Stuttering Silence in College

I’d be very interested to hear what others might have to say about this — particularly what you were feeling during your first weeks of college as someone who stutters.

I read this article a few days back about the death of Madison Holleran. I had a really long think about it afterward because parts of it really resonated with me.

When I was a senior in high school, things were very good, and I was really happy. By this time, my stuttering wasn’t bothering me too much — I had a strong support group, good grades, and a clear path to college.

When I entered Pitt in the fall of 1997, e-mail and the Internet were relatively new. AOL instant messenger was a thing, sure, but none of us were obsessed with checking our e-mail every five minutes. That being said, we were still connected to our friends at other colleges. Going home for a weekend or Thanksgiving was a pretty big deal since freshman year you could usually find everybody at home.

Those first few weeks were, at times, pretty dark. I remember distinctly thinking one day while walking back to my dorm that I had gone to too big of a school. I wanted to transfer. There’s the idea that you see about college on television and in movies — red brick dorms, people laughing and playing in the Quad (whatever that was), going to parties and meeting cute girls, and having a lively discussion in small classes.

Brochure? Yes. Reality? Not so much. And it was getting to me.

Of course the stuttering wasn’t helping much. There was no partying for me, nor engaging with professors in class (or in recitation, really, cause those were smaller). And my grades were just slowly drifting downward, which was also having a negative effect.

What did end up helping were two things — a few guys who I met on my floor, and the student newspaper that I had joined. I managed to make strong bonds with people who may have heard but didn’t care about my stuttering. I didn’t advertise or anything, but I wasn’t afraid to lean on them when things started getting bad.

If I had been more tuned in to my stuttering, I think I would have tried to join a group. That’s the advice that I would give to anybody who stutters and is going to college. You’re being thrown in with 20,000 other people, so even the fluent people probably think they’re alone, too.

I think we also need to try a lot harder to communicate. We hate doing it because of the stuttering, but you can’t be alone with 20,000 people, questioning your decisions and not feeling like you’re getting what you paid for and just let it all fester inside.

I understand that depression and suicide are completely different from stuttering. I get that. But my point is that there is a tendency for those of us who stutter to really hold everything in. And when there are a lot of huge changes in your life in a short timeframe, it’s a recipe for disaster if you don’t have the right outlet — and you have to be able to communicate to that outlet.

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