One of the most popular questions asked at NSA conferences is this: “If there was a magic pill that could cure stuttering, would you take it?” For the four years I’ve attended NSA conferences, my answer has always been the same: “ABSO-FRIGGIN-LUTELY!!!”
But it seems that I’m part of the minority. I’ve heard countless people say, “No way, it’s a part of who I am” or “I wouldn’t be the person I am today without my stutter.” It’s then that I start to feel crushing shame for my unpopular opinion, so much that I do not answer that question out loud when it’s asked at workshops.
Of course, I would never judge anyone who answers “no” to the aforementioned question. Without stuttering, I fully admit that I probably would not be who I am today. I wouldn’t have met my stepdad if I didn’t stutter. Yet, stuttering itself and the good that it can bring are two very different things. Call me crazy, but I hate the act of stuttering – I’d give just about anything to be fluent right now. Unfortunately, statements like that are something of taboo in the stuttering community.
In the recent years, “stuttering pride” has become a huge theme in the NSA and beyond. For some, it’s given them a new perspective on stuttering, and that’s a beautiful thing! But this movement can be a bad thing if it silences – intentionally or unintentionally – those who have differing perspectives. When those with negative views don’t feel welcome to share their stories, we miss out on having candid discussions with one another about just how difficult living with a stutter can be. Being set apart from the rest of the world by a speech problem can be empowering in a sense, but it can also be very lonely, an aspect of stuttering that few workshops choose to discuss.
The story of my first work experience this past semester is just one example of the unspoken reality of stuttering. I began my job as a lab technician for my academic advisor a few months ago, and initially, it was anything but easy. My advisor had always been very understanding and patient with me, which I immensely appreciated. Even so, my speech around my new boss was TERRIBLE – it physically hurt to talk to him! As a result, I had to email him quite a lot. Although I was thankful to have an avenue of communication where stuttering was not an issue, my heart broke a little more every time I clicked “send.” My advisor became like a second dad to me, so the fact that I couldn’t even talk to him about how much I was struggling to understand what was required of me and how I was trying to do the best I could, pained me in a way that words cannot describe. That right there is the epitome of loneliness. Although it got easier with time, there were still moments where the only way to flush it out was a good cry. Personally, it’s hard to feel pride towards the condition that caused all this turmoil.
Let’s be real: who enjoys having a huge block in front of their boss? Who would rather email someone they care about over talking to them in person? It’s a reality people who stutter often have to face, and sometimes, it just sucks. And guess what? It’s okay to say that. Try it! “Stuttering sucks!” How freeing is that?!
Now, let me be clear: I’m not at all saying we should wallow in our negative feelings associated with stuttering. That would make anyone miserable! What I’m saying is that those emotions need to be addressed head-on before anyone’s state can improve. Acknowledging the very real difficulties we people who stutter cope with – rather than writing them off, stuffing them down, and putting on a happy face – is the first step to a better self-image. If we can’t be open about those challenges with one another, the whole point of the “stuttering pride” movement is moot. When we label negative attitudes as taboo and try to mindlessly “fix” those that have a bad image of their stuttering, “stuttering pride” will not be the kind of pride we want to inspire within others.
At some time, the magic pill question is bound to pop up somewhere. Be honest with yourself when considering your answer; don’t fake a feeling of pride towards your stutter if it’s not genuinely there. If your answer is “yes,” don’t be afraid to be real with your fellow stutterers. Truth be told, someone else is bound to be struggling too, and your story could be the one that starts that honest conversation that the whole room – whether they realize it or not – needs to have.
Author Annie is a student at Florida Atlantic University’s Honors College, majoring in marine biology. She has stuttered ever since she was in kindergarten. Annie’s two passions, although completely unrelated to stuttering, are marine biology and singing/songwriting. Annie is a firm believer in support for teens who stutter as a means of helping them become more accepting of themselves and their speech, especially after her outlook on her stuttering significantly shifted from hopeless to hopeful once she joined a local NSA Teen chapter during middle school. She longs to offer the same support that was given her to other teens who stutter and assure them that they are not alone, nor will they ever be.
This piece is part of an ongoing series, written by our NSA Teens.