I have a confession to make.
Every time I say my name without stuttering I give myself a little fist-pump explosion. In my mind obviously. I am not that weird.
I wrote a piece about my stuttering and I’ve been have been absolutely inundated with people from all around the world (aka, you guys) telling my how much you relate to it. I was surprised. I felt I was the only one. But I am both pleased and sad that I am not alone. Pleased because my experiences of stuttering appear to be normal, and sad because… well, because my experiences of stuttering appear to be normal.
But I’ll be honest …. I didn’t write that piece for you.
I wrote it for me.
A sort of therapy. Finally, I felt I needed to tell the world about what it was like to be a stutterer. How it has troubled me, how I have been prejudiced because of it, but also how it hasn’t held me back. So you can imagine my surprise when you contacted me with all sorts of stories such as:
If I didn’t have a stutter I would: be with my first love; have the career I wanted; have a lot more to say; be able to talk to women/men; my life wouldn’t be on the balance. Yes that’s right, I even received emails from many of you saying that you were very depressed because of your stutter.
And you know, I’ve been there. There are so many things I wish I had done that I didn’t, so many things I wish I had said, but didn’t.
So, I have a task for you.
If I didn’t have a stutter, who would I be?
What would I be doing?
Where would I be living?
What career would I have?
Then ask yourself….
How much different is this person from the person I am today?
Your answer will dictate your course of action:
If the discrepancy between the person you want to be and the person you are today is big, you need to do something about it.
If the discrepancy is small, firstly well done you (!), but, you need to do something about it too.
Live the life you want to live people! Seriously.
There is a psychological term for this discrepancy. It’s called Cognitive Dissonance. The larger the discrepancy between who you are today (your actual self) and who you want to be (your ideal self), the greater likelihood of you avoiding situations that will increase this dissonance. And research has shown that the greater the dissonance, the greater likelihood of you being unhappy.
But, regardless of whether you are achieving all of your life goals or only some, if you are held back by stuttering in any way, you must do something to change it.
This I why I feel utterly compelled to write this piece.
A piece for you.
Compelled perhaps isn’t the right word. I want to write this so that maybe I can give you the skills, encouragement and motivation to do something about your stutter, if this is what you want to do of course as many of you may be comfortable with your stutter (no assumptions from me!). I want to share my own stuttering journey and even if I just help one person make the decision to seek help, I would have achieved my goal.
An insightful reader pointed out to me that in my previous post I referred to myself as a ‘stutterer’ instead of referring to myself as ‘someone who stutters’. There is a vast difference in these terms you see. The first implies someone is a stutterer and a stutterer alone; the second implies someone is a person first, then a stutterer.
I pondered over this.
She was right of course. I have studied psychology long enough to know the difference in terms. I should have written ‘I am someone who stutters’. But it occurred to me that I am at the stage in my own stuttering journey that I do see myself as a person first and foremost and then as someone who stutters. So much so I don’t feel the need to make this difference known. This is just the same as if I was to say, I am a runner, a mum, a wife, a friend, a blogger as opposed to a person who is a runner, a person who is a mum. All of these things make me a person and they all have shaped me to be the person I am today.
Yes, it is heartbreakingly hard as a stutterer (see there I go again). I have cried over it and I have wasted so much of my energy wishing that I could just communicate like everyone else, but at the same time being a stutterer is who I am. Perhaps that was the beginning of my recovery.
Learning to accept myself as myself. Learning to accept myself as a stutterer. For all the faults I have, I have more good qualities. So in this sense, I come out on top! This, for me, was my biggest step. Do you know how hard it is to accept yourself as having faults, particularly one as in your face as stuttering. For years I was in denial about my stuttering, I avoided any information about stuttering as it went against what I wanted for myself as it would make me feel so uncomfortable (cognitive dissonance, see?). It was hard to accept it. I won’t lie, I cried over it. But I’m so much better for it. Acceptance is the Golden Key. Once I accepted it I didn’t feel the need to hide it and this in turn has meant that I have given myself permission to stutter.
This sounds crazy doesn’t it? Actually giving yourself permission to stutter. But it has led to me stuttering less.
But let me tell you how.
In 2011 I lectured for a year at the University of Tasmania in would you believe it, Communication Skills. At the beginning of my very first lecture I presented a slide on stuttering. Why? Because it was going to be painfully obvious to the students, even if it wasn’t already, that I stutter. And I didn’t want any gossiping behind my back. So I preempted it by making it plainly obviously that I had a stutter and I am okay with that, so my students should be too.
I spent the year lecturing. Some days were definitely harder than others. Some days I really still struggled with my stutter, particularly if I was rushing to get all my content delivered. But at the end of the year, I felt a huge amount of accomplishment having stood up week after week and presented my work in front of hundreds of students.
Also, I felt that if I didn’t talk about it openly, I would be forever trying to hide it. And like another reader of mine said, ‘the more a stutterer tries to hide their stutter, the more they stutter’.
So perhaps that’s the next stage of my journey.
TALKING ABOUT IT
In that lecture and even now to friends, colleagues and anyone who asks, I talk openly about my stuttering. Why I do it, how common it is and most importantly, what they can do to help me out.
I am not going to brush over this point.
This has helped me beyond measure. Telling people what I want from them helps me communicate more effectively. But most importantly, I don’t want people to think that I am unintelligent.
Because I’m not.
Although I stutter, although I block, and although I often say things that don’t make sense because I’ve replaced a potential block word with a word I know I can say, I am not dumb. And neither are any of you. Got it!
And on this note, I make a particular point about talking about stuttering if my performance is being judged.
Like in a job interview.
Yes, call me crazy! Don’t even think for one minute that I don’t talk about it then, because that is the worst place to try and hide it; when I need to be at my best. So before I begin an interview I always, always give a preamble about how I am a stutterer and that although I am nervous, I do just stutter in general and to keep that in mind when they interview me. In all honesty, I do not believe that I have been disadvantaged in any way for doing this. Rather, I think it demonstrates the confidence I have even in a high stress situation such as an interview.
So perhaps that is another step.
I MAKE IT WORK FOR ME
By talking about it openly in a job interview, I have indirectly demonstrated to the interviewers my character and my confidence.
By talking about it while lecturing, it was almost like on some level I said to the students, ‘I dare you to talk over the top of me’. Which I’m sure led to me having one of the most attentive classes in my School (that’s purely just my opinion, but I’m sure it’s totally true!).
Even in my role as a waitress, I used my stuttering to my advantaged. I stuttered a lot when I waitressed. I was supporting myself through University at the time so I was busy, I was rushed, I had a 1000 things on my mind and I couldn’t get the words out fast enough. So when speaking to customers it was inevitable that I would stutter.
So I stopped, took a deep breath and said, ‘Sorry I have a stutter. Bear with me’. And people did. They smiled. They nodded. And more often than not they said ‘take your time’. And because of this, I had great relationships with my customers, and great customer service. Plus the tips weren’t bad either.
In fact, some of these tips went to my cover charges at nightclubs treatment for stuttering that I mentioned in my first piece.
And that is my next step.
SEEK HELP IF YOU WANT IT
I want to make it abundantly clear, that although I have accepted my stuttering, talk about it openly and make it work for me, not one day goes by that I wish I didn’t have it. Some people are happy to live with their stuttering, and for the most part so am I. But things have changed for me in the least year. I am a mum now. And I don’t want my son to learn how to speak like me. I don’t want him to go through what I have gone through.
Kids are so innocent. My beautiful little cousin was eight at the time when she asked me, “Why do you say that… g-g-g-g go?” I replied, “Because I have a stutter and I can’t help it.” But that was a lie. I could help it. So I said, ‘Actually, I have exercises that I’m supposed to do but I don’t’. And she responded with the only reasonable and rational thing to say, ‘why don’t you do them?”
Why don’t I do my exercises?
Years before this I graduated from my stuttering programme and spoke with more fluency and eloquence than all of my friends and family. I was a total motor mouth. My friend even said, ‘It’s a miracle!’
So why don’t I do my exercises? I guess over time I stopped doing them, I stopped engaging in my supports and I lost my way. And here I was, maybe five years later, back to where I started. But this time, I knew that I could be eloquent and I knew I could be fluent but I had made the choice not to be by not keeping up my exercises. And years later here I was being asked by an eight year old and her innocence, why?
I had no answer for her. Maybe it was laziness? Maybe I didn’t really want to stop stuttering? Maybe life just got in the way?
It doesn’t matter why though. The point it is, I haven’t finished my journey.
I might be confident. I might not have let stuttering run my life. But I haven’t finished my journey.
So that, my friends, is my last step.
KEEP AT IT
Nine years after my first program, I am reconnecting with my supports and connecting with the stuttering community as a whole for the first time. I have booked myself into a treatment program. I may be confident, and I may not let stuttering hold me back in many parts of my life, but I still want to be able to speak fluently and eloquently. If not for me, then for my son.
What’s stopping you from doing the same?
What’s stopping you from contacting a programme in your local area right now? And don’t tell me it’s because you stutter, because now after you have read my journey, that is not a good enough reason. You are in control of your life. Not your stutter. You are the one that can make this change. No one else.
I know you can do this. If you need support, which will all do, surround yourself with like minded people, join Facebook groups (there are a few of them) it will make your journey that much more enjoyable. If you think that you would benefit from a new Facebook group specifically for motivation and encouragement when overcoming stuttering, then hit me up with an email and if I get enough people interested I’ll create one – one for all of us.
One more thing, thank you for reading my work and thank you for helping me on my own journey even if it was one I didn’t intend to do so publically.