Rebecca Russell examines the issue of 'stammering pride' in this honest and open article.
"Do you hold a record for the longest stutter you’ve ever done?”
I laugh as a friend of mine asks me this question. My aim is generally to gain more control over my stammering, not to let it run wild. "I’m proud to stammer", I explain, "but I’m not that proud".
My friend looks confused. "What does ‘not that proud’ mean?"
I think back to a few of my worst stutters: the time I couldn’t physically say my own name in a meeting, so the person next to me said it instead. The time I stood up to speak at a conference and blocked so heavily that the speaker told me to sit down. And the time my Dad and I walked the length of an entire street, my mouth gaping open and no sound coming out.
My initial reaction in these moments was not pride, it was shame. Afterwards, when I’d put some distance between myself and these incidents, I could think of reasons why I should not be ashamed. But my initial reaction made me feel hypocritical to say I’m ‘proud to stammer’.
I wish I could just be proud to stammer, without needing to remind myself to be proud. Because I have good reason to be proud.
Stuttering is hard, and it’s made me who I am today. Being misunderstood and judged on my appearance has made me empathetic. Being interrupted makes me eager to listen to other people. Choosing to pick myself up after negative encounters are weekly, daily, hourly acts of quiet bravery, and I can be proud of each and every one of them.
I can be proud of my attempts, and varying degrees of success, at being fluent. Fluency is not easy, and if you’ve chosen to try to gain a bit more of it (which is not compulsory), you’ll probably replace one kind of pride: the natural reluctance of humans to face stuff that makes them uncomfortable, with another kind of pride: a realisation of your own strength and determination.
I can be proud when I’m not fluent. Proud that I chose to speak in the first place. Proud of the words that I said, regardless of how I said them. Proud to have a voice, and to expect people to listen to me.
I can be proud to stutter. In a world that values immediacy and convenience, I am the dysfluent spanner-in-the-works, making people re-assess these values.
In a world that tells people to hide their brokenness, I can be the one to prove that you don’t have to. I can choose to take joyful pride in my stutter, because I stand out from within a society that prizes perfection.
I can, and should, choose to be proud. But sometimes, I don’t feel proud. I don’t feel proud when the fluency I’ve worked so hard for crumbles, and I feel like I’m fighting a losing battle. I don’t feel proud when I can’t find the strength to be brave and speak out. I often don’t feel proud to be that ‘inspirational’ person who shows the world what really matters. Sometimes, I’d rather just be like everyone else. I’d rather just be able to say what I want to say, and be done with all these reasons.
Sometimes, I don’t feel proud to stutter. It doesn’t mean my reasons to be proud aren’t true, it’s just that they get eclipsed by the pain. You know what, that’s OK. You shouldn’t feel like your ‘reasons to be proud’ have become bullet-points to explain away your pain.
It’s OK if sometimes you need to be reminded to be proud.
I think that’s why we have each other.
When your reasons to be proud get lost in the mess of stammering, and you struggle to believe the truth, I will be proud of you. When I admit that I’m not joyfully stuttering, can I ask you to still be proud of me, until I’m proud of me too?
I hope that one day, we can be proud to stammer, without needing to remind each other. But until that time, let’s keep reminding. Our disbelief doesn’t stop these reasons being true.