For the last four years, I have worked as a Clinical Laboratory Assistant in a Hematology laboratory where I have never had an issue with my stuttering and neither have my coworkers. In fact, when I first decided to return to speech therapy after a long hiatus, all of my coworkers were in support of my decision.
However, it wasn’t until a few weeks ago where I had an altercation with a coworker, who I considered a friend. The argument was over something job related and I felt like it was nothing serious until this individual purposely tried to hurt me and break my spirit. Like I said earlier, I considered this person to be a friend of mine. However, I was sorely mistaken.
As the dispute concluded, he said “you can’t even speak, you stutter”. The people who heard, looked at me expecting me to rebuttal but I refrained. I simply said, “that was low” and walked away. For a friend to say something so hurtful was more of a surprise than anything. However, the biggest revelation was my reaction to those spiteful words.
Back in the day, something like this would have ruined my day and would have forced me to question my self-worth. Something like this would have broken me down to a point where I could not even face that person for days, even weeks.
Prior to working with AIS , I was a covert stutterer. I refused to admit I stuttered, I avoided all speaking situations, and as a result my grades suffered from grammar school, all the way through college. My stutter controlled my life. It affected my relationships with teachers, friends, family and I refused to get help. It was so bad that one day in the seventh grade I was asked to read a passage out loud and I could not even get a word out. The teacher pulled me aside after class and asked me “Can you read, son?” My mother, who was always in support of speech therapy, encouraged me to receive help but I was so covert, I believed I did not need it nor did I want it.
It was not until I reached the age of 26 where I decided I needed help. I remember the day like it was yesterday. I was unhappy with my life and I did not know what to do about it. I wanted to switch careers but I knew that involved going the through the interview process, a person who stutter’s worse nightmare. Basically, I had to decide whether I wanted my stutter to continue to dictate my life or return to speech therapy and overcome it. I chose the latter and I must say, it was the BEST DECISION OF MY LIFE.
As a child, I went to a number of speech-language pathologists who placed heavy emphasis on techniques such as easy onset and prolonged speech, with the hope of achieving fluency. This method was not for me. Yes, I was fluent within the walls of my SLP’s office, but I talked like a robot.
Working with AIS allowed me to realize the tools needed for overcoming my battle with stuttering were inside me the entire time. I allowed stuttering to control my life and it took 26 years for me to realize that it needed to come to an end. We only have one life to live and I promised myself I am not going to hide in the shadows anymore. A stutter free life may never be in the cards for me but a happy life is.
I will always remember the day my speech language pathologist, at AIS, once told me, “I do not want to sacrifice your personality to obtain fluency.” After hearing that, everything fell into place and the beginning to my journey of self-acceptance began.
As I accept myself and my stutter more each day, I have learned to disregard this type of ignorance and negativity and continue to love myself. This is where speech therapy truly made its biggest impact with me. People want to believe the end goal with speech therapy is fluency. On the contrary, I believe it is all about learning how mentally and emotionally strong we truly are and how we apply it to stuttering.
And as for my coworker; he has yet to apologize for his words but you know what? That is okay. He is doing me the favor. I will no longer put up with ignorance and negativity, especially toward me and the stuttering community.
The American Institute for Stuttering is a leading non-profit organization whose primary mission is to provide universally affordable, state-of-the-art speech therapy to people of all ages who stutter, guidance to their families, and much-needed clinical training to speech professionals wishing to gain expertise in stuttering. Offices are located in New York, NY and Atlanta, GA, and services are also available Online. Our mission extends to advancing public and scholarly understanding of this often misunderstood disorder.