A 20 year old male college student was sneaking through his dormitory hallway to the seclusion of his room when he was cornered. His brown eyes widened when a friendly floor-mate introduced himself.
“Hey my name is Steven. What is your name?”
With a parched throat and sweaty palms he responded, “Uhhhh, Jason!”
“No, its not,” Steven retorted.
Perplexed and wondering how Steven knew his lie, he defensively replied, “Yes it is.”
Steven chuckled, “No what is it really?”
With a chance to come clean, he reiterated, “Jason” and lost another opportunity to make a friend.
A junior at the University of Maryland: College Park, Jason, applied to be a campus bus driver because he was under the impression that talking would be unnecessary. He dropped classes once he learned of any impending presentation. He also preferred to eat alone, even if a kind acquaintance asked him to join their table.
Three years later, a 23 year old prospective graduate student is sitting confidently with an upright torso and retracted shoulders in a classroom. He sits across from the chair of the Physical Therapy department at Rutgers University, and introduces himself, “Hi, I’m NNNelson.”
Nelson had already been accepted to his top choice for physical therapy school. So why would he be on his 12th interview in three months? For the opportunity to show that he stutters and is a fantastic candidate for a competitive program. Nelson was accepted to all twelve schools he interviewed with.
What is the difference between Jason and Nelson? An enormous attitude shift. Jason epitomizes the lie I lived. I was whatever I could say fluently. A chameleon that changed colors with most personal interactions. With one person I was Portuguese and with another I was Armenian. Some days I was a Washington Redskins fan and other days I was a Green Bay Packers fan. My attitude shift began on a memorable day.
I was at a crossroad when I failed to finish a presentation in English class. I stood on two wobbly legs sporting a shirt with enormous armpit stains. My hands shook as I wiped the sweat from my brow. Every phrase I uttered ended on residual air. Fed up after of minutes of enormous struggle including every unreliable strategy I had learned, I picked up my notes and dragged my carcass to my seat where I slithered down as far as I could. I wished a massive sink hole would open beneath me to rescue me from the shame of my ineptitude.
After class, I drudged alone to my dorm having hit rock bottom after fighting depression for months. Alone and hopeless, I ruminated about the gravity of my situation. My dream of becoming a physical therapist seemed implausible. So I googled “Speech therapy at UMCP.” Sixteen years of speech therapy had been unsuccessful, but I was desperate enough to try speech therapy once more with yet another well-meaning speech pathologist. Jason found his last hope to salvage his dream, Vivian Sisskin.
The schema shifted developed over those three years in Avoidance Reduction Therapy. I learned over time to embrace my stutter as one of my many features that define my character and make me unique. In group therapy I met other people who stuttered; Successful professionals in prominent roles, Peers whom I esteemed. These role models inspired me to know that I am not a giant in chains. Stuttering was not holding me back. I had been holding myself back with thoughts that I had to wait for fluency before I could step out of my comfort zone to speak up in class or talk to an attractive girl.
Jason fretted for over a decade if he would ever be able to get married and have a family of his own. Even if a girl would be willing to marry him, how could he spit out, “I do” in front of hundreds of his friends and family? Jason choked out his words on the shuttlebus system radio because of fear of every bus driver on campus hearing his voice. He could not weasel out of required junior English and its many presentations. He also wanted friends, not knowing what it was like to hang out with people on the weekends.
Earlier today, I was on a blind date with an attractive woman. We were having lunch and sharing our stories and opinions with one another. Despite having struggle-free speech, I voluntarily advertised as a person who stutters. I raise my hand in class despite the fear that I will stutter. I give weekly speeches at toastmasters. I am happy to meet you. My name is Nelson.