As I walk into class late on the first day of school everyone turns their heads. The professor looks mildly annoyed, but he waits for me to take a seat. “Hello there,” he says as I set my bag down on the floor. “You have arrived just in time, we went around the room and gave introductions.” My heart starts to beat fast, I can feel my legs shacking with fear. “Why don’t you tell us who you are, where you’re from, what your major is, and describe to us one of your favorite things to do.”
I look at the professor with almost a blank expression. I can feel the the block coming even though I haven’t uttered a single sound. My mouth opens and stays like that for several seconds. In my peripheral vision I can see my classmate shifting uncomfortably. Each second feels like minutes and I can feel the tension in the room like a suffocating heat. The professor tilts his head to the side and says “You didn’t forget your name did you? I don’t bite, speak up!”.
Several people in the back snicker. I abruptly break out of my block to blurt out “No I did not forget my name.”Then proceed to block hardly on that first sound. That first consonant in my name once again, despite saying that whole explanatory sentence clearly. By the end of class I am drained, I was hardly able to focus on lecture after the embarrassment, and I was worried about being called on again. I know, I’ll just not speak for the rest of the quarter…
The story above is a mildly exaggerated snapshot into the experience that many people who stutter have when they have not come to terms with their speech. As people who stutter, we have a tendency to live in fear of speaking situations. Some of us are terrified of the day we have to talk on the phone with a stranger , answer a question in a class, or ask the boss for a raise. We need to realize that we are not afraid of the situation itself, but rather the feelings associated with the situation. In other, more cliche words “We fear fear itself”. You see, fear is a natural response to situations that we find threatening to our well-being and despite it’s uses, fear can become a seemingly insurmountable obstacle if it is allowed to get out of hand and control our lives.
Avoidance is a just one manifestation of the fears that we as stutters feel on a daily basis. When I say avoidance I mean substituting words, avoiding social situations, turning down leadership roles and generally settling for less than others because you feel like you are no good.
Understand, stuttering at its worse can seem and feel like an annoying, prohibitive curse. But stuttering can be an immense gift if you allow it to be. Stutters are often more compassionate towards others, they understand struggle, and they are great listeners (I kid, I kid). The real negative side of Stuttering is not other peoples reactions, but our own judgements about it and how it makes us go way up into our heads. Being a victim is the other, lesser known, type of narcissism. We believe “No one understands us”, “No one has it as hard as us”, but in reality feeling sorry for ourselves depletes our own personal power. You shouldn’t want anyone to feel sorry for you, you are strong, a stutter will not stop you from expressing yourself, express yourself by the way you show acceptance of your limitations while striving for improvement.
Fear is a tool, use it to take life head on, not to avoid it.
Image By Juanedc from Zaragoza, España (Pesadilla Uploaded by juanedc) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons