Now, don’t be embarrassed if you’ve made the joke in jest as I awkwardly fit my mouth around the sounds which refused to be released from it. I’m sure you didn’t mean it malicously. You were probably just making the best attempt to clear the air from the palpable awkwardness that follows someone pausing before reciting their name. You are not the first to make the joke, and you are not the last. You can rest easy.
About 1 percent of the world’s population stutters. About one in five of those who stutter are female. So, congrats: in meeting me, you have met a true rarity. But this isn’t about me. This is about the millions of people all over the world who have forgotten their name every time they choose to speak it. And this is about you: the person who’s never had to worry about opening your mouth and letting words come out. For you, speaking is natural. For me, speaking is a feat.
The causes for stuttering are not clear: some point to genetics, some point to damage in the part of the brain which handles speech production, and some point to just plain old anxiety. One thing doctors do know for sure is that stuttering is no implication of one’s intelligence or ability to communicate. It is simply an incontrollable hinderance.
I have gone to years of speech therapy for my stutter. I would never have been able to write this article three or four years ago. The comfort to speak openly about my stutter is somewhat recent and it has taken years of skill building and confidence boosting to make this so. I have been lucky enough to have a group of people around me who have always encouraged me to speak my mind. My brother and father both stutter, so it’s no new idea around our family table.
I was never the person to stop talking. I talked about everything, all the time, to everyone. Talking about my stutter, though, was my soft spot. Whenever someone would make a comment about the way I talked I would clam up and go beet red in the face. I felt it separated me from my peers; they could say whatever word they wanted whenever they wanted and never have any fear that it wouldn’t come out. They would never have to know about the choking game my throat would play at random, that uncontrollable feeling of not being able to breathe when you come across a certain sound. My brain repeating over and over out with it while the muscles in my throat refuse. I look away, break eye contact and move my mouth without sound until relief. I finish feeling humiliated.
I’ve gotten better. I can hold eye contact better than ever, I’m more comfortable when people bring it up. I’m more willing to have a conversation about it. Things have changed now. I’m stronger. I’m more in control. I know which words are go-tos. But I also know which ones to avoid. My therapist told me that stutterers are like walking thesauruses: We always have to think about a new word to use.
So, to all the people that have ever asked me if I’ve forgotten my name: I haven’t. It’s there. Julia. Maybe you’ve never met someone with the same issue I have, and that’s OK. But like anything else in this world, it’s about tolerance. I’m not calling you out. You’ve really done nothing wrong. But this is me coming from a place of understanding. Not everyone has gone through the same process as I have. Three years ago, the question “Did you forget your name?” would have made me cry. You never know how comfortable the person you’re asking that question to is. Think about it.
Check out Stutteringhhelp.org for more information!