Feelings When Stuttering In Front of a Group

by Casey Donohue

I would like to begin by telling what it is to be a child who stutters. When I was a young girl, it was quickly pointed out to me that I spoke differently than everyone else. When I did stutter around children my own age or a little older than me, they commonly mocked my speech. If I repeated the first sound of a word, they would do the same. If I blocked on the initial sound, they would tell me to just "spit it out already". To this teasing, I would usually turn very red and leave before anyone could see the tears welling up in my eyes. With my family, around the dinner table, I would be recounting a particular part of my day. I would be very excited to tell my story and frequently stuttered (mostly repetition) on most of the words in the story. To this my parents responded with telling me to stop talking, think about what I wanted to say, and then speak more slowly. When this was said, I would put my head down and refuse to continue my story. These types of reactions from my communication partners made me feel as though the way I was speaking was much more important than what I was trying to say. This made me feel dumb (like I had nothing to say worth hearing) and as though people did not like to hear me talk because my stuttering bothered them. On numerous occasions I felt as though being mute would be easier than speaking and stuttering. My feelings that developed in regard to my stuttering encouraged me to avoid many situations. In elementary school, the class would be taking turns reading aloud. When I know that my turn was approaching, I would ask to go to the bathroom. But even that was difficult because I would have to raise my hand and ask loudly for permission. Also within the classroom, I would spend most of my day looking down at the floor in hopes that the teacher would not call on me. When I was called on, I would often reply with a shrug or "I don't know." This seemed safer than trying to say the answer I had in my head since I would probably get stuck in a block or prolongation on the first sound. I often shied away from joining a group of people and dreaded having to say my name when being introduced to a group of people. Looking back now, I missed out on so many experiences as a child and denied myself and others a relationship because of my stuttering.

As a 23-year-old women in graduate school studying speech-language pathology, the reactions to my stuttering are much different than when I was a child. I have learned to be more in control of my speech. I have learned how to maximize the fluency of my speech and how to deal with my stuttering. Nonetheless, I am still ashamed and embarrassed (to say the least) when I stutter in front of a group of people. The most common reaction I have to the anticipation of a stuttering moment is rapid heart beat and shaking. My heart beats so hard and so fast that I swear a person standing four feet away would be able to see. My hands also shake uncontrollably and I fidget to cover it up. To this day I can't help but imagine what people must be thinking about me when they hear me stutter.

Over the years I have become the model student in many people's eyes. I study very hard and put a great amount of effort into all that I do. It has become my way to show people that I am an intelligent person who is worth listening to. I continue to dread speeches and being put on the spot within a group of people. I had a bridal shower last Sunday to celebrate the upcoming wedding of my fiancé's long-time friend. I only knew the bride-to-be and was anxious about spending several hours with so many strangers. These people were not strangers to my fiancé though. I was anxious about making a good impression on these people for his sake. I dreaded going and having them hear me stutter and then in turn think less of him. I am embarrassed enough about my stuttering and I fear embarrassing others as well.

In my daily life, I stutter everyday around my family. My father, mother, two younger sisters, and fiancé, hear me stutter several times every day. Now, none of them acknowledge my stuttering. I will block or repeat or prolongate, and it goes unmentioned. I don't believe that it goes un-noticed, but they no longer tell me to stop talking and slow down. I speak freely around my family and usually stutter more. I feel that this is because I am exhausted from concentrating so hard on not stuttering the rest of my day. Due to my comfort with my closest loved ones, I don't usually get upset when I stutter around my family. I do get upset, though, when I block and they attempt to fill in my word for me. Only a few months ago, my mother and I were visiting a co-worker of my mom's. We were talking about my fiancé and what his graduate program includes. I began to say "My fiancé is studying..." but I blocked on fiancé and simply said "My..." It was a long, silent block and I watched the woman's face go from an interested look to "Oh, what's the matter with her? Is she okay?" Uncomfortable, she looked away to my mother. To this my mom responded with "Fiancé. (laugh) It's so new; she still doesn't know what to call him." I looked down, humiliated and feeling as though I had also embarrassed my mom. I know she brags about having a daughter who works so hard and is now in graduate school, but I also know that she never brings up that her daughter stutters. I resorted to being mostly quiet and feeling very uncomfortable. I just wanted to run out the front door and drive home. The woman must have been confused. She heard something odd and saw my face, but I'm sure she was too uncomfortable to say anything. So I sat there, feeling awful and imagining that both my mother and her co-worker were uncomfortable and embarrassed as well. On the car ride home, I wanted to discuss this with my mom, but I wasn't sure if I wanted to apologize or if I wanted her to apologize for not letting me get through my block. This mental conflict has been with me my entire life and so I did what I always do: said nothing. I kept my feelings about the instance within myself and added them to the massive collection of feelings that have accumulated over the past 20+ years.

added with permission of the author
July 7, 2003