Ever since I can really remember, I’ve had a stutter. For those who don’t know the exact definition, to stutter means to talk with involuntary disruptions of sounds. And no, I didn’t get my stutter from any brain or emotional trauma. Although I will never know for sure, for all intents and purposes, I was born with a speech impediment.
In middle school, my frustration with my stutter and how it affected my social interactions pushed me to enroll in a three-week intensive fluency program at Emerson College the summer going into eighth grade.
The program not only taught me behaviors to better my fluency, but it also started to teach me how to accept my stutter. The key word here is “started.” I knew the program wouldn’t magically fix my speech impediment, but the way it left me feeling empowered and unafraid of my stutter made me think I would never stress about it again. In reality, I am still on the road to accepting my stutter. It’s a journey.
The fluency program also showed me that I am definitely not alone. Before starting the program, I had only met one other person who stutters, but I ended up going through the program with five other teenagers who also wanted better fluency.
Together, we made phone calls to random stores, in which our opening line was something like, “Hi, I’m Ally, and I stutter,” and ventured out into Boston Common where we interviewed strangers about their experiences with stutterers. We did all these activities before learning many fluency behaviors and sometimes, we purposely tried to stutter as much as possible.
That experience taught me that, unlike 13-year-old Ally thought, most people don’t view stutterers as abnormal beings and aren’t uncomfortable when conversing with them. But, that didn’t mean my anxiety around speaking was extinguished for good.
As humans, we learn to care what people think about us even though we should really be more focused on what we think of ourselves. It’s definitely an unconstructive habit, but we can’t help it. The same goes for stuttering.
Every time I feel the tension of a stutter building on my lips, my whole body and mind react to it. I’m able to hear the pulse of my heartbeat as it quickens, my chest tightens, and negative thoughts swirl around in my mind. The negative thoughts have to do with the unknown.
How will the person I’m talking to react? What if they think I’m weird? Do they understand I’m just stuttering? Will I get to say what I want to say? What if the message of what I say gets lost in the stutter? I’m taking too long to speak—I’m wasting their time.
I could go on and on about what I worry about when I stutter, but that would be unproductive since I’m trying to overcome that negative self-talk. Like many other college women, I’m trying to be more confident. That means accepting that my stutter is a part of me and growing to not dread every time I have to speak.
Just telling myself, “Be confident. Don’t worry,” isn’t going to change anything. Improving my self-esteem and confidence means taking small steps. It means gradually stepping outside of my comfort zone to show myself that I have nothing to be afraid of.
I need to stop thinking of my stutter as an impassable roadblock in my life, and instead, believe that it is just one of the many characteristics that make me who I am. I’m on the road to getting there.