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Introducing Myself as a Person Who Stutters Isn't My Favorite Thing To Do

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Introductions. Something we do on a regular basis, but never something we think about. As a person who stutters (PWS), introductions are not on my top 10 list of favorite things to do. In fact whenever I have to introduce myself, I try to do it as quickly as possible. In the back of my mind I’m debating if I should introduce my stutter as well. Up until a few months ago, the answer was not just no, but hell no.

“Hello, I’m James Hayden and I stutter.”

That’s typically not how I introduce myself. My introductions usually go along the lines of, “H-h-h-h-h-hello, I-I-I’m J-j-j-j-j-James H-h-h-h-h-Hayden.” I typically make more eye contact with the ground than with the person I’m meeting. The fact that I stutter is seldom mentioned, but most times it is not needed. The few times I do introduce myself with, “Hello, I’m James Hayden and I stutter,” is when I talk to speech language pathology students and they already know this fact about myself.

Once introductions are out of the way one of the follow-up questions is, “What do you do?” I answer by saying, “I work in an organ transplant lab and I’m a writer.” The person I’m meeting can then ask, “What do you write about?” It is in this moment I allow the possibility for my stutter to be officially introduced. I reply, “My experiences and journey with stuttering.”

Now my stutter is officially a part of our conversation and now they know why I talk like I do. This kind of introduction is something I’ve only started doing within the past few months. Introducing myself as a writer was a suggestion by one of my friends as a way to promote my book and other writing ventures. I now see it as a means of introducing myself as a PWS.

I never used to make my stutter part of how I introduced myself. I would say, “You talk to me for five minutes and you’ll figure it out.” The only time I willingly told people I stutter was when I was a camp counselor for a group of 8 and 9-year-old boys. On the first day of camp I introduced myself by saying, “Hey guys, I’m James and I stutter. That means I may repeat sounds or block on my words, but we still need to respect each other.” I didn’t even tell my fellow counselors that I stutter. As most people do, they figured it out and really didn’t care that I stutter. One of my friends, Nick, who was a fellow counselor viewed my stutter like most people do: “I figured it out the first time I met you at pre-camp. I was drawn to you by it,” Nick said to me. “It was an absolute non-issue.”

The way I introduce myself to a group has also changed. If I know I will be with the group for awhile, whether it’s new co-workers or a small group I’m leading, I typically say “I’m James and I stutter. All I ask is that you don’t finish my sentences, and keep eye contact with me during my blocks and stuttering moments.”

In college I always detested when on the first day of class we would have to go around the room and say our name, major, hometown and a fun fact about ourselves. During those moments, I was not listening to what the other students were saying. Instead, I was counting down how many people stood between me and the person who was currently talking. I was thinking about what I could say that would cause me to stutter the least.  That never worked because I tended to stutter more. When it finally got to me, I stuttered on nearly every word and said what would get me out of the situation the quickest. Knowing that in order for this “fun” exercise to continue I had to speak my piece caused me to stutter more.

I rarely face these types of situations now, but when I do I don’t even need to think about what I’m going to say. I would be lying though if I said I still don’t think about how to say it or what others think of it. My new introduction is, “I’m James and my fun fact is I stutter.” That way my stutter is out there and everyone now knows why I talk the way I do.  It also allows others to talk to me about stuttering and most importantly lets any other PWS know they are not alone.

I am now able to introduce myself with a self-confidence I didn’t have a few years ago. A confidence that allows me to introduce myself and my stutter.

Photo credit: Jelena Danilovic/Getty Images

Originally published: January 24, 2019
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