meet for the first time think that I’ve just stumbled over a few words. That is until I continue talking and you see their face drop as if it has suddenly dawned on them that they haven’t just laughed at someone struggling to say their name, they have laughed at someone struggle to say everything. I hardly ever pull people up when they laugh at me though, I would rather be the person feeling like crap than make another person feel ashamed of their actions. My friend’s have spoken up for me and most of the time the other person is mortified and they apologise.
But the damage is already done. A bit of my self-esteem was already chipped away the moment they laughed.
Like many stutterers, by far the hardest word for me to say is my own name. But we hardly ever say our own names, I hear you ask? Well, you’re wrong. You only ever say your name when you introduce yourself to new people, or when you answer the phone, or make a call, or when you order a coffee, or when need to identify yourself to organisations such as banks, gyms, power companies, phone companies etc. Yeah, you don’t say your name much at all.
But as well as those situations, I can pretty much guarantee I will stutter on any words or names starting with a vowel or an ‘H’. This basically rules out half or more of my vocabulary. I can’t tell you how much I loved having a maidan name that started with a vowel. I ended up starting my surname with the ‘n’ off Lauren to make it one big long name, but this usually resulted in a “can you spell that?” response. I’ll come back to that in a sec. Not being able to say names with vowels is a bigger issue than you may you think. It has meant that my child, and any future children for that matter, won’t have names such as Oliver, Edward, Ava, Ada, Aphrodite (okay I probably wouldn’t have gone there on that one anyway!) but you get the idea. I know you’re thinking, ‘oh how sad, you should just name them whatever you want, your child will love you anyway‘. But when my child is 15 years old and they’ve invited their friends over and their mother can’t even pronounce their name, imagine how they are going to feel. Or if they’re in trouble and I want to use their name in the grouchy cross mummy voice, I can’t. I won’t have any influence, I won’t have any respect, but worse of all, I may embarrass them in front of their friends.
So apart from those situations the only other times I stutter is when I am tired, stressed, when I have even one sip of alcohol, when I have to spell out my name (!), read out my address, phone numbers, credit card numbers (any numbers really), when I am in big groups or one-on-one, when I’m nervous, when I’m telling a punch line of a joke, when I talk to people who talk really fast and at any other random time. So apart from all those situations no, I really don’t stutter at all.
As an adult stutterer I have had the following things happen to me: I have been mimicked and laughed at in social group situations over 100 times. I have had a police officer and many other strangers ask me if I know my own name. I once had an ex-boyfriend and his friends mock me stuttering with a swear word. I have had a poorly timed stutter when trying to say the word ‘country’. Gah!! I have had many, MANY professionals who I liaise with my in line of work laugh, mock and mimic me. These people include police officers, psychologists, teachers and seniors in my office. It is disgusting. It is appalling. It makes me feel irrelevant and insignificant. And it happens about once a week.
By far the hardest situation for me, however, and one that I almost always avoid, occurs with groups of girls. You know when a group of girls get together they end up talking a million miles an hour over the top of each other and jumping from subject to subject? Well, if there was ever a situation that I can’t handle it is this one. I just cannot talk. Plus, I am almost always knocking back a couple of glasses of wine. I sit there stuttering away, trying to hide my blocks as best I can, but I see eyes glaze over, they look away and new conversations start up. And it’s over. I usually just cut the story short or just stop talking mid-sentence – they generally don’t notice.
Some people who think they know me try and help. For example, they finish my sentences for me [insert raised eyebrow here – Yes, this does bother me, I would like to be able to get my own words out thank you very much]. But to be honest, if I’m really struggling to get a word out, just say it for me already. Please! When I’m really struggling and talking with my closest friends I roll my eyes, they say ‘spit it out’ and we genuinely can laugh about it. But that’s reserved for my close friends!
Like I said before, stuttering is hard. It is particularly hard as a an adult. As a child you can almost be forgiven for having a stutter as it is seen as ‘cute’, but as an adult you are simply just laughed at or looked at as if you have the intelligence of a wooden plank. And every time this happens, every time someone laughs at you, mocks you, mimics you, a bit of your soul chips away. I really cannot describe it.
It sounds quite depressing really. I have never written about this part of my life and I write a lot on my blog. Maybe because it’s too confronting. Definitely too confronting. I have in the making my first video series called the 30 by 30 Challenge where I am challenging myself to run 30km by my 30’th birthday. And, if I may, I am running really well, today I ran 13kms! Hooray for me! But my videos will ever see the light of day. I can barely bring myself to watch them, let alone have other people watch them. My friend and life coach tells me that people will watch them because I ‘make it real’, but I don’t believe her. Correct me if I’m wrong, but would you want to watch a video of someone stuttering?
Maybe this is why I enjoy blogging so much. I can present myself how I want to present myself – as an intelligent, dignified and witty woman. Not some stammering, blubbering fool. If there ever was an argument for creating your own online identity, it is this. I make my own rules in my blogging world to the extent that I deliberately don’t use correct grammar and punctuation(!) because I can… because unlike stuttering I am in control of it!!!
But to be honest, while my stuttering story does sound depressing, I am very fortunate.
I once sought out some treatment. It was hugely challenging and confronting and I spent the first day crying. But I graduated being able to speak more fluently and eloquently than I ever had before. Plus I could finally say everything I wanted to say – you couldn’t shut me up!
I also learnt that my stuttering isn’t so bad. I don’t have the big head shaking stutter that some overt stutterers have. I merely blink and twist my lips a little. And I don’t let my stuttering hold me back – well not with many things anyway. I still have a very successful career, I have a loving husband, a beautifully supportive family and small but loyal friendship group. Plus the majority of my work experience to date has been in highly communicative roles such as waitressing, a lecturer and a case worker in the community. Plus I have participated in a debating team, theatre productions and countless public speaking events.
However, a large number of my fellow stutterers are not living fulfilled lives solely because of their stuttering and associated anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. Many people aren’t seeking the careers they want, they are in unhappy relationships to scared to leave or not in relationships at all, and many have a very, very small social network. I recall on my last day of the programme, this 40 something year old man came up to me. He was sweating, shaking, and could barely look at me. He said he wanted to come and introduce himself as he hadn’t spoken to a female in years as he feared he would stutter in front of her. I was honoured to be the female he chose. He only said his name and me asked how I was, but that was enough for him to achieve his goal! Just for one second, imagine being in his shoes.
So if you’re reading this and you are a stutterer, first of all contact me(!) and secondly, do yourself a favour and look up some treatment. Get help. Achieve your life goals – God knows you deserve the best life after what you’ve gone through.
And, if you’re reading this and you are not a stutterer, then for goodness sake don’t laugh at someone who stumbles over their name, vowels, or any words for that matter. You may not know it, but they could be a stutterer and your reaction could be chipping away at what little self-esteem they have left.
That is it from me – peace out my brother’s and sisters. I hope I have portrayed myself in the way I have intended !!…!!….!!!