James Hayden, from New Orleans, writes a heartfelt letter to his stammer, explaining the impact it’s had and how he made peace with it.
For most of my life you’ve been the friend I don’t want, but couldn’t see my life without. The majority of our friendship has been filled with anxiety, nervousness, hate, self-doubt, and insecurity; however, those negatives have since turned into beauty, acceptance and ultimately self-confidence.
When we first became friends I was five. You filled me with a sense of doubt and made me wonder if I was the only person you were friends with. I went to speech therapy for seven years and as the years progressed our friendship weakened. When I went to high school, I thought you were a childhood friend that I would never see again but wouldn’t forget. Boy was I wrong.
I wouldn’t order at a drive-thru in case you ordered something I didn’t want.
We became friends again when I was a senior in high school and we’ve been friends ever since. Our renewed friendship was difficult for me to accept. My senior, and most of my college career, was filled with negative thoughts. During those years you were winning. I didn’t participate in class because I was afraid you would make an untimely visit. I had to write a script every time I wanted to talk on the phone in case it was a three-way conversation between you, me and the person on the other end. I wouldn’t order at a drive-thru in case you ordered something I didn’t want.
My last two years of college were a time of transition for us. We went back to therapy and worked on our issues. I still didn’t want you present in my life but I began accepting our friendship. I learned ways to avoid you, but more importantly I learned how to not allow you to dictate what I could and couldn’t do. I talked on the phone without a script, I started to participate in class, I volunteered for public speaking opportunities. I was allowing myself to say we were friends and not be embarrassed by our friendship.
After I graduated college and moved to a new city, you were one of the few friends I had there. I still didn’t want anything to do with you but I was becoming more accepting of our friendship. Shortly after moving to my new city, we went to our first National Stuttering Association (NSA) meeting and it was there where I met some of your other friends. That was the best thing I’ve ever done because it showed me I am not the only person you are friends with, a great thing for my younger self to know. Those meetings have allowed us to be better friends and be more open about our friendship. I now talk openly about it with anyone who will listen. I write about it regularly and share it with whoever wants to read our story. That’s something I would not have done when we renewed our friendship.
I still struggle to keep eye contact with people because I want them to look at me and not you. Your visits still cause me to wonder what the other person I am talking to is thinking about you.
Almost four years have passed since that first NSA meeting. I’ve accepted that we will be friends for the rest of my life and I’m okay with that. Yes, I still struggle to keep eye contact with people because I want them to look at me and not you. Your visits still cause me to wonder what the other person I am talking to is thinking about you. At times, I need to assure them that you’re no big deal and they should ignore you.
However, our stronger friendship has also made me see the good in you. Because of you I am a better person and more confident. I see people for who they are, not what they sound or look like. I am mentally stronger and I know who I am and what I want because of you. Although at times I wish we weren’t friends, I’m glad we are. I don’t know where I would be without you. I guess that means I won because I see your beauty and not your ugliness.
Better luck next time,
More about the author
James is a 26-year-old from New Orleans, USA, and the author of the book 'Dear World, I Stutter: A Series of Open Letters From a Person Who Stutters', from which this letter is taken.
James also did a TED talk on embracing our vulnerabilities. Read about his experience in this article he wrote for the Stuttering Foundation of America, here.
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