A Survival Guide For Stutterers

So, you stutter? Me too! I’ve been nearly dislocating my jaw for the last 24 years, and though my heart still races like a tiny monkey on a tiny treadmill when I get anxious over small things, like introducing myself to a stranger or ordering Chinese takeout, I’m still alright. And intend to always be alright, because what’s the big deal? It’s just a stutter.

Here are a few situations I’ve been in where a stutter would’ve destroyed me, but creative apathy came to the rescue.

WHEN AT THE OFFICE

The Situation: I’m told to pick up the phone at work.

The Solution: So here I am, sitting in my cubicle, staring at a painfully cute, super-sized photo of a pug puppy sticking out its tongue (Awwww!), while breathing deeply from the innards of my belly with my hand atop it. Stomach rises and I breathe in. Stomach falls and I breathe out. Rising. Breathe in. Falling. Breathe out. Rise. Breathe. Fall. Breathe. Oh no, I forgot to close my eyes! Breeeeathe. Anyone walking by me during this numbing ceremony would have thought I was either a complete weirdo or just wasting company time by practicing lamaze.

To the average day stutterer (namely, me), the telephone has filled my head with many years of ringing followed by miserable silence. The times when I can force a few words out are satanically mixed, and this has driven me completely bonkers at every desk job I’ve ever held. Yet, I still love office life, and here you’ll find me: scheming, suffering and stuttering.

WHEN AT A BAR

The Situation: I want to get drunk.

 The Solution: Stutterers are monsters of repetition, and I’ve been repeating the phrase — “I’ll have a Vodka Sprite, please” — for the last three months. Now don’t get me wrong, THIS RUSSIAN LOVES HER VODKA, but boy oh boy, I’d even give up my grandmother’s acceptance of me not becoming a doctor just to be able to order a bottle of Delirium Tremens! Vodka Sprite isn’t even my safety drink; it’s more like my safety phrase. It’s something I know almost for certain that I’ll be able to spit out when having to order a drink.

It doesn’t matter whether I’m with friends, waiting alone, sitting at a table, quickly running up to the bartender and pretending to be really enthusiastic about sports, my mouth will always know when to begin trembling, and so, there is a safety phrase. It changes from time to time, depending on the level of comfort and how spontaneous I’m feeling that moment. But just like easy hangovers, safety phrases pass with time, and who knows, maybe I’ll be drinking whiskey by next month. Whis–key… whis–key… whis–key….

WHEN WALKING THE DOG

The Situation: My puppy needs to make a poopie.

The Solution: Like many puppies, mine likes to go poopie. She’s also really fluffy and friendly, so she attracts a lot of attention. With this attention comes the question I fear more than running out of toilet paper on a hot night after Indian food: “Aw, what’s her name?”

I haven’t yet discussed this aspect of the stutterers’ dilemma, but I might as well seeing that we’re already here:

PLEASE DO NOT ASK ME WHAT MY NAME IS — OR WHAT MY DOG’S NAME IS.

I will tell you when it feels right. And it’ll usually happen at an awkward point in our conversation, like when we’re discussing my goals and aspirations or my pup’s favorite pee pee spot.

By the way, it’s Brigi. The dog. Not me.

WHEN AT HOME

The Situation: I’m waiting for a phone call, maybe for a job interview. (Probably not.)

The Solution: My boyfriend called the house phone the other day and my sister answered. He thought it was me and addressed my sister as “honey.”

Now, after reading that: Is it really so wrong that I use my 12-year-old sister to stand in as me for scheduled phone interviews? Heck no! How lucky I am to have a brilliant mini-me who knows how to eloquently convey her thoughts into beautiful, stutter-less sentences. Sure, I write down quick notes for her to glance at while she’s on the call, and prep her before the expected interview for a solid half-hour. I even put the call on speaker and mouth out answers.

I’m awesome in-person, honestly, so don’t think I’m unqualified for the job. But as long as I occasionally stammer on the phone, I will absolutely take advantage of the fact that my sister sounds like a 24-year-old. Or that I sound like a 12-year-old.

WHEN ORDERING FAST FOOD

The Situation: So hungry for a crispy McChicken, small fries and a medium Coke.

The Solution: I like to text myself food orders. After texting, I’ll casually walk up to the register and hand the employee my pink phone, manage a simple head shake and smile. They’ll give me an odd look, read the order out loud and ask whether that’ll be all. I say “yes” and just like that, traumatic fast food ordering situation is over! And so what if my phone happened to be passed around to a bunch of different people on registers because the text was too small to read and the employees talked among themselves trying to figure out if I was a foreigner? At least I got my lunch.

_____

I obviously could’ve handled all of these situations better, but that’s just the thing: Then it wouldn’t have been me. I’m too stubborn and caught up in the moment to do anything different. Sure, I could have flat out told each person that I stutter and to please excuse me if I can’t get my words out right away, or taken some other logical route to deal with it.

But that’s not me. At least not now. Because right now, I’m just a loony. I don’t breathe the way my $50-a-class speech pathologist taught me how to. My speech has definitely improved since elementary school (considering that I never spoke back then), so I’m pretty confident of this not-so-steady natural progression.

When my boyfriend first met me he had no idea that I stuttered, mostly because I schemed and hid it well. We (he) were (was) drunk during most of the courtship, so talking pretty wasn’t too important. When he found out (also while drunk), however, he honestly didn’t think it was possible for me to get any cuter, and here I was, his adorable stutterer.

The best advice I could give to any stutterer, or anyone who’s simply stressing over something, is to stop giving a crap. When you start to care, you start worrying and your anxiety jumps and your jaw nearly breaks, and what are you going to do then? How’s that gonna help anyone? You’re going to mess up when you least want to whether you breathe from your gut or not. You just have to make sure to do it with your own kind of grace. TC mark

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1363230138 Michael Koh

    an adorable stutterer! good for you gurl

  • Dan Camp

    I too have a stutter and do the bar thing — “gin and tonic” comes out easier than the fricative “vodka” or the approximant “whiskey,” but I HATE GIN.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mindchased Rafael Fabro

    How I wish I could see your face, adorable stutterer.

    • http://twitter.com/angelamelamud Angela Melamud

      Holla!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=508371039 Rayan Khayat

    This happens to me too frequently. Really all it is that you have to be very sure about what you’re saying, and that’s a much larger feat.

    One strategy is to also take your time and give your self a second
    before speaking, or even speaking slowly. It’s hard to be in control
    when you’re nervous and you just hear the ringing of your voice
    attacking your brain, so it’s worth it for yourself to give yourself a
    second.

    The worst is when you feel like it’s okay cause they’ll just feel bad
    for you and let it slide, (even though you genuinely stuttered) just
    leads to a nowhere black hole of social anxiety.

  • emm

    please write a siri-inspired guide for stutters! 

  • Anonymous
  • stutterer

    i barely talked at all when I was a kid, but at an early age I decided I would be a “big enough” personality so that people would listen to what i said, not how i said it.

  • amanda

    I can relate so much to this article. Stutterer forever

  • FP

    love this article, I can relate to just about everything mentioned :)
    I do the same thing when I go out: I want Bottlecaps and Burt Reynolds’ but I order TEQUILA!
    The day I am able to order bottlecaps without stuttering will be a gooder.

  • adam

    here’s something i learned form my speech therapist back in ’94:

    slow your speaking down, sound it out. no one will notice, and if they do, cool.  they’ll think you’re like keanu reeves, all thoughtful and shit

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