What’s not stuttering

When I was growing up, one of the hardest things to come to terms with regarding my stutter was watching fluent people just initiate random conversations. I think back to things like car shows or garage sales or other places where you’re walking among strangers. And as you walk and see something that interests you, you find the person who’s probably the owner, and just blurt out your comment.

Sees a right-hand-drive BMW

“Wow, that’s nice, how’d you get that car in this country?”

No thanks.

My approach was to look at something, appreciate it, and then if someone came up to me, I’d engage. Lightly.

But just putting it out there? Are you nuts? I’d stutter! Of course I would. And in the off chance that I didn’t, I’d say something in that exact moment that someone else would — and then be faced with having to repeat myself. Or maybe I’d not say something loudly enough. Then be asked to repeat myself. Or maybe the stranger would hear me, would answer back, and then introduce themselves. Say my name to a stranger? Nope!

So the world of pure spontaneous utterances was always off limits to me. Oh, but how I wished I could. I wanted to engage. I wanted to talk, I wanted to find out more. But the cost was too high.

When I lived in Saudi, I had a friend who would talk to every stranger he saw. I’m only slightly exaggerating. Yes, it was his personality (as a business owner) but I was always in awe of how easy it was for him. How he just …made small talk wherever he went.

I’ve been getting better at this though. The amount of time it takes to get the nerve up to say something is getting shorter for sure.

With all that said, I’ve been thinking about getting a new car. A Jeep. This has been fun to research, of course. And my Instagram-browsing has lead me down the path of larger wheels and lift kits. A few days ago I was driving home, with my windows down, the sunroof open, and I saw a pair of black lifted Jeeps up ahead.

I liked the way that they looked. Larger wheels and tires. Lifted. Enjoying all the things that Jeep pushes in their marketing.

They stopped at the light, going straight. I was going left. I stopped alongside one of them, shoved my stuttering aside, leaned way over (I have a very low car) and shouted out —

“Are those thhhhhrty ffffffffives, or thirty sevens?”

“They’re thirty seven.”

“And is that a two inch lift, or-“

“It’s a three inch.”

“Thanks!”

So yes, I physically stuttered a little. But the huge wins were:

  1. Asking exactly what I wanted to
  2. Being completely spontaneous

I’m going to continue to focus on my wins, not losses. And by adding them here, I hope you can all change your mindset as well to think about how over many, many months you can also slowly go from being afraid to fearlessly putting yourself out there.

More and more normal

So I’m sure a lot of you saw this clip at the US Democratic National Convention.

As someone who has been stuttering for many decades, this is quite incredible to me. For those who don’t stutter, let help explain this.

When you’re a young person who stutters and don’t have anybody to look up to, you’re going to spend your early years in your own world. That means avoiding, changing out words, making excuses, and not living a full life. You’re not going to make decisions based on what’s best for your life and your future — you’re going to make them based on what you can say, right now, and what you’re comfortable saying. It’s extraordinarily restrictive.

By having Biden come out and help this young man, he’s normalizing what millions of us have been hiding for so long. Yes, there will be people who still make fun of us. Who don’t understand. Who interrupt us. Who talk over us. But history will soon forget them as our voices get louder and louder.

I never had anybody when I was younger to look up to for stuttering. Nobody in a position of leadership or power who normalized stuttering. It’s taken me many, many years to get to where I am now. I advertise my stuttering whenever I can. It’s more and more. And by doing that in front of strangers, I hope that I can normalize it for them. To let people know that I am not the mechanics of my voice, but rather the content of my speech.

I hope that in a few years the media checks back in with Brayden to see how he’s getting on. For almost all of us, there is no “overcoming” of the stuttering, but there is acceptance of who we really are. I think having more people who are openly stuttering on tv will continue to normalize all of us, and allow us to seek self-acceptance instead of banging our heads against the walls of absolute fluency.

Stuttering and Shaking

I was out for a walk the other night with my partner, and we saw some neighbors heading our way. I didn’t know them, but they were nice enough to stop and say hello. They then asked about us — being new to the neighborhood and all that.

And then he approached me, wanting to shake my hand.

Are we doing this? I don’t think we’re doing this still.

But I wanted to be friendly! We’re neighbors! Having a little chat.

At the same time of the handshake approach, he introduced himself, and I had to say my name.

I honestly don’t recall if I shook his hand or not. Because my eyes were closed, and I was trying really hard to say my name. A lot harder than I should have, yes. It took me a few tries, and I got stuck, and I didn’t say anything for a little bit, and then dragged out the r, and then … who knows what else. You know how it is.

I finally said my name, and then retreated back a step. The conversation went from there (no mention of the stutter, nor did I bother advertising). Sometimes, well, sometimes it doesn’t feel right in the moment.

So we chatted for a while and then went our separate ways. I didn’t think about it much after that other than making a note that it was a notable stutter in recent memory. I’m still stuttering obviously, but with COVID and everything else, there aren’t as many in-person introductoins to worry about.

I think years ago I would have beat myself up over it and felt bad about it for hours afterward. I got over this within minutes. I think the next time I see these people I may bring it up. And my feeling to bring it up isn’t so much about me and my situation. I’ve learned that generally speaking, people don’t know about us. About stuttering. So if I can education another couple about it — that it’s just who I am and will always be — that should be the goal.

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