What if you could learn what it’s like to stutter as you grow older, and then, once you understand, share it with others?
This question remains the biggest problem still challenging the experience of stuttering. How come few who have navigated and transcended the afflicted state of stuttering turn back to pull others like myself forward into the light?
To have someone who has lived through the vicissitudes of stuttering over many years is an invaluable resource that could have a significant impact on the lives of we who stutter, young or old.
I get it—the journey is hard and I don’t blame those who just want to leave stuttering in their past. I also know it to be an unhealthy impediment to healing and lasting change to continue thinking, talking, and writing about stuttering on a daily basis. But, those who do, are heroes and, with little effort, can alter the lives of many just by sharing their perspectives.
The challenge, then, is to willingly cultivate the power of mentorship, and to make it more accessible to we who stutter.
The model—find a guide, be a guide.
Embracing mentorship and becoming a mentor in stuttering is similar to starting speech therapy by choice in that you must be a willing participant to unlock its power. To be clear, though, its purpose is different than belonging to the stuttering community because of the intimate and intentional relationship that develops over time between the mentor and mentee. Yet, pairing the power of mentorship with the energy of the stuttering community is the ideal scenario for we who stutter.
I have spent a majority of my life without a mentor. My limited experience consists of a brief yet impactful exposure to its power. When I was 13 years old, I attended a three-week intensive fluency shaping clinic that certainly shaped my formative experience with stuttering. However, there were two older men who stuttered that took me under their wings. One had been in and out of prison, battled substance abuse, and had been broken by stuttering. While the other was the clinic’s psychologist who stuttered. The former helped me release my pent-up anger that impeded my growth with stuttering, and the latter would pull me out of my closest encounter with suicidal ideation when my fake fluency relapsed after I left the clinic. I never saw either of them again.
Since our formative years with stuttering are such a socially isolating existence, it denies we who stutter the opportunity to seek out those who have this valuable through-life perspective. I know I certainly was not capable of cultivating such a relationship, let alone knowing that it could drastically change my struggle with stuttering.
How can we change this unfortunate dynamic?
Be a guide.
Service to others who stutter is the single most important factor in solidifying lasting change in yourself while accelerating its pursuit in someone else. This is the power of mentorship—it is a two-way street.
By turning back to pull someone else who stutters forward, the mentor is forced to make sense of their own journey and dispel the fallacies about stuttering that had once impeded their healing. In sharing these learnings, the mentee can more easily understand a way forward and retain a sage advisor to help navigate the inevitable obstacles that they will face.
Further, becoming a mentor doesn’t have to be a formal role and can still make a significant impact on an as needed basis. I would argue, though, mentorship is the natural progression after we who stutter have reached our individual ends with stuttering. By ends I mean we have marginalized the daily impact of stuttering and have largely accepted its presence in our lives.
This is where I am now, and by no means am I a hero. I have reached my end. The next chapter in my progression is to extend my hand back like I wish I had experienced sooner in my journey. I feel obligated to share the perspectives I’ve gained after living with stuttering for 30 years and have spent the last ten trying to make sense of my experience.
What can be done to improve mentor accessibility and retention in stuttering?
The need far exceeds the availability to rely on an informal system or process. Mentors must become accessible to all who are in need earlier in the through-life experience of stuttering. Self-help organizations are a great start and are already doing amazing work to better the lives of we who stutter. But, there is no clear answer on how to implement a means to capture the bi-directional power of mentorship on the scale necessary to reach the number of those in need.
The answer, here, then borrows from the stuttering pride movement—do your part. Fight the desire to shed stuttering from our lives and see through to the healing power of pulling someone else out of their struggle.
In the meantime, seeking a better answer for how to recruit and retain mentors for we who stutter that need their invaluable perspectives is where I will dedicate most of my effort in the near future.
If you are in need or know someone who is, please reach out your hand in either direction.