Recently I was asked, what is the hardest part about being a person who stutters?
My mind immediately recalled specific memories of struggling to answer the phone, blocking on my name when introducing myself and avoiding opportunities to speak in public. I thought about my journey in school through bouts of severe dysfluency, all while just wanting to be like everyone else. I felt the pressure of harboring an iceberg of emotions; shame, guilt and hopelessness amongst many others. I was reminded of the frustration and helplessness when I failed to say what I wanted to say. I remembered all the times I’ve asked “why me?” as I’ve struggled to attach meaning to my life’s biggest challenge.
But as the constant paradox stuttering and its accompanying perspective is, thinking about those negative experiences led to me to explore all that I am grateful for. I have been blessed with a tremendous support system; my parents, my brothers, my relatives, my friends, my coworkers and my NSA family. I understand the importance of being compassionate and empathetic. I’ve learned to embrace stuttering and to use it as a tool to make a positive impact on the community. I’ve had the chance to meet some of the most brave, inspirational and best friends anyone could ask for. I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of the National Stuttering Association, the best and more supportive organization in the world. For every scar that stuttering has left, it’s offered me something more valuable, more worthwhile and more fulfilling in return.
The hardest part about being a person who stutters is different for us all. For me, it might be finding the courage to fight and believe in myself every day. But the most important part of being a person who stutters is finding the positives, the gifts, in which this great challenge offers.
In honor of National Stuttering Awareness week, I thought I’d share a little something about my experience with stuttering. What people don’t often see from the outside, is that there is often a lot of shame, anxiety, and fear beneath all of the stuttering. As a child, I used to order something off a menu that was easier to say rather than what I actually wanted, I’d leave the classroom before it was my turn to read out loud, I wouldn’t say everything that I would want to say, and I’d even change my name to something easier to say, all to avoid stuttering. But what I missed out on, was showing the world who I actually was, someone who stutters. It took me thirty years to realize all of the strength (and confidence) that I have endured from a life of struggle.
- Haley Mitchem
For anyone that doesn't know, I'm a person who stutters, and that's something I hope to never lose. Stuttering has been a huge struggle for me in the past, especially in middle and high school. But the beauty of stuttering is that it helps you find friends who accept you for who you really are (stuttering and all), and it gives you a unique opportunity to be part of The National Stuttering Association, an organization that has truly changed my life. I really don't know where or who I would be without the family I've found through this organization and especially during this week I just want to say how thankful I am to be a person who stutters. A good day with stuttering is not a day you are fluent, but a day you are fine with stuttering.
To most people who stutter, stuttering is just a "part of their lives", and they are so much more than their stuttering. I look at it in a different light. For me, stuttering has paved the way. I would not be an SLP if I didn't stutter, I would not have met my wife if I didn't stutter because I met her in graduate school while I was training to be come an SLP, and as a result I would not be a father if I didn't stutter. I also would not be an SLP if I didn't stutter. I would not be serving on the Board of Directors of the National Stuttering Association if I didn't stutter, in fact I most likely would have never found that incredible organization. Stuttering has molded my character, it has formed me into a driven and compassionate person. Stuttering is who I am, it is me. Its so much more than "just a part of me", and thats how I want it. Happy National Stuttering Awareness Week! Let's celebrate being us!