Oh hey, I drew a metaphor about stuttering. Enjoy (or don’t. Whatever you want do do is fine with me)
Oh hey, I drew a metaphor about stuttering. Enjoy (or don’t. Whatever you want do do is fine with me)
As is my legal obligation as a stutterer, I saw The King’s Speech when it came out in 2010 and it got me thinking. First about how I need to get Pride and Prejudice on DVD because, duh, and second about the differences between social awareness, and the availability of social services for stuttering/stammering around the world. If you live in a non-American country*, would you mind shooting me an email at IHateNJSBlog@gmail.com (or leaving a comment) here regarding:
1) If you were the only person you knew who stuttered/stammered growing up
2) If other people were familiar with what stuttering is (public awareness) and what people’s general reactions are
3) What sort of treatment is offerred to you as part of your health care system and/or the availability of private treatment opportunities
*As an American, I am of course only now finding out that other countries exist. Of course, as a Californian, it was also news to me that there were other states. Also I apologize if you’re Canadian or Mexican and are all “hey, Canada/Mexico is in NORTH AMERICA you dummy”. You make a valid point. I guess I mean a non United States of American country, which is term that I just made up.
Yesterday I had the really awesome (yah, I said awesome…I’m from California, so just be glad I didn’t say “hella awesome”. oops…just did) opportunity to talk to a most pleasant gentleman (hi!) who is writing a book about stuttering and for the first time in a long while I had the opportunity to articulate my thoughts and experiences with stuttering and suffice it to say: I do not have my elevator pitch down just yet.
I don’t know exactly how stuttering has affected my life because it’s the only way of speaking I’ve ever known. From time to time, I try to imagine what it must be like to not have to strategize* every phone call or conversation or to be able to actually say everything that crosses my mind. Actually…in that regard, stuttering has probably kept me from being that awful know-it-all who won’t shut up, so when you take the social stigma of a speech impediment and weigh it against that, maybe I’m breaking even on the social-likability scale. Maybe not. Either way, I actually don’t know what I’d do if I woke up tomorrow with perfect speech. At any rate, I’m the kind of person who would surely find something else to obsess over but stuttering sure functions well as an all-consuming fear generator- apparently leaving me no time for successful self-reflection (as evidenced not only by this blog and its wandering-aimlessly-through-the-seas-of-nothingness type of prose**, but also this particular blog post, which has no satisfying moral-of-the-story-type conclusion, though is not without an overuse of dashes).
Maybe the epiphany is on the horizon. I’ll let y’all know.
*I think WordPress is Gaslighting me by red-lining strategize. It’s is a word. Right?
** Sorry, I couldn’t think of a less pretentious word to use there.
My ten year high school reunion is coming next month and aside from the usual panic about how maybe I need to start buying eye cream and whatever (see, because now I’m an old), I keep thinking about how different my life is from what I had expected it to be in high school. First I want to make it clear: I wasn’t regularly bullied in school, which sets me apart from many stutterers. For the most part I kept my head down and got along just fine with my classmates- (pro tip: you can’t make enemies when you never talk to anyone!) But it’s gotten me remembering one of the defining moments in my life (italics for extra drama). Ahem:
Picture this: 2003, everyone getting ready to send in their college applications or tuning in and dropping out or whatever young people do. We’re all trying to get Where is the Love? out of our heads and wearing Avril Lavigne inspired lady-ties. I remember standing in the guidance counselor’s (Ms. X) office reading through the giant index of universities (OLD) and noting the options that were sufficiently close to a beach. When I brought up my dream school UCLA (I even had an awesome bucket hat from my last visit to campus) Ms. X gave me one of those awful tight-lipped smiles and told me I wasn’t really “UC…material”. and that if I really felt like I could handle a four-year institution, a state school would be my best option but really…college isn’t for everyone. Instead of doing the spit take this warranted, I glummed out, like “well yah…I guess you’re right.” I might as well have eaten thistles for lunch that day. That bucket hat became the saddest thing in the world. Sadder than the fact that I used to wear bucket hats.
Three years earlier I had been discouraged from taking French because “well, you know it’s very difficult.” The year before I had been refused her signature on a permission slip for taking classes at the local junior college. See, I had an IEP (Individualized Educational Plan, duh) because of my stuttering which translated in her mind into “Dummy von Dumbington, dumbest citizen of Dumbhaven!” Which is helpful in a guidance counselor. But it’s not all her fault- each time she was just confirming all of my suspicious that I wasn’t cut out for that kind of success.
I had been interested in culinary school earlier…well, not interested, but rather saw it as a way to get around the kinds of classes where you had to read aloud or present a convincing argument. But a grease fire at culinary camp and the realization that I hate to cook squashed that avoidance technique dream. So the applications halfheartedly went out to two state schools and the letters came back, offering me a spot in the class of 2007. I really had no interest in these fine schools and at that point it seemed like a big fat waste of money to start something I wouldn’t even be able to finish anyway. I knew that at some point over the four years my stuttering would keep me from passing a class, keep me from graduating, and it would all have been for nothing and who would give me a job, anyway? The local junior college, on the other hand, was free, which meant at the time of my certain failure I wouldn’t have wasted my or my parents’ money and I could at least claim to have given it a shot.
But! Taking it one day at a time (ommm), and not without strategic moves including (but not limited to) taking ASL as my foreign language, I made it through. I graduated with honors and transferred to UCLA, where I graduated in the class of 2008. There wasn’t one moment where I looked at myself in the mirror and thought “you’re brilliant! Look at you, with your abilities and your potential!”, but with each tiny success I got closer and closer to some approximation of confidence.
I don’t really know how to wrap this up because I’m not sitting here like “oh check out how awesome I realized I am!” Some days are better than others and I obviously still think about this when considering things like law school and other life milestones. But who knows…I’ve made it further than I ever though I would so…ok, what I’m really trying to say here is that I really wish bucket hats would make a comeback.
One of the words I have particular difficulty with is “stutter”. If I were the type of person who went deep digging for meaning and metaphor in everything, I would say something about how it’s the most difficult word to say in so many ways…but digging for deep meaning initiates a Liz Lemon-level eye roll in me and to be honest I just think it’s funny and partially relevant. But I digress…
I don’t want to brag or anything but I have gotten pret-tttty good at hiding the fact that I stutter in my day to day goings-on. On a good day you’d think I’m a non-stutterer (not true), on a bad day I come across as painfully shy or a bit dim (not true), and on a typical day I just seem a bit nervous or wound-up (partially true). Because of this (and because I’m not super stoked about being pegged as “the one who stutters”) I don’t really talk about it. I don’t introduce myself as “EM and I stutter” and after the initial meeting it just feels awkward- like I’m “coming out” as a stutter (we’re here! We’re not particularly comfortable speaking in front of large groups! Get used to it!) and makes it into a bigger deal than it needs to be. So it becomes this…thing…that you notice after we’ve hung out a bit but don’t quite know how to place*.
The funny thing is that if anyone were to ask, I’m perfectly fine with acknowledging it and answering any questions. If I seem uncomfortable it’s because despite all evidence to the contrary (see: this blog), I’m not super comfortable talking about myself in general, but it’s the same as if you asked if I cut my hair or commented on my shirt and I’m always happy to get confirmation that you know I stutter and hey, it’s cool (like “it’s ok cool”, not like “bowties are cool” cool)**. So…am I in the minority here? Do other people prefer to put it all out there, or go in the other direction and shut. down. any conversation on the subject?
*I’m very possibly 100% delusional and everyone in the world has known I stutter from the moment they met me.
**If any of my real world friends are reading this: you don’t have to run out and start asking me about stuttering. Really. But if you’ve always wanted to and were just afraid I’d be all weird about it, ask away, dear friend.
…and one of them starts stuttering (you may have seen that coming). In my 27 years on this planet, 24 of them having been spent as a full-time stutterer, only six months have been spent in regular interaction with other people who stutter and I’ve come to realize I have no. idea. how to make all the right moves when it comes to listening. When I’m in the middle of a block I am deeply self-involved. All I’m thinking about is how to get the word out, by any means necessary. I block (heh) out the person I’m talking to- maybe because I can’t bear to see a look of amusement or confusion, maybe because I’m just not good at multitasking. But at any rate, my grasp on stuttering etiquette is minimal at best. What I’m looking for my convo partner to do is wait for me to finish and move alon
But when I’m on the other side I start to get self-conscious- “do I make eye contact? Is that creepy? I mean, sometimes a block can go on for awhile, at what point does eye contact become ‘looking deep in your eyes and staring directly into your soul’? How often can I blink*? And ohhh now I understand the urge people get to finish my sentence. Don’t be that person. For the love of God, DON’T be that person.” Then the block is over and it’s all forgotten. I want to be clear- interacting with another person who stutters does NOT make me uncomfortable and I can’t tell you how happy I am to meet other stutterers- people know what’s up. I’m probably at my most comfortable in such a group. But I’m still terrified of doing the wrong thing and alienating the one group of people who understands. In fact, very early on I would get the urge to grin like an idiot when someone else started to stutter- after all, hearing someone else’s disfluency is the purest form of confirmation that I’m not the only one. That there are other people like me. And there is nothing more insulting than grinning like an idiot while someone is working through a block.
I think what this post really just reveals how self involved I am. Ah well. Isn’t that the point of a blog?
Also: What are we preferring these days? People Who Stutter (person first!) PWS (sounds like an accounting firm or workout regime)? Stutterers (my fave because it sounds like a gang).
* According to The Doctor you should never blink.
I said I’d post tomorrow…looks like I lied (but in a good way).
I’m just starting out on my adventure into meeting and interacting with other people who stutter, and as as millennial (I think?) of course the first place I’m going to start is the Internet. The first thing I’ve noticed is how much of a bummer everyone thinks being a stutterer is. Now, I’ve known this since I was a little stutterlet and believe me- BELIEVE ME- I am not the kind of person to sigh, roll her eyes and say “not everything has to be so NEGATIVE.” In truth, I’m generally the person who sees the glass half empty and thinks that it doesn’t matter anyway because it’s milk and I’m lactose intolerant and the last half is usually backwash anyway and…ugh.
But. I am a strong believer in the idea that if we don’t find things to laugh about then we’re really screwed. And so this is my challenge to myself: I don’t have to like my stutter (and seriously, if you do- what the hell is wrong with you?) and I don’t have to even look on the bright side (hey, it’s made me a better, more compassionate person!), but this this isn’t going away and maybe I need to try to look on the lighter side. Anyone with tips on how to go about doing this?