The journey isn’t over

Me and my stutter have come a long way over the past three years. I don’t think we’re archenemies any longer; maybe, we’ve became amicable bed-fellows but I know we could be so much more.

I’ve had my stutter for as long as I can remember. I have no great story of its first utterance or any recollection of a cause in my childhood. My dad stutters, I stutter: it just is. It had significant negative impacts during my early life: from humiliating moments answering the register in school to horrible attempts of speeches at school. After these bad stuttering experiences accumulated, I thought it was a disgrace to stutter and I therefore increasingly put all my effort into hiding the hideous beast. My stutter became covered by a sea of social awkwardness. This probably began in my middle teens and by the time I came to university I was very good at it. I had managed to hide my stammer completely for the first three months, using a mixture of swapping words I might stammer on, avoiding situations where I might stammer and, the old fresher favourite, alcohol to help with socialising. The psychological burden was immense, I was constantly on edge and I actively avoided activities I would have liked to have done but I thought it was for the best.

My approach, however, all came crashing down one day in morning class. After a great party, and a reciprocally bad hangover, my ability to avoid stammering was weakened and I had a stammer which would not stop. My body emptied of any confidence and happiness as shame came rushing in. I wanted to run out of the room but I managed to stay for the rest of class. I felt all my classmates present now knew of my shameful secret and I was angry at them for being at the scene of my downfall. I think I purposefully distanced myself from those who were there for the rest of the year. At the end, my tutor pulled me to one-side and said that he now understood the reason I had been quiet in class. He informed me it could not persist if I was to successfully complete the course. He suggested it was my approach to stuttering and not the stuttering itself which was the cause of the problems. I never spoke in class and did not contribute sufficiently. He suggested speech therapy could help. He was right but I denied it. I muddled my way through the year without really altering my approach but strangely his words refused to leave my head. It was in the aftermath of this horrific moment that I suppose I began to start ‘thinking about thinking about’ approaching my stutter differently.

That summer, by chance, I attended a gathering for people who stutter. I had been on several stuttering therapy courses before with little success but the approach of some of the people at this conference was different to any speech techniques techniques I had been taught. They just spoke and let the stutter come out if it happened: they were charismatic, engaging, happy and confident despite their dysfluencies. I’m not even sure ‘despite’ was the right word, perhaps (and I am only now coming to understand this) ’because of’? I had a great time there and it altered something fundamental in my mind-set. Those sporadic childhood experiences of stuttering were not a reflection of how it really appeared to most other people I met. It was not disgraceful to stutter.

Since then, I’ve looked towards accepting my stutter as part of me: basically not caring whether I do stutter or do not stutter. With the help of fantastic speech therapists and further conferences, I have allowed myself to stutter openly and began eradicate my old avoidance habits. I stutter more than I ever have but, paradoxically to outsiders, I feel a lot happier with my speech. I am more confident and sociable. I have realised through positive experiences – such as successful presentations and speeches – that I can be interesting, engaging and likable even if I stutter on almost every word.

Overall, I feel I’ve come along way with my stutter but the journey isn’t over. I feel ok now talking with stuttering, but I still can’t talk about stuttering. I just find it too painful a subject matter and those old feelings of shame and disgrace quickly resurface. I’ve hidden my speech therapy from all but my family. I had the perfect chance to mention it just a few days ago. I was talking with two close friends about Cloud Atlas a book by David Mitchell. For a few seconds, I contemplated saying “I actually met David Mitchell at a stuttering conference last year. He gave a fantastic speech” but I didn’t. I’ve thought about bringing it up more than ever over the past year but I just can’t seem to do it. I know just how powerful it can be to speak about your weaknesses, as evidenced by the fantastic stories here. I can see my friends want to talk about it. Me and my stutter can be powerful allies. I’m thinking about it and I hope I do it sooner rather than later.

Letting Go

It has taken me a long time to get to this point, to tell my story.

I have stuttered since I could talk. One of my very first memories of stuttering is when I had to stand up and give a speech to my class in primary school – if that wasn’t nerve wracking enough, throw in stuttering and it is a recipe for disaster. I stuttered on every word and the whole class laughed. I don’t remember how old I was but I remember feeling very low.
You would expect somebody who gets that reaction to run out of the room crying, but I didn’t. I sat back down at my desk and remained silent. Although I was crying on the inside, I would never let anybody see me cry, not about my stuttering anyway.

I have spent the past 29 and a half years analysing why I stutter, giving all of my energy to speaking fluently and thinking so intently about what I am going to say next. When you spend so much time and put so much energy into EVERYTHING that you say, you miss out on so much.

Growing up I felt lonely, I felt that no one understood my stuttering, or really understood me. I still thought that up until about 3 years ago when I dug deeper in the social media landscape and found Facebook support groups.

Even though I have stuttered my whole life, I have only come to accept my stutter the last six to twelve months.

Before I would tell myself “I’m going to be strong and not stutter today” and inevitably I would fail and I would get down on myself.

Now when I stutter I think, “Ok that’s not so bad, nothing bad happened.”

I have been going to speech therapy for awhile now and even though I enjoy the sessions and think my speech therapist is wonderful, I’m now starting to question whether it is of benefit to me. I am coming to the slow realisation that I will probably stutter my whole life, I will never speak fluently and that doesn’t seem so scary anymore.

The stress and pressure I would put on myself not to stutter took an emotional toll on me. It is time to simply…Let Go

It is time to let go of my fear of stuttering, of stuttering itself. I have let stuttering affect my life for too long, no more.

My stuttering has made me brave, has made me strong, is giving me purpose…it is simply who I am.

What Health Coaching Has Taught Me About Stuttering

When I meet with clients for the first time, I ask them what it will feel like to finally accomplish their goals. I ask them if they are scared of anything, and what they have experienced in the past that’s held them back from realizing their full potential. Many times, things will come out that have nothing to do with food. This is always the way with change, the only guaranteed thing; and it is both terrifying and exhilarating. Change is what binds us. But it also sets us free.

When I decided to start a business, I knew I would need to tap into the confidence around my stuttering that I was known for. Being that strong public speaker was essential, and ironically, I was used to publicly speaking – about stuttering. However, my knowledge about health was newer than my lifetime of dealing with this disorder, and I had to be sure I wasn’t jeopardizing my credibility when it came to my wellness audience. So I decided to minimize the “issue”. I decided that stuttering would no longer be important. Almost immediately, the confidence I had worked so hard to cultivate slowly began to fade.

When I was 15, and I started intensive speech therapy for stuttering, I was thrown into the fire, instructed on the second day to recite my mission to anyone who would listen as we strolled the streets of New York. The goal was to desensitize myself from the caustic effects of stuttering by talking about it to strangers. Rude listener responses, phone hang-ups, angst; none of it would matter if I did as I was told. I carried this goal from high school to college, heart racing, with my one-two punch of an introduction ready at any oral presentation I gave. It came with me to retail jobs, staff meetings, internships at Rolling Stone and Cosmopolitan, and into conference room roundtable introductions in the advertising industry. Even on command over a speakerphone (a special brand of anxiety for those who stutter). The thought of another “Umm, you’re breaking up…” in front of my colleagues was just not an option.

It’s been 13 years since that first day in the park, standing before a stranger, telling them about my deepest insecurities as part of the therapy approach. Fundamentally, I’ve acknowledged and accepted my stuttering over the years. But the more I spoke with people about my health coaching business, the more my mind nagged at me to be careful not to let stuttering out. So you can imagine my surprise when I relayed the issue to my business coach Elisa and she said the following: Love it. “Huh?” I replied. LOVE. Your. Stuttering. It’s you. It was so matter-of-fact, so sensible, so OBVIOUS. It was not a lecture, but a simple statement that begged the question: How on earth could you not?

I don’t know what made those three simple words click so hard in my mind, but after thirteen years and this one session, I realized that stuttering was so much more than an announcement.

It’s my story.

When I talk about losing 25 lbs. and struggling with binge eating junk food, I’m talking about years of trying to master fluency. When I ask my clients what scares them about finally changing the way they eat, I’m telling them that I worry what will happen when a new person finds out that I stutter. And when we talk about potential and why they are afraid, I tell them that they can confront something they think is going to make them different and weird, and still come out stronger in the end, like I did.

When I came up with the name, “Well Gone Weird” for my company, I had only an inkling of what it would come to mean. You can try things that are hard, or weird or unknown to make yourself a better person.. You don’t need permission or to make sense to anyone but you. You can be your own version of yourself, no matter what it seems like to other people. Whether it’s health, stuttering, or any other issue that has helped define who you are, NEVER be afraid to be weird. Sometimes, it’s all we need.

Health coaching and stuttering