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I am woman, hear me stutter

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Stuttering. Is it an ability in disguise? Or is it a disability? Does being female affect the perception of stuttering?

As a child I considered my speech problem a disability. It set me apart from all the other ‘normal’ kids – kids who spoke with vigour to their friends about summer vacations and fun things they did on weekends. Kids who laughed and made fun of me until I was in tears, simply because I spoke differently from them. They didn’t stop and think that they, too, probably have some kind of disability or “weakness”.

These were the kids who didn’t need ‘extra’ time to speak or be exempt from doing a presentation. I envied them and their ability to make friends easily; and their “magical” ability to share their ideas verbally in class or ask the teacher questions about assignments.

When my family went out for meals in restaurants, my mother would have to order for me. Asking librarians, sports coaches, and others for help was daunting. At social gatherings I’d sit or stand off to the side, avoiding people and their questions. My mother intervened when people asked me things, so I became reliant on her. As I grew older, having a parent around wasn’t possible in social situations, so I would remain quiet and only speak when I had to.

I hated the feeling of having lots of stuff to say without the ability to say them. I felt pent up, and an “outsider”, because of this problem. This thinking has followed me through the years, and it is only recently that I’ve started to realize that it’s a part of me and I need to face that fact.

I was labelled “ shy” and “timid”. In reality, however, this was not the case. I had tons of things to say, but I had trouble getting all the words out. The term  “shy” entails an individual who becomes stressed with social interaction.  I was a stutterer, an introvert, and an only child raised primarily by adults – three factors which are the opposite of being shy.

In my teen years I had a small circle of friends, but really couldn’t communicate the same as most other teenagers. Speaking to guys and having a boyfriend was out of the question, in my view. At the time, I thought no guy would be interested in a girl who stuttered. As an introvert by nature I didn’t need outside stimulation from my peers. I focused on schoolwork, being physically active, doing art, surfing the internet ( a wonderful invention for a stutterer), reading fiction, watching Orlando Bloom movies, and spending time with my mother.

In university I still kept to myself. I took most of my courses through online and distance education. I still couldn’t communicate as well as everyone else, so speaking in class and doing seminars made me uneasy. Some profs were understanding and granted me exemptions from oral presentations, and instead, gave me permission to do research papers. My speech problem was also an element of the mild stress and depression I experienced. This was coupled with a lack of employment, social life, and boyfriend –all the things ‘normal’ young women had.

Fortunately, being an introvert with a speech problem worked in my favour because I graduated from university with a B.A. in History. Now I see my speech impediment as an ability. I’m unemployed ( whether because of my speech problem or because of the current economy), but I spend time writing fiction. I am currently in the process of typing up a paranormal/espionage novel, which I hope to get published soon. I also make jewellery and other crafts, and may start a jewellery business if people want more of the things I make. I’m physically active and I surf the internet and watch movies for novel inspiration and research.

I hope to be accepted in a Masters course in either International Security or Gender and War next year. The study of the role of women in history, and within conflicts and crises of the present time, fascinates me. I want to eventually establish a fundraiser or organization for women and girls who are underprivileged and who stutter.

At this point of my life I see that having a speech problem was a “gift” in disguise. I was (and am)  able to pay attention to details, listen to people, concentrate on important matters, be creative with my own ideas, and most importantly do what I like to do. Without any of the past obstacles in my life, would I be the same person I am today? Probably not.

I also look at the word ‘normal’ and contemplate what the word means. My idea of what ‘normal’ is would conflict with another’s idea of what it means to them. We all contribute to the ‘normal’ hybrid. Stuttering is just a trait that we should all, stutterer or not, add to the list of “normalcy”.

 

Amy Bald lives in Sudbury.

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