Hi there. Nice to see you again.
In case you haven’t caught on by now, I’m big on self-expression. This is partly because I’m what my husband calls a “linguistic gymnast”. I pride myself on communication – efforts which, as a PWS, are undoubtedly fueled by an underlying need to prove my eloquence.
But it’s also because I’m an extrovert.
I love people. I’m a people collector. Celebrations? Bring ‘em on. New friends? Yes please. Have a problem? Let’s talk about it. In fact, let’s talk about anything. I might talk your ear off, so fair warning. I’m also an open book. So I might share a little too much. But it’s only because I want to establish real, genuine connection. None of those polite games or talking about the weather.
And, by the way, social media exhausts me. I like to be able to touch your arm as we laugh together. No, that’s not creepy! That’s connection, my friend. Because, yes, you’re now my new friend. Did I mention I collect people?
As an extrovert, I tend to process thoughts out loud. You don’t want to know every step of my mental process? Oops. I’m letting you in on my female internet superhighway whenever thoughts arise.
I have so much to say that I might have to force myself to wait until you’re done with your sentence before jumping in. You see, I have a long stream of words waiting to tumble out, and I have to make sure they all get airtime before I get stuck on one.
As an extrovert, I love telling stories. But, with the stutter, I sometimes have a hard time getting through them. I also love amusing banter, but humor is all about timing and, well, that’s not a luxury I always have. Punchlines lose their punch when you can’t get the words out. There’s nothing worse than seeing your audience waiting with bated breath and tripping over all the stops you have – bumbling laugh-talking, rapid word switches, slightly prolonged cadences – all in a failed attempt to bring it home smoothly.
“Retreat mode” is the most annoying strategy: stopping a thoughtful remark before I’ve even begun because I feel a stick happening…and then the conversation moves on and it’s too late. I’ve missed a lot of opportunities for learning more about particular topics, and I’ve missed a lot of opportunities for quick-witted remarks.
Yes, things can get a little complicated when you’re an extrovert who stutters. But, you know, it teaches me a few things.
#1: My stutter forces me to slow down.
In other words, it encourages me to channel some introvert wisdom: be a little more deliberate and choose my words more carefully. It’s also a constant reminder to think before I speak – which many of us could benefit from doing more often.
#2: My stutter reminds me to listen.
It motivates being more selective with speech, which makes sense. When you learn that speaking is challenging, you try to monitor your daily word limit. I mean that in the best of ways! Introverts tend to be more deliberate with words. They often listen more fully, partly because they’re not too busy waiting for their turn to speak. Again: something that many of us could benefit from doing more often.
#3: My stutter encourages silence.
Most of us fear silence in a conversation. It’s feels awkward, right? However, silence is a beautiful thing. In silence, you have more time to find the right words, to dig a little deeper, to give the other person more time to finish – and even discover – a thought that might not have formed given less time. (At the same time, too much struggling silence can lead to boredom. And being construed as boring? That’s one of my worst nightmares.)
#4: My stutter helps me take myself lightly.
I still stutter, and it still blows me out of the water sometimes. Just the other night, I think I repeated “I” about 17 times in a row. It was like a machine gun firing out of my mouth. I had to stop, shake my head, and laugh out loud with my husband.
For the record, I find it helpful to joke with my stutter, but I realize that that doesn’t work for everyone. My point is not to make light of it. My point is that whatever helps you feel great, do that. Laughter does it for me.
So, yes. My stutter is a great teacher. On the one hand, it teaches me the beauty of slowing down, listening, embracing silence, and taking myself lightly. On the other hand, it pushes me to get creative and find a way to get where I want to go. As my dad recently put it, I figure it out and get over obstacles in my way. Or, you know, learn how to use them to my advantage (which is usually more helpful).
That said, as a person who loves to talk, I have a few tips for all of you listeners. Maybe you can relate to them, and maybe not. Either way, here are there:
#1: Pretend I’m an introvert. Don’t jump in and finish my thought for me: just let me finish. I’ll get there somehow, or I’ll realize that I didn’t really need to share that particular aside anyway. Either way, we’ll make our way together through what is likely a very invigorating conversation.
#2: Please don’t tell me to relax. That absolutely never works. Never. 100% no. I’M RELAXED! IT’S JUST A TOUGH WORD!
#3: You don’t need to lighten the tension by joking about it. Let’s just pretend the stutter’s not there. Let’s not make it the white elephant in the room, let’s make it the invisible elephant in the room.
Perhaps your tips are completely different, and you’re annoyed by my invisible elephant comment. If so, I completely understand. For me, my stutter isn’t a source of shame: it’s more that I personally don’t see the need to prolong a word if I can maneuver my way around it, Matrix-style. It’s fun to challenge myself, to find a way to glide into effortless speech. For me, this isn’t fighting my stutter: it’s listening to it and lovingly carrying it toward free self-expression. (Remember: I’m big on that.)
At the end of the day, it’s all about finding what works for you and what makes you feel like a Superhuman.
As always, thanks for reading. Cheers to all the extroverts and introverts and all the Superhumans finding a way to share their stories. Keep sharing those stories, won’t you? Someone wants to hear them.
Jamie (aka James) is a New York creative arts therapist – turned personal trainer – turned health coach and curriculum developer. As a person who stutters, Jamie has never let her stutter hold her back, instead saying: ‘When it comes to making decisions and taking risks, if anything, my stutter pushes me to succeed’. As a writer Jamie believes that stories matter; the stories we share and the stories we tell ourselves – they matter.
Jamie Wolff (aka James) is a New York creative arts therapist – turned personal trainer – turned health coach and curriculum developer. As a writer Jamie believes that stories matter; the stories we share and the stories we tell ourselves – they matter. Jamie serves as the NSA Spotlight Writer.