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Why I'm Celebrating Telling Strangers That I Stutter

Sometimes I feel torn in two directions — as a role model and a covert stutterer. I accept both roles, because no one is perfect. But sometimes I still wonder, is it possible to be a role model when I hide my stuttering at times?

I enjoy being outspoken about my stutter. By allowing myself to talk openly about it, it gives me a sense of freedom, that it doesn’t control me — I control it. I enjoy writing about my stutter as well. I like to speak about it, such as being a guest speaker on podcasts or doing a live news segment about stuttering. I even like to be a leader, serving as the National Stuttering Association Alaska Family Chapter founder and leader. People who know me would agree that I am unapologetically myself. Being vocal about my struggle with stuttering has allowed me to be myself and not apologize for it.

But I still wonder, what about the times I do apologize for it?

As a second job, I worked at a busy restaurant for over 12 years. It was a wonderful place to work, and I was very comfortable at tables and often stuttered freely. Which makes me wonder, can you stutter freely and still be covert? It is hard to say, but I tend to notice myself reverting back to cover behaviors the moment I step into that server role. When you go out to eat, it is routine for your server to walk up, ask you how you are doing, then introduce themselves. After all those years working there, I never once introduced myself.

While I was in training for serving, I vividly remember trying so hard to follow my trainer’s instructions: go up to the table, ask them how their day is going, tell them your name and that you will be taking care of them. Easy right? It’s just your name; how hard could it be? Well for me, it’s nearly impossible. Since I get so stuck on Em, I thought why don’t I just introduce myself as Em? People call me that anyway. Well, that was almost worse because my guests would stop me: “wait, just the letter M? What is M short for?” Then the cycle would start all over again.

Sometimes it really pained me to not tell my tables who I was. Because, quite frankly, I was a wonderful server. My knowledge of the food was immense, my timing was impeccable and I have a laid back and friendly personality. Yet no one knew who I was. People would leave happy and with full bellies, while never knowing who served them. I’d tell them to come back and sit in my section, but how would they know?

I often feel saddened due to my lack of confidence with saying my name, but I have learned to pick my battles. In the past, when a guest would laugh or comment on my stutter, I would just smile and ignore it, but then go back to the computer and fight back tears of embarrassment.

Now, if someone seems confused about my speech, I will calmly and nicely tell them that I have a stutter. I no longer apologize that I have a stutter; instead, I try and spread awareness by just telling them I stutter. They never question my openness; they seem to find it quite refreshing. I hope to get to the point someday that I can say, “My name is Em-Em-Em-Em-Emily,” and be OK with it.

But as I work my way there, I must celebrate the little victories; that I am comfortable enough to tell strangers I have a stutter.

Photo courtesy of the author