Life as a S-s-stut-stutterer
The King’s Speech just released last week and is already gobbling up nominations for awards. It’s a movie about King George VI, England’s reluctant stuttering king. I have to see this movie, not because it stars one of my favorite actors, Colin Firth, as King George, but because it deals with the issue of stuttering.
I stutter. I always have. Less now than when I was younger but it still plagues me.
I don’t talk much about my stuttering, not because I’m ashamed of it or embarrassed by it (though there was a time when I was both) but because others just don’t ask about it. It’s one of those subjects that seems taboo to discuss.
The movie deals with King George’s fear of speaking, his struggle with stringing together a single fluent sentence, and the unorthodox lengths he went to to try and control his stuttering.
All of this is very familiar. I’m hoping the movie creates awareness of what stuttering is and what it isn’t.
For a child who stutters, each day is lived in dread. Dread that the teacher will call on you or you’ll be asked to read aloud in class, dread that someone will ask you what your name is, dread that you’ll have to answer the telephone.
Public speaking is like death for a stutterer. I remember well when it came time to give a book report or speech in class. My pulse raced, palms grew sweaty, breathing shallow. My chest would tighten and knees would knock. I used to pray for an earthquake or fire or anything to postpone the torture, the embarrassment, the stares.
Saying my own name was the worst. I couldn’t do it. And it seemed everyone wanted to know my name. I grew used to comments like “Did you forget your name?” or “Cat got your tongue?” Sometimes, if the meeting was unimportant, I’d lie and tell them my name was Steve because it was easier for me to say.
And talking on the phone was impossible. I used to run into the bathroom when the phone rang so I wouldn’t have to answer it. “Hello” just wouldn’t come out. I’d stand there with the phone to my ear, my throat frozen, while the person on the other end said “Hello? Hello?” over and over and eventually hung up. Then they’d call back and it would start all over again.
In groups I never spoke. I was quiet and withdrawn, kept my thoughts to myself. Every word was a chore. Talking was my enemy, a constant and persistent source of frustration and stress.
And all this lasted until I was in my mid-twenties!
Then two things changed everything. One, I decided (quite out of the blue) that I just didn’t care if I stuttered. I accepted it and determined not to fight it. This was how God made me and I would make the best of it.
And two, I started writing. I discovered that I could express what was on my heart and in my head with perfect fluency and people actually wanted to hear what I had to say. I fell in love with words.
My acceptance of myself and my acceptance of words led to a freedom I’d never known before.
I still stutter occasionally, still get stuck on words, still hate saying my own name (and now my wife’s name too), still get sweaty and nervous when speaking in group settings, but I’m much, much better than I was. I teach children at church; I teach writing at conferences; I talk on the phone; I hold whole conversations with nary a stutter.
I don’t think much about my childhood stuttering anymore but when I do I grieve for that boy who missed so much because he was hiding from himself, because he hated who he was.
I think I’m going to do more to help create a greater awareness and understanding of stuttering.
If you’re interestd, just for fun, here’s a list of famous people who stuttered. Some of them may surprise you.
Question: Did or do any of you stutter? Do you know anyone who stutters?