Why My Stutter No Longer Defines Me
I’ve had a stutter since I was five years old, and I let it define me.
I’ve had a love-hate relationship with words all my life. They would take me to worlds I’ve never been to while reading them from pages in a book; on the other hand, they would also be my worst enemy whenever I intended to speak.
I’ve always had a fascination with words. String them together and you garner the ability to evoke feelings of wonder, happiness, love, and sadness. I’ve also always had a fascination with speech, be it oral presentations, dinner toasts, even TEDTalks. As a result, I’ve always been in awe of people’s ability to communicate, to share pieces of themselves with others and have that reciprocated. You have the ability to evoke deep feelings or spur people to action with the cadence of your voice.
In contrast, my voice sounded choppy, ragged, and breathless. What type of emotion would I spur? Apprehension? Disgust? Confusion?
I don’t remember a time when I didn’t stutter. When I didn’t have the gut-wrenching, stomach-knotting, breath-stealing fear of my own words. Growing up, I was lucky enough to not be incessantly teased at elementary school, as I had classmates who understood that this was just who I was.
Unfortunately, the older I got, the more it became a problem for me and for those who had to listen to me. Most notable was the reaction I got from adults. I was often met with confusion, repulsion, and often unwarranted medical advice. Adults always thought they knew best: “Just slow down,” “Don’t be nervous,” “You should see a doctor about this—maybe there is medication you can take,” “Why isn’t speech therapy working?” or the most demeaning, “Are you trying hard enough?”
These comments morphed into that awful, disparaging voice we often have bouncing around in our heads. For me, it reared its ugly head every time I attempted to speak. This voice that fills your head with self-doubt and fear, and even makes you question your reason for living.
Unfortunately, teenage me could not see beyond her stutter, nor beyond these comments. This made me fearful and angry—not just at others and their propensity to dispense misguided advice, but mostly at myself, for allowing myself to be a prisoner to my stutter. To put myself in this cage.
Two years ago, when these feelings of anger, frustration, and sadness became too much to bear, I decided to break out of my self-inflicted prison. It all started with a few words on a page. More specifically, there was a passage I read in a book that went something like “She was not a lost cause, for if she was, she would not be examining the locks on her cage.”
Now, I am 22 years old and happier than I’ve ever been simply because I can honestly say: I love who I am.
I love who I am because of my stutter. It has taught me patience and empathy. It’s given me the ability to understand and appreciate “differences” on a level many people are not as lucky to experience. These are traits that make me a better friend, sister, daughter, and human being.
There is no magic wand or pill that will get rid of my stutter. There is no kind of speech therapy that will magically cure me. Yes, stuttering is a disability. This word shouldn’t be hidden behind closed doors or mumbled around family dinner tables. It should be nurtured and supported and be a source of acceptance.
Life will not be easy, because not everyone understands what having a stutter is, or even what it feels like. It’s my duty to be my voice, and to be the most authentic version of myself. In order to do this, I needed to release myself from the burden of perfection and fluency. I needed to recognize that I am worthy of a fulfilled life, one where even though my voice doesn’t sound like my family or friends, it is still worthy of being heard.
My journey is just beginning. There are still days where it’s all too much, when I wonder if my stutter will inhibit me from getting a job, or if someone won’t find me attractive because I stutter. But I’ve learned that the more you find and use your voice, the quieter these voices become. It gets easier to be nothing but yourself.
My fascination with words is constantly evolving. Similar to life, communication can be choppy, bumpy, and awkward. Intertwined in these instances are feelings of wonder, joy, and happiness. We just have to make sure we listen and recognize that we are worthy of being heard.
I’ve had a stutter since I was five years old, and now? It no longer defines me.