Reach for the Stars

He shook my hand and did not let go until I had gotten my name out. Nobody had ever done that before. Seconds passed. He smiled kindly and said, “Take your time.”  Right then, I knew that I was about to experience something special. 

On Thursday night, I went to my very first NSA (National Stuttering Association) chapter meeting. I had been dreaming about going to one for years, so when the day finally came, I was absolutely thrilled. I had never met anyone else who stuttered. I always knew that there were thousands of people out there walking this same path with me, but I had never shaken their hands or heard their voices. I knew that it would be special going to one of these meetings, but I never could have prepared myself for what it would actually feel like to sit in a room full of people who understand each other so well that we could probably finish each other’s sentences. It was an experience that I will never forget.

I met eleven people on Thursday who inspired me beyond words with their courage, tenacity, and zeal for life. As I listened to each of their stories, I was reminded that stuttering does not have to define what we achieve in life. None of them had let their stuttering keep them from chasing their dreams and doing what they love. They saw their stuttering as a gift that gave them so much more compassion for others. Since I was one of the youngest people in the group, most of the people there had made it through college already and were thriving in jobs that they loved. Just being with them and hearing their stories filled my heart with so much hope for the future. They were living proof that no star is too far out of reach.

During the meeting, I had the opportunity to share my own story with the group. As I spoke, I experienced a sense of freedom that I had never felt in all my life. In that room, we did not have to worry about how someone would react to us. When we looked up, all we saw were kind smiling faces. There was no fear, no hesitation, no doubts.  There was just love, and kindness, and friendship. It was like being with family.

Every one of us stuttered very differently, and I found such beauty in that. I loved listening to every unique voice. We were all so different, but yet, so alike because we were bound together by our mutual experiences. We talked about how we stutter so much more when we are tired or stressed and how we know right when we get up in the morning whether it will be a good or bad “speaking day.” We even laughed together about how hard it always is to say our names. We understood each other so well. I felt as if I was talking to people I had known forever. I felt HOME.

Words can not describe how I felt leaving that meeting. My heart felt like it would burst, and I was smiling down to my soul. I am not alone on this journey…and I never have been. Not only do I have the Lord walking beside me, but I have thousands of friends who stutter all over the world. I just haven’t met some of them yet.

Several of them remarked, “You know, life is still so good, in spite of everything.” Yes, it truly is. Never let your struggles, whether big or small, destroy your quality of life. Never stop loving this life. 

Two days later…I’m STILL smiling!

Much love, Makenzie

 

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Reconciling Stuttering with Boldness

Is it possible to stutter boldly? On the surface, stuttering and boldness seem almost incompatible with one another. We often use the word stuttering in passing to describe the speech of someone who is paralyzed by fear, anxiety, or uncertainty–which, of course, is not the same as stuttering because of a neurological issue. My heart’s desire is to live boldly, never missing a single opportunity to proclaim Christ or to speak life into someone. But is boldness even possible when pauses and hesitations often mark my words? This is the topic I would like to explore today.

Many people who stutter may seem timid or unsure of themselves, merely because of the mannerisms that stuttering  produces. Understandably, a listener may interpret the pauses, hesitations, nervous gestures, and blocks as classic signs that the speaker lacks confidence both in himself and in his message. While people who stutter often do struggle with underlying insecurity, this assumption is not necessarily true for everyone. A person who stutters may be bold at heart; but the shaky words seem to transform the message in his heart from one of boldness into one of timidity on the way out, leaving the stutterer wondering if his words even reflected what was really in his heart. If I had to pick the most confusing aspect of stuttering, I think it would be how it affects the world’s perception of your message.

Stuttering is a constant battle between two identities~the person you are inside and the person people sometimes perceive you to be. Stuttering might make an extroverted person at heart seem shy or a confident person seem somewhat timid. However, I ultimately have an important choice to make. I can choose either to hide behind my stutter or to humbly praise the Lord for it, embrace it, and be who He really made me to be.

This is where the whole idea of stuttering boldly comes in. I am naturally a shy person, but I have often let stuttering silence me much more than just my quiet nature alone ever would have. Sadly, when I let my stutter silence me, I am choosing to be a victim of something that I believe in my heart God intended for good. I become so worried about how I sound that I let precious opportunities to be bold for Christ or to reach out to someone slip through my fingers. Only as I continue to cultivate humble gratitude and acceptance in my heart for my stutter will I be able to speak boldly.

Stuttering boldly is all about stuttering openly with a peace of mind that can only come from the Lord. It is about being okay with your words not always coming out the first time. I am not 100% there yet, but it definitely takes some time. When I get my first job, I will have to learn how to confidently ask questions, talk to customers, and express concerns, most likely stuttering on words here and there the whole time. But with boldness from the Lord flowing through my words, stuttering does not have to weaken the message.

Living with a stutter requires you to redefine what boldness means. Maybe… true boldness is more about what we say than how we say it. God can take any message, no matter how feebly delivered, and use it for His glory.

I once watched a video of someone who smiled the whole time they stuttered. That image has never left me. To me, that is one of the most beautiful pictures of stuttering boldly I have ever seen.

Much love, Makenzie

What Stuttering Teaches Me about Love

Stuttering may affect how I speak sometimes, but I am slowly learning that it never has to affect how I love. My struggles with speech have forced me to learn how to love with my actions more, especially when words completely fail. This very personal side of stuttering that affects my relationships and interactions with others is by far one of the most difficult things to cope with. Sometimes even the best speaking techniques do not help. In those situations, I often think to myself, “How can I still consistently show Christ-like love to others, without necessarily using words?” 

This is a question that I do not believe I would be asking myself today if I did not stutter. Stuttering has turned my view of love inside-out and upside-down; and I am very grateful for that. 

I am learning that love is not limited to what we say; love is also evidenced in what we do and in how we carry ourselves. Love in action may take on so many different forms~a smile, a hug, a kind look, simple acts of courtesy, and the list goes on and on. As children of God, our countenance alone can exude the love of Christ and shine a light on a dark world. Despite what we may see in the movies, love is not just about saying “I love you.” Love is more about showing someone that you love them with your actions. Love without action is not love at all.

On the days when my words cannot fully express my heart, I am left searching for some other way to make my voice heard. Imagine struggling to say something as simple as “Thank you for dinner” when someone pays for your meal. It is in these simple, everyday moments that I struggle most to express my love or gratitude to someone. In those moments, I try my best to say what I need to say; but if the words just won’t pass my lips, I turn to actions. Other times, I wait as long as needed until I am able to say it. I find some way to let that person know just how much I appreciate them and what they did for me.

It brings so much comfort to my heart to know that no matter how much I may stumble over my words sometimes, I can still love in action.  I am determined to not let my stutter define how I love the people in my life. In fact, I am praying that God would help me use my stutter to love people even more.

Of course, my stutter shouldn’t keep me from loving in word either. I must remember that even if my message is delivered a little broken, God can still use that message. The truth is, my desire to love needs to exceed my fear of stuttering. With God’s strength, I want to live fearlessly, never missing a single opportunity to show love.

Although it can be extremely frustrating living with a stutter, what it has taught me about love is a precious gift that I praise God for every single day. When words fail, all that I have left is action; and that is often an unexpected blessing.

much love, makenzie

 

 

Learning to Expect the Best

This will be a very short post, but I just want to say how encouraged I've been recently about how kind and patient most people are when I get stuck on a word. I don't mention this to in any way ask for sympathy, but because it has taught me so much about my perceptions of others. I think that sometimes all the negativity in the world leads us to believe that most people will be rude and impatient, but that is just not true.

Just in the past two days, I have struggled in front of two different cashiers; and both of them responded with nothing but patience and kindness. One even brightly smiled at me the whole time. Yes, I know that my stutter may show me the worst in someone one day, and in that moment I will have to rely on God's grace to help me. But for now, I am going to be grateful for how my stutter often reveals the best in others and teaches me to always look for the best.

Perceptions are often wrong. There are still nice people in this world. Always give someone a chance to prove that. ❤️

Much love, Makenzie

Eighteen

birthday-cake-candles

Eighteen…the age that every young teenager eagerly anticipates for years. Turning 18 is like taking your first small step into adulthood. It’s the age of legal responsibilities, voting privileges, bank accounts, and so much more. You’re technically still a teenager, yet the world starts viewing you as an adult. For most teenagers, turning 18 is one of those pinnacle birthdays.

I turned 18 on Monday. To be honest, my mind is swirling with mixed emotions. I am absolutely thrilled about starting my journey toward adulthood, yet…totally terrified about starting my journey toward adulthood.

Me? An adult? How can this be possible!?

When I woke up the morning of my 18th birthday, I started thinking about what adulthood might look like for me, as someone who stutters. I realize that turning 18 means that I will have to speak for myself much more than I used to. The world, understandably, expects more of me now. People expect me to be confident and a little more independent. They expect me to be able to clearly express my needs and concerns.

Am I ready for this? Will I struggle through every phone call, every job interview, every appointment? Will I still struggle to say my name a few years from now? 

All of these questions scare me, and if I allow them, they could just keep mounting in my heart like a huge wave, growing and growing and growing, until it eventually crashes over me and keeps me from living the life I know God wants me to live. God never intended for us to spend our lives drowning in a wave of fear and uncertainty. No matter how fearful my heart or how threatening the wave, God is greater.

On the other hand, something about turning 18 excites me so much. This is like opening a brand new chapter in my life.  And although it seems scary right now, I also realize that this chapter may contain some beautiful things. More opportunities to speak means more opportunities to speak life into someone’s darkness or to encourage someone with a kind word. Getting a job and venturing a little bit out on my own mean meeting new people and experiencing new things. Going to college means finally starting to pursue the passions God has placed in my heart.

I want my life as a young adult to matter. I want to shine for Christ and love others as He loves them. With or without my stutter, I want to go out into the world every day with a smile to share and the joy of the Lord in my heart.

Turning 18 forces me to start confronting everything I have avoided all my life. Ready or not, here comes a new adventure! 

Much love, Makenzie

 

Reading Reflections~Post 2

A few more gleanings from Stuttering: The Search for a Cause and Cure, by Oliver Bloodstein…

~Additional Research in the 1930s~

In addition to the Orton-Travis Theory, researchers also began studying respiration, heart rate, blood pressure, brain waves, reflexes, basal metabolic rate, and chemical composition of the blood as possible links to stuttering. One interesting man during this time that I read about was Robert West, who suggested that stuttering is caused by chemical imbalances or even mini seizures.

The theory he is most remembered for proposed that stuttering is inherited as a predisposition, not necessarily as a physical trait. He said that this predisposition produces an underlying deficiency in the body. Stuttering then, he suggested, is just an outward symptom of this deeper problem, a condition he called dysphemia. Since West’s theory was never proven, however, it eventually lost influence.

~Iowa Therapy~ (1930s)

One of my favorite parts of the book is the chapter on Iowa Therapy, because this is the method of therapy that I have personally experienced. Iowa Therapy, largely developed by Charles Van Riper, had its beginnings at the University of Iowa. I read that the two primary objectives of this kind of speech therapy are (1) reducing shame and (2) changing the way we stutter, not the way we talk. Fluency is not the goal; learning how to stutter more easily and how to stutter without fear is the goal. Some of the strategies Van Riper suggested to achieve this included voluntary stuttering, pull-outs, and cancellations.

Wendell Johnson, a second advocate of Iowa Therapy, encouraged his students to talk openly about stuttering and to stop trying to avoid it. He firmly believed, as did many others during this time, that people stuttered in an effort to avoid stuttering. I think this is a very profound theory. However. . .What is causing us to avoid stuttering in the first place?  There still must be an underlying problem that gives us that avoidance reaction.

Johnson also taught his students to develop a heightened awareness as to precisely what was keeping them from saying a word. Were their muscles tense? Was their tongue jammed against the roof of their mouth? Were they breathing properly?

All of these techniques share a common characteristic. They did not teach stutterers how to talk fluently by speaking in a new or unnatural way. They taught stutterers how to stutter differently. From the 1930s-mid 1960s, teaching novel ways of speaking was rejected as an effective strategy.

~The Diagnosogenic Theory~

A second theory proposed by Wendell Johnson was the Diagnosogenic Theory.  According to Johnson,“Stuttering begins, not in the child’s mouth, but in the parent’s ear.” Johnson believed that stuttering begins entirely with the parents’ perspective on their child’s speech. He thought that parents mistook the normal disfluencies that most small children have when they are learning how to speak for stuttering. This overreaction to their child’s speech, Johnson said, then convinces the child that he stutters. Additionally, he tried to connect parenting style, home life, social status, and culture to stuttering. In other words, this theory made society and parents solely responsible for stuttering and reduced stuttering to a purely psychological disorder. The basic definition of this theory was “Stuttering caused by its diagnosis.” 

Although the Diagnosogenic Theory had gained popularity by the 1950s, it was never scientifically verified.  By the 1970s, the theory had declined considerably, when many people were beginning to believe that stuttering was linked to biological heredity.

It has been so interesting to read about the different phases of stuttering research throughout history. Stuttering has been approached from nearly every perspective-mental, psychological, emotional, and neurological. Heredity and genetics have also been studied extensively. Today, however, there is abundant evidence to believe that stuttering is primarily neurological. I am excited to see how research keeps progressing. Maybe, someday…there will be a cure.

Well, that’s all for today. Thank you for following along with me as I journey through this book!

Much love, Makenzie

 

 

 

 

Reading Reflections~Post 1

I recently started reading Stuttering: The Search for a Cause and Cure by Oliver Bloodstein. Although I am only 71 pages in, this book has already completely captivated my attention. As I read it, I would like to share some of what I am learning about stuttering through several blog posts along the way.

Here’s what I have learned so far!

~Basic Facts~

According to the author, stuttering in its early stages most commonly begins between ages 2-5 and rarely begins after adolescence. Interestingly, stuttering is far more common in males than in females. Several explanations have been suggested for this “gender ratio,” but the reason remains a mystery.

I also learned that although 80% of children who stutter recover by adulthood, about 1% of the population continues stuttering into adulthood. Additionally, research has shown that many stutterers had difficulty with pronunciation and articulation as young children. I closely identified with this discovery. When I was just learning how to talk, I went to speech therapy for help with pronouncing certain letters, particularly s‘s and w‘s. This leads me to believe that maybe my problems with pronunciation were the first signs of an underlying speech disorder.

~Early theories~

Oliver Bloodstein opens the book by sharing some early theories on stuttering. The first theory I read about suggests that stutterers are born with a weak neuromuscular speech apparatus that has a tendency to break down, especially under stress. Bloodstein explains the theory this way: “The stutterer’s vulnerable speech system performs normally as long as stress is absent.” Although this is not necessarily true in every case, I can definitely relate.  There have been times when I have made it through whole conversations without stuttering one time. However, that same conversation in a high-stress situation would have been extremely difficult for me.

A second theory proposed that anticipation of stuttering causes stuttering. This theory centers solely on the mental aspect of stuttering, rather than the physical. The basis of this theory is that anticipating the stutter creates anxiety, which in turn causes the person to stutter. In other words, if we could just speak freely without worrying about stuttering, maybe we wouldn’t stutter. Bloodstein concludes, “The concept accords well with the observation that stutterers have little difficulty with their speech when they forget that they are stutterers, and with the belief of many stutterers that their speech is at its worst when it is most important to speak well.” Although simply reducing anxiety does not solve the underlying physical disorder, it could certainly help alleviate the stutter.

~Early Research~

One fascinating thing I learned was that research on stuttering began as early as the time of Aristotle. In fact, the Greeks were the first to investigate stuttering, focusing primarily on the tongue and its role in speech. Some hypothesized that stuttering is the result of a weak or swollen tongue. Research continued into the Middle Ages and throughout the Renaissance, when the four basic components of the human body were believed to be moisture, dryness, heat, and cold. Therefore, many people thought that either an excess or lack of any of these properties in the brain, tongue, or muscles causes stuttering.

~Modern Research~

By the 17th century, research had moved toward observation of the larynx, breathing mechanisms, nerves, and the brain. By the 19th century, research shifted toward neurology. Researchers started to believe that a underlying neurological disorder causes stuttering. Something going wrong in the brain, they thought, affects breathing and proper functioning of the tongue and larynx.

As neurological study progressed, a new wave of treatment methods appeared, including suggestion, relaxation, and distraction. Most of these methods eventually lost popularity, because they only offered temporary relief. By teaching new and unnatural speech patterns, these methods often resulted in immediate fluency. Once the novelty wore off though, I read that most people experienced debilitating relapses. This hit home for me, because I have experienced firsthand how speaking in a new or unnatural way can produce fluency, but only for a short time.

As the 20th century approached, some began using psychoanalysis to study stuttering. Although the idea that stuttering is purely a matter of the mind took root for a short time, most researchers and speech therapists eventually rejected it. Today, the only place where the idea still thrives is among psychiatrists and psychotherapists for the most part.

~Orton-Travis Theory~

In the 1930s, a brand new theory arose.  The foundation of this theory is that one half of the brain, either the left hemisphere or right hemisphere, always dominates over the other. The more dominant hemisphere, I learned, controls exactly when nerve impulses reach the speech muscles. According to the Orton-Travis Theory of Cerebral Dominance (named after its authors), stuttering happens when cerebral dominance does not exist, causing nerve impulses to interfere with one another and reach the speech organs at different times. This lack of dominance, as Bloodstein explains, results in “conflict between the hemispheres, inadequate synchronization of the nerve impulses to the paired speech muscles, and a predisposition to stuttering.” 

Orton and Travis also tried to prove that because neither of the hemispheres dominate, most stutterers are therefore neither right-handed or left-handed.

The Orton-Travis Theory of Cerebral Dominance eventually lost popularity due to conflicting evidence, but I think that it was another great step toward discovering the cause of stuttering. It is truly remarkable to read about the long history of stuttering and how far research has come.

I had planned to include much more in this blog post, but I think I’ll finish right here. This is already much longer than planned! 🙂 Thank you so much for joining me! I am enjoying learning so much about stuttering, and I hope you do too. In the next few days, I’ll pick up with what I learned about additional research in the 1930s.

Much love, Makenzie