Candace Webster

My greatest dilemma when I sat down to write this was what the title should be? I did not hesitate about what I was going to say, but I couldn't decide what the title should be. I thought about several titles; Stuttering and me, What stuttering taught me, and finally (my favorite) Women, sex and stuttering. I figured the last title would at least have the potential reader curious. I finally decided to forgo a title and just start writing.

I do not remember a time when I did not stutter. I am now 41 years old. I do remember driving my parents crazy and spending thousands of their dollars on therapy before I graduated from college. After I became an adult, I even saw a hypnotherapist for my stuttering. Therapy did not significantly change my speech. What did change my speech for the better is my attitude of my stuttering. But before I get into that, lets back-up to childhood and the therapies I have experienced.

I was raised in a typical mid-west, two-parent, middle class family. My parents, while not wealthy were financially comfortable. I was the only daughter, and my mother's only hope to be the mother of a Miss America. There was one teeny weeny problem, I was a severe stutterer (and not nearly pretty enough, but mothers' never believe that). My parents were my voice. I rarely spoke up in school. I did in-school therapy and private therapy as a young child. My teachers were understanding. I couldn't answer the telephone. I just prayed for "the magic pill". I remember my uncle suggesting that my parents slap me as hard as they could every time I stuttered. (talk about aversion therapy) He felt that I would soon stop. (I did stop visiting him) Fortunately, my parents realized how ridiculous his suggestion was.

I remember having friends in school and in my neighborhood. I was not a lonely child. Actually, I do not have any particularly bad memories about stuttering as a child.

It was not until adolescence when I realized stuttering was going to have a great impact on my life. High school was a nightmare, except for a few understanding, dedicated teachers. (Of whom I am proud to now call friends) My social life was the pits, and I rarely dated. (count 'em, 3 dates in four years). My closest girlfriend, Jane, had cerebral palsy -- we shared a different malady but many of the same feelings.

My parents suffered in silence while they sent me to several nationally known therapies (therapists): 1970 - Arizona State University and 1972- Hollins College. While both are excellent programs, neither helped significantly. In 1971, I started college, a private girls school in Georgia. They didn't care if I spoke or not. My parents paid the outrageous tuition, I wrote great papers and never failed to turn in an assignment, so I graduated with honors. These therapies only made my desire for a magic pill greater and deeper. I can't really explain, why they didn't improve my stuttering. I do not know if it was a lack of concentration on my part or the wrong type of therapy for me. I just do not know.

After college, in 1975 I returned to ASU to work once again with Don Mowrer. Honestly I do not remember if my stuttering improved or not, something better happened; I fell in love. I met my first husband Grady (he died in 1979) while there.

After I married, my stuttering did improve - but not for long. Damn, I thought I had found the "magic pill" - falling in love. During the ensuing months, the marriage grew stronger, but my stuttering grew worse. I worked as a graphic designer, a low visibility job. I had a degree in business (with emphasis in design/advertising), but I worked as an entry level designer. I was comfortable, I didn't have to talk. I just had to design. For five years, I lived a very sheltered life. I loved it. Grady and I had a wonderful life. We raised horses on a small ranch in Colorado, and I only really talked to Grady. He made my phone calls, he ordered for me in restaurants, he was my voice. When Grady died suddenly in 1979, I not only lost my husband - I had lost my voice.

What began as a loss, really became my salvation. During my grief, I came to the conclusion I had suffered one of the greatest losses a woman can endure - I couldn't imagine anything worse, including my stuttering. Slowly, very slowly I began to "cop an attitude". Not a bad attitude, but a good attitude. That attitude turned out to be my "magic pill". It basically consisted of "Yeah, so I stutter, big deal. You're not so perfect either". Now, you must realize, this was a very dramatic change for me. For as long I could remember my life revolved around my stuttering, and how that stuttering made me different and inferior (or so I believed). I lived in a stuttering tunnel. Finally, at the age of 26, I saw some light at the end of that tunnel.

With every year since that time I have become less concerned with my stuttering.

By the time I remarried in 1987, my life had changed dramatically. I worked at the University of Toledo as Technical Services Coordinator for the printing and duplicating services and as advisor to the on-campus newspaper. I also taught a 300 level graphic arts class. I actually lectured to college classes. I met Jerry, my husband, at church. He was the associate pastor. I was active as a sponsor for the youth groups, as was he. On one of our first dates, he asked me about my stuttering -- I answered honestly and six weeks later we announced our engagement.

We are coming up on our 8th anniversary and are the proud parents of two little boys, five and three. I read to my children and I never thought I could enjoy reading aloud so much.

I work at a very demanding and verbal job. I am director of University Publications at Eastern Michigan University. I manage 20 employees, two facilities, $1.5 million dollar budget and yes, I even talk on the telephone. (at least 20 times a day)

Do I still stutter? You bet. Do I care? Not on your life. Do I use tricks? Yes and no. I have developed comfortable substitutions though. For instance, when I call someone I am more comfortable saying "This is Candace in University Publications, is Bob in please?" rather than saying "Is Bob in?" It's more words, but for some reason it is easier for me. If I am calling the movie theater I will say "yes, what time is your last movie?" rather than "what time is your last movie?" That extra "yes" assists me in "what time....". The one thing I do have trouble with is sequenced numbers, such as credit card catalog shopping? Has it stopped me? (my husband wishes) You must be kidding! I simply tell the operator "this may take me a moment, I'm a stutterer". I've never had one hang up yet. (Lands End is the best!)

I have had more fun in the last 15 years of my life because I feel like I am free. Free of the stigma I had grown so into for the first 26 years of my life. I am known as a very opinionated, (don't get me started on the Reagan years, abortion or gender inequality) out-spoken, funny, off-beat kind of person. Who'd have thought it? I found my magic pill. It wasn't a pill at all. It was simply me.

Sequel - submitted March 2, 2001

Six years ago I wrote my original essay for "People Who Stutter Speak for Themselves." It felt very, very good to speaking to other stutterers about my journey with stuttering. This is the sequel to that essay.

In 1975 I remember sitting in a lab at Arizona State University while speech pathologists placed the biggest headphones I had ever seen onto my head. The told me they were going to play very loud 'white noise' and while it boomed in my ears I was to read a passage from Shakespeare. I read fluently and with great passion. When I stopped reading, I was in tears. I was 22 years old, and for the first time in my life, I had read fluently. The imposed deafness has 'cured' my stuttering. As I lay in my dorm room that night, I prayed for deafness. I prayed like I had never prayed before. If the devil himself had walked into that room, I would given him my soul in exchange for deafness and the resulting fluency.

Fast forward 25 years. In 1999 I was diagnosed with cancer. I did the normal course of chemotherapy and radiation. But almost a year later I was told the conventional treatment was not working -- I was dying. Alas, there was one tiny ray of hope: a whopping six-week long continual dose of (what I called) high-voltage chemotherapy. I had nothing to lose, I was already dying and dammit, I would try anything not to die! Period. My sons, only 8 and 10 needed a mom and a dad. So I agreed. The good news: I am alive and in remission. The bad news: I am deaf. The high dosage of chemotherapy was 'ototoxic', or toxic to the cochlea and inner ear functions. While not an uncommon side-effect of many chemotherapies, it is not one of the side-effects people expect (like hair and weight loss).

It is almost a year since I became deaf. Do I stutter? No. You cannot stutter if you cannot hear yourself. Was it worth the trade-off. Absolutely not, uh uh, not a chance, no way Jose. I will never hear my children's voices or my husband tell me he loves me. Yes, we are learning American Sign Language, so we do communicate. But the world of magnificent sounds and music is gone forever for me.

Life has many twists and turns. Some we can plan for, some we cannot. I had coped so well for so long with my stuttering, it really had become a non-issue to me. I made speeches, I made telephone calls, I taught college-level classes and much more. Most days totally forgot about my stuttering. When I realized I was going deaf and it was confirmed by the doctor, the insecurities I had once felt with stuttering, flooded back into my life. The only difference was the reason: deafness instead of stuttering.

Am I learning to cope? You bet! But it is slow coming, just like it was for stuttering. It took me well over 25 years to really not care about my stuttering. Well, at almost 48, I don't have 25 years to learn to cope with deafness. Hopefully, my age and maturity with shorten the learning curve.

At one point in my life, I thought stuttering was the worst thing that could ever happen to me. Funny how life's twists and turns really puts that into perspective and proves it wrong.

Candace Webster

updated March 2, 2001