An Open Letter to My Voicemail Message

Dear My Voicemail Message,

                You’ve been a part of my life since I was thirteen years old.  Although I’ve changed a lot and have had several different phones in those thirteen years, you haven’t changed.  For thirteen years, your message has been the same, “Hi. You’ve reached ***-***-****. Please leave your message after the tone.”  The reason for your lack of change falls squarely on my shoulders.  The reason you haven’t is simple. I’m a person who stutters.

                Up until a couple of years ago, that last sentence was hard for me to type much less say.  For years, I didn’t acknowledge the fact that I stutter to myself and those in my life.  If I didn’t and couldn’t acknowledge it those who knew me, I definitely wasn’t going to acknowledge it to the whomever left me a message.  By leaving you the way you came, I was able to hide this fact from strangers.

As I got older and began to accept the fact that I stutter, I still didn’t want to change you.  Although I had accepted my stutter, I still wasn’t ready for my stutter to introduce myself in my voicemail message.  This was evident at my first job in my post-grad life.  Within a few weeks of starting, I got an email telling me how to set you up on my work phone.  Changing you was on my to-do list for two years, but I never crossed that task off of my to-do list.  I told myself and my coworkers that there was no point in changing you because no one ever called me.  The reality was that I worked in a cube farm and changing you required my stutter to be on display for all to hear.  In the fall of 2015, that was not something I was not ready to do.    

                Today, I tell everyone that I have accepted and embraced my stutter.  I tell them that I wouldn’t change the fact that I stutter 98% of the time.  I tell them that I am a more genuine person because I have accepted and embraced my stutter. Yet, If I’m as genuine as I claim to be I need to change you. I need to let my stutter be apart of you.  I need every wrong number, scam artist, doctors office, and anyone else who calls me hear my stutter in your message. To quote the late Sam Cooke, “A change is gonna come.” One day you will be unique, just like my stutter. That change is going to be here before you know it. I hope you’re looking forward to it because I am.

Yours,

James

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Overcoming My Stutter

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word overcome as, “To get the better of; to succeed in dealing with a problem or difficulty.” 

What does it mean to overcome stuttering? Some might say the only way to overcome stuttering is by becoming fluent. Others might say that overcoming stuttering means not letting your stutter mute your voice. While others might say it means making the best of the situation. Yet others may have their own definition.

For me, my definition of the phrase has changed.  A few years ago, I would have defined overcoming my stutter as being fluent. No alternate definitions were possible.  If someone tried to provide an alternate definition, then I would’ve looked as if they had said the referees made the right decision in not calling pass interference or helmet-to-helmet on LA Rams corner Nickell Robey-Coleman’s hit on New Orleans Saint Tommylee Lewis (Yes, I’m still not over it).  Currently, I define overcoming my stutter as not letting hold me back from what I want to say.  I define overcoming my stutter as not letting it hold me back from doing whatever I want to accomplish.  I define overcoming my stutter as seeing the beauty in it. The beauty of my stutter has brought me things I could never imagine. Because I stutter, I’m an author. Because I stutter, I’m given the opportunity to talk to future SLPs about stuttering and my journey with it. Because I stutter, I have opportunities to be the person I needed when I was younger.  

In short, I think I have overcome my stutter. Everyday, I make the best of situation, use my voice to say what I want to say, and accomplish what I want to accomplish.  For that, I am a better person. To paraphrase the great Dr. K, “I’ve turned a sour lemon into something resembling lemonade.”

The 2%

Whenever someone asks me, “If there was a magic pill to get rid of your stutter would you take it?”  My answer is, “If you offer it to me 100 times, I’m declining the pill 98 times.”  The two times I would take it are rare, but still happen. This is the story of when those rare times occur.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve noticed that my stutter has been worse.  I tend to block and repeat syllabus more than I did a few months ago.  Recently, I went to a Christmas/housewarming party. There were many people there and I knew a good bit of them. Although I knew a good bit of the people, it was still sensory overload for my introvert self.  I had to make a lot of small talk with a lot of different people, which is not one of my favorite things to do. Factor in the fact that my stutter has been worse recently and it was a rough night. As the night progressed, I found myself withdrawing more and more and not having many conversations.  Part of this was because of my introvert-ness, but the main reason was because I didn’t feel like dealing with my stutter.

I was doing ok during the small talk, but what made me think “I wish didn’t stutter” was when a board game was brought out.  The game was a Christmas version of the game This and That and Everything. In this game, players are given 30 seconds to describe 5 Christmas related topics to their teammates. When asked to play, I read the description of the game and said, ” I’m good.” I wanted to play, but I know 30 seconds is enough time for me to describe maybe one item to my teammates. I know that when I need to get something out quickly, I tend to stutter more.  That night I didn’t want to deal with my stutter and all that comes with it.  I didn’t want to deal with the questioning faces people would make when I read the options. I didn’t want to deal with all the avalanche of negative thoughts that would happen during the game.  I didn’t want to be given extra time because of my stutter.  I wanted to be treated as James and not James the stutterer.  I felt that the latter would occur if I played the game. I didn’t want to stutter. I wanted that magic pill.

As soon as I realized the thought, “I wish I didn’t stutter. I want to take that magic pill,” crossed my mind, I internally freaked the hell out and withdrew even more.  That thought hadn’t crossed mine in a long time and I wasn’t quite sure how to deal with it.  My initial reaction was to write down what was going through my mind.  After that, I was still wishing for the magic pill.  Instead of being too much in my own head, I reached out to others via an NSA Facebook group.  I shared what was on my mind and instantly was given words of encouragement and had people message me to make sure I was ok.  Thirty minutes or so after the magic pill crossed my mind, I left the party.  I told people I was leaving because I was tired and it was past my bedtime, both of which were true, but I left because the longer I stayed the more I thought about how I wish I didn’t stutter and the more withdrawn I became. When I left and got home, the thoughts were still there, but not as strong.

This event occurred roughly three weeks ago and I’ve done a lot of reflecting and introspection since.  This event showed me a lot about myself and others.  It showed me that I am fortunate to be apart of the NSA community.  A community that gets it and shows me that I’m not alone. A community that helps me realize that days like this are part of being a person who stutters.  More importantly, they helped me realize that I must forgive my hard days.  This event showed me that I am making the best of it.  That tomorrow is a new day and it will be better. That having the mindset that today will be a 98% day is the best mindset to have. Lastly, this event taught me how to forgive the 2% days.         

Home Depot Experience

        This morning I went to Home Depot to pick up some paint.  It was your typical Home Depot visit. I picked up some paint, stuttered on a couple of my words when talking to the associate, paid for my paint, and went on with my life. What makes this experience noteworthy was my interaction with the associate that helped me.  Once she gave me my paint, she said, “I have it too. Talk slowly. It’s not as bad as yours, but I have it.”  It took me a second to register what she was saying and once I registered what she was telling me I was taken aback.  She called me out on my stutter.  I haven’t been called out on my stutter in five and half years. The last time I was called out on my stutter was by an eight year old and I wasn’t where I am today in terms of acceptance.  My response was, “Ok. Thanks for your help. Have a good one.”

       As I was walking to the register, everything I wish I said flooded into my mind.  I wish I had told her about the NSA and invited her to our next meeting. I wish I had taken the opportunity to talk to her about stuttering in general.  I wish I had told her that calling someone out on his/her stutter isn’t the best thing to do. I wish I had said a bunch of things instead of, “Ok. Thanks for your help. Have a good one.”

        On my drive home, I kept asking myself, “Why am I so taken aback by this?”  Is it because I would never have the courage to call someone out on their stutter? Is it because I’m surprised that she had the courage to call me out on my stutter? Is it because she said it with a hushed tone with a degree of shame in her voice? As if stuttering is this terrible thing that should only be discussed in private.  Is it because I missed an opportunity to be an advocate for stuttering and PWS?

        Whatever the reason, I was taken aback.  Yet, I see this experience as another tangible sign of the progress I have made in terms of accepting my stutter and growing in self-confidence. If 20 year old James was in this same situation, he would have said some mean things to her because he wasn’t ready to accept and own his stutter with others, much less himself.  Five years later, I can simply say thank you for your help and move on with my life.  Ways to measure progress sometimes come in unlikely ways.  Today is was in the paint section at my local Home Depot.

Introducing Myself as a Person Who Stutters

Introductions. Something we do on a regular basis, but never something we think about. As a person who stutters (PWS), introductions are not on my top 10 list of favorite things to do.  Whenever I have to introduce myself, I try to do it as quickly as possible.  In the back of my mind, I’m debating if I should introduce my stutter as well.  Up until a few months ago, the answer was not just no, but hell no.

“Hello, I’m James Hayden and I stutter.”  That’s typically not how I introduce myself.  My introductions usually go along the lines of, “H-h-h-h-h-hello, I-I-I’m J-j-j-j-j-James H-h-h-h-h-Hayden.”  I typically make more eye contact with the ground than with the person I’m meeting.  The fact that I stutter is seldomly mentioned, but most times it is not needed.  The few times I do introduce myself with, “Hello, I’m James Hayden and I stutter,” is when I talk to SLP students and they already know this fact about myself.

Once introductions are out of the way, one of the follow up questions is, “What do you do?”  I answer their question by saying, “I work in an organ transplant lab and I’m a writer.”  The person I’m meeting can then ask, “What do you write about?” It is in this moment where I allow the possibility for my stutter to be officially introduced.  I reply, “My experiences and journey with stuttering.”  Now my stutter is officially apart of our conversation and now they know why I talk like I do.  This kind of introduction is something that I’ve only started doing within the past few months.  Introducing myself as a writer was a suggestion by one of my friends as a way to promote my book and other writing ventures.  I now see it as a means of introducing myself as a PWS.

Before a few months ago, I never made my stutter apart of how I introduced myself.  I would say, “You talk to me for five minutes and you’ll figure it out.”  The only time I willingly told people I stutter was when I was a camp counselor for a group of eight and nine year old boys.  One the first day of camp I introduced myself by saying, “Hey guys, I’m James and I stutter.  That means I may repeat sounds or block on my words, but we still need to respect each other.”  During pre-camp, a week long of training the counselors went through, I didn’t tell my fellow counselors that I stutter.  As most people do, they figured it out and really didn’t care that I stutter.  In the words of Nick, a friend and fellow counselor, “I figured it out the first time I met you at pre-camp. I was drawn to you by it. It was an absolute non-issue.” Over the years, I’ve learned that most people I come in contact with view my stutter like Nick does: a non-issue.

The way introduce myself to a group has also changed.  If I’ll be with the group for a while, whether it’s new co-workers or a small group I’m leading, I typically say “I’m James and I stutter.  All I ask is that you don’t finish my sentences and keep eye contact with me during my blocks and stuttering moments.”  In college, I always detested when on the first day of class we would have to go around the room and say our name, major, hometown, and a fun fact about ourselves.  During these moments, I was not listening to what the other students were saying.  Instead, I was counting down how many people stood between me and the person who is currently talking.  I was thinking about what I could say that would cause me to stutter the least.  That never worked because I tended to stutter more.  I was thinking about what the other students and the professor would think about my friend who introduced himself without my permission. When it finally got to me, I stuttered on nearly every word and said what would get me out of the situation the quickest.  Knowing that in order for this “fun” exercise to continue I had to speak my piece caused me to stutter more.

I rarely face these types of situations now, but when I do, I don’t even need to think about what I’m going to say.  I would be lying though if I said I still don’t think about how to say it or what others think of it.  My new introduction is “I’m James and my fun fact is I stutter.”  This way my stutter is out there and everyone now knows why I talk the way I do.  It also allows others to talk to me about stuttering.  Most importantly, this introduction tells any other PWS that they are not alone.

I now introduce myself with a self-confidence that I didn’t have a few years ago. A confidence that allows me to introduce myself and my stutter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Accepting My Stutter Made Me More Genuine

“I want you to stand out. I want all of you, to be as different as you can possibly be, in all the best ways.”

– Jack Pearson (This Is Us)

                The above quote is from the seventh episode of one of my favorite TV shows, This Is Us.  In this scene, Jack Pearson (Milo Ventimiglia) is talking to his adopted ten-year-old son, Randall (Lonnie Chavis), about owning our differences and being all we can be.  In the episode, Randall hid his intelligence as a means of fitting in with his siblings and classmates.  While re-watching the season, this quote stood out to me because it helps describe my journey with stuttering.

When I started college, my stutter had just recently returned after a six-year hiatus.  Eighteen-year-old me was nervous about bringing this friend from home with me to college because I didn’t know how people would react. Because of this, I focused all of my time on extra circular actives and studying.   I wanted to be known as James who excels in academics or James who is heavily involved in the Catholic Student Association or James the forensics major and not James the stutterer.  By being involved in numerous activities and excelling academically, people didn’t know me by my stutter and I was ok with that. Looking back, I immersed myself in my school work and extracurricular activities because I was nowhere near ready to accept and own the fact that I stutter to others, much less myself.   Yet, the constant desire to be known for anything but my stutter caused me to bury my emotions on stuttering and in turn everything else. Or maybe it was the other way around.  Either way, I harbored a lot of pent up emotions about stuttering and life that didn’t come out until I was in speech therapy hashing this out.

People knew I stuttered because I openly stuttered; however, I never openly talked about it.  And if we are being truly honest, I did not openly stutter all the time. Far too many times, I pretended I didn’t know the name of my apartment complex and in order to tell someone where it was I described the businesses around it. I pretended I didn’t know the name of the city my college was in.  These two places, Hillendale and Hattiesburg, begin with the letter “H”, a letter I ironically have a hard time saying.  I did this not because I was unaware of what they were called, but rather I was embarrassed of my stutter and didn’t want to show the person I was talking to that side of me.  I did my best to hide my difference.  I wanted to stand out for anything other than stuttering. As a result, I wasn’t my true self.

When prideful twenty-year old me re-entered speech therapy in the fall of 2013, I didn’t know what was in store for me.  What I did know is that no one could know that I was back in speech therapy.  For years I had put on the mask of being ok with stuttering, when in reality the face behind the mask wasn’t ok with his stutter.  I couldn’t let people know the mask was there and I had to do it by any means necessary.  Once again, I was doing my best to not stand out and hide my biggest difference.  This trend continued for the better part of a year.

The few times I did tell someone I was in speech therapy it was said with a degree of shame and embarrassment.  As if the world would end and everyone would think less of me.   I felt that by telling people this fun fact about me I would be indirectly telling people that I’ve been wearing a mask for years.  When I told someone my dirty little secret I made him/her promise they would not tell anyone else. Yet again, I was doing my damnedest to not be my true self.

I spent two years in speech therapy and during that time my true self started to come out.  Yes, I learned and re-learned techniques to reduce my stutter, but more importantly I started to accept my stutter.  I allowed myself to talk out my thoughts and emotions about stuttering with my speech therapists and in turn started to talk about my thoughts and express my emotions on things that had nothing to do with stuttering.  However, I kept most of those conversations confined to the four walls of the therapy room.  I was not fully ready to talk about my thoughts on stuttering or anything else with others.  The few times I did have these conversations it was with the closest of close friends.

As those two years came to end, my time in college did as well.  I was now in this scary place called “post grad life” and now thrust into the “real world”.  A few months after graduating, I moved to a new city for a new job.  It was in that city that I first went to my National Stuttering Assoication (NSA) meeting. I knew about the organization for years, but I used every excuse in the book to convince myself to not go. When I was in my new city I looked up the NSA and saw there was a chapter that met at the local library, which happened to be less than five minutes from apartment.  I decided to go as a means of meeting new people, seeing what this whole NSA thing was all about, but mainly to see if this whole “acceptance” thing was real.

You see, by the end of my two years of speech therapy I had a sense of self-acceptance with my stutter. I remember walking through the doors of the library that cool October night having a desire to see if my acceptance was real. Although I had a sense of self-acceptance, I still wasn’t ready to accept it with others.  I had no idea where in the library the meeting was and I was not about to ask someone.  Although I had a sense of self-acceptance, I was not ready to accept it with others.  I almost left the library and vowed to try again next month because of my lack of acceptance with others. I didn’t only because I saw two college aged students in scrubs who I figured they were SLP students and I followed them to the meeting (I know it sounds creepy). I walked into that meeting with no idea what to expect and somewhat thought this would be my first and last NSA meeting. Boy, was I wrong.  I walked out of that meeting knowing that my self-acceptance was real.  My next step was to be able to accept it with others. Slowly, I was beginning to embrace my biggest difference.

Over the next three years, I was able to further accept my stutter with myself and also with others.  The first way I accepted my stutter with others is by wearing stuttering related clothes. I went from being mad at receiving an “iStutter” pin to wearing that pin and stuttering related t-shirts on a somewhat frequent basis.  Another way is on social media.  I went from only “liking” stuttering related articles on Facebook at 1:00am in hopes of few people seeing it to now regularly sharing them.  My biggest way is by writing about my journey with stuttering. A few years ago, stuttering was something I talked about with the closest of close friends.  Now, I write about it and share my journey and experiences with the world. My writing as made ask myself “Why do/did I do this?” and “Why do/did I think this certain way?”  These questions cause me to be honest with myself. In turn, I am more genuine with others. My stutter has caused me to be the most honest version of myself and I no longer hide my difference. I stand out and am my true self, stutter and all.

Evolution of Style: From Not Acknowledging My Stutter to Proudly Wearing it on My Chest (Literally)

At one of my first NSA meetings, someone gave me a small green ribbon pin with the phrase “iStutter” inscribed on the ribbon.  I apprehensively told the person thank you, while thinking to myself, “What a waste. There’s not a snowball’s chance in hell I will ever wear this.”  I was so thrown off by this gift that I immediately called my best friend to talk to him about this because by wearing this I would be publicly identifying as a person who stutters (PWS) and that was not something I was ready to make a part of my daily uniform.  A few months later, I wore that same pin on my lanyard at work during National Stuttering Awareness Week (NSAW).  Three years later I wore that pin, a stuttering related shirt, and a stuttering related bracelet at a public event.

So, what changed?

A mixture of growth in self-confidence and self-acceptance in myself and in my stutter.  When put together, I call those two things progress. The progress made outside of the speech therapy room, months after my last speech therapy session, is a result of the progress I made inside the speech therapy room. The progress outside of the speech therapy room didn’t occur overnight.  It was a series of seemingly little moments over a three years period.  Yet, when I look back those little moments are actually big moments.

The first little moment was on a Thursday night in October of 2015 when I went to my first National Stuttering Association (NSA) meeting.  For the first time in my life, I met other people who got it.  I didn’t know it then, but that meeting would change my life and pave the way for the following moments.

My first moment after going to the NSA meeting occurred on a Wednesday evening in March of 2016, the night the third episode of Survivor: Kaoh Rong aired. That night I was a panelist at the Baton Rouge NSA open house. I think of that event because that’s when my parents and I first TALKED about my stutter. Yes, we talked about how speech therapy was going, but never talked about how I felt about speech therapy and stuttering. Actually, it was a panel discussion and I did the talking and they listened, but you get the gist. I think that event gave me what I needed to wear that pin in public. In May 2016, I wore that pin hoping that a coworker would notice it and want to talk about stuttering.

My next little moment was in April 2017. It was a Wednesday night, the merge episode of Survivor: Game Changers aired that night, and I saw documentary “The Way We Talk.” After watching it, I had the opportunity to talk to the director about our experiences with stuttering. Even better, I bought a shirt with the quote “How much of personality has been shaped by my stutter? By saying I want this big part of me to be gone, it’s almost like saying I don’t like who I am.  I like who I am”. I excitedly looked forward to wearing it at work on Friday. Friday came and I wore it proud. I was excited to wear my shirt because for me it was a tangible sign that I had made more progress in accepting my stutter and was a more confident person. A year and a half earlier I would’ve only worn that under a sweatshirt.  Three and a half years earlier I would have never worn that shirt.

My next little moment occurred a few weeks ago. It was a Saturday morning and I was assisting with a booth at my local mall.  This booth was to advertise for the NSA and I was decked out in my iStutter Pin, NSA chapter leader shirt, and my NSA chapter leader bracelet. I also brought my shirts from “The Way We Talk” and the 2017 NSA conference.  I walked into the mall wearing my shirt proudly and hoping people saw it and asked questions. I hoped I saw people I knew and I could talk to them. The me five years ago wouldn’t be caught dead doing this and the me three years ago would’ve have accepted with hesitation, but would hide his shirt as much as possible and hope he saw no one he knew.

These moments show me that progress isn’t a giant leap, but rather a series of small and noticeable steps over time. I wear that pin during every NSAW and on International Stuttering Awareness Day. Not only that, I my shirts from 2017 NSA conference and from the documentary “The Way We Talk “on a regular basis. I do this because my stutter is no longer my secret, but a part of me I, for the most part, don’t mind showing to the world. I wear these shirts and wear my stuttering pins in hopes of starting a conversation with someone who reads my shirt and asks what the NSA is or about stuttering.  Mainly, I wear this in hopes that I encounter another PWS and show them they are not alone.

Linus Has His Blanket and I Have Mine

Charles Schulz’s comic strip Peanuts has been a pop-culture mainstay since 1950.  One of the more well-known characters is Linus and his trusty blue blanket.  Like Linus, I too have my own trusty blue blanket.  It’s a patchwork blanket made up of words such as: “the”, “like”, and the phrases “you know” and “I mean”.  I cling on to it the most when I’m in the middle of a serious block or a prolonged repetition (ex. L-l-l-l-l-l-l-l-lemon).  I’ve always known I’ve clung to my blanket during these moments, but it wasn’t until recently that I realized just how often I cling to my blanket.

A couple of months ago, I was talking to my sister on the phone and asked her what she wanted from Popeyes.  I stuttered on most of the words, which is a common occurrence when I talk on the phone.  Since I was stuttering a good bit, I held my blanket a little tighter and asked, “Do you want the red beans and the rice?”  as if they are two separate entities and not one unit. Once the call ended, I loosened my grip on my blanket and realized just how often I tightly hold my blanket.  My stutter is worse when I need to make a phone call at work.  It is in those conversations that I hold on to my blanket for dear life and use nearly every word that makes up my blanket.  It may not be professional or cohesive conversation, but it gets the job done.

A few weeks ago, I noticed that whenever I talk to someone face to face I hold on to my blanket a decent amount.  I use the words and phrases that make up my blanket more often than I care to admit. As if saying the words that make up my blanket enough times will cause fluency to appear like saying “Beetlejuice” three times causes Beetlejuice to appear. Alas, fluency rarely appears after I say the words on my blanket enough times, but I still use them and cling to it.  Why? I have no idea.  Maybe just a subconscious habit I somehow picked up. Maybe it’s because I don’t want my audience to see me in a moment of perceived weakness and the words on those patches are my get out of jail free cards. Maybe there is no reason to it and I’m overthinking it (as usual) in an attempt to find some sense of meaning and purpose to it.

During my second stint in speech therapy, I would always list my goals at the beginning of the semester.  Never once did I think of nor mention getting rid of my blanket.  Perhaps it’s because I wasn’t aware of my security blanket.  Or maybe I was, but wasn’t ready to acknowledge it nor let go of it.  Regardless of the reason, or lack of, I never placed getting rid of my security blanket on goal list. I accomplished all of my listed goals during that two-year stint, but I still walked across the stage with my blanket in hand.

Over the past three years, I’ve been involved with the National Stuttering Association (NSA) and have made an infinite amount of progress in terms of self-acceptance, self-advocacy, and self-confidence with my stutter; however, I still hold on to my blanket. And maybe that is OK. Maybe acceptance is being absolutely fine with being yourself, but still wanting that comfort item to help you through a rough time.  Or maybe I’m not fully accepting of my stutter.  Maybe I keep a firm grip on my security blanket because there are times when I don’t want people to see this side of me, although I talk about this side of me a lot.  Maybe I’ll let go of my security blanket and not use the words on those patches when I’m fulling accepting.

To The Kids Who Picked on Me Because I Stutter

Dear Classmates,

Growing up, I was fortunate enough to go to school with a group of kids who rarely picked on me because I stuttered. I thank y’all for that.  I know other people who stutter who were not as fortunate.  Who were picked on day in and day out because they spoke a familiar language in an unfamiliar accent.  Unfortunately, though, there were instances when I was picked on because of how I spoke.

Although it’s been more than fifteen years, I still remember these instances vividly.  That time in the school library.  That time in my third-grade classroom.  The times when I was made of fun behind my back.  When these events happened, I was hurt.  I was hurt because I was picked on for something I have no control over.  I was hurt because I had never experienced that type of cruelness.  I was hurt because my biggest difference was exposed without my permission.  I was hurt because I got along with everyone and I thought that was a two-way street.  These instances showed me it wasn’t always a two-way street.

Yet, these experiences gave me real-life examples of a skill my parents were instilling in me: how to forgive someone.  This skill is one the greatest things I ever learned because it is a skill that will last my entire life. Although I experienced much hurt by your actions, I experienced more peace and relief when I forgave. I could have easily held a grudge against you for the rest of my life, but I would be hurting myself more than your actions did. Instead, I forgave. It was rough a process. I wanted to harbor resentment, but I knew it wasn’t worth it.  I let myself be mad, hurt, and upset and then I forgave you.  It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. I forgave because forgiveness brings peace for both parties and it takes up a lot less room in my mind and heart than resentment would.

This skill has been key in helping me grow as a person and in my relationship with others. Although I wish those times never occurred, they helped teach me an invaluable lesson. I guess hindsight, maturity, and many years of personal growth allow me to see the beauty in the pain.

In closing, no hard feelings.  I haven’t forgotten these instances because of the impact they had on me growing up, but I have moved past them.  I forgave you then and I forgive you now.

 

All the Best,

James

That One Time I Gave a TV Interview

During my senior year of college, I was the president of my university’s Catholic Student Association (CSA). As president, my duties included: give weekly announcements before dinner, serve the students in whatever way I could, be the face of CSA on campus, and help plan events, amongst other things. A week or so before finals started I was given another duty, one tahat I wanted to run away from as fast as I could: give a TV interview.

Our big CSA fundraiser was around the corner and we wanted to further get the word out to the community. So, we contacted the local news station and they agreed to run a story on our fundraiser. The day of the interview I was under the impression our campus minister was going to be interviewed. About 10 minutes before the news crew showed up, I was told the plan changed and I was going to be the one interviewed. My campus minister asked if I was OK with this audible. Honestly, I wasn’t, but I refused to use my stutter as an excuse so I agreed to do the interview.  Once I said yes, many four letter words raced through my mind. I immediately texted my speech therapist to tell her and started to do my relaxation techniques. It didn’t help.   My stutter is at its worse when I’m am stressed out and sleep deprived. So, naturally my stutter was making its presence well known with finals week just around the corner.  Mix that with nerves and only ten minutes to mentally prepare myself and I had the perfect recipe for an extremely disfluent interview.  I gave the interview and stuttered hard on what felt like every syllable of every word.  I jumped so much from word to word and topic to topic, as a means of trying to say something fluently, that I thought I sounded incoherent.

After what felt like an eternity, the interview thankfully ended and I went into the CSA building and threw myself a pity party. The guest list included: embarrassment, frustration, and anger.  Embarrassment came to the party and brought with it the feeling that my interview was so bad they may not be able to use it and I wasted everyone’s time.  Frustration brought the feeling that all of the progress I had made over the past year in speech therapy was all for not. Anger brought with it the fact that people would be seeing that incoherent mess I called an interview. Unfortunately, none of my guests brought the “magic pill” that would get rid of my stutter.  If they had, then I would have gladly taken it after the interview.  During this pity party, I remember thinking, “That was so incoherent and bad that the hopefully the news station won’t be able to use it.”   That’s when pride and selfishness made a surprise cameo appearance and brought with them the desire to put my want ahead of CSA’s need.

My pity party was short lived and once all the guests left I went back to my apartment and tried to forget about the interview. I buried myself in studying for finals and Survivor podcasts as a way to keep myself distracted.  I did not actively seek out the interview nor did I tell anyone about it.  I hoped no one I knew would see it and my interview would get lost in the shuffle of that day’s news. That was not meant to be.  The next day a girl in my physics class told me she saw my interview. I wanted to ask her a million questions about it such as: “How did I sound?” “Was I coherent?” “How long did the segment last?” Instead I said, “Oh. Cool,” and quickly shifted the topic to our physics lab final.

I’ve never seen the interview and don’t know if I want to, even though four years have passed.   Although I have made great strides in terms of accepting my stutter, I still don’t like watching videos of myself, regardless of fluency.  It’s one of those things that I’ve had for years and don’t know if I ever will be OK with watching videos of myself.  Plus, I know I would most likely re-live that pity party. That party ended four years ago and those guests are friends who I no longer associate with my stutter nor do I have a desire to re-associate my stutter with those friends.