National Stuttering Association

Hi there.

I’m Jamie, but you can call me James – whichever feels more natural. I’m an old-school New York creative arts therapist turned personal trainer turned health coach and curriculum developer. In short, I’m a Type A realistic optimist who, probably like you, is still trying to figure it all out. Sometimes I’m a social chameleon, subtly shifting to accommodate the present situation. Sometimes I feel like I never quite fit anywhere, slightly awkward from all angles. If you’ve ever felt that like, welcome. Glad to have you along for the ride.

I’ve always loved writing, so much so that my grade school teachers had to limit my verbosity with strict word counts. I’m a word nerd, which you might see that in the plethora of quotations I insert. Don’t worry: I try to sprinkle them sparsely. Someone once told me that I write like NPR sounds. If there’s even a modicum of truth to that statement, then that’s reason enough to keep on writing.

What else might be helpful for you to know? Well, much to my chagrin, my younger sister has always been considered the funny one, because she is. As much as I try to be interesting and entertaining, I’m the sappy one. It is what it is. So, I try to strike a happy medium when I write — perhaps partly to make up for a lack of sharp wit when speaking. But more on that later.

By the way, I stutter. Which is another reason I’m here with you.

If I could sum up my stutter in one word it would most definitely be “conundrum”. Most people are surprised when I tell them I stutter, and I think several years went by where I kind of forgot about it. I simply had too much to do and say to stop and really pay attention, and no one else seemed to notice. Though it’s present in my daily life, it’s often nothing more than an afterthought. I just happen to stutter, in the same way that I happen to have a knack for being five minutes late, a teeny tiny nose unlike anyone else in my family, and an overwhelming physical attraction to Colin Firth.

Call me crazy, but I loved watching The King’s Speech, because it brought my tri-decade conundrum to the big screen for all to see. It conveyed a stuttering character as a strong and capable protagonist with multiple sides, not as comic relief. In short, Mr. Firth created a real character who spent a lifetime hiding his vulnerability as much as possible.

Stuttering can complicate almost every aspect of life, and owning it like a boss takes power away from the stutter that can feel like a prison. However, I don’t like to use the word stutterer – not because I don’t accept it, but because stuttering has never defined me. I’m not a fan of labels. When you’ve had a label smacked onto your forehead – a big, blazing red label that makes you doubt everything about yourself – you’re left with some unshakable PTSD. Plus, labels feel stifling, like crewneck t-shirts that sit too high on your neck.

Identity is a convoluted, ceaselessly changing, tangled ball of mess, and labels can definitely help tease out key pieces. But I don’t like them. As Alain de Botton wrote: “To ourselves, after all, we are always unlabelable. When alone, we are always simply ‘me’ and shift between sides of ourselves effortlessly and without the constraints imposed by the preconceptions of others.” So, instead of calling myself a stutterer, I claim my stutter: it’s mine. In a way. In another way, my stutter and I have been in a relationship for over thirty years. But more on that later.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the “dragons” in my life – the challenges that I’ve overcome or have yet to overcome. Most people choose the path of least resistance and bury those dragons. Well, call me a masochist, but I like to stay in the arena with them, breathing and clawing at the dusty earth, challenging them to look me in the eye.

But here’s where it gets bizarre: For all of the dragons in my life – large and small – stuttering never even entered my mind as a worthy opponent. It’s as if it was such an ingrained part of me, and, at the same time, so tiny a piece of me, that I could no longer recognize it as something of significance. Yet it’s a dragon that has been in the arena with me longer than any others.

Brené Brown wrote, “Nothing has transformed my life more than realizing that it’s a waste of time to evaluate my worthiness by weighing the reaction of the people in the stands.” But I think it’s more the fact that I’m as stubborn as my stutter. Perhaps that’s one reason why I’m so stubborn. When you have a lot to say and you can’t get it all out the way you want to, you figure out how to stand your ground, think creatively, and get done what needs doing. I’ve figured out a pretty effective system – though how exactly that happened will always be a bit of a mystery. My game of linguistic gymnastics is so ingrained that I sometimes forget I still constantly play it.

My stutter has never held me back beyond the moment. When it comes to making decisions and taking risks, if anything, my stutter pushes me to succeed. I have things to say! I have things to share! I have things you want to hear, whether you know it or not! Do I wish that I never stuttered? Of course. Who wants to have to think so hard about doing something that most people do without thinking at all? But, the fact is, I stutter. I hoped I would outgrow it, but I haven’t. Luckily, as it turns out, it’s perhaps my greatest teacher.

Now, I recognize that, as a writer, I’m rather biased in this area, but here’s the thing: stories matter. The stories we share matter, and the stories we tell ourselves matter. So, this column focuses on stories. My personal stories, as well as other people’s stories. Challenges, strengths, and learnings. Deep thoughts and entertaining moments. Inspirations and musings. Collectively, they represent voices that affirm you’re not alone. We’re here. I’m here. So let’s keep the conversation going.

With that said, thanks for stopping by. And keep sharing your stories, because someone wants to hear them.