I Stutter

 Me at 14 years old.

I can honestly say that I don’t remember a lot about my stuttering as a child. My guess is that I don’t remember because I was young and quiet around most people. As a child, I was too busy thinking about things that children think about like playing or in my case, dancing and writing. 

I do, however, remember high school. That’s when I think I became aware of my stutter because other people were aware of it and made sure to remind me that it was there. Saying my name was and still is an issue. There’s something about the “SH” sound that is always difficult to say. Getting the smile or laugh from the person I’m talking to followed by the question, “Did you forget your name?” still baffles me to this day. Why would that even be a thing to ask? Today, I give my exasperated annoyed look followed by “No, I stutter,” which then leads to the person looking ashamed and dumbfounded. That makes me feel good. 

I never understood what the mystery was to people when it came to stuttering. It’s not as if I’m the only person in the world. Celebrities have talked about how they stuttered so why is it a surprise when I do it to a stranger. Then there’s the misconception that because I can’t get my words out, I’m not intelligent. The fact that certain syllables take longer for me to say has nothing to do with the content of what I’m saying. I guess for some it is the unknown, a taboo, a handicap that you can’t see, leading them to form their own diagnosis. 

I always say that I’m quiet but I know for a fact that my family and friends are reading this saying to themselves, “Shanah is not quiet.” I am only quiet around people I don’t know. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll meet new people and respond if people talk to me, but I’m hardly ever the one to seek out a conversation with someone I don’t know unless I feel led to. It’s less nerve-wracking when someone comes to you. For me to start, it means I have already built up the anxiety as I walked over to the person and basically psyched myself out before I even uttered a word. 

What you see on the outside of a person who stutters is a calming, smooth river. What you don’t see on the inside is the hurricane that is thrashing around inside of us. 

I have been blessed to have a loving and supportive family. As a child, they validated me at home and my elementary school instilled pride in me so I was given all the tools from an early age to face the world. Friends who I’ve known since I was a child and those, I’ve met throughout my life have accepted me and my stutter, never making me think I was “different.” I’ve been able to fall in love and every guy I’ve ever dated loved me for me. Writing Alizah’s Story, I’ve met other people who stutter and I realize that not everyone has been blessed to have the wonderful village that I’ve had. It makes me even more grateful for them.

I do admit that there have been times when I pulled a “fake it till you make it.” I am thankful that I have a personality, so I draw you in with that first and then pretend to be unable to figure out a word or side track you to help ease the fact that I’m about to stutter. I think it’s my way of easing my own tension and anxiety about stuttering. For a person who stutters, the anticipation of what another person’s reaction to the stutter will be is usually worse than the actual stutter itself. People don’t see the internal turmoil that you go through sometimes. Some days are better than others. Whatever is going on around you and your emotional state can dictate what caliber your stutter will be that day. 

In my regular nine to five job, I plan events which means I am speaking to people non-stop. If I’m having a day where I know my stutter is going to be a bit more than usual, I will do my communicating by email. If I have to talk on the phone, I will go in to an office where I can be alone so no one can hear me if I stutter. What is annoying sometimes is when you’re on the phone with any type of customer service and the representative keeps saying, “Sorry, you’re breaking up.” I hope they never feel me rolling my eyes over the phone. Since I’ve been on the Alizah’s Story journey, I lead conversations a lot more by telling the other person I stutter. Stuttering has been in a lot more conversations since Joe Biden has been on his run for President. People are more aware of it and this has made me feel that leading with it would release some of my anxiety and prepare the other person for when a stutter happens. 

For a very long time, I always felt as if I was the only person in the world who stuttered. It wasn’t until I was in my late twenties that I met someone else who stuttered. The road to the book release has allowed me to connect with other people from all over who stutter. It’s a comforting feeling to know that you are not alone and that there are people who understand every emotion you have probably felt since you started stuttering. 

Today, I still don’t like my stutter but I have decided to accept that it is a part of me and my journey. I am constantly working on it and finding ways to stutter less during those moments when I’m nervous and anxious. I must admit that with everything being virtual now, I am a lot more comfortable speaking. I’m alone in my home office, at ease, so my stutter is less because my anxiety is less. I’m not in the same room with eyes staring back at me which makes my fear rise and my stutter worse. I can set my screen to show myself and alleviate the nervousness. This virtual world has been good for me to get some practice. I’ve been able to work with John West, an amazing speech coach and it has been a wonderful experience. So much of public speaking is getting out of your own way. When we are able to have in-person meetings and events, I’ve had some practice and I can honestly say, I won’t be as nervous as I once was about speaking in public. Now I’m not saying I’m ready to give a speech on stage in front of hundreds of people — that gift is for a certain few. What I am saying is that if I have a thought to share at a larger work meeting, I will share that thought. I stutter. You just have to wait a few extra seconds to hear the brilliant things I have to say. 

Thank you for listening, 

Shanah

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