Things Don't Always Work Out As Planned

by Rod Abbott

Sometimes things don't work out as I've planned. But that's not all bad either. I dropped out of college last fall. I am now doing some things that will make me a lot better able to handle college in the future. I wish I had done some of this work earlier, but maybe I wasn't ready before. Anyway, I am sharing this with you to encourage you that if you have a stuttering problem like mine, see if you can find someone to help you work on the emotional aspects of stuttering in addition to the stuttering that other people can see and hear.

I started speech therapy in kindergarten. Since then I've gone through many techniques. What those techniques lacked was a discussion of the emotional aspects of stuttering. I only saw stuttering as a technical disorder. Although I cried a lot as a child about how I couldn't talk like everyone else, I still saw stuttering as a disorder that only affects my physical being. All I knew was how I was stuttering and never asked the question, why do I stutter and how does that make me feel?

Let me explain. I have all the stuttering mannerisms except secondary behaviors such as head jerks and eye blinks. When I repeat a sound at the beginning of a word sometimes I do it more than 3 or 4 times. But that was just "the tip of the iceberg." The emotional aspects of stuttering go deep into my personal feelings and every social aspect of my life. I had no idea of this when I was younger and subconsicouly avoided it throughout childhood and young adolescence.

I was very nervous about starting college. I was going to a place where I did not know one person, except the admissions counselor who I was sure wouldn't want to "hang out" with me when I got lonely. Therapy provided by the school clinic for my stuttering made the transition good enough that I didn't notice a major change. My freshman year ended and I successfully avoided academic probation but without many friends. The next year I thought was going to be better than the first, but something went wrong.

I've always been an open person about my stuttering, and still am, but I've never been "in touch" with my feelings. Some people think I'm a strong person for doing some of the things I do. Some people who stutter would never think of majoring in Speech Pathology. I honestly didn't feel very strong at all. I cried everyday. I stayed in my dorm room all the time when I wasn't in class. I was scared of everything. I didn't have any friends at college because I was too shy and scared of talking. I don't like to take risks. It seemed like the tears would never stop.

I had heard about a support group in a town that was relatively close to where I went to college. Before this I had never met many other people who stutter and was very excited about this opportunity. My speech the week before the meeting was very good and I was getting overwhelmed with feelings of happiness and relief that I wasn't alone. What happened at the meeting was something I was not expecting.

The day came and I drove 90 miles to the support group meeting. But for me that meeting wasn't supportive at all. I had thought that I could talk to other people who stutter without feeling anxious or nervous. I was wrong. I was both anxious and nervous and felt that all some of the people who were there did was analyze my speech and ask why I did this.or that. They asked me why I was majoring in Speech Pathology. Many people don't even know what Speech Pathology is, and I always describe it using my stuttering as an example. Now I was being asked why I was majoring in something that I've been a part of for most of my life. Speech Pathologists give help and support for people like me, why wouldn't I want to be a part of that on a professional level? What a strange question ,I thought.

I noticed something strange again. It seemed as if the people at the meeting were interrupting each other all the time. Maybe that is what they to do help each other be able to talk to people in their daily lives who interrupt them all the time. But I wasn't ready for that. I came looking for a different kind of support.

One guy said that he'd purposely interrupt me if I stuttered more than what he thought I should. I felt like I was under attack and needed to defend myself the entire evening. He told me that he'd interrupt me if I said the sound more than two times. He said that I should get through the sound since I already said it once and that's all I needed to say it. Easy for him to say, he barely stutters anymore. That person asked me why I did it so many times. If I knew, I'd have told him, but I don't. Right now I can't help it that I stutter. Right now I feel like I'm always going to stutter to some degree. Right now I feel that the way I stutter is unique to me, and only me and that stuttering differs for each person.

What I was hearing from that person was that I was stuttering wrong. That was the last thing I thought I'd hear at that meeting. I kept looking at my watch to see if it was time to go. I said I'd come back next month, just to get out of there more quickly. But I doubted it. As soon as I got into my car I started to cry. I couldn't believe what I had just gone through. I thought the meeting was going to be fun and supportive. I couldn't wait to leave that dreadful place. I wanted to run out screaming and crying. For that evening it seemed like I'd lost all faith in people who stutter, I guess that meant myself too. It seemed like the one group of people I thought I could be myself around had turned out to be like everyone else in the world. I didn't know when my tears would stop, but I doubted it would be very soon.

As a result of this experience I broke down crying in speech therapy the next morning talking about my experience. I had never cried in therapy before. My SLP brought a new twist to it though. She said this would be a good time to work on the feelings associated with stuttering, because it got my emotions to the surface and we could concentrate on those as well as the techniques.

I couldn't get that night out of my mind and all I did was dwell on how terrible it made me feel. I couldn't even talk to people who stutter about how I felt. Who could I talk to now if not them? Where was I going to turn? Instead of working through this problem I sat in my room all day, every day, thinking of how bad my life had turned out. A thought crossed my mind to just drive home and stay there, where I knew my mother would support me. That's what I did. I decided to drop out of college and take time off to concentrate on my stuttering without any school distractions. I needed to work on my biggest fear, speaking in front of people. They say that that is the biggest fear of everyone, it's even bigger than the fear of death. Well, imagine how I feel. Most people can talk fluently, I cannot most of the time.

This change has been very good for me. It hasn't been a straight road, though. I still have ups and downs, and sometimes I lose my courage. But I've met many nice people, and have begun to attack the deep depression that I had fallen into. I feel like I have grown several years in the last few months. Since my decision to stop out of school I have given two speeches to two different speech pathology - stuttering classes at Purdue University and at Augustana College where I had been enrolled. I also have plans for starting a support group of my own, whose principles will be very different than "Interrupting Therapy." Hopefully this will be the beginning of my journey on the road of accepting myself as a PWS instead of hiding.

added May 5, 1997