Dear 10-Year-Old Self: Your Stutter Won't Go Away, but That's OK
What’s up, dude? This is you 14 years from now. At this current time in your life, the fourth grade is almost over, you have a good group of friends and you still stutter, but are becoming more fluent as the years pass. I won’t tell you most of what happens over the next 14 years, but I will tell you this: you will be very fluent in two years, will stop speech therapy, will rarely stutter and neither you nor others will consider you as a person who stutters. All of the self-doubts, questions and insecurities will disappear with your stutter. You will no longer consider yourself a person who stutters, but a person who used to stutter. However, this period of fluency (fortunately) lasts only a few years. You’re thinking, how is this fortunate? My stutter coming back is the furthest thing from fortunate. Allow me to explain.
You start stuttering again your senior year of high school. When this happens, mom, dad and you will attribute it to the nerves and excitement of graduating high school and moving to a new state to begin your college career. We figure it will disappear when you get acclimated to your new surroundings, but your stutter comes to college with you and stays friends with you for all four years. In addition to your stutter, self-doubts and insecurities returning, the questions of, “How does this impact future job prospects?” “Will any girl be able to see past my stutter?” “Am I the only person who stutters?” also return. Your way of handling the fact that you stutter – completely ignoring the fact and not talking about it – also goes to college with you, but that ends your junior year of college.
You begin going back to speech therapy when you are a junior in college and 20 years old. This is a difficult process to begin because it means admitting to yourself that you do stutter. A hard thing to do because 20-year-old you is prideful. Ultimately the pride begins to fade and over the next two years all of your self-doubts and insecurities fade away, and feelings of acceptance and ownership take their place. This leads you to embrace the fact that you stutter by being willing to admit you’re back in speech therapy, talking about it with friends and family and sharing articles about stuttering on social media (you’ll learn what that means in a few years). However, the three questions you cling to are not answered in the therapy room, but rather through the experiences of life.
The first question you hold and continue to hold as you get older is, “Will a girl be able to see past my stutter?” The answer is yes. You meet her a few months before you go back to speech therapy. It ultimately does not end the way you thought it would, but good things come from it. She teaches you to embrace small victories of life and your stutter. This is told to you numerous times during speech therapy, but she’s the first person who shows you it can be done. She teaches you to be comfortable about your stutter with people you don’t know all that well or for a long period of time. But most importantly, she shows you that a girl can see James for James and not see James as that guy who stutters.
Your stutter does not impact future jobs because you won’t let it. You have the same summer job for seven summers – some summers you stutter and others you don’t. Regardless of your fluency levels, your co-workers and bosses treat you the same and don’t let your stutter influence their decisions. When you’re 20 and two months away from re-entering speech therapy, you work at an all-boys summer camp. This will be the best job you have because of the lessons you learn about life and stuttering during that summer. I won’t tell you those lessons; you’ll find out in 10 years. When you graduate you land a job in your field relatively quickly. At this point in life, you’ve accepted and embraced the fact that you stutter (for the most part) and it doesn’t hold you back from doing what you want to do. You also use this job to educate people about stuttering through conversations with your co-workers.
As you get older, you realize you are not the only person on earth who stutters. Yet, you do not meet another person who stutters until you’re 22, a few months out of college, and join the local chapter of the National Stuttering Association (NSA). I know it sounds weird that something like this actually exists, but it does. For the first time in your life, you will be around people who truly get it. They will challenge you on your views of stuttering and you will challenge them. This group will tremendously increase your confidence in yourself and the fact that you stutter, will give you opportunities you never thought would happen and make you do things teenage you never thought you’d do.
I know I make stuttering sound not that bad and it isn’t. But I’m not going to lie to you. There are some instances when people do not think you can or should give a presentation, be a tour guide or do anything else that involves public speaking because of the fact that you stutter. That will make you mad to no end, but use it as motivation to prove them wrong. You ultimately do. There will be times when people laugh at your stutter. Be mad, but use it as an opportunity to teach. When someone accuses you of lying because you’re stuttering on a word, stutter on and teach them that you’re not a liar.
You don’t realize this now, but you’ve got a great support system of family and friends who will be on this journey with you. It will be hard to let them in at times, but let them in.
Just remember one thing: You always were, always are and always will be so much more than your stutter. I know you may not see that now, but in time you will. Trust me.
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Thinkstock photo via djedzura.