Find your voice. Fight for your voice. It’s a common theme to motivate and inspire. For me and 70 million people worldwide, it’s the exact opposite. We fight our voice every day.
Each stutterer is unique. I tend to be self-deprecating on the bridge words my brain has picked. 33-year old guy living in Alabama? How about ‘like’ with a side of ‘and stuff.’ Hey, I always wanted to sound like the stereotype of a valley girl. I appreciate the twisted sense of humor my mind possesses.
For the millions out there who stutter, the story below may align with yours or be vastly different. What we have in common is a fluency disorder that isn’t altogether uncommon but can rule over you if you let it. My story is a mixture of letting it dictate my actions and then deciding it wouldn’t.
The motivation you’re looking for isn’t in the quote on the poster. It’s the story of where you were, where you are and where you’re going.
Growing Up Stuttering
My first memory of realizing I was different was speech therapy at a DOD-run school at the Naval Air Station Keflavik in the late 80s. Fast forward to more speech therapy in Wilmington, NC. For me, the efficacy was muddled. Sure, I can slow down and prolong my speech pattern, but I was just as likely to earn strange looks slowly talking over a blocking stutter.
Try telling an eight-year-old he needs to slow down when talking. Slowing down is a relative term at that age. When my family moved to Adak, AK, I skipped a couple of years of the speech therapists. Google map the area. It defines middle of nowhere.
Another DOD-run school and in my mind, everything was great, or I was too young to care. It helped I completely absorbed myself in books. The Accelerated Reader contest hadn’t met a person like me.
While I couldn’t string together sentences, I could read faster than anyone I knew. It drove teachers nuts all the way through college that I could absorb information faster than anyone they had ever met.
A Stuttering Realization
While aware I couldn’t say my name without it coming out M-M-M-M-Marcus, it didn’t hit me until middle school and moving to Chesapeake, VA. It’s one thing living on an island with a population of less than 4,000. It’s a different feeling when your school eclipses the population of your former home.
It’s here I felt the first taste of the mocking. Stuttering is an easy target for bullies. Not the vilest or most mean-spirited, but incredibly easy for someone to mock. The grins when you stumble, people telling you to slow down, spit it out, etc. It’s an endless list. Some are funny in retrospect. Others? Even the most ‘let it roll off your back’ person would cringe recalling the comments.
I couldn’t say my name, and for whatever reason, teachers have a weird obsession with everyone introducing themselves each year.
More speech therapy and my first introduction to choral speech. The ability to bridge off someone else talking. Teaching myself to control my voice or alter the pitch. The discovery of if I said a curse word, I’d instantly stop stuttering. Not helpful in late to early high school around your parents, but interesting. It’s a damn shame I can’t be a walking Samuel L. Jackson movie.
As a freshman, I switched schools for a final time to Gadsden, AL. No more speech therapists. I could handle a K-12 school to polish off high school. And I did. Sure, I stuttered. Speech class? That was a special kind of hell until the I explained to the teacher that unless you let me move around, we’ll be here all day.
Stuttering Dictates My Actions
College is the spot I can point to where it controlled multiple facets of my life. Need to set an appointment via the phone? Ask my parents or beg Alex. Drive-thru restaurants? I’m a dietitian’s dream on that front. Put me in front of the drive-thru box today and I can’t do it.
My major? Political Science. Not exactly the brightest idea for a stutterer, but I loved the subject. Put me in front of people I didn’t know and I’d debate with complete fluency. Yeah, I’m that type of stutterer. Most stutterers hate situations where they are meeting new faces.
I hate structure. Box me in and you limit my conversation paths to avoid syllables or words I knew I would trip over. But free-flowing discussion classes? Turn me loose.
The only problem is that the world doesn’t operate without structure. While I could talk my way through classes with no issues, the end of the road was coming. What do I do about a job? Could I actually be a lawyer? I still cannot to this day watch the public defender scene in My Cousin Vinny.
Those free-flowing days of talking were gone, replaced with determination to find a crutch. I quickly convinced my parents to buy the SpeechEasy device. Choral speech on the go? Sounds great and works until you’re at a party. The technology is sound, but practical applications are sorely lacking.
What’s one area that instantly scares the hell out of stutterer? Being thrown into a situation of intense anxiety.
My brilliant idea? Marine Corps Officer Candidate School. Shockingly, it was here that brought out the ability for me to laugh at the impediment. It also helped I was a bit over six feet tall and weighed 120 pounds. They had other options to try and get under my skin.
I look at those weeks as the reason I can laugh and joke about my own stuttering. Sure, an injury cost me a chance at graduating, but I still took home a new sense of self. If I could do that, surely I could handle anything else.
Acceptance Then Drug Therapy
But, it’s like anything in life. If it were meant to be easy, this wouldn’t be typed out. I came home still in school and was stuck stuttering. And we are our own worst critics. I can pick each word I stutter on in real-time.
The choral speech device wasn’t working, so I went to the health clinic armed with rather suspect research. It’s actually shocking they let me try the medications I tried. Haldol was one. Took it exactly one time and thought I was going to die in my car. Buspar had zero effect.
A glance through job ads showed everything I wanted except one requirement I took too literal. Excellent communication skills. Those who stutter know the feeling of dread when you see that line. So, I took the easy path and stayed behind a keyboard through marketing and copywriting jobs.
Do I regret that? No. What’s to regret? Who knows how things shake out if you choose one path or another? I didn’t like the situation, so I changed it. And I’m sure I’ll change it again.
My first step was accepting I stuttered. You can’t paper over something with therapy, prescription drugs, etc. without accepting your reality. It took two decades worth of speech therapy, the SpeechEasy, OCS and countless days and nights spent being beyond the pale of critical of myself to finally realize I stutter. Get used to it.
Next was lucking into the Pagoclone study. Though it never emerged from clinical trials, it gave me the hope you need paired with acceptance. There was a way to beat back stuttering. I enjoyed a year of near total fluency. Reading aloud? Done. Phone calls? Zero issues. Even you Comcast. Drive-thrus? Those damn things are evil and should be abolished.
Can’t have everything in life and I think the stuttering diet book would be a hit.
Though the drug was shelved, I understood the mechanism of how pagoclone worked and could find a close approximation. Believe it or not, the closest was Ambien. Seeing as I’m not the 18-hours of sleep per day type, that was out. It took a few months of talking with a psychiatrist and a cognitive behavioral therapist to settle on low dose Klonopin.
No, I’m not advocating low doses of scheduled drugs for stuttering. I go out of my way to have it monitored by professionals, and each person will respond differently. I’ll just never dismiss people out of hand who rely on prescription drugs to help live their life.
Stuttering at its core will create anxiety. Your mind kicks into overdrive and before you realize it, you are suffering through chronic blocks, or saying ‘like’ a thousand times a day. Neither option was for me, and I already knew I responded well to drug therapies.
Smartly mixing prescription drugs, accepting the fact I stutter and pushing out of my comfort zone represent the right balance of pushing back against something that needlessly held me back. There are plenty of people who have no clue idea how much they’ve helped. Even through this website. The Revl team probably has no clue I stutter. The marketing people behind Starry Routers. The guys at Chartbeat. Nikon. Adam at DJI. Countless others and as Alex and I grow the site; the list will get longer.
Most of all? My family and friends. No one can conquer every mountain alone. No matter how stubborn you are. It’s ridiculous to think you can. And it certainly doesn’t make you less of a person to ask for help.
My story of stuttering is one that doesn’t end. Is what I’m doing the cure? Absolutely not.
Nothing will suddenly cure my stuttering. I’ll have bad days and stumble. We all do. And that’s fine. I spent two decades afraid of my voice. Now? Stuttering can’t beat me because it is me. I happily wake up ready to fight my voice each day.
Please, sound off in the comments on your experience. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Share this with your friends. We all know someone who is struggling. It doesn’t have to be stuttering. But we can damn sure work together to make things better.