|About the author Ian Mahler: I am a Person Who Stutters who lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, United States. I have been married to my wife May Lynn for 19 years. We have three girls: Klarissa (16), Savannah (12), and Olivia (11). I was originally born in Bellevue, Washington, a suburb of Seattle, then moved with my wife to Colorado. We have lived in Salt Lake City for over 14 years.I work at a wholesale club in Salt Lake City, part of a global chain. I am a Receiving Manager there, having been with the company for over 20 years, including working as a manager for the past 12 years.
I have stuttered all my life, going to therapy most of my childhood. I have participated in several therapy programs as an adult, including a two-week intensive course and one-on-one sessions.
I have been involved with the NSA (National Stuttering Association) for the past 3 years, and look forward to becoming more involved in this organization, as well as the global stuttering community.
“Having a stutter can be difficult.”
“Having a stutter can be awkward.”
“Having a stutter can bring out the worst in you.”
Although all of these statements can be true at any given time for a PWS (Person Who Stutters) like myself, stuttering can also bring out the best in you and teach you resilience. Like anything in life, it’s how you react to the storms and “gifts” you are given; you can make diamonds out of the dust or let it turn into a muddy mess.
I have stuttered all my life. I went through speech therapy throughout most of my childhood, ending it around the age of sixteen. I was always told by my speech therapist I would stop stuttering around the age of twenty. That age came and went, and here I am at 41 years of age still stuttering strong. I had experiences as a child that I’ve heard are typical of PWS: the laughing, the shame and embarrassment in the classroom, the constant anxiety around having to talk in class and the constant torment over what the next day in school would bring. I think the word “trauma” best describes my time in school. I can’t remember much of my childhood, I feel because I’ve tried to block it out from the frequent negative experiences I had. I didn’t have the opportunity to participate in any NSA (National Stuttering Association) or FRIENDS (The National Association of Young People Who Stutter), most of all because I didn’t know about these organizations growing up.
I have now been involved with the NSA for three years, attending a regional conference in Tempe, AZ a couple years back. I also participate in Stutter Social, a weekly Google Hangout for people who stutter. I am part of the local NSA chapter where I live in Salt Lake City, Utah. Being involved in these pro-stuttering activities have taught me, among other things, that it’s ok to stutter. I don’t have to be fluent. I’m not letting everyone down when I stutter. When I stutter, it doesn’t mean I’m a failure. It means I have a stutter, and talking can be more difficult for me; I simply communicate a little bit differently.
Stuttering has given me the opportunity to learn a lot about myself and my capabilities. I have learned I can be very resilient. I have gone through the storm and seen the other side. I will go through other trials in life, whether it’s due to stuttering or any other road bump that may cause self-reflection, doubt, and anxiety. When I have a rough stuttering moment, I can step back and regroup, knowing the severity of stuttering doesn’t need to define me, or my success. It is simply a part of what I do, another notch in my repertoire; I am also a Christian, husband, father, friend, neighbor, and at work I am a manager.
I have had many stuttering moments in my life that have led to negative self-talk. There have been times when I have had extended blocks on words that have made it difficult to communicate. There have been times when I haven’t been able to get through a word and have simply given up. There have been times when I have cried myself to sleep at night, recounting the day’s conversations and how much I thought I messed everything up. When I would have rough days like this, I would often lurch into a downward spiral; not only did I fail in my speech for the day, but I failed my wife, my three girls, and I thought I failed in my role as provider for my family. I have learned over the years that there will be times when I fail; it’s how I respond to these setbacks that help define me, not the failures themselves. I have learned I have a heightened ability to bounce back, to move on from situations that may have caused others to shrink back. I have learned I have many talents: I am intelligent, I have a strong work ethic, I can learn new tasks and procedures quickly, and I am a good leader, to name a few. None of these skills are hindered or downplayed when I stutter.
Over the years my stuttering has varied; in college my stuttering briefly improved, then I went into a rough patch and have been riding the highs and lows ever since. As stated previously I have experimented with various speech techniques; some of them I now incorporate naturally in my speech through constant practice, others I find just not to be helpful. I have recently been maintaining a Mindfulness practice; a meditation technique where you train yourself to be fully aware of your body sensations and surroundings, but to simply acknowledge these feelings and emotions and respond without judgement.
One of the most common ways to practice Mindfulness Meditation is to monitor your breathing and attempt to calmly block out the constant barrage of thoughts your mind is trying to get you to focus on. I have found this practice particularly helpful, in part because I have realized a lot of my stuttering is swayed by my emotions and thoughts at any given time. I have been prone to entertaining negative thoughts, mostly involving my stuttering; for example, thinking about what possible ways the person I am speaking with is judging me because of my stuttering, or getting too involved in my own speaking pattern and anticipating stuttering words that may be coming up and how to get past them. Maintaining a Mindfulness practice helps to move towards preventing these thoughts from taking center stage, and attending to the moment and what you are trying to accomplish. Like any therapy this is not a perfect solution, and takes continuous practice and willingness to move on despite some setbacks. I would like to emphasize my main motivation for continuing Mindfulness Meditation is not necessarily to increase fluency, but to gain a better control of my emotions and reduce my negative thinking. I can say without a doubt the latter has improved significantly, while the former probably hasn’t changed drastically; but I can say I am speaking more freely and without as much anticipation, which is plenty to be thankful for.
Stuttering has in the past brought out the worst in me, but I feel the days of wallowing in self-pity are over. I have learned how much stuttering has made me a better person, husband, dad, and manager. I have much more empathy now for other people and their own struggles. I have learned in this life it’s not about me, it’s about what I can do to help improve the lives of others around me, and help be an example to them of overcoming obstacles.
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