The gift that keeps on giving

James Hayden next to a Christmas tree

19th December 2019

In this season of gift giving and receiving, US-based James Hayden asks the question: if stammering is a gift, what has it given him?

One of the many things associated with Christmas is giving and receiving gifts. Some gifts are well received, others not so much. Upon opening a gift, I can instantly tell if it’s something I will use or if it will become a dust collector. If it falls into the latter category I politely smile, say “thank you,” put it in my closet and forget about it.

One of my favourite Christmas movies is National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. In one scene, our loveable protagonist Clark Griswold receives a one-year membership to the jelly of the month club, to which his bumbling cousin-in-law Eddie says, “It’s the gift that keeps on giving.” 

Recently, I saw, in a Facebook group for people who stutter, someone say that stuttering is a gift. I have never thought of it like that, but maybe it is. Like the jelly of the month club, it’s a gift I would never give to someone nor ask for. But if stuttering is a gift, what has it given me?

What stuttering has given me

Stuttering has given me a community of people. I’ve been a part of the National Stuttering Association for three years. During that time, I’ve met so many people that ‘get it’; that let me know that I am not alone; that challenge me to see stuttering in a different way. A group of people that have helped me accept my stutter, and that I can celebrate the small victories and share the struggles with.

Stuttering has allowed me to strengthen friendships. For the longest time, my unwillingness to discuss my stutter was a good way to choose friends. If anyone would make even the slightest negative remark about it, I would immediately end our friendship. Up until a few years ago I only talked about my stutter with the closest of friends. It was my way of showing him/her that I trusted them. Now, I openly talk about stuttering with anyone. As a result of sharing one of my biggest vulnerabilities, people tend to trust me and share with me their own vulnerabilities.  

Up until a few years ago I only talked about my stutter with the closest of friends.

Stuttering has given me the opportunity to learn many life lessons, like seeing and hearing people for who they are; appreciating the small victories in life; being resilient; seeing the positives; knowing that some days will be harder than others; patience, and that while I may not be able to change the outcome of a situation, I can change my outlook on it. 

My stutter has allowed my self-confidence to grow in unique ways. I used to bury my feelings about it and everything else. Now I’ve accepted it, I proudly wear my stutter for all to see and hear. In turn, I’ve allowed myself to be more open with my strengths and triumphs, but more importantly I no longer try to hide my struggles and my many quirks. I am proud of and far more confident in who I am because I have accepted my stutter.  

Stuttering has given me an opportunity to serve others. One of my passions is community service and helping others. By being open about stuttering and willing to write honest articles about it, I am showing others who stammer that they are not alone.  

Stuttering has allowed me to discover the joys of writing. Until recently I only wrote academic papers and the occasional thank you note. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would write recreationally, much less about stuttering. However, I wanted to get my story out there and writing was the only way I knew how to accomplish that goal. Through an article I wrote , I discovered that I enjoy writing. I finally had an outlet to express my thoughts in a way that could reach, and hopefully impact, others.  

Nativity play

When I was in kindergarten I played an inn-keeper in my class’s nativity play. My only line was “You are so cold.” It may not seem much, but for me this was a big deal. At the time, I just knew I talked differently than the rest of my class and I got to miss school to have therapy because of it. I don’t remember when I lost that innocence.

My teachers could have used it as an excuse to give me one of the few silent roles. They didn’t, they chose to give me a speaking role. Their gift was one I couldn’t appreciate at the time — it was the gift of saying it’s OK; that just because I talked differently didn’t mean I was different. It was the gift of inclusion. It’s a gift I can now appreciate with hindsight and age. Twenty one years later, it’s probably one of the best gifts I’ve ever received. So maybe Cousin Eddie is right. Maybe stuttering is the gift that keeps on giving.