Blog by James Hayden
Oct. 1, 2018

Dear James at 20,

You’ve been asked numerous times by numerous people, “What is your five year plan?” This is you at 25 giving you a sneak peek of what that those five years entail. Right now, you are halfway through your college career and the second half will be a million times tougher than the first half, trust me. Oh yeah, and you are a couple weeks away from going back speech therapy. Let’s talk about that. I know this is the last thing you want talk about and you want to tell me off, but as you will learn it’s an important topic to discuss.

As you know, stuttering is that embarrassing friend from home that came with you to college. Privately you can’t stand him, but you allow the two of you to be seen together publicly; however, you don’t talk about your friendship with him. Actually, the only time you talk about this friendship is when mom and dad say, “You should see what, if any, speech therapy services USM offers or if they can direct you somewhere.” After hearing this for the past two years, you finally took those words of advice when Wayne mentioned the same thing. You emailed the speech language pathology department to appease the parents while hoping that USM could do nothing for you. Boy, were you wrong. Instead of giving you the answer you wanted, you got the answer you needed, although you don’t realize that right now, and were told you could start speech therapy in the fall. You’ve spent the past summer apprehensive and nervous about what the next few months will entail; however, you have made some progress, even if you don’t realize it yet. Your time at camp was the first of many, many, many steps in your journey towards accepting your stutter.

Let’s jump ahead to when speech therapy begins. You are embarrassed as hell to be there and will go to the ends of the earth to make sure no one knows you are there. You will take different paths to the speech therapy building.  You will make sure the hallways in the building are clear before you go down them out of fear for seeing someone you know. You will lie to people when they ask you what you are doing in the building. You will lie when people ask why you aren’t free during the time speech therapy takes place. You will lie to your friends about where you are going.  You will avoid rooms because you see friends in those rooms and are worried about what they will think of you being in speech therapy. You do all of this because for so long you have put on a mask of being ok with your stutter when in reality the face behind the mask has not been ok with his stutter.  Now the face behind the mask is trying to be ok with it and his pride doesn’t want anyone to know the mask was there. This will be a rough process. But it’s worth it.

In your first semester, your speech therapist will tell you about this thing called the National Stuttering Association (NSA) and how they have meetings all over the country. You look into it and see that there is a chapter back home, an organization and chapter you ignore for two years.  You don’t tell anyone that this organization exists and you use every excuse in the book to justify to yourself why you shouldn’t go.  Hate to break it to you, but those reasons are nonsense.  Your reasons for not attending these meetings have nothing to do with the lack of parking, dealing with traffic, or any of the other excuses you use. You don’t go because you are not at the point of owing and accepting your stutter to yourself, much less to others. And that’s OK. You will go when you’re ready.

During your two years of speech therapy, you will learn and re-learn many techniques to reduce stuttering and increase fluency. More importantly, the mask slowly comes off. You begin to accept and become confident in your stutter, which leads to a more confident you.

A few months after graduation, you move to a new city for your job and decide to check out this NSA thing again. You see that there is a local chapter in your city. The chapter happens to meet right up the street from your apartment complex, so you decide to check it out. You go because you want to see what it is all about, but more importantly you want to see for yourself if the whole acceptance thing is real.  It is. This organization does many great things for you and eventually the people in it become your stamily (stuttering family). You eventually take over that chapter you ignored for two years. Being a member of this community gives you opportunities to openly talk about stuttering with others.  In turn, you are now way more comfortable talking about stuttering on social media and in everyday conversation. One of the craziest things that comes out of this is that you write a book about your experiences with stuttering. Call me out on it all you want, but its true.

Walking back into that speech therapy room was the best decision you’ve ever made. You no longer wear a mask of being ok with stuttering because the face behind the mask has accepted and is ok with his stutter. In the words of Rudy Francisco, “You don’t have to believe me, someday you’ll see for yourself.”

James at 25