“Are you choking?” asked my history teacher.
It felt like three years passed before I could answer. In fact, I might as well have been choking because that was exactly what it felt like. I physically could not speak; it was like someone was holding back my tongue and preventing me from uttering a word, and the silence felt endless. The humiliation that I felt when I stuttered during my eleventh grade American history class made my fear all the more recognizable. I used to let it bother me until I realized that having a stutter isn’t something that should be hidden, but rather embraced. I used to identify myself as a stutterer, but as I’m coming to terms with it, I’m realizing it is more of a distinctive quality, rather than a “disability.”
It’s difficult to describe what stuttering is like to a fluent speaker. The most common stutter is the repetitive st-st-stutter, like Porky Pig’s. However, mine is not so much the repetitive kind, but more of a silent block that comes out of nowhere, the way a freak accident occurs randomly and without caveat. It has been happening for as long as I can remember. Everyday the same thought floods my mind: what will today’s stutter be like? The simple act of talking is accompanied by the fear of stuttering: speaking in class, ordering at a restaurant, talking to a stranger, or even telling someone my own name. Yet, day after day, I raise my hand to participate, I introduce myself to new people, I order my favorite butter pecan fro-yo with strawberries drizzled with caramel. I have learned to go forward in the face of fear, even if it makes me uncomfortable.
There is something to be said about this change—how in one moment I can feel so vulnerable, and in the next I can feel so free. I thought about this vulnerability when I approached the podium for my senior speech this past fall; I felt anxious, hesitant and scared all because I was afraid to stutter, like it was something looked down upon or that the world would come to an end because of it. The thought of stuttering in front of so many people made me quiver. But, despite these thoughts, I did it anyway. I went forward in the face of fear and, after it was over, even though I stuttered in the beginning, I felt invincible.
I’ve been told that there is no magic cure for stuttering, or if there is one, it’s more your internal strength—that courageous thing you do, despite that giant pit in your stomach telling you every excuse not to. I’m quite familiar with this anxiety, but I still challenge myself to speak up in various situations, which has helped my stutter to improve progressively. I sometimes wonder why I haven’t been able to come to terms sooner. Maybe it is because of the way I have perceived stuttering, or the reactions I have gotten. I can’t control how others react to it, but I can control how I react to them. I’ve often been hurt by awkward laughter and confused stares; however, I’ve also been pleasantly surprised by people’s patience and admiration of my strength.
I’ve been told that my ability to finish a recitation, to charge forward in my senior speech, and to approach new people with confidence has inspired others to step out of their own comfort zones.