About the presenter: Candace Webster, 47, lives in Michigan with her husband and their two sons, Zach (11) and Nate (9). Employed at the University of Michigan as a network administrator for the Office of Continuing Medical Education, Webster enjoys reading mysteries, fitness walking and hiking in her spare time. Diagnosed as a stutterer at age 4, she had tried many therapies until she was in her early twenties.

You can post Questions/comments about the following paper to Candace Webster before October 22, 2001.

Life Lessons: Putting Stuttering into Perspective

by Candace Webster
from Michigan, USA

Life Lessons: Putting Stuttering into Perspective

I have stuttered as long as I can remember. For years stuttering dominated my every thought, career decision and waking moment. During my childhood, teen years and young adulthood, my life centered around my stuttering. However, in my mid-twenties I started experiencing, what I call, life lessons that helped me put my stuttering into a perspective that speech therapists, psychologists and family were never able show me.

In the years since I have learned that stuttering is not terminal. Stuttering is not life nor death. Stuttering is not the end of the world. Stuttering is simply a pain in the @#$%*. If a therapist would have said this to me 30 years ago, I’m certain I would have ran from the office in tears. Because at the time, stuttering was killing me. Not in the literal sense, of course, but with every difficult block a part of my soul died, or so I thought.

Fortunately the life lessons I mentioned before, have helped me put my stuttering into perspective. I no longer feel that my stuttering is life or death, end of the world or killing me a little bit at a time. My stuttering is now simply a personal fact, just like my blond hair, green eyes or big feet.

If you are a teen or adult stutterer, it is very likely you have experienced life lessons that can help you put your stuttering into perspective. You just have to be willing to accept the perspective and to use it to your advantage. This is my story on how I put my stuttering into perspective.

My picture-perfect world changed dramatically at 25. I had married my college sweetheart 5 years earlier and we lived on a small ranch in the foothills of Denver. He was a petroleum engineer and I worked part-time as a graphic artist. We had horses, a beautiful home and traveled extensively. One day I received a phone call that he died in an accident. Suddenly worrying about my stuttering was at the bottom-of-the-heap. It was no longer important. I grieved, I cried, but I survived. I had never experienced anything devastating in my life up until that point. Previously, my stuttering was my devastation and now that paled in comparison.

In the months and years following Grady’s death, I still thought of my stuttering and I considered myself a stutterer, but I now only stuttered if very tired, stressed or on the phone. Even then, my stuttering was moderate. Using the learned perspective, I could now control my stuttering, rather that allowing it to control me. Wow, what a lesson.

Nine years later I remarried. Jerry had attended seminary with a stutterer so he recognized my tricks and pattern of speech as those of a stutterer. But he didn’t care. He was the person that introduced me to the term "controlled stutterer." What a great term, at least for me. Yes, I did stutter, but to some extent I could control it.

After we had been married for about a year, and there was no pregnancy, we began infertility testing and treatment. After two miscarriages and our hopes shattered, we chose to apply for adoption. I just wanted to be a mom. I had always worried about being a stuttering mother and now I didn’t care if I was a stuttering mom, I just wanted to be a mom. Fortunately, we adopted our son Zachary quickly and 14 months later I became pregnant with our youngest son, Nate. Our sons are now 9 and 11. Another life lesson: being a mother is more important than me stuttering.

Throughout these years I worked full-time at very fulfilling positions. I had moved from graphic arts to publication management at a university. I made more money than my husband (okay, I admit it...it was a great ego boost), I developed a national reputation for university print management knowledge and presented workshops on print management at national conferences. On most days my stuttering was a non-issue. There were bad stuttering days, but those were few. At the end of a long tiring day at work, I would come home and have difficulty with consonants, but I was at home and it wasn’t bothersome. Another life lesson: loving my career was more important than stuttering.

In 1998 I wasn’t feeling well and I went to the doctor. I assumed that it was something as innocuous as lack of exercise or early menopause. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It was cancer—leukemia. I began chemo immediately and did two rounds of 6 months each before they told me that my only hope was a bone marrow transplant. The transplant was successful. But the extensive chemo before the transplant was ototoxic (toxic to the inner ear). Within 6 months my hearing diminished rapidly. I now have only 15% to 20% of my hearing. I am functionally deaf. What I once prayed for (deaf people can’t stutter) now is my reality. Hearing aids do help, but they are uncomfortable and amplify everything. Another life lesson: hearing is infinitely more important than stuttering.

I rarely talk about my "life lessons" with people because I’ve discovered that they immediately want to feel sorry for me. There is nothing to feel sorry about. I’ve been told I have horrible luck but I really don’t look at it that way. I’m not angry at anybody. Nor am I pissed at God. My life, though a series of unfortunate happenings, has been and is wonderful. I have been fortunate enough have loved and been loved. I’m a mom to two wonderful little boys, I live in a rambling 1860 farmhouse and I have two dogs that think I walk on water. What more could a woman want? (Okay, winning the lottery would be nice...)

I have written this for a very specific reason: I want to tell stutterers that you need to put your stuttering into perspective. I know, from experience, that it isn’t easy, nor will it happen overnight. But if you allow yourself to concentrate on your whole life (and your whole person) rather than simply your stuttering, you will be able to put your stuttering into perspective.

I have known many stutterers and it truly upsets me when they have told me that because of their stuttering they have little or no social life or are in a dead-end job when they are capable of so much more. I know that the big problem is how others perceive your stuttering. I fully and completely understand this, BUT I also know that how you perceive your stuttering significantly impacts their perception.

I recently watched an Oprah segment about aging and the emotional effect it has upon women. The show had interviewed one particular woman who was very attractive, educated, well-spoken, and quickly approaching 48. She was absolutely terrified of growing old. She felt she was losing her ‘edge’ and that people would look at her differently and treat her differently simply because she was "old." She was so obsessed with growing old that she had lost all her joy for life. I wonder if she had thought about what the alternative was—death. You either grow old and you’re dead. Not much of a choice, but those are the only two choices. Stuttering is much the same. There is no magic cure for stuttering, nor none in the foreseeable future, so your choices are: death, deaf or stutter. Hands down, I’ll take the last one.

I often play a little game with myself. I call it "Which is worse?" It is simply a series of mental questions to remind me of my life lessons and the importance of perspective. Sample questions: Which is worse? A rude operator who has no tolerance at all for your stuttering or sitting on the floor of the tub and pulling out handfuls of your hair after chemotherapy? Blocking in a restaurant while trying to order or hearing from the doctor you’ve just miscarried? I also have silly questions, but you get the point. When I’ve had a bad day, that may or may not have ANYTHING to do with stuttering, I still play this game with myself. It helps me remember what is really important and puts things into perspective.

I urge you to remember your life lessons and to find your perspective. Life lessons do not have to be cataclysmic--they just have to be yours.

You can post Questions/comments about the above paper to Candace Webster before October 22, 2001.

May 14, 2001