How my struggles with stuttering shaped my outlook on life and self

The Channels Opinion Pages | STAFF COLUMN

August Lawrence, Opinion Editor

When introducing myself I am probably going to sound a little something like “H-h-h-h-hello… m-m-m-my name is A-a-a-a…August.”

I stutter. 

And for as long as I can recall I let this one defining trait rule my life.

I’d constantly do my best to avoid those simple activities that required me to talk, such as phone calls or ordering a meal. Classmates would get annoyed and mock me for asking questions in class because I wasted too much time.

Stuttering is when a person unintentionally elongates certain syllables because their vocal cords aren’t strong enough or are damaged. (I like to say my throat never fully bulked up.)

Growing up with these constant reminders of my inability to carry on a basic, superficial conversation made me think that something was fundamentally wrong with me, and I dwindled myself down to believing I could only succeed in the simplest of tasks.

I can remember, between middle school and high school, we were all given placement tests for the upcoming freshman year.

The English test consisted of a one-on-one session where we had five minutes to read from a book—out loud—for as far as we could.

I struggled and stammered through a test that seemed custom-made for me to fail. By the end of the five minutes I’d managed to read just over two paragraphs, the lowest in my class.

Even though I’d scored exceptionally on the written portion my poor verbal performance had condemned me to years of remedial English classes.

Being placed in “special ed” English because of my stutter shattered my self-confidence. 

I thought I was mentally challenged, or socially different, which only made the taunting I received seem even more valid.

I found sanctuary in the school nurse’s office during breaks, feigning stomach aches as a ploy to avoid the endless teasing and mock imitations from others.

Confused and angry, I’d wonder what I did to deserve this. I would have given anything to make it all stop. I knew in my mind I was just as sharp as the other kids, but my stutter constantly made me feel less than.

Stuttering isn’t a physical defect, you couldn’t pick one of us out from a lineup purely by looks; you normally have to engage directly with the stutterer to find out—and something I’ve learned throughout my life is that a majority of people are actually uncomfortable when they unexpectedly find themselves talking to a stutterer.

It’s actually a good way to discern the decent people from the bad. I call it “the click.”

They don’t realize they’re doing it, but those who seem bothered by my stuttering almost always react the same.

First, there’s a small yet blatant pause, followed by a fake grin that says “I have a problem with this, but I don’t want to seem like a jerk so I’ll just awkwardly smile and laugh ‘til this conversation’s over.”

I can’t even tell you the number of times my sentences have been incorrectly finished by someone who thought they knew what I was going to say. In fact, most conversations in my life are like this.

I would have given anything to make it all stop. I knew in my mind I was just as sharp as the other kids, but my stutter constantly made me feel less than.

I understand that not everybody reacts this way, and sometimes they are just trying to figure out how to talk to me, but it just makes me feel different and even more self-conscious.

I know I’m not the only one that’s felt this way, ashamed of a certain part of myself that I wish could just stay hidden. 

But when you let one thing become your defining characteristic then you will eventually become only that one thing, and if you let all the negative people you come across dictate your self worth then you’ll never have any.

Coming to City College helped me become a little more self confident in myself.

I can remember running into a new classmate after one of our first courses together. I complimented their shirt, as I painfully crunched through every word. They were unfazed and ended up inviting me to the movies the following weekend.

It was a little gesture, but experiencing successful small talk was exhilarating. It made me realize I could do all those things I’d so painstakingly avoided and that people actually gave a darn about what I said.

Since then I’ve made many friends through City College, friends who know me for who I am as a person and not what I sound like when I talk.

We all have our own insecurities, but those minuscule aspects shouldn’t define who we are as a person.