I Am Not My Stutter
by: Cameron Coppen
As you can imagine, I’ve been asked the question “How has your stutter impacted your life?” more times than I can count. One would think the answer would mirror itself each time, except my direct answer often changes as I’ve gone through life. I believe it has something to do with the fact that as I have become more mature and self-proficient in thinking for myself, it has allowed me to take a step back and reflect on where I’ve been, where I currently stand, and where I will be.
When I was younger, a little kid even, the only thought I could think about each and every day was “Who’s going to say something to me about it next?”, or “Is someone going to make fun of my stutter at school today?” The intrusive thoughts I had as a child followed me everywhere, and it contributed to me not being as open with people as I would’ve liked to have been.
There were specific instances in my childhood where I’ll admit, regrettably, that I sometimes didn’t even believe that I could talk to or trust my parents with the problems I would have at school. Nothing they did warranted those thoughts, I just had no concept of trust because of how sheltered I kept myself as a kid. I wasn’t open to discussing my fears of speaking in class, talking to friends at recess or approaching a teacher with a question.
At the same time however, it seemed I was always regarded by my teachers as an extremely active participant in class and made friends easily. What I failed to tell people and even my speech therapists was that I was forcing myself to do those things because I had this deep-rooted, gut feeling that I had to be like everyone else. These actions I took to close myself off on a personal level from everyone made me very hyper focused on only myself to handle my problems.
Taking New Steps
I strongly advocate for stutterers to attend speech therapy as soon as they can start. There are tons of reasons as to why, such as learning to be open with someone about your fears and vulnerabilities, and practicing effective strategies to “make stuttering easier” as an SLP I had years ago put it to me. I have been to a ton of different SLP’s, whether it was in school or outside of school. I’ve seen a big variety of therapy approaches.
The older I got, the more I began to peer back into the past and examine what my therapy experiences were like as a kid. What I immediately noticed was that almost everything I was taught at a young age was aimed towards attempting to shield myself from my own stutter and focus on strategies to mitigate how often I might stutter on words, sounds, phrases.
Having “tools” to help ease your stutter is fine, but I learned more about myself and my attitude towards my stutter once the focus and goals shifted from a set of strategies to self-acceptance and building confidence. I had a speech language pathologist tell me a lot that the goal is not to stop stuttering as a result of therapy, but rather to learn to “stutter easier”, and have the confidence to do so openly. Since then, my entire attitude towards my speech and my existence in general has changed dramatically for the better.
Over time, my confidence skyrocketed. I was talking to more people and openly stuttering. Gradually, I just simply didn’t care much about what people who knew me or did not know me thought about my stutter. I was determined to always allow myself to say what I wanted to say, no matter how many seconds, minutes, or hours it took. I was learning to desensitize myself from feeling fear in those situations.
I have never felt more confident in myself and what I can accomplish in life than I do today. This is the SINGLE most important thing that acceptance of my speech has taught me. The sooner you can learn to let your stutter share headspace with your thoughts and desires, the better off you will be. Never let your stutter win that mental tug-of-war, despite how much you may want to give in or give up.
I definitely have bad days, when my speech kicks my butt in every way imaginable. What helps make sure those bad days don’t “win” is that I have learned to reflect on “bad” days with an open mind. I can look at what I did and didn’t do, and analyze the pros and cons of negative interaction or instances of stuttering that may have occurred during that day. Once I process my thoughts, I can then immediately shift my focus towards tomorrow with excitement and optimism. We humans have a tendency of dwelling on the past and letting it impact how we live in the present. Try not to do that. You’ll thank yourself later.
Reflecting on What I’ve Learned
It is so important for everyone (not just people who stutter) that you have a good support group to talk to anytime you need it. A hard lesson I learned in my younger years is that you simply can’t go through life only riding just your willpower. At some point, you will need that person, that group, or outlet to vent your struggles and hear other opinions and thoughts. I used to believe that I could do everything myself. No one can. No one. Having a group that I know “they’ve got me” has added to my confidence and my self-security.
I’d like to conclude with a few more thoughts.
My message to any person who stutters (and everyone else who faces their own daily challenges) is to never treat your disability or personal vulnerabilities as something that makes you less significant than you feel you are. Don’t let it rip your confidence away. Look at challenges as a source of strength, as opposed to weakness. Use the word ally instead of adversary when thinking about a challenge.
There have been days where I’ve hated that I was given a stutter instead of someone else. That I would have to deal with this disability for the rest of my life. But I also realize that having to deal with something as significant as a stutter has made me a much stronger person on every level, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’ve met amazing people and become friends with so many through the National Stuttering Association. I’ve been given opportunities to present workshops and ideas in front of all age groups, and these have meant so much to me.
I have even presented a deep-dive into how the National Stuttering Association and its mission has impacted people who stutter in Atlanta, GA, in front of a crowd of over 200 people with my SLP at the time and a good friend. That opportunity to share my story to so many curious people, or help contribute to this story, would have never been a reality without my stutter.
My stuttering is not me, and I am not my stutter. We’re one in the same and in this together for the long haul. It’s an integral part of who I am and played a role in shaping me into the man I am today. Considering all of this, there is not a single thing I would have done differently, because all of my experiences have led right back to where I am now.
My stutter makes me unique, it’s a part of me, and I accept the impact it has made on my life. Keep calm, and stutter on y’all!
Cameron Coppen is 22 years old and from Woodstock, GA. He has been involved in the NSA since 2008. Throughout the years, he has presented several workshops at the Annual Conference, and he is a member of the NSA Young Adult Committee. Cameron has also enjoyed hosting NSA Young Adults Connect. He is working towards a bachelor’s degree in finance at Georgia Southern University. When he’s not at school or studying, Cameron enjoys spending time with friends and family, working out and playing with his dogs.