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How COVID-19 Helped Me Reach a Key Milestone With Stuttering

I’m a strong believer in having goals, no matter how big or small they are. I think goals help us grow to become the best version of ourselves. For a while, one of my goals was to do a Facebook Live video. I know that sounds weird out of context, but allow me to explain.

Up until almost two years ago, I hated watching and listening to myself stutter. Whenever I saw or heard myself on video, I would cringe and go into another room out of embarrassment. If I was embarrassed by this, then my surely my audience was internally cringing and embarrassed for me as well, right? Or so I thought.

I remember the first time I watched my TEDx talk back, I almost exited the video numerous times because of how hard it was for me to watch. When I shared it with my family members, I left the room because I couldn’t bring myself to watch it. I was more than comfortable stuttering my butt off on the TEDx stage to a room of strangers, but couldn’t bear to watch it with those who love and care about me, and me for them. It was at that moment getting comfortable with watching and hearing myself stutter became my new goal. I didn’t know how I would achieve this goal, but I knew baby steps would be the best way to accomplish this goal.

The initial baby step occurred a few months later in October of 2019. I had the opportunity to appear on “My Stuttering Life” podcast. This wasn’t the first time I was a guest on a podcast, but it was the first time I listened to my episode. I didn’t listen to the previous ones because of the aforementioned hatred of hearing myself stutter. I knew if I was going to grow and accomplish this goal, then I’d have to get comfortable hearing the uncomfortable. And I’m not going to lie, it was uncomfortable.

Hearing back every intimate and nuance detail of my stutter was an experience. Knowing that every intimate detail of my biggest vulnerability, my stutter, were now recorded for posterity was a different experience. I wanted to exit the episode every five seconds of the 45-minute interview, but I was determined to get through it. After the episode was done, I thought, “That wasn’t too bad.” Listening to my episode helped me further accept and embrace my biggest vulnerability. I was now comfortable with my hearing my recorded voice. The podcast audience couldn’t see the intimate mechanics of my stutter, but they could at least hear them and I was OK with that. I knew this was a good step, but I had more steps on my journey to accomplish this goal. I figured it would take me a couple of years to accomplish this goal, but life had other plans.

2020 happened. Social distancing entered our vernacular, “Tiger King” took the internet by storm and Zoom no longer referred to a show that aired on PBS back in the day. Like the rest of the world, every organization I’m a part of shifted to virtual meetings. As a result, I had to use Zoom way more than I ever planned on using it. During my numerous Zoom meetings, I watched myself stutter. Hearing myself stutter is one thing, but to see it is a different beast. There were many times I was so uncomfortable with watching my vulnerability in action, I wanted to turn my camera off and participate as little as possible. Yet, in those moments, I had to remind myself my audience cared about my message and not its delivery. Although I used Zoom numerous times, I still wasn’t comfortable watching myself stutter. That changed over the summer due to a fateful Twitter direct message.

The person who sent me the message asked if I wanted to play in an online game based on the CBS show “Survivor.” I agreed because, why not? Since myself and fellow contestants were playing this virtually, and not on a Fijian island, the game took place over Skype calls. This meant I had to watch myself stutter daily. I also recorded and uploaded confessionals to YouTube. These were done to let the host and fellow players, postgame, know my thoughts on the game. Putting my confessionals on YouTube was not that big of a deal because only a select few, who all knew I stutter, have access to it. After a few Skype calls and confessionals, I started to become somewhat comfortable with watching and hearing myself stutter. It got to the point where I didn’t think about it that much and was comfortable with it. The only thing that was uncomfortable was how overconfident I was in my game. Although I didn’t come to close to winning the game, I became comfortable watching and hearing myself stutter. For me, that was winning and inspired me to take my next step on this journey.

Shortly after the game ended, I saw a Facebook post advertising the Australian Speak Easy Association’s (ASAE) virtual conference. I clicked on the link and saw they were taking applications for presenters. I applied because, why not? My proposal was accepted and with it being virtual, I had to record and upload my presentation to YouTube. I wasn’t uncomfortable watching myself stutter while I recorded my 20-minute presentation. The fact it was on YouTube didn’t bother me because only a select few had access to it and the attendees have a vested interest in stuttering, so that was a non-issue. Had this been late 2019 and not late 2020, I can honestly say I would not have applied to present at the ASAE conference. My insecurities over hearing myself stutter, watching myself stutter and being on YouTube would’ve easily defeated my desire to present at the conference. Because of all I experienced in the past year, none of that mattered. In fact, I shared a screenshot of my presentation on social media profiles.

Having these experiences, I felt ready to tackle my ultimate goal: a Facebook Live video. My original plan was to do one for National Stuttering Awareness Week in May. But, as what usually happens, life had other plans.

In late January I received a Facebook message from Uri Schneider of Schneider Speech and the host of the “Transcending Stuttering” podcast. I instantly accepted and then realized what I got myself into: I was going to do a Facebook Live video. Not the short five-minute video I planned on, but an hourlong video. You see, unlike most podcasts, “Transcending Stuttering” is livestreamed on Facebook first and then released as a podcast and posted publicly to YouTube.

I was excited and a bit nervous about this. My excitement was caused by a podcast that was on my podcast bucket list reached out to me, and not me to them. Nerves were due to this being livestreamed. There was no microphone or unlisted YouTube link to hide behind. Everyone with internet access could see and hear my most authentic self in real time or watch the recording. And I was and am OK with that. That’s something James in the beginning of 2020 would not be able to say.

The past 13 months have been rough, to put it nicely. Yet, I was able to accomplish a goal I thought would take me years to complete. Now, I’m comfortable with watching and hearing myself stutter. If anything, that one nugget is one of the good things to come out of all of this. I think it’s important to focus on and find the good in all things. Also, being comfortable with hearing myself stutter once again allows me to be the person who I needed when I was younger. At 26, I was not comfortable with this aspect of stuttering and held back from participating in online events and meetings because of it. At 28, it’s no big deal to me and doesn’t hold me back from participating in online events and meetings.

Unsplash image by Maxim Tolchinskiy

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