Unity through Understanding (McKenzie Jemmett)

About the author: McKenzie Jemmett M.S., CCC-SLP is an individual who stutters and currently works as a Pediatric Speech Language Pathologist in Pocatello, Idaho. Her graduate thesis focused on covert aspects of stuttering and how holistic therapy affects these aspects.  Her interests include autism spectrum disorder, sign language and fluency disorders. She is also an active member of the National Stuttering Association and serves as co-chair of her local chapter. This is her second year helping with the International Stuttering Awareness Day.

Recently, I had an opportunity to have a candid conversation with my friends about stuttering and my preference with how they treat me. Many things were discussed but the bottom line was, what I prefer may not be what someone else prefers. We are all individuals who stutter and therein lies the beauty. Individuality. We are all individuals and the impact of stuttering will be different for each of us. This experience with my friends was the birth of a mind blowing revelation… that I had finally come to understand who I was and I wasn’t afraid of it!

To give this revelation some perspective, let me rewind to 3 years ago. At that time, I was a 1st year graduate student in Speech Language Pathology at Idaho State University, just surviving life. More specifically, I would describe myself as a quiet firecracker hiding in the corner. Quiet because I only spoke when spoken to and firecracker because once a spark struck, I would explode on whoever and whatever I was around. The explosion would come out as forming unhealthy relationships marked by improbable attachment requirements, crying over the smallest things, contemplating suicide, and overall not seeing a purpose in life other than ‘getting by’. I did it all. It was in that year that my journey to understanding myself and my individual stuttering began. It was a long and difficult path but worth it (in hindsight) all the hardships along the way. It all began with awareness of the one thing I had ran from my entire life: stuttering.

This awareness felt like an insult to my intelligence. After all I was a college student studying speech language pathology. I should know what stuttering is. I mean, I had been in therapy for it as a child and had to become a master of my own speech so I should know right?  I remember using slow stretching speech and feeling weird doing it but that I was just something I did when I was young… In my mind it had no relevance to what I was doing now. It wasn’t until that first year of graduate school that someone lit a spark and wasn’t afraid of the blow back for me to really see who and what I was. And to be honest, I didn’t like what I saw. I saw a frail weak individual who had been pushed around her whole life and told what to be and how to act. On top of that, I had no idea how to fix the horrific image in front of me.

Few saw awareness mirror but those who did can testify that I was a mess. I describe it as my stuttering zipper had been pulled down and all the pain, suffering and emotion that I had kept inside for 22 years came rushing out. And the best I could do was to try to zip it back up while getting all sorts of things caught in the picture. This prompted me (more like a best friend pushing me) to find a path to change my vision.  And man oh man was it fun to find that path. After a few broken friendships and restless nights, I found my way to resources that could at least help me see the mirror with different eyes and begin that process of understanding what stuttering is to me.

That happened 3 years ago and today where I sit, I have a better understanding of myself and how stuttering has shaped me. My path of change included many different things but the beautiful part about it is that it was my path. My own individual path. I had a million suggestions coming at me but in the end, it was my decision and my road. If I have learned anything about stuttering, it is that we are all individuals and each one of us has our own stutter that can’t be defined by anyone else other than us. That being said, every day I learn something new or understand a different aspect of myself. Just as I am learning every day, so does the world. They learn as we as individuals who stutter express and share that side of us that we might rather keep hidden. And by extension, when we as individuals of planet earth break down the barriers that keep us from sharing our ‘dark’ side, that is when we become united in our understanding of each other as the amazing wonderful complex individuals that we are.

In that conversation with my friends, I did not expect to come off as an equal but in the end, I realized that just as I share myself with them, they share themselves with me. As a group we come closer as we strive to understand each other and our respective stories. So I urge you, keep sharing! Keep learning! Remember the wonderful person you are and share that light with the world! When we share, others share, and that is the birth of a bright new future.

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Unity through Understanding (McKenzie Jemmett) — 14 Comments

  1. Hi McKenzie – what a wonderful contribution to the ISAD conference. You speak the truth through your story. I am in awe of how honest you are in sharing about the “dark moments” you have had. I’m sure many people can relate to this and will be inspired by your journey. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Hello McKenzie,
    I am so thankful to have seen your post and just want you to know that you are an inspiration to an online ISU grad student! I absolutely adore Pocatello! I am participating in the ISAD conference, but am doing so to learn more about what my grandfather experienced and what others experience every day of their lives. I have just taken our first midterm in fluency, so I am grounding this knowledge by reading about the human aspects of stuttering from actual people who stutter. My grandfather was a person who had moderately severe stuttering and I just never discussed this with him. I just assumed it was his “dialect”and it was his way of speaking. Interestingly, he did not speak English until the age of 8 years, so I think the chances of him being a child who stuttered in German was pretty big! Additionally, we have just finished our pseudo-stuttering papers and in analyzing myself, I am pretty sure I experience blocks consistently. So I am trying to be mindful because of the family ties, and because of the situations in which I have these blocks. I do see a pattern. But this is who I am if in fact this is an aspect of myself. I love that you say it does not define you! Thanks again for sharing and my best to you in your beautiful future.

  3. McKenzie, I’m so glad to have ran across your post and admire your honesty when sharing your experiences. Without individuals having the willingness to share insight to their lives we would lack so much perspective not only as students and professionals, but as human beings in general. I’m sure there are many others reading your story and finding ways in which they can relate it to their own lives, and in turn feel inspired to embrace who they are. Thank you for sharing!!

  4. McKenzie,

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your journey on acceptance of your stuttering. It is so helpful to hear an honest perspective from someone who stutters and I appreciate your willingness to share. I understand that acceptance is a personal journey but as a speech-language pathology graduate student, I was wondering if you had any advice or tips on how to help people accept their stutter. I would love to know your opinion on what I could do to assist clients throughout this process.

    Thanks so much,
    Abby Wheeler

  5. Hi McKenzie,

    Thank you for such a raw and honest perspective on how stuttering influences your life. Your perseverance is very admirable and serves as a reminder of how people with stuttering can overcome any obstacle they feel may be in front of them. I know you speak about how there are individual preferences of people who stutter, but have you noticed a trend in some common preferences people with stuttering share?

  6. Hi McKenzie,

    I found your post insightful, especially that you describe stuttering as a journey, one that you have started to embrace. For myself, I have a similar struggle with a nervous system problem. I can definitely relate to what you wrote since it has been a journey for me as well to accept myself as I am.

    Thanks for your openness and honesty!

  7. Hello McKenzie,

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I admire your courage to post such a sensitive and truthful piece. As a PWS and SLP graduate student as well, I find myself relating to much of your story. The path to individuality is long but worth the wait. I was wondering how much of your story is incorporated into therapy sessions? If so, do client’s find it helpful to know you went through the same journey? Thank you for your time!


  8. Hi McKenzie!
    Thank you for sharing your journey as a PWS. As a graduate SLP student currently enrolled in a fluency course, I really appreciated reading this from a perspective of such a determined SLP and PWS. I had a question regarding your therapeutic experience as a child, were you exposed to both the fluency shaping and stuttering modification theories of therapy? As an SLP and PWS, what do you believe is the most effective method?

    Thank you!

    – Isabel K.

  9. McKenzie,

    Thank you for sharing such an inspiring story! Your honesty and acceptance of stuttering is remarkable! I am a first year graduate student and we have frequently discussed how the impact of stuttering on an individual will be different and unique for each person. I loved how you touched on this. I believe that this mentality can be applied to many aspects of one’s life. Thanks again!

  10. Hi McKenzie,

    Thank you for sharing your experience as a PWS.I loved your play on words! Especially when you said, “I describe it as my stuttering zipper had been pulled down and all the pain, suffering and emotion that I had kept inside for 22 years came rushing out.” I thought that was an interesting way to describe your experience and feelings during that time. As a second year SLP graduate student, I am currently enrolled in a fluency course and am learning about PWS. You said that you “stretched your speech” when you were younger, but I was wondering if you use any different techniques today? Do you pseudostutter (stuttering on purpose-I’m sure you know)at all? Do you feel that your experience as a PWS has allowed you to gain better rapport with your PWS clients?

    Thank you again for your candor and for sharing your experience!

    -Makenzie Richards

  11. Thank you so much for sharing your story. After reading this I understand more of how a person who stutters feels, and what their perspective is. As noted in your article, everyone is different and has different experiences.

  12. Mckenzie,
    Thank you for sharing your personal experience with us! You are honestly an inspiration and I feel that your experiences is a great asset to the work you do as an SLP.
    I am currently a graduate student “just surviving life.” I just started working with a teenager who stutters and I am a little nervous.
    After reading your post, I understand a little better, how important opening up to my client will be for his success. It is a very scary thing to be vulnerable and open, to share our “dark side,” but if I have any hope of helping my client be open and vulnerable than I need to be willing to do the same. I agree that when we become united in our understanding as we seek to understand others. If you have any advice for me as I more forward with my client, please feel free to share!
    Thanks again for being open and sharing, that is how unity will come. You is making the world a better place!

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