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What Happened When I Intentionally Stuttered

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Last year at the National Stuttering Association (NSA) conference, I was challenged by my friend, Kelly, to intentionally stutter. My initial response was, “Hell no. Never again.” It was a similar response I gave my speech therapist back in the spring of 2014 after I tried intentionally stuttering during speech therapy. I hated it because it brought back bad childhood memories and I vowed to never do it again.

Fast forward four years: I was challenged to try again and I didn’t want to fail. For almost a year, I tried to intentionally stutter when I would order from a restaurant, but I never did. I think it’s because subconsciously I wasn’t ready to go there.

When I did decided to intentionally stutter, almost a year after that challenge by Kelly, it wasn’t planned. I was rehearsing my TEDx Ochsner talk to a group of colleagues, none of who knew I’m a person who stutters, and I was not stuttering. Typically, I wouldn’t complain, but in my opening paragraph I talk about stuttering and my how my view on it has changed over the years. After a couple of sentences of fluency, I thought, “Oh crap. I should intentionally stutter to show them that I do stutter.” And I did. It led to more unintentional stuttering, but that’s beside the point. Afterwards, I was OK. I wasn’t a fan of it, but the bad childhood memories didn’t flood my thoughts like they did five years prior.

I didn’t intentionally stutter again until the most recent NSA conference. One of the annual workshops is the young adult’s “Taking it to the Streets: Advertising Your Stutter.” When the session started, the participants had the option of advertising to people in our hotel or to cold call random businesses and advertise our stutter. I don’t mind disclosing in person; in fact, I’ve gotten more comfortable doing so over the past year. But disclosing on the phone is something I do only if it’s absolutely necessary. Disclosing over the phone is something I wanted to get more comfortable with, so naturally I picked the phone option.

My first call was to a restaurant asking them what their drink specials were for the day. I unintentionally stuttered and then told the employee, “I stutter. So if you hear a few seconds of silence, it’s not because the connection is bad, but because I’m on a block.” He said, “OK,” and proceeded to tell me what the drink specials are.

For my second call, I called a New Orleans restaurant. I intentionally stuttered during the first couple of sentences, which led to a lot more unintentional stuttering for the rest of the conversation. Like the first employee, this person also didn’t care that I stutter. It was another indication to me that I care more about the fact that I stutter than others care about it.

Overall, these experiences were good for me. It felt good to intentionally stutter and get that monkey off my back. I’m now more comfortable with disclosing over the phone, but it’s something I haven’t done recently. After each experience of intentionally stuttering, the bad childhood memories that previously invaded my thoughts were replaced with a sense of indifference. If anything, these experiences taught me I don’t mind intentionally stuttering or disclosing over the phone, but I’m not going to go out of my way to do them.

And that’s OK.

Getty image via Tom Merton.

Originally published: September 26, 2019
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