Saturday, January 9, 2016

My "Silent" Battle

There is that phrase...
"Be kind, everyone is fighting a battle you don't know about."

What is your battle? Here is my battle: I STUTTER.

This might be news to some of you, but there is a reason behind that statement and why I'm choosing to share it publicly. Not too long ago I read a blog a friend of mine wrote (look for a shout out at the end) titled, "Don't Let it Define You, Or Do?" Her blog answered that question in regards to her depression, but when I read the blog it really hit home to me in relation to me and my lifelong struggle with stuttering. Many of you know my "battle," but I have never discussed this publicly with many of you I've met in the recent years. I'm sure lots of you have guessed, seeing as I've had some rough spots lately. That being said, it is a huge part of me, but it isn't ME. This entry is a long one because those of you that don't know this about me (or even if you do) I thought some background would help. It helps explain why stuttering is a huge part of me, but it isn't alone who I am. Once I started my journey of explaining this to you, I couldn't stop. This is NOT a pity-party for Sarah. This is meant to explain me to you, and it is my emotional therapy. 

My Stutter...
There are different ways that people stutter. I predominantly struggle with initial sounds in words, which more than often leads to a "block." The block to me was the worst, because it leaves me with the most ridiculous look because no sound comes out and I stand there with my mouth open struggling to regain some normal look about me. I start slowly rocking to get the sound out. It is such a helpless feeling in so many ways. 

The Beginning...
My mom once told me I didn't always stutter, but stuttering is the only memory I have of my speech. Therapists think I was trying to "catch up" in speech with my older brother and sister, and this brought it on. It doesn't really matter how or why it started, but it did, and it changed my life more than most know.

Grade school was a nightmare for me. It is safe to say I hated grade school. I was teased a lot as a kid for multiple reasons, but front and center was my stutter. The other kids continually mocked my stutter and laughed and ridiculed me any chance they could get. My dad was the principal, so they were never dumb enough to do it in front of a teacher. But, the nightmare was there all the same. 

Horrible moments...
1) Playing Around the World with math facts. Even though I knew every single one, when it came to an answer that was hard for me to say, I'd feign ignorance. 
2) When we would read aloud and everyone read one sentence at a time...that was HORRIBLE!! I would count ahead of me to see what sentence I would have. If it started with a hard sound for me I would start freaking out and almost hyperventilate. I once again would feign ignorance until teachers talked to my parents and said I wasn't "on task" at school. That couldn't have been further from the truth. 
Speech Therapy
The day my mom told me I would be going to speech therapy is a moment forever embedded in my mind. I was helping her with the dishes, and when she told me I remember crying and being so upset I had to go. Little did I know, that was a decision that I am SO grateful to them for making. I'm sure we didn't have the money for it, but they knew it was important, so off to therapy I went.

It was at Marquette University in Milwaukee. I don't remember exactly what grade I started, but I know I went for a few years. They taught me a lot, and put me into the most dreadful situations to help me learn and apply what they taught me. I distinctly remember walking into a Walgreens with my teacher and asking the employees for items on a list. The list had been made ahead of time, and I remember gum was one thing on the list. The "G" sound is a hard one for me. It sounds cruel, but it helped me a lot.

One memory that sticks with me....the one year my dad was the one that drove me to therapy. Since he knew that I didn't like going he tried to make it special for me. I remember he hid a bag of Tato Skins in the car, and that was our "special treat" for our trips to therapy. My other siblings weren't suppose to know about it. Looking back at that time I realize my dad probably just wanted a treat as well, but at the time I was so proud I could share that with my dad.

When I "graduated" from therapy our family celebrated by going out to eat. Our family hardly ever got that treat, so I remember thinking how special that time was and how much graduating meant to me.

The Middle Years
Graduating from grade school was a huge boost from me. No one from my grade school went to the high school I went to, so I got to meet a whole new bunch of people. There were only two times in high school I was teased. One time a classmate said, "You should really learn how to talk normal." The other time my older brother's best friend (and he was like a brother to me), ripped on my during a conversation. If you know my older brother he is a man of few words, so when he sternly said, "Don't ever do that to her again," I wanted to burst with pride and love for him. 
Yet those two times were like a slap in my face. While I still continued to silently struggle and deal with it, taking all the teasing away helped immensely.  College was the same....much better.

The Adult Years
Growing up hasn't made my stutter go away. Still when I'm tired, when I'm excited, when I'm someplace loud or stressed I still revert back. The struggle continues, but here is how I cope.

1) Naming our children...Several names were ruled out because I knew it would be a struggle for me. Here was the test: I would picture myself calling to make an appointment for my child. When they would ask what their name is, if I struggled to say it I ruled out that name. Jesse doesn't know this, but when I was alone before either girl was born I would reenact this scenario with Ziva and Siri's names...saying it when I was tired, in a hurry, stressed, etc.
To this date there has only been one time someone asked me Siri's name and I couldn't say it.
2) In a restaurant I won't order something I can't say. If I do I point to the item in the menu and let the waitress initiate the description of the item.
3) Phone calls are really bad for me, especially if I don't know the person. Cold calling now for my It Works business is tough. The word "Hello" is insanely hard for me. My older sister once started a phone call for me with a guy who had asked me out. After she initiated the conversation she handed the phone to me. My sister is a rock star, especially because she never made me feel like less than a person because of it. 
4) Telling jokes is only done when I know that the word that the punchline starts with is a sound I can say. If not, the joke is never told. 
The dreaded (for me) IDO intercom. 
5) The IDO intercom was another nightmare. Anyone from MLS knows what I'm talking about. For those that don't I've supplied a picture. When I taught at MLS in Michigan I lived in a dorm with the students. The dorm office was the central hub of activity. We would have times "on duty" in the office. Parents would call for their children and we would page them down to the office for a phone call, or we would page them if someone was in the lobby to see them. This intercom was the death of me in the beginning. For those of you that remember Tutor Oblinger, I have utmost respect and love for her for making several pages for me because I physically couldn't. It sent me into a panic. One time I sat holding the button for at least two minutes before I gave up and dropped the call. I physically could NOT say the students name. With time I grew accustomed to it, and after 5 years I rocked it.
6) Singing helps people that stutter. You may not realize it, but if I start by singing something in my head I can say it.
7) Rephrasing words into something I can say is a tool I use ALL THE TIME. I just did it multiple times at work yesterday. I got stuck in a conversation that had a lot of hard words. To escape looking like an idiot I rephrased.
8) Admit I stutter...When all else fails I admit I have a stutter and I just can't say it. It just happened last month at an It Works Christmas party. I was telling a teammate and her husband a story, and I got super stuck on a word. I tried everything to no avail, so I finally admitted I had a stutter. Ironically "stutter" is a word I don't struggle with at all. 

The Supporters and Those That, Well.....Didn't
Those that Didn't....
Since grade school I can count on my fingers the times I've been teased. But, I think since it happened in my adult years it hurt worse. The most painful time was when a supervisor in a previous job said during a job review, "Now about your speech....It just sounds so unprofessional when you stutter. Is there any way that you can just stop?" SERIOUSLY!?!?!?! Did you just say that to me!?!? I can't even begin to explain how irate that made me. Unreal.
Then there are those that still tend to stutter back as a joke not knowing how painfully real it is to me. Or when I get the "blocked face" and they make it back at me. I know you want to fill in my words for me, but when you do that I feel tiny, little, and slow.

My Fantastic Supporters
1) My family: I'm not even sure if my family knows how much I love them and all they have done for me, whether they realize they have done anything or not. 
2) Jesse: He loves me through it all. I always think the most of him because he wasn't there through it all during the early years. From the moment we started dating until now he has been patient through any "block" I've ever had. I know he has seen me struggle to say something, but he never once impatiently filled in my words or corrected me He is a rock.
3) Co-workers: There are co-workers that have known my struggle and helped me through it. Your kindness is so appreciated.
4) Friends: Your support, love, and understanding has meant the world to me as well. 

What I Have Learned
1) In the end, your true friends and family love YOU.
2) Even though my stutter is on my mind multiple times a day, and I know you don't often hear it, I have learned that people see Sarah...they see me....the chit chat, the enthusiast, the wife, the mother, the reader, the educator, the crazy wrap girl, the one who loves a good laugh, the coffee and chocolate lover, the one who loves fall, the one who loves teaching others, the one who loves to help, etc. They DON'T see a STUTTERER. 
3) That even with a stutter I can teach a classroom of students, that I can give a speech at a women's retreat in front of at least 300 women. I CAN do these things.
4) I'm STRONGER and more RESILIENT than I had previously seen myself to be.
5) It has taught me EMPATHY.

I have often wondered how my life would have been different if I never struggled with stuttering. But, analyzing that has never resolved the situation or made it better. In the end I continue to strive to thank God for all I have, my health, and so much more. I'm blessed beyond measure....whether I stutter or not. 

Simply put....I am me.

P.S. The blog I made reference to in the beginning is called Healing my Mind by Ruth Roehr. You should really check it out! Healing My Mind


  1. Nice post honey! Thanks for giving me probably more credit that I deserve. :)

  2. Nice post honey! Thanks for giving me probably more credit that I deserve. :)

  3. It's hard to be honest with ourselves, let alone share our weaknesses with others. Well done my friend!