Saturday, February 27, 2010

Is it a Disability?

I suppose some would say that it is. It does prevent me from doing certain things that regular folks can do without really thinking about it: talking on the phone...ordering fast food comfortably...being a stand-up comic. 

Okay, forget the last one, but it was a dream of mine at one time. Not saying I necessarily have the talent for it, but, even if I did, I wouldn't be able to pursue it. I have had a few people say, "Yeah, you could. Just be a stuttering comedian." That might work...if I was interested in making stuttering jokes the center of my life. I do not.

Comedians I admire the most are those who are eloquent and who can deliver a comedic punch line right on time. Comedians like George Carlin, Ellen Degeneres, Steven Wright, Bill Maher. None of them would be able to perform their comedy if they had a persistent developmental stutter.

In my current profession, I counsel teenagers and regularly lead group psychoeducational groups and do one-on-one sessions with teens who have faced trauma. Stuttering does not hinder me in this profession because I can either use tricks to avoid blocks or I can just advertise that I stutter and usually this remedies any stress or problem stuttering might have caused otherwise.

However, I would've liked to have gone on to become a licensed clinician or therapist. Where I work, the therapists and clinicians all regularly hold family sessions with the teenagers who are in the hospital over the telephone. It's part of their job. I would not be able to perform this least not with any degree of fluency...and such dysfluency would surely be a terrible distraction for the troubled teens and their ailing families looking to me for direction or answers. Just calling from the hospital to the family's home, introducing myself and getting the session started is...terrifying to even consider.

I still intend to go back to school this year to get my teaching certification. That's always been a dream of mine and stuttering will not stop me from doing that. Teaching children and standing up in front of groups of people and talking has never been a problem for I suppose teaching is the way to go.

Do I view stuttering as a disability? In some ways. But not to the degree that I would ever expect to be placed on Disability and paid by the State or Government because I can't work. I certainly can. And so do millions of others.

Instead, I see stuttering as more of a personal obstacle. Something that I can overcome, to the extent that I can live with it, not let it hinder my life entirely and not let control me to the point that I avoid doing things that everybody else enjoys doing. My stuttering could never do that to me. I could only do that to myself. 

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Advertising My Stutter?

I've recently had an email exchange with a blogger friend who emailed me an article about "coming out" as a stutterer. The conversation was borne from a comment left on my last post "Mean People" and it really struck me as a useful idea. If I am in a stressful situation, like ordering food at a restaurant or calling a business on the telephone...simply letting the other person know that I stutter will take off the edge and will make me less judgmental of myself and more free to simply communicate, knowing that the "cat is out of the bag" so to speak. I like that idea. And I will use it.

Having said, that, I will still continue to use my tricks to avoid blocks and to avoid stuttering. The link that was emailed to me suggests that this is the wrong approach. To wit:

Advertising Stuttering Article

"...some of the most unhappy and bitter stutterers I know are moderate to mild stutterers who believe that they can hide their disfluency. They add a great deal of stress to their lives and put even greater strain on their speech. No one is fooled; not their listener, and not themselves. As a result, every misstep is seen as a risk of exposure and fills the speaker with dread at being found out. They must focus all their energies on continuing the deception and the inevitable mistake is seen as a failure which reinforces their fear of stuttering. Brick by brick, bar by bar, syllable by syllable, they construct their own prison until they permit stuttering to take control of their lives..."

Although there is much truth to what is written above, I will still use my tricks to obtain the appearance of fluency. Why? Because it makes me feel better about my communications and it makes me, ultimately, feel better about myself. A mental health professional would probably tell me that I should work to instead feel better about my "true" self, that is, as a stutterer. But, again, I disagree. My true self is who I am as a person...and stuttering is just one aspect of who I am. It's not my sole identity and it's not something that I use to identify myself, if that makes sense. My identity revolves mostly around my values...not my physical or physiological characteristics. They might tell me that I should be "okay" with having a stutter. I understand that, but it's not so simple. I can accept the fact that I stutter...admit it...not deny it...but I can also work every day to avoid doing it, just as a cripple might try to avoid falling down if he struggles with walking. I just don't embrace this notion of NOT trying to hide the fact that I stutter. Should a cripple NOT try to walk? 

In my professional life and my personal life, I feel good about myself. I don't have an inferiority complex nor do I suffer from low self esteem. My stutter annoys me...that's the primary emotion that stuttering heaps upon me. It doesn't make me feel inferior or less than others or less valuable than others. It annoys me probably much the same way a leg that is 3 inches shorter than the other would annoy me. And if I had that affliction, I would do whatever I could to make both legs appear the same length and I would work hard to participate in activities that others without the affliction participate in and I would make every attempt to look just like they do when I participate.

Do you think my assessment is wrong? Should I stop trying to avoid stuttering by using tricks? If so, please explain why....while addressing what I've already said about why I do it. And, thank you for reading.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Mean People

In the past month, I've had two cashiers at convenience/gas stores mock my stuttering. Both, I am sure, were completely unaware of what they were doing...they likely thought I just stumbled on a word...I would hope they wouldn't have guessed I was a stutterer and thought it would be funny to make fun of me.

Still, even knowing they likely were unaware that I was a stutterer, it still stung a little. It confirms that, if nothing else, sometimes stuttering sounds funny to people. Which is one of the main reasons that I use my tricks to mask stuttering. There are stutterers who don't feel the need to hide it and they freely stutter. Good for them. I've had an email or two from some stutterers who encourage me to do so, saying that it's liberating. I disagree. For me, it would be anything but liberating.

Shifting gears a little here, I've had to change the way I answer the phone on the unit at the hospital, because the greeting that worked perfectly for over a year has suddenly, in the past 3 weeks or so, ceased to work. I was able, for over a years time, to say, "Southwest unit, this is Tony." Now...I answer with, "Hello, southwest." and that works.

On a positive note, I have developed a group for the kids where we talk about certain disabilities and it allows me to talk about my stutter and stuttering in the kids. I have found that the topic really interests the kids and then they feel free to talk about their own hangups, whether it's a physical disability or just some issue they struggle with. Although I know that children can be cruel and judgmental to each other in peer settings, when you sit them down in a group to maturely discuss personal issues, you see that there is much more going on in their heads than childish antics. Sometimes they can surprise you with their wisdom and insight.