It was more of a feeling I noticed rather than a moment. I was stuttering through situations that had once paralyzed my thoughts in fear without friction. I wasn’t struggling. I didn’t avoid anything. There weren’t any maladaptive side effects to recover from, like what should have been exhaustion from open stuttering more than usual. And, I stayed present during the entirety of the interactions instead of being cognitively blinded by stuttering. The feeling was unlike any I had felt. This was what could be when I stopped thinking about stuttering.
Forgetting that I am a person who stutters is impossible because I will always stutter. While acceptance of this reality was life-changing, no longer thinking about stuttering every waking moment of my days is revealing life’s untapped potential that I couldn’t begin to imagine while preoccupied with stuttering.
This feeling was worth a deeper exploration of how my distracted mind prevented me from living a frictionless life. Instead of seeking to understand how and why did my mind change—which happened over a decade’s time—I sought to pinpoint what I had been missing out on because the act of stuttering was siphoning the agency from my life.
The following interrelated capabilities, when illuminated and combined, forged what have become a new proactive approach that prevents stuttering from ruling my days.
Seizing Emotional Indifference: I am not an emotionless robot. I actually feel things quite deeply, and I am prone to being completely overcome by emotional reactions. But, with stuttering, I have muted the turmoil and turbulence after I stutter to such a short active recovery period that its hardly noticeable, even when I detect negative feedback. Energy that had been spent recovering my composure and self-destructive thoughts is allowing me to smoothly transition to what comes next without any baggage.
Forgiving Feedback: Inconvenient reality: people who stutter are rarely experienced in the wild—in part because at times we chose to conceal our stuttering—and it is a unique experience for us all, even for we who stutter. I reframed my interpretation of all feedback from my listeners, turning it into an opportunity to incrementally change how they react to how I stutter rather than stuttering writ large. I found this to be more in my control than the totality of the overall stigma. This cultivated a stronger communicative connection instead of a traumatic aftershock that I’d have to address later.
Enhancing Thought to Word Processing: I’m not thinking about what and how I say what I plan to say. I’m just saying it and seeing what happens. Over time, I began to stutter with more efficiency and built up stronger stuttering muscles to keep up with the increased verbal demand. There were initial failures while I prioritized this type of training but, in time, I could maintain my composure and flow of articulated thoughts for extended periods of time, thereby freeing my mind from itself.
Eliminating FOMO: Regret stops compounding with actual rather than imagined experiences. I’m not missing out on things I want to be doing or saying, disrupting and preventing the cycles of ruminating FOMO that have an outsized impact on perpetuating stuttering itself. It hadn’t been as clear to me that what I didn’t do or say because of stuttering rather than how and with whom I stuttered had a stronger grip on my overall health. Without stuttering regret, I became unstoppable.
Failing IRL: It’s worth repeating—I’m failing during real communicative interactions rather than in those I have with myself, and with these, I have hard data to evaluate. Seeing feedback in real life, or the lack thereof more often than not, shortened my cognitive and physiological recovery time to where I barely feel or recognize it. Without recovery, I am free to move on, with a clear mind and a reserve of physical energy, as someone still learning how to live.
Compounding Social Opportunity: Growing up with stuttering was lonely and isolating, which made social anxiety my Mount Everest. I was never socially fluent in the ways I wanted to be. The power of failing IRL taught me how to view each interaction as an opportunity to get comfortable openly stuttering. As I went forward, the opportunities seemed to multiply organically until I had more than enough. I got so caught up on what I should be doing rather than letting the momentum from each opportunity guide me through. I get to stutter in whatever opportunity arises, and that’s pretty amazing.
Countering Stigma: Social fluency has strengthened the visual profile of stuttering. My outward stigma used to be like someone walking fast in the rain hoping not to get wet. The rain being the shame that dominated my thoughts which physically forced a broken public appearance—hunched over with a blank stare and my eyes cast downward. This was the stigma I counter one interaction at a time. Instead of pity, stuttering with confidence is perceived as courageous and elicits empathy. I show others how I now see myself, and in turn, leave a powerful impression of what it means to stutter.
Reclaiming Time: Time lost while wrestling with my thoughts over whether or not to do something because I might stutter robbed me of thousands of moments that could have changed my life. In other words, stuttering stole physical time that I will never get back. I live with a sense of urgency knowing that I need to use what time I have left.
When I review these together, it’s a wonder that I had any energy left to live. Stuttering is exhausting and consumed my entire being, with my pervasive thoughts about it sapping all ability to do anything other than surrender to its wrath. By not reacting emotionally, monitoring for negative feedback, working with limited processing power, filing away regret after regret, living in my head, hiding behind social anxiety, and perpetuating stigma, I am free to go headlong into my days without friction.
How has this changed who I’ve become and my relationship with stuttering?
There is nothing left that I will not do. I still sense the anticipatory anxiety, feel the fear, and resolve and recover after moments of struggle—because the struggle remains at times—but my thoughts move me on to what’s next, almost like nothing happened. A day in the life now includes many quick interpersonal interactions, like greetings or expressions of gratitude, video meetings, telephone calls, presentations, one on one conversations, social gatherings, and family time.
I first recognized the change when I started reading to my son before bed, a long held fear in and of itself. It hit me when I ended my longs days by reading several books to him. I was crushing the high communicative demands all day long for work and then reading aloud. Reflecting on this new reality is important, and it is often what I turn to for motivation when I have a hard day.
While there is still work to do, I have to celebrate this monumental triumph. I have to allow myself to celebrate. I never knew it was possible to not only analyze stuttering from the outside looking in, but also to step into the void no longer preoccupied by thinking what if I stutter.
I am stuttering nearly without thought.