A Series of Follow Up Letters

1st July 2021

Drive-thrus, eye contact and microphones have been sources of anxiety for James Hayden over the years. Having recently come to terms with them, our regular contributor from the USA felt compelled to write and tell them how he feels.

I wrote these letters in early 2020, shortly before the pandemic began. I wrote them more for myself than for anyone else. I had ideas about what I wanted to do with them, but once the pandemic began I shelved the ideas to focus on other things. I feel now is the time to share them. 

Back in 2017 and 2018, fast food restaurant drive-thrus, eye contact, and microphones were some of my biggest adversaries in terms of my journey with stuttering. I avoided drive-thrus and microphones at all costs and struggled to maintain eye contact, with my audience, during my stuttering moments.

I decided to write these follow up letters to show these things and me just how far we've come in our relationship. I wanted them to know that they were no longer adversaries, but just things that are part of everyday life.

Around that time, I felt the need to write those three letters to describe how I felt about them. It was good for me to put my feelings about those topics into words. Those initial letters served as a challenge to me to improve my relationship with those things.   

I decided to write these follow up letters to show these things and me just how far we've come in our relationship. I wanted them to know that they were no longer adversaries, but just things that are part of everyday life. Fourteen months later, my relationship with the three is even better than it was in early 2020. I no longer avoid drive-thrus or microphones and I'm pretty good at maintaining eye contact during my stuttering moments. 

The letters

Dear Drive-Thru,

It's been a couple of years since we last spoke. In case you were unaware, a lot has changed in those two years. Last time we spoke was in early 2018 and it had been six months since I used you. Well, I allowed another year to pass before I used you again. It took me being challenged by a member of my NSA chapter (National Stuttering Association of America support group) before I used you again. I accepted and conquered that challenge when I ordered dinner at Popeye's in February 2019. Since then, I've used you several times. Heck, I used you a few times within a month span. That would've been unheard of back in 2017. Not only do I use you when I order food, but I've used you for other things as well. A few weeks ago, I used to pick up a prescription. I wasn't fluent all the time, but that's irrelevant. I didn't and don’t allow my stutter to prevent me from using you.


Dear Eye Contact,

It's been a year since we last spoke. You're still something I struggle with when I stutter, but I think we can both agree that I've gotten better at maintaining you during my conversations. During every conversation that my stutter makes an appearance (which, let's be honest, is like roughly 98% of my conversations), I make a conscious effort to keep you in the conversation. Yet, I don't always succeed in this. There are times when my subconscious secondary characteristics kick in and you briefly exit stage left or right. You return after my stutter's cameo ends and we continue on as if nothing happened.  

I know I've made tangible progress in maintaining you in my conversations. This was evident to me and three hundred others on June 12, 2019, when I gave my TED talk at the inaugural TEDxOchsner. Yes, I stuttered big time for the duration of my talk, but more importantly you were there with me the entire time and never exited stage right. That was a big deal for us and our relationship. I'm looking forward to the time when you stay during my stutter's numerous guest appearances and never exit stage left.


Dear Microphone,

We've come a long way, haven't we? Up until a couple of years ago, I avoided you at all costs and heavily relied on my "I have a loud voice" excuse. That excuse worked for a long time but damaged my vocal cords and allowed my stutter to win every time. I was staying in some version of my comfort zone and as the saying goes, "There's no growth in your comfort zone and no comfort in your growth zone." 

So, I left my comfort zone, a bit by force, and willingly used you for the first time in 2017 at an open mic at my first National Stuttering Association of America conference. I don't know what I said, but I felt a sense of accomplishment. Over the past three years, I've used you at every possible opportunity. I've used you to give numerous presentations, call games of bingo, and scratch something off of my bucket list: give a TEDx talk. In all of those opportunities, you loudly put every intimate detail of my biggest vulnerability on display for everyone. The James from five years ago would've used the "loud voice" excuse to make sure that didn't happen. 

Today, I don't care that my audience can hear every intimate detail. I've learned that both the audience and I have more important things to worry about than if I say "Hey y'all, my name is James," or if I say "(Insert long block) H-h-h-h-hey y-y-y'all, my n-n-n-name is (insert block) Ja-Ja-Ja-James." 

From experience, the audience care about the message I'm giving and not so much the intimacies of the way it's delivered. I wish I knew that when I was younger. It would've saved my vocal cords.


Read more of James Hayden's articles.

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