Blog By James Hayden
Jan. 17, 2020

NBC’s This Is Us is one of my favorite shows. Every episode hits me in some way because that’s the type of show Dan Fogelman created. The Season 4 episode “Storybook Love,” struck me in a way an episode of TV never struck me: one of the storylines was about anxiety and panic attacks, but it might as well have been about my journey with stuttering. Maybe it was a coincidence or the universe working in a weird way, but the episode aired on October 22. For those unaware, October 22 is International Stuttering Awareness Day.

One of the main characters Randall (Sterling K Brown) has anxiety and panic attacks. Growing up he didn’t know anyone like him because he was adopted; thus, he didn’t share any genetic traits with his family members. When his daughter, Tess (Eris Baker), has her first panic attack she refuses to talk about it. Confused and unsure of how to handle the situation Randall confides in his wife, Beth (Susan Kelachi Watson):

“Growing up I never shared genetic traits with anyone. When you and I had kids, I couldn’t wait to see what they got from me. Would they have cute ears? Would they be able to roll their tongues? Having anxiety and panic attacks is the thing about myself that I like the least and I passed it on to her. I hate that I gave this to her.”

I’m the only person in my entire family who stutters. Similar to Randall and his anxiety and panic attacks, I didn’t and still don’t have anyone that sounds like me in my family. Growing up, I didn’t have an immediate person who stutters (PWS) to tell me that what I experience is ok and what’s the best way to deal with all of the negativity that comes with stuttering. As I’m approaching my late 20s, I’ve started to think more of my future kids. I think of what they will and will not inherit from me. One of the things I hope they don’t inherit from me is my stutter.  Although I’ve accepted and embraced my stutter, it’s my biggest vulnerability and the part of me that, at times, I’m still the most self-conscious of. I don’t want to give this part of because I don’t want them to experience all of the negatives that come with being a PWS. Yet, if my one or more of my future kids is a PWS, then that’s ok. I’ll know how to help them navigate everything that comes with stuttering.

Another scene that struck me in terms of how I view my journey with stuttering was one of the concluding scenes.  In the scene, Beth talks to her husband Randall and their daughter Tess about their and Randall’s late biological father shared struggles with anxiety. She tells them,

“You two don’t like this thing you have in common…. But, it made three of my most favorite people in the world who they are,” Beth address Tess saying, “But I will not let you talking ill about three of my most favorite people in the world.”

At times I don’t like this part of myself, but I wouldn’t change it. It has taken me years to be able to write the last part of the previous sentence. For years, my stutter was the thing that caused a lot of self-doubt, negativity, and held me back. My stutter would cause me to talk negatively to and be mad at myself. Through years of self-growth and introspection, I no longer allow myself to talk ill about myself or be mad at myself because of my stutter. Yet, this part of me has helped shape a lot of who I am a person, taught me numerous life lessons, and has given me experiences and opportunities I never dreamed possible. Like Randall’s anxiety and panic attacks are a part of him, my stutter is a part of me. And I’m ok with that.