I often feel like I’m repeating myself when I talk and write about stuttering. The truth is, I need to remind myself of certain simple things again and again: that it’s okay if I stutter, that my goal is not to be totally fluent, and that there are many ways to communicate well.
I have to remind myself of these things because I need something to drown out the other thoughts and feelings that start to take over if I’m not careful: that I should do anything not to stutter, that I should try to pass as fluent, and that I won’t be able to achieve my goals unless I’m stutter-free.
After years of feeling that way, it’s my default mindset, and without vigilance I fall right back into that space.
A few months after I started working with my speech therapist Kim she sent me a video called “Going With the Flow” from SchneiderSpeech.com. It’s something that I’ve revisited multiple times— I even showed to my parents to help them understand my goals for speech therapy. There’s so much to talk about in this amazing video, but for this post I want to focus on something that “Going With the Flow” brings up: the idea of playing with your stutter.
Sarah, one of the young adults featured in “Going With the Flow,” finds that she can utilize tools to stutter less, but would rather focus on being open and honest about her stutter: that’s where she was really hurting. We see how Sarah plays with feigning stuttering and openly stuttering, and how powerful and freeing it is. As she says, “I like how it feels, it’s just kind of fun to put it on.” Her speech pathologist, Dr. Schneider, talks about what it feels like “if you can kind of stay there longer [in the moment of disfluency] and resist the urge to panic and run away.”
How do you approach your stutter? Maybe a better question is, do you approach it at all? For years, I did my best to stay at arm’s length from the repetitive stutter that characterized my childhood speech. I switched words, inserted “uhs” and “ums,” and avoided situations so that I would not make that dreaded “st-st-st” sound.
It took me weeks, if not months, to begin to stutter on purpose in my speech therapy sessions. In fact, it’s still a challenge for me to slip those repetitive sounds into my speech. When I do stutter on purpose, though, something awesome happens: I gain forward motion and lose tension. And it all comes from a sense of play that I try to tap into when I stutter.
Rather than thinking of stuttering as something I don’t want to experience, I try to find ways that I can experience it comfortably: by feigning stuttering, by going into a disfluency with a purposeful stutter, by simply letting myself see what stuttering feels like with a sense of curiosity, rather than dread. It’s a subtle reframing, but one that really helps me. It wasn’t enough for me to order myself not to panic and run away: I had to find something to run towards. It turned out what I needed to run towards was stuttering itself.
I was a guest on StutterTalk a couple weeks ago. It was super fun! Peter Reitzes really knows what questions to ask: after talking with him I was left with an expanded idea of my path and of open/voluntary stuttering in general. Listen if you get a chance… you can also download it as a podcast from iTunes.
Yesterday morning I gave a talk to a group of about 24 speech language pathology students. My clinician had the idea: the SLP students meet every week, I think, to discuss department matters and sometimes listen to a speaker.
This is another one of those situations that still intimidates me. Most people are wary of public speaking, whether they stutter or not, and I’ve had a history of avoiding and fearing presentations.
But there was so much I wanted to say to these future SLPs: so much I felt like they should know about what it’s like to be a stutterer, to feel like you’re failing every time you stutter; so much I wanted to share about my experience working hard to accept the voice that I have. I wanted to tell them about Kim in Philadelphia, who had told me that it was okay to stutter, and helped me figure out how to let stuttering back into my life. I wanted to tell them about how what was really stopping me before was embarrassment and avoidance, rather than stuttering itself.
Tonight I did something I had never done before: I called into a live show to tell a story on the air.
The show was the Chris Gethard Show, one of the funniest, weirdest, and most wonderful things happening on TV. It’s a cult hit public access show declaring that “loser is the new nerd.” Each show has a theme; callers, panelists, and guests all participate. In one episode, The Night of Zero Laughs, everyone in the public access studio is forbidden from laughing. In another, an NYC dominatrix tortures Chris Gethard.
This week’s topic was firsts— all first-time callers, telling stories about their first time doing something, while the panelists performed actual firsts on stage. One panelist performed her first card trick; another proposed to his girlfriend.
I called in to talk about my first time going through a fast food drive-through: a minor anecdote that was most definitely overshadowed by all the other hilarious and insane stories during the episode. But it was exhilarating for me.
I feel like the title of my blog needs an explanation. Stuttering more is exactly what most stutterers don’t want to do. I can see how it would seem strange or even offensive. But stuttering more is my honest goal, and since this is my personal blog I decided it would be my title.
Stutter more originates in my speech therapy sessions of summer 2010. I was working with Kim, a speech language pathologist at Temple University who completely changed my life. I was at a low point: avoiding situations, terrified of stuttering, switching words, and fenced in by strings of “uhs” and “ums.” These linked filler words would sometimes continue for thirty seconds at a time.
Early on, Kim suggested that I try faking a stutter. My response— and the response that many stutterers have at this suggestion— was: “You want me to stutter more?”