My stutter has been with me since before I can remember. Over the years, it has manifested itself in numerous ways: When I was young and didn’t understand what it was or even that it was unusual, in loud, repeated and unabashed whole-word repetitions; when I was in the nervous beginnings of adolescence in frantic sticking jitters on a single sound; and now in less conspicuous but still dreaded silent blocks—periods of time in which words are simply stopped dead in my mouth. I’ve hated it, laughed at it, made light of it, come close to tears about it, and above all have resented it, but stuttering has become an integral part of who I am—had I been able to speak fluently all my life, a different person would be sitting at this computer, almost certainly writing a different article.
Though I cannot remember my first stutter, I do remember with clarity the moment when I first came to realize that something about how I spoke was different. I was five or six and in the car with my mom, driving somewhere I don’t remember. We had just finished a conversation about the air conditioners that stuck out of windows—I don’t remember the significance, if there was any, but to my five year old self the topic was incredibly interesting and important. As we were driving, I sighted one of these very air conditioners. Naturally, I hastened to point it out. "Mom, did you see that a-a-a….arrrr… aaaaaaaeeeeeeerrrrr…."
But try as I might, the word simply would not come. It sat plainly in my mind; indeed, it seemed to crouch in the back of my throat. I knew exactly what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it. I just couldn’t speak the words. When finally, after several seconds of loud straining, I overcame the block by sheer persistence, the air conditioner had long passed out of sight and my comment was rendered irrelevant.
That was the first time in my life that rapidity and fluidity of speech proved important. My family had accepted my halting, stammering cadence and I therefore had no idea that there was anything unusual about it. The incident with the air conditioner was the first clue I received. Surely most people would have been able to talk about the air conditioner while it was still in sight. Why had my voice made me wait?
This frustration endured on into elementary and middle school, where I learned to despise my stutter even more. My teachers were kind and my classmates accepting, but neither of these things could dispel the constant irritation that I suffered because of my speech impediment. Continually, I had intelligent, thoughtful, important things to say, and continually, my stutter hindered and truncated my speech. At the worst times of all, it stopped me entirely from raising my hand and commenting in class, or cracking a joke with friends that I knew would not make it past my mouth. I took speech therapy during middle school, but through a combination of my own immaturity and the impractical fluidity practices, I could not apply my therapy techniques to the real world, and my stutter persisted undiminished.
It is important to note that during my middle school years—the time when I was the most conscious of and affected by my stutter—I also embraced my affinity for literature and writing. I love words, and consider myself well-spoken, despite my speech impediment. My fascination with writing has not died—as a junior in high school, I still harbor the ambition to become a novelist. My dad came up with a theory that I find interesting, though it may not be accurate. He said that perhaps my disability with speech strikes a balance with my prowess with the written word. Perhaps it is merely a coincidence, but either way, it is a comforting notion.
I’m sixteen now, and have come to view my stutter with a healthy touch of levity. Through work with my speech pathologist, I’ve become well-equipped to deal with my speech impediments and exercise a measure of control over them. Moreover, these tools have imbued me with confidence: even on the worst of days, I can hold my head high and accept my silent blocks as a part of who I am.
If I could say one thing to all stutterers in the world, it would be this: it’s all in how you look at it. Yes, your stutter is present; yes, it’s real. But there’s nothing wrong with it, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with you. You can choose to see your stutter as a disability—in a way, it is—or you can simply choose to see it was a part of who you are. Will your friends and family care if you get stuck on a word here and there, or even all the time? Of course not. Will people judge you for your stutter? Very, very seldom. There are some people who will—I won’t deny that—but those aren’t people who are worth knowing or spending time with in the first place.
So don’t let it get the best of you. Your stutter is not a reflection of your intelligence or character. It’s not really a reflection of anything. Learning techniques to combat your stutter is always an excellent idea, but stuttering cannot be cured. Like it or not, your stutter will always be with you in some form. That isn’t something to despair about, though. It’s something to respect and to accept. Even to enjoy. Be yourself and let your stutter do what it wants. So long as you maintain a positive outlook, everything else will take care of itself. I promise.