|About the presenter: Rob Bloom is a writer who has stuttered his entire life. Rob, who writes a popular humor column, has been featured in Toastmasters Magazine, The Orlando Sentinel, and National Public Radio, among other places. You can read some of Rob's work at his website, www.robbloom.com. Rob lives in Philadelphia with his wife.|
I stutter. I always have. In fact, I can remember being three years old and trying very hard to push out the word "d-d-daddy."
As time went by and I went through the revolving door of speech therapy several times, I tried everything from blowing into a rubber tube to standing in a corner and trying to scream out "the stutter." But it was the hopeful assurance of 'you'll grow out of it' that would fuel my dreams for many years to come.
Every time I sat in class, feeling my neck burning and sweat dripping off my forehead, waiting for my turn to read aloud, I told myself 'I'd grow out of it.' Every time I ordered something other than what I really wanted in a restaurant, I told myself 'I'd grow out of it.' And every time I hung up the phone on somebody because I was too blocked up to utter a single sound, I told myself 'I'd grow out of it.'
When it became apparent that I was not going to "grow out of it", I decided I could not go through life as a stutterer. It was too exhausting, too frustrating and too embarrassing to constantly wrestle with words. So I decided I would do whatever it took to keep my shameful stuttering a secret from the world. While talking, I would simultaneously think ahead to the next sentence, scan for problem-some sounds and quickly find an appropriate synonym.
And why shouldn't I hide? In the rare times that my secret was uncovered, I didn't exactly receive a lot of positive reinforcement. In high school, a career counselor advised me to choose a profession where speaking wasn't a requirement. His suggestion? Circus clown. It was then that I promised myself to never let stuttering stop me from doing something I wanted to do.
I went to college and began to study advertising. For someone who built his world around hiding from stuttering, advertising wasn't exactly an inconspicuous place to hide. And I was now at a time in my life when I needed to hide the most.
I continued portraying the role of a fluent speaker on the outside. Meanwhile, on the inside, I was falling apart. I'd wake up each morning, filled with dread about any potential speaking situation that might arise that day. I was now taking drastic means to avoid speaking situations, from driving 30 miles to tell a friend something (instead of making a phone call) to faking laryngitis when meeting new people. To make matters worse, my constant fear and anxiety about blocking had resulted in the formation of a stomach ulcer. I was lying to the world. And it was catching up with me.
I continued to pursue advertising, and began applying for summer internships. This meant job interviews. There was no way I was going to stutter in front of a potential employer. They'd think I was stupid. They'd think I was incapable of doing the job. They'd think I was a freak.
I was at a crossroads and knew something had to change. But instead of facing my fears, I buried them even deeper inside my soul. I graduated with a Bachelors degree and quickly understood how tough the 'real world' can be. The economy was down and advertising agencies weren't about to hire a "green" kid fresh out of school with a thin portfolio.
The next thing I knew I was portraying a Disney character at the Magic Kingdom. And though I thought I had finally found the perfect hiding place, even the character fur couldn't hide the fact that I was miserable on the inside.
Once again, I was at a crossroads. My ulcer was bad. My speech was dismal. My confidence was at an all-time low. There was only one thing to do: push those feelings away and continue lying to myself.
I moved to Atlanta and landed a job at an advertising agency. I was writing radio, TV, and print ads for national clients, but my biggest accomplishment was successfully hiding my stuttering from my colleagues for over three years. When the economy slumped and my job was eliminated, I started to analyze my future. Not knowing where my life was headed, I went into the usual routine of job searching. But it wasn't until a rainy night a few weeks later that it hit me: I needed to stop hiding.
I forced myself to face my fears directly. One way I did this was to do the very thing that scared me more than anything else: stuttering. I walked into situations and intentionally stuttered. Although agonizingly difficult at first, I began to desensitize myself to the behavior. In addition, I joined Toastmasters where I willingly stood before a group of people and spoke. Did I stutter? Of course. But I also proved to myself that I was much more than the behavior of stuttering and even came to realize that I actually enjoy public speaking.
In opening up about stuttering, I've discovered the stigma and fears that I've based my life around die a little bit more with each passing day. I've also accepted the fact that, yes, I do stutter. I now know that if I stutter, my arms aren't going to fall off and my head isn't going to spin around. I'm just going to...well...stutter. And while this may always be the case, I now realize that there are much more important things to focus on.
As I write this, I'm reminded about all those times in my life when I came to the crossroads and ran the opposite way. It feels pretty good to finally be running in the right direction. For the first time in my life, I can look the world straight in the eye and st-st-stutter.
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