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December 12, 2013

On Stuttering

Overcoming a crisis of identity

I am a stutterer. It’s taken me more than two years to publicly admit that–although it’s been obvious to nearly everyone I’ve interacted with. I’m finally able to take a weird sort of pride in my stuttering. It’s made me question my relationship with God, my career goals, and my identity.

I had a stutter in the third grade, but after working with a speech pathologist for about a year, I never had a moment of disfluency until my senior year of college. My stuttering in grade school never affected my sense of self–I always had a friendly, chatty disposition. Other kids never made fun of my stuttering; I only know I had a problem because my parents told me when I started stuttering again recently. This recent stuttering, on the other hand–I still have intense, sensory memories of my stuttering. If I think back to my speech a year ago, for example, I can feel my throat muscles clench and my sense of self vanish.

Why am I choosing to share this? Because I finally feel a sense of accomplishment about my stuttering. Because I gave an exceptional presentation to a group of 80 of my peers and held their attention. Because I am more than my stuttering. And because my stuttering has made me into the person I am today.

I used to never take my personal accomplishments all that seriously–grades, awards, etc.–I just thought they were par for the course. Now I see every personal achievement as a reflection of me. I’ve worked hard for it all.

When I began stuttering again in fall 2009 I lost my sense of self. I couldn’t communicate my thoughts. I couldn’t tell a joke. I couldn’t speak up in class. I couldn’t be me. I’ve questioned God a lot these past few years. I felt my stuttering was a disability and an imposition on my everyday life. I was angry at God and at myself every day.

Now I take nothing for granted. Every opportunity (not just in regards to speech) is a chance for me to challenge myself and to grow. I see that God has given me so much more strength than I knew I had. The past three years have been hard. Every time I talked I felt as if I was standing on a battlefield–that it was me against the world. I tried all the tricks I could to avoid showing people that I stuttered, like avoiding “problem” words (I’m a one-woman thesaurus). I considered every time I opened my mouth as just another chance to be embarrassed or judged. Stuttering has not made me harden my shell or put on a blasé attitude towards others, but to fundamentally reassess my own strengths and make my own rules for living. Stuttering has made me put things into perspective.

Although I still feel pangs of jealousy when I’m having a particularly difficult moment of disfluency–and find myself inadvertently watching the mouths of friends so easily spewing humorous anecdotes–I have come to terms with my stuttering and not let it define me.

So, I am a stutterer. But I am also incredibly driven, passionate, intelligent, curious, kind, and creative. And I overcome my stuttering every day, every conversation, every time I shake someone’s hand and introduce myself, and every time I get on stage and give a presentation.