When I enter my gym, I have to swipe my membership card and then get asked if I’d like a towel. One morning the other week, I stuttered a lot on my “yes” reply and got the all-too-familiar little laugh from the guy who was at the desk. While I didn’t know him, it didn’t feel like he was laughing at me. More like that kind of smile-laugh make when with a person who just stumbled on their words like everyone does. Yeah, that old myth of “everybody stumbles on their words so don’t worry about it”.
However, stumbling upon your words once in a blue moon doesn’t come with the lifetime of awkward stares, bullying, and other related social punishment that comes with a communication disorder like stuttering.
I told the guy at the desk that I stuttered. It’s my usual reply. And I say it with a smile. I’m ok with it and keep in mind that not everyone can tell I stutter or even know what stuttering is if they see or hear it. He replied with “Oh no worries!”.
I’m normally understanding that people just don’t know better but that morning I just couldn’t take it anymore. “No worries?” I thought to myself. “I’m not worrying about stuttering. I wish these people would quit assuming that I’m not good with my stuttering!”. Here I was obviously showing the guy that I’m good with my stuttering. When I told him that I stuttered, I told him with a smile. Isn’t that proof enough?
I snapped back “Oh it’s not a worry, trust me” as I left and rolled my eyes. I shared my frustration on a few Facebook groups (I was that angry) after I got changed in the locker room before heading out to hit the weights.
Later during my warm up…
I calmed the heck down and started feeling terrible for giving him attitude. Yes, I’m entitled to my feelings like everyone else in the world but in all reality:
- He did his best. I can’t assume everyone I disclose my stuttering will react in the ideal way that I hoped.
- He is only human just like me. Nobody on the planet is perfect.
- There is already too much negativity in the world. Why should I create more? It was also Remembrance Day which made the matter more poignant.
I realised that I need to develop some more patience with the world when it comes to stuttering awareness. Not everyone will change according to how many times I disclose. There are over 7 billion of us on the planet, it will take some time for awareness to kick in.
What are you expecting?
Many comforting replies awaited me when I checked the groups later that day. A few people asked me a really, really good question – what kind of response was I after?
I admit, this stumped me. What kind of reply from my disclosing did I expect from the guy at the desk?
- “Hey, man that is awesome!” Hm, not likely.
- “This sounds really interesting. I don’t really have to do my job that I’m being paid to do so let me stand here and listen to you tell me everything I need to know about stuttering and how to talk to you.” Is this what actually what I’ve been expecting?
- “What a coincidence. I have a friend who stutters. I should introduce you to her. She is single, about your age, beautiful and just happens to have the same interests as you!”
I added humour not to make light of the situation but to make a point (though #2 and 3 would be ok in a social setting and #1 would be plausible if he also stuttered and was as over zealous about it as I am. But that’s stretching it.).
I put myself in the guy’s shoes – in the shoes of everyone in the service industry – and thought to myself what if someone just told me that they, for example, had autism? Or if someone told me they were deaf, or blind, or any other disability? How would I respond?
I had to really think about it. I had no idea what could be an appropriate response in that service industry situation. And I had the luxury of having all the time to think about it while the guy at the gym didn’t.
The requirements of stuttering
What kind of response will I expect in the future? I don’t think I even need to worry about that. I need to work on myself and my patience with the world. But most importantly, I need to be at peace with my epiphany that I just discovered about stuttering being an invisible disability that requires constant patience.
Stuttering is what it is. And it’s what you make it out to be. After all the acceptance, stuttering openly and confidently, heck even writing a book about it and talking about it on the radio, TV and at conferences – am I going to let this one aspect of the stuttering experience – replies to my disclosing in non-social situations – ruin my day and make me anti-social in the process?
Do we even have to mention our stuttering in the first place?
I shared my story with my friend, Alexander Sanguini, a few days ago. He told me that in these kinds of situations where a service rep gives him a laugh or weird look, he doesn’t mention his stuttering nor give any reaction. “Why should I care what they think?” Alexander further explained that in most cases, he’ll never see them again and that the poker face expression on is face is education enough.
This fits perfectly with the concept of being at ease with our stuttering and also having a sense of humour about it. If we are ok with our stuttering, the people we are talking to will learn from our attitude and body language that they can be okay with our speech as well. If you want to educate and spread awareness, go ahead. If you don’t feel like it and couldn’t care less, that’s good, too.