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Changing My Relationship With the Phone as Someone Who Stutters

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Over the past five-plus years, my relationship with the phone as a person who stutters has improved tenfold. It’s gone from a closed-to-the-public scripted performance to a natural, improv show open to the public. Five years ago, I needed a private room, a script and my iPhone on speakerphone to make the majority of my calls. Now all I need is some type of phone and a phone number to call. When I didn’t have a script, a private room, and my phone on speaker, my worst case scenario would become a reality. Here’s one of those times.

It was the summer of 2013 and I was enjoying a few hours off from my job at a summer camp. Two other counselors, Zach and Christian, and I had the afternoon off and decided to go off campus for lunch. I had met Zach three weeks ago and Christian had joined the staff that week. Both of them knew I stutter, but I was nowhere near the point of being comfortable talking to my family and close friends about stuttering, much less guys I had just met.

On the way to a nearby restaurant, my roommate for the upcoming college semester, Richard, called to talk about all the items we needed in order to move into our apartment. This is where the worst case scenario became real. I didn’t have a script to use when talking to Richard. I couldn’t hide in a room and put my phone on speaker because we were driving, and I couldn’t ask to pull over because it would be hard to explain to two guys I just met. So for what seemed like years, Richard and I talked and I was out of my comfort zone the entire time. I stuttered on damn near every syllable of every word and my thought process only made the experience worse.

During my phone call, I was thinking about what Zach and Christian thought of my stutter and the performance I was giving them. I thought about what Richard thought about it. I had only known Richard for a couple of months, and stuttering was a topic we never talked about. When the phone call thankfully ended, my embarrassment from what just happened joined us on our ride to lunch, stayed with us during our lunch, and went back to camp with us.

Five years have passed since then, and now I would handle the situation differently. After I hung up the phone, I would’ve owned my stutter and used the phone call as a means to talk about stuttering. We would talk about it and then move on, because I care more about my stutter than others do. I would not have been embarrassed about the situation, and I would quickly move on with my life. I know Zach, Christian, and Richard didn’t care that I stutter then and I know they don’t care now. To them, I’m James, not James the stutterer. And to me a phone call is now a phone call, not a production that needs a script, a particular set, and the right prop.

Getty image by Janza.

Originally published: June 27, 2018
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