Perspective Disclaimer I am not a speech-language pathologist, nor do I play one on the internet. There are many fantastic SLPs already doing wonderful work. The first article in this three-part series analyzed my journey through school-based speech therapy. In the following letter, article two, I use a unique format to express deeply held emotions and feelings that were impossible for me to express as a child. You may find it difficult to read, or accept, but I encourage you to read it all the way through to fully experience its intended message. This message sets up the third article, Treating ‘Me’. And, again, these reflections come from many years of making sense of my experiences, and are by no means a replacement for rigorous academic study, professional experience, or on-the-job training. The walk-in-my-shoes perspective aims to inform and complement actual speech therapy and other complementary healing practices.
To all of the school-based SLPs who failed ‘me‘,
For many of the years after I worked with you, an unsettling resentment stuck with me because of your failure to fix my stutter. I dreaded the long walks down the solemn hallways, at first with you and then by myself, as I tried to avoid anyone witnessing me entering your offices. I have been haunted by these years, memories from all the time spent with you appearing in my dreams in adolescence and adulthood. The resentment and feelings that took root in your presence festered, both raw and unnecessary.
I was made to believe that you weren’t qualified to treat my severe stutter. Even until this day, the narrative—as I repeatedly heard throughout my journey—carries on like stigma that the system didn’t prepare you well enough to take on such a difficult case. I had no choice but to believe it. How could I not? People who loved me, sought the best care for me, and, eventually, your colleagues who specialize in stuttering all reinforced it.
There should be no blame cast on you or other individual SLPs. I know you did your best with what I allowed you to do. I felt it.
I am writing to you to say that I am sorry. It is not easy to realize that I was guilty of perpetuating such a misguided narrative. After all, it was part of what kept me trapped in the traumatic cycle of stuttering. But, I, alone, am not the narrative just as you aren’t the system, and that’s not even why I am repenting.
I am apologizing for the way I handled myself when you were only trying to help. No, no—before you say that it wasn’t my fault—please allow me to explain. I know that I wasn’t capable of processing the inner stranglehold that stuttering had over me as I sat across from you. However, the looks of horror and helplessness that flashed across your face when I snapped angrily at you in frustration were vividly imprinted in my memory. The imprints remain, along with grief and regret, and is part of what kept me from healing.
I need you to know that you played a critical role at a difficult and overwhelming time in my life. Granted, I accept that you also cleared my path of having to face my greatest fears, which I paid for later and almost with my life. Yet, opting out of showing stuttering in school was what I asked you to do, and you did it to protect me and to ensure that I stayed on a path.
I need you to know that I felt your compassion. I came to you with a swirling mind and an exhausted presence, and you still believed that I wasn’t a lost cause. I know that I upset you when I became angered after my blocks would begin to bunch up, but you refocused our sessions and patiently waited for me to calm down.
Sometimes I think maybe you should have challenged me. Maybe you should have went by the book. Maybe you should have adhered to the stuttering severity testing standards and claimed you really weren’t qualified to handle such a severe case. And, yet, you didn’t because you cared so much about me.
I need you to also know that even if you had the requisite training and experience, I was never going to be a willing participant anyways. I was too mad at the world, unable to embrace the help that you did provide that could have alleviated some of my struggle to speak.
There was too much unbearable wonder of when the struggle was going to end. I could not focus on anything other than getting through my days. Please understand that I was always somewhere else when I was sitting across from you. I was safe in both places, and I tormented myself in both places—a hard dynamic to navigate as a 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, and 18 year old boy coming of age.
Finally, I need you to know that I finally made it to where I was meant to go and that you were a huge part of helping me get there. You kept me afloat until I could find my way.
I ask for your forgiveness, and thank you for never giving up on me.
Every Waking Moment
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