A Lifetime of Stuttering

A Lifetime of Stuttering

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Create Your Best Future

A Lifetime of Stuttering

Awakening is the process of overcoming your false self and discovering your True Self. It begins when you decide to grab the tiger by the tail and ends with the tiger tenderly licking the sweat off your brow and face.

~Steve Baxter

For the first decade or so of my life, my older brother and I were the only two kids I knew who suffered from the speech disorder known as stuttering. Miraculously, around the age of twelve, my brother’s stuttering stopped. I was very happy for him and equally excited for my future. I was thinking “two more years.” Thirty years later, my stutter is still going strong and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

If I had a nickel for every time I was made fun of, I could have potentially retired at twelve. It’s not easy being a kid, and it’s especially difficult when you’re different.

The biggest fear for most Americans is public speaking, so imagine being a stuttering child having to read aloud a paragraph from Charlotte’s Web as the entire class looks, listens, and laughs. It’s not easy. Imagine sitting at your desk with your palms sweating, pulse racing, and heart pounding as if you’re about to testify against the Mafia, when, in fact, you’re simply sitting there waiting to read a paragraph from Where the Red Fern Grows.

That all changed for me in the eighth grade when I decided to ease my anxiety by volunteering to read each and every time. My hand was always the first to go up and stayed up for most of the class. I chose to be in complete control of what and when to read. If kids laughed, they laughed. I’d usually have a witty one-liner to shoot back at them, which would ultimately shut them up. From that point on, I never again looked at my stuttering as a significant challenge.

Fast forward to 2012 and I’m a comic, a speaker, and a soldier with three tours of duty in Iraq. I currently hold the rank of Captain in the Alabama National Guard.

When I started out in comedy, my goal was simply to make the audience laugh. After each show or online video, I’d get feedback on how my comedy helped educate them with respect to their family and friends who also suffered from this speech disorder. I was blown away. Until seeing my routine, they’d never considered the challenges a person who stutters faces on a daily basis. Imagine the fear of talking on a telephone. Imagine the fear of ordering food at a restaurant. Imagine the fear of not being able to say your child’s name.

I also get random messages from young men and women who aspire to serve in the military but feel they are not qualified due to their speech disorder. Being able to inspire them to follow their dreams might be the highlight of what I do. Stuttering is no joke but having the ability to inspire and create awareness of stuttering through humor has truly been a gift from God.

Stuttering is still one of the great unknowns. I’ve been stuttering for forty years and still can’t explain it. I can probably do a better job of explaining the Pythagorean theorem. I do know, however, that four out of five people who stutter are male and that only around one percent of the world’s population will ever know what it’s like to get “stuck” on the simplest of sounds. I, just like any person who stutters, have my good days and bad days and everything in between. Additionally, we don’t always get hung up on the same sounds, words, or sentences. And finally, the number one pet peeve for most of us is having people finish our words or sentences. We have something to say, so let us say it.

I’ve had the great fortune of attending the last two National Stuttering Association (NSA) annual conventions. The convention is not a pity party. It’s a fun and inspiring celebration filled with education, awareness, acceptance, and empowerment.

Because of my upbringing and military service, I’ve always been an adapt-and-overcome kind of guy, but attending the NSA convention has even opened my eyes to the difficulty many of my fellow stutterers face each and every day. I’ve even met people who stutter when they sing.

The NSA convention is a four-day conference. In 2011, we had the writer for the Academy Award winning film The King’s Speech as the keynote speaker. I may be the only person who stutters who has not seen the film. Another great film featuring a person who stutters is Star Wars. James Earl Jones, the voice of Darth Vader, endured severe stuttering during his childhood but has gone on to have one of the greatest voices of our time. He truly beat the odds. Of course he did have one slight advantage; he was a Jedi.

There are days when I, too, wish I was a Jedi, but that has nothing to do with my speech.

Whether it’s a big nose, ugly toes, or a run in your pantyhose, we all have perceived flaws that each of us should embrace, because if we don’t embrace them ourselves, how can we possibly expect it from others?

~Jody Fuller

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