When I Heard Someone Imitating Stuttering for the First Time

I debated about whether to write about this experience, because I DO NOT  want it to sound as if I am criticizing this person in any way. My only desire is for this post to raise greater stuttering awareness. Due to the circumstances, I know in my heart that this person did not understand what stuttering really is. He did not understand that stuttering is a real medical condition that thousands of people face each day. One of the greatest things that stuttering has taught me is to see the best in everyone…to always give them the benefit of the doubt. Perceptions can be so dangerous, if we don’t ever search further into what somebody really meant.

So, here’s what happened. . .

Quite a few months ago, when I was still attending a Christian school, I was sitting in speech class (a class taken by video) waiting for the next performance. If I remember correctly, this particular assignment had been to pick out a monologue and perform it in front of the class. Even though we followed a certain story line, we had free reign to create our own characters. As the next student walked to the front of the class and began speaking, something immediately caught my attention. There was something very different-and way too familiar-about the way his character spoke. Then, it hit me. . .really hard. He was pretending to stutter.

Unfortunately, this character wasn’t just someone who stuttered. He was also portrayed as very awkward and unintelligent. Sadly, many people seem to associate stuttering with these things. As I listened to his broken speech, I felt like sinking down into my chair and disappearing. The whole class on the video was laughing. I tried to smile and ignore the way this made me feel, but I just couldn’t. I tried to just focus on the performance, but the stuttering was all that I could hear at that moment. It’s not that I was bothered by the stuttering itself. I wasn’t angry at all. I was just sad that stuttering was being used as a joke.

I could sense the people next to me, who knew that I stutter, glancing nervously at me.  I tried to mask the shock and sadness on my face, but I don’t think I did a very good job. Finally, after what seemed like hours, the performance ended. The teacher on the video walked to the front of the class and congratulated him on his excellent performance. What’s so difficult about this situation is that it really WAS a great performance over all. He did an amazing job staying in character and making the character believable. But then, the teacher’s last couple of comments stung deeply. “Great job on making your character stutter! I think that added a great aspect of humor to the performance.”  My heart sank.

At that moment, I realized that I had to do something.  I told myself over and over, “You can’t be upset at them. You just can’t. But you know what you can do? Raise awareness.” I think we’ve all probably seen the media portray stuttering in a humorous way. Especially for me as a stutterer, it is so difficult to not be deeply hurt by every stigma I hear about stuttering. But I have had to realize that most people do not have a full understanding of stuttering. It’s okay that they don’t understand. I can’t expect them to understand something that they have never experienced or never heard about. However, I can do my very best to keep raising awareness so that they do understand. That has become one of my life goals!

Will you join me in raising awareness for stuttering? Whenever we hear something negative about stuttering, we can take that opportunity to kindly and lovingly tell others more about stuttering so that they understand. Small things like that can make such a huge difference towards raising awareness.

Thank you so much for taking this amazing journey with me.

Much love, Makenzie

A Better Perspective

Last week, my mom helped me reach some pretty big goals. I am so thankful for her “gentle pushes” along the way. Without both of my parents’ guidance, I don’t know where I would be. They are simply amazing!

Recently in speech therapy, my therapist and I have been discussing how important it is that I become my own advocate, especially as I approach college and job interviews. Becoming my own advocate could be something as simple as making my own appointments or calling a store to ask about a certain product I need.  For my whole life, my mom has done all of these things for me. However, as I get closer to being a legal adult (ahhhh!), I am reaching a point in my life when my mom just can’t do these things for me anymore. In addition to the usual fear of growing up, I also sometimes fear whether I will be able to communicate what I need on my own. For the first time in my life, it will be just me and my voice. Wow. . .talk about scary!

But I know that I won’t be alone.  It might be incredibly scary at first, but I can trust God to give me all of the strength and courage that I need!

With all of this in mind, I determined to start taking mini steps towards advocacy, no matter how scary it felt at first. I started at the most basic level~picking things up for my mom at the store and returning clothes to Kohl’s. Pretty simple, right?  It sounds so easy, but for someone who stutters, simple tasks become mountains. But with my mom’s words of encouragement still on my heart, I walked slowly to the pharmacy counter to pick up a prescription for her.

I would have to tell the pharmacist the name of the medicine I needed, my mom’s full name, AND her date of birth. The pharmacist was very kind and patient, even when I really struggled to say Jennifer Cochran. It might have been a little rocky, but I still got what I needed, and most importantly, I had asked for it myself. That’s all that mattered to me in that moment. What amazed me most was how little my stuttering appeared to even faze the pharmacist. For the first time, I realized how different my perspective of my stutter is from everyone else’s.  An experience I feared would be so traumatizing and so embarrassing actually ended up going beautifully. My speech hadn’t been perfect, but that was okay.

In less than an  hour afterwards, I picked up some pictures from Meijer and returned a shirt to Kohl’s. At Meijer, I again struggled quite a bit to say my last name, even more than usual. But again, the lady I spoke to was so sweet and patient that it was like I never even stuttered. Her response filled my heart with so much hope. “Maybe I CAN do this. Maybe it won’t be so bad after all.”  

My experience at Kohl’s went very well too. Nearly everything I needed to say came out surprisingly smoothly. Needless to say, I walked out of that store with a smile on my face and praise on my heart!

By the end of the day, I had learned such a valuable lesson. Sometimes, what we fear doing the most is only scary as long as we refuse to try. 

 

 

It’s Okay to Have a Hard Day

Today’s blog post is a little different because it’s deeply honest, but I really felt God leading me to share it. I hope it encourages you!

Yesterday, my words froze on my lips nearly every time I tried to speak. I would plan a whole sentence in my head, open my mouth to say it, and. . .silence.  I never even stuttered outwardly yesterday, because the tension literally trapped my voice inside. My tongue just felt as if it were in one big knot. Every once in a while, two or three words would tumble out fluently, but the tension was never far behind.

Sometimes, stuttering is relatively easy, meaning that it doesn’t create much tension in my body. Other times, it is literally so intense and so exhausting that even the best techniques don’t help. This was one of those times. I eventually got to the point where I really didn’t want to talk, because I knew what would happen. It’s not that I couldn’t speak. I could have kept fighting against the tension until I broke it, but it just wasn’t worth the exhaustion…

As I silently observed conversations happening around me, my mind recounted all the blessings of the past couple of months, and I became upset at myself. God has graciously allowed some of my writing about stuttering to be published for millions of people to see. He has allowed me to come so far on this journey, but yet, I’m reverting back into my shell today. I’m watching life happen in front of me, while I sit back and let my stutter silence me. How can I genuinely write about stuttering, when I’m having such a hard day myself?

I doubted my sincerity. I doubted whether God could really use me to advocate for other people who stutter.

We all have hard days when we feel like nothing goes right. All of us have experienced that feeling of suddenly falling from a mountaintop into a valley. Those feelings are okay, as long as we don’t dwell on them. Eventually, we have to pick ourselves up and reclaim God’s sweet promises.

The truth is that we are all human, and it’s okay to have a hard day. The hard days are usually the times that grow us the most! And here’s the amazing promise: God will always give us the strength to endure the hard days, grow from them, but then redirect our focus to all the blessings He’s given us.

Does my stutter bring really difficult, discouraging days? Yes. Sometimes, it frustrates me beyond belief. But is it still a blessing that I praise God for? YES.

The Difference between Pity and Empathy for My Stutter

Empathy and pity…are these words synonymous, or are they worlds apart? The first definition for pity is “the feeling of sorrow and compassion caused by the suffering and misfortune of others.” However, empathy is differentiated from pity by a single beautiful phrase: to understand and share. Should we feel sorry for others, or should we strive to understand and share in the struggles of others?

By its very definition, pity suggests that my stutter wasn’t supposed to happen. It implies that stuttering is a tragic mistake that keeps me from enjoying life. Pity is feeling sorry for the sadness and the suffering that stuttering must bring. In other words, pity dwells in the darkness, instead of stepping into the light. It only sees the negative, when in reality, there is so much more to stuttering.  My stutter is not a mistake. My stutter brings me sadness sometimes, but it also brings me incredible joy. It has not kept me from enjoying life; it has made me love it even more. Please, do not pity my stutter.

While pity only sees the condition, empathy goes one step further and sees the person. To be honest, I need to work on this in my own life. Feeling empathy for others means that we feel how they feel and see how they see. We feel the joy in their hearts when they succeed, and we feel the ache in their hearts when they fall. As we seek to truly understand someone’s condition, we slowly begin to share in his feelings, although we can never fully understand what he feels. The truth is that I do not want people to feel sorry for me. I do not want people to be sad for me, because I am not sad. I am on an amazing journey to embrace all the wonderful gifts that stuttering can give.

Of course, I do desire for people to understand how difficult life can be for people who stutter. Stuttering is extremely difficult, but I do not want people to miss all of the blessings I have experienced from stuttering. I want people to share in this journey and grow with me. I believe that true empathy acknowledges the struggle and feels all the heartache, but then it encourages us to thrive in spite of it all.

My greatest desire is for people to see that being different is not something to be pitied. Rather, it is something to be felt, to be understood, and most of all, to be celebrated.

Baby Steps

Tonight, I would just like to thank God for His help. Last Wednesday, I advocated completely for myself for the first time in years. It felt so AMAZING! I had taken my glasses to the eye center inside Walmart to get some things fixed. The whole way there, my mind and my voice argued about whether I could do this. I would have to walk up to the counter and explain why I was there and exactly what I needed.  As we walked inside, my body went into the usual anxiety mode. My hands were sweating, and my heart was racing. Of course, I could ask my mom to say everything for me, but this inner voice kept telling me, “How will you ever improve if you never try?”  So I took a deep breath, walked up to the lady at the counter, and started speaking. For the first time in so long, I was speaking completely for myself. Before I knew it, I had said everything I needed to with surprising fluency. I whispered a silent prayer of thanks to God as the doctor took my glasses away to fix them.

Before we can overcome anything in life, we must have the courage to take those first tiny baby steps. We must risk failure and rejection. Something as simple as walking up to a counter and asking someone to fix my glasses was one of those steps for me. If we never push ourselves past our comfort zones, we can’t ever improve. What step is God asking you to take today?

There are times in my life that I wish I could just wake up one morning, climb a mountain, and shout out everything that’s in my heart with perfect fluency. However, the truth is that overcoming any kind of disability takes lots of work. It takes ambition, perseverance, patience, and faith in God. Most of all, it requires a hopeful heart and a resilient spirit that never-EVER- gives up. 

John Stossel~Broadcasting Bravery

“The happiest stutterers, I learned, are those who are willing to stutter in front of others.” ~John Stosselmicrophone-1003561_640

John Stossel, one of the most well-known reporters for Fox News, proves with his life that it is possible to defy all the odds. He proves that it is possible for someone who stutters to go to work every day, knowing that he will have to project his voice into a microphone that amplifies every stutter for millions of people to hear. He proves that it is possible to be happy in spite of adversity. The secret to his success is simple, yet truly profound. He has learned that it is okay to stutter in front of others.

Between the ages of 3-4, Stossel began stuttering (1). His stutter caused him great anxiety and made him feel very ashamed throughout his childhood. In an article for the Stuttering Foundation, he recalls feeling “terror in the classroom” (2). Although he took great measures to relieve his stutter and even learned how to mask it, nothing offered a complete cure. Years later, he found himself facing a career in which he could no longer hide his stutter.

John Stossel’s initial journalism career was filled with great doubt and fear. He states, “In my early days as a reporter, I did regular live 30-second segments with the anchor of the news program; I woke up every morning in fear of that. The fear stayed with me all day long” (2). He even recalls an incident when his stutter overwhelmed him during a newscast. While trying to give election results, he struggled so much to say the word dollars that the news channel cut him off the air (1). Stossel strongly considered quitting his job, until a speech therapy program offered him new hope (2).

According to Stossel, the program was extremely successful: “Once I began to see the results of treatment, I was like a cork out of a bottle. I started talking all the time, celebrating and testing my newly found fluency” (2). Although speech therapy didn’t cure his stutter completely, it gave him a new sense of control. Having a sense of control makes such a difference, because it gives a stutterer the courage to speak confidently. Gaining control is like gaining a brand new voice!

John Stossel continues to thrive in his career today. He has written several books and even has his own weekly television program, aptly named “Stossel.” In addition, he regularly appears on  “The O’Reilly Factor,” along with several other prominent shows.

John Stossel’s story is one of bravery and triumph. He pursued a career in journalism, in spite of his stutter. Although he experienced moments of failure and defeat, he made the courageous decision to keep picking up a microphone every day. You know what’s so amazing? Once he realized that it was okay to stutter in front of others, that microphone no longer echoed a stutter. It echoed bravery.  

Thank you, John Stossel, for inspiring the stuttering community so much with your life!

 

Citation Information:

(1) Moran, Jessica. “Finding His Voice: John Stossel Details His Struggle with Stuttering.” Fox News.
http://www.foxnews.com/health/2013/12/11/finding-his-voice-john-stossel-details-his-struggles-with-stuttering.html (accessed October 9, 2016).

(2) The Stuttering Foundation. “John Stossel.”
http://www.stutteringhelp.org/famous-people/john-stossel (accessed October 9, 2016).

 

 

 

 

Wonderful Words

It’s difficult to explain just how much words mean to someone who stutters. Have you ever stopped to think about how amazing the gift of speech is? God has given us this unique ability to speak our hearts. When your heart is full of joy, you can laugh until your sides ache. When you see someone struggling, you can encourage them with words of kindness. When your heart is overflowing with love, you can tell someone how much you love them. When your heart is sad, you can pour it out before the Lord. Speech is truly wonderful. It links us all together as God’s special creation.  For someone who stutters, words become an even more extraordinary treasure.

Someone who stutters often notices and appreciates the smallest intricacies of speech. Every word and every sound means something to him. He finds a certain melody in every sentence. When words don’t come easily, they take on a whole new splendor. A stutterer doesn’t just throw words around aimlessly, because he has realized how beautiful speech is supposed to be. It is a gift to be deeply loved and cherished, and always used for good.

Because stuttering gives someone such a love for words, it tends to make him a good listener. Sometimes, I remember the smallest details that people have told me about themselves years and years later. I believe this just comes naturally for most stutterers. Stuttering produces an instinctive desire to give others your full attention when they speak, because every voice is beautiful and valuable, whether it’s perfectly fluent or a little broken. It makes you desire to treat others the way you want to be treated…and much more.

Most of the time, a stutterer will always opt for a deep, meaningful conversation, rather than a superficial conversation. Words just cost too much.  This definitely doesn’t mean that someone who stutters doesn’t still love to laugh or that a random conversation is bad. Light conversations are always wonderful, especially after a tiring day! 🙂 It’s just that, for a stutterer, words take on a new rarity that makes him desire to use them in the best ways possible.

As a result, many stutterers develop a passion for writing. Writing gives a stutterer the voice he never thought he had. All of those thoughts that have been in his heart come pouring out onto the page, without a single stutter. As he writes, he slowly realizes that the voice on the page has always been inside of him, just waiting to come out. For a stutterer, writing sets the heart free and gives so, so much joy.  Every writer has to have a unique love for words, and stuttering undoubtedly gives that special kind of love.

Words are one of the best gifts that God has given to the world. Every word has the potential to lift someone up or tear him down. Will you join me in determining to use words to brighten someone’s life this week?

If you make just one person smile, your efforts will be completely worth it!