(Originally posted on Facebook on September 8, 2016)
I met a kid at the YMCA. What caught my attention was that he stuttered. I felt the need to talk to him and tell him that I can help him. I'm not even sure why I thought he needed help. I guess it was God talking to me. I met with him and his family and talked about my experience as a stutterer and how I've learned to be at peace with my stammer and stop fighting with it. This seemed like a totally new idea to them. They told me about all the therapy the kid had been through and how none of it worked. No one ever suggested to them that they should not fight against it but accept it because everyone stutters at some point - just that some do it more than others.
I started thinking this way after meeting the National Stuttering Association. Before that time, I was always hoping to beat my stutter. Then, I scored a job as a teacher before I realized that it meant I would be regularly talking for almost 4 to 6 hours every work day in front of three to thirty people, depending on enrollment. So I joined the NSA and hoped to find the magic bullet that would change everything for me and make my stutter stop.
I met Katherine. She's the first person I ever met that made me think that a stammer can actually be beautiful. She was so relaxed when she talked. She stuttered, but she didn't tense up and fight with it. She knew the tricks and techniques to work through the blocks - I watched her do easy onsets enough times that I learned how to do them - but she never seemed to be at war with it. I also learned that from another beautiful stutterer named Lucy. They were cool about it. Even kinda casual. Stuttering became as significant an issue to me as if someone spoke with a lisp or a foreign accent.
That was the first time in my life I learned not to fight with this demon. (BTW, I had literally been told by some well-meaning people that stuttering was a sign of having a demon attacking my soul and that I needed a laying on of hands to achieve deliverance. Even at a young age, I knew to smile and nod politely as I backed away towards the door.) From the NSA meetings, I learned the saying that "Stuttering is what happens when you try not to stutter". When I stopped fighting with it, guess what happened?
No, I still stuttered. But everyone stutters at some point. It's just that some do it more than others.
What happened was that I relaxed. If I stuttered, I stuttered. If I didn't stutter at any one moment, I would at some point later. And it's alright. It won't kill me. It's not a disability. It won't hold me back unless I let it. And now, I've been teaching for almost 10 years and I'm getting better at it every day. Not one time in any of my days as a teacher has anyone complained to me or my bosses about my stutter.
Maybe that's why I talked to the kid and his family. I remember what it was like to be 15 and stutter around kids who needed to make themselves look and feel better about themselves by picking on the kid who was different. Kids with stutters make for easy targets. I remember having well-meaning family who didn't know that things they were doing to help me talk was actually making the problem worse. I also remember that stuttering never stopped me from making friendships with people worth knowing and holding onto for the rest of my life. It never stopped me from telling a joke, though every PWS will tell you that we always block on the punchline. It did not stop me from having a rich and happy life full of love and good memories, and it wouldn't unless I allowed it to.
I stutter. You do, too. And that's alright, baby. That's alright.
Here are some comments I received to this post:
I refuse to allow stuttering to define me. I will allow the love and support of my friends and family to encourage me in my difficulties and challenges.