My Experience with Stuttering and Therapy – LJ Muchenje

About the Author: Lovejoy (LJ) Muchenje is a person who stutters. He was born and raised in Zimbabwe. After completing high school, he moved to the US to attend college. LJ has always stuttered ever since he could remember. Like most people who stutter, LJ was once a covert stutter, who went to all the extent to hide his stutter. It was only after being exposed to different types of therapy, and being involved in the stuttering community with organizations such as the National Stuttering Association (NSA) that he started to acknowledge his stutter. LJ holds a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Engineering. He currently works in the transportation field as an Environmental Engineer.

Introduction

My therapist and mentor suggested I would write the story of my life as a person who stutters  and hopefully inspire other people who stutter to live a full life whether they recover from stuttering or not. My therapist provided the questions.


Question: Have you heard of Dr. Sheehan’s iceberg? How does it describe your stuttering?

Response: Yes, I have heard of Dr. Sheehan’s iceberg. To me, the Sheehan’s iceberg fully describes what stuttering is. I once heard an individual comment that the thing about stuttering is that it’s not really about stuttering. The average person doesn’t understand what goes on in the mind of a person who stutters when they have to speak. There is the visible word repetition or blocks that everyone sees, or is above the surface so to speak. And then there is the anticipatory anxiety, the shame, and all the negative emotions associated with fear of stuttering, hidden underneath that most do not see. This is where the real struggle is. What everybody doesn’t see is how you feel and think about your stutter. What everybody doesn’t see is what goes on in the mind of a person who stutters before they stutter, during the stutter and after the stutter. The average person doesn’t see the planning involved to avoid a stutter. They don’t see the words you avoid, or the situations you avoid just to avoid stuttering. I recall instances when I had to prepare for an oral class report. Because of the many years of negative emotions associated with stuttering that had built up, I would dread the situation. I would get tense and anxious days, sometimes weeks before the report. I would have this feeling of defeat way before the delivery date. It’s like being an athlete, and anticipating defeat weeks before the race begins. The question that would come to mind was what’s the point of even trying.


Question: Has your stuttering and your attitudes and your emotions about your stuttering evolved?

Response: I feel that my stuttering, my attitudes and my emotions about stuttering have definitely evolved. However, it did not happen overnight. Growing up, I used to have negative attitudes about my stutter. I did not like the way I spoke. I did a lot of avoidance, I would avoid any situation I thought would expose my stutter. It took me a long time to realize that by avoiding I was only making my situation worse. Its like they say, he who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day. So, in a sense, by avoiding my stutter, all I was doing was delaying the day I had to face it. The other thing about avoiding is that I was missing out on life. I was missing out on several opportunities.

Over the years my attitudes about my stutter have changed. I now embrace myself as a person who stutters. I try not to avoid situations. I use the word ‘try’ because it is not always the case that I do not avoid situations. I realize that changing my attitude is a process and does not happen overnight. I now engage myself fully in life. I go after opportunities. I seek friendships. I look forward to speaking situations.


Question: Can you expand a bit on your current feelings about your attitudes and emotions in a five-minute video to be included in this conference?

Response:


Question: LJ, I have always thought very highly of your self-actualizing drive. Can you tell us what all has helped you to live your life fully, have a loving family and a good career?

Response: The one thing that has helped me to leave my life fully is self-discipline, and always doing my best regardless of how small the task may seem. The thing about self-discipline is that it forces one to do what needs to be done when it needs to be done, meaning there is minimum procrastination or avoidance. If I am supposed to be exercising, I make sure I am exercising. If am supposed to be preparing for a Toastmasters speech or giving a speech, I make sure that’s what I am doing. If its time to play with my sons at home, I make sure that’s what I am doing. Self-discipline requires me to care about every bit of my time.


Question: What hurdles did you have to overcome? How did you face and handle these challenges?

Response: As a person who migrated to the US, I would say that one of my biggest challenges was migrating to this country. There was cultural shock and adjusting to the way of life in the US. Being that I was coming from an ‘introverted culture’ so to speak, to one where speaking was paramount, it was really a challenge. Also, I spent a number of years in the academic world and so communicating was a challenge. For an individual who avoided stuttering at the time, giving oral presentations was always a challenge. There were also instances I felt I was discriminated against because of my stutter. While in school, there were particular research positions I was interested in and was qualified for. I sought them out. However, I didn’t get the positions due to reasons I felt were because of my stutter. I recall one of the professors writing a recommendation noting the fact that ‘LJ has a stuttering problem’. While in Zimbabwe, something similar happened. I had just graduated high school, and I had interviewed for an entry level position. This was my first job interview. I remember being very tense before and during the interview. It so happened that one of the individuals on the interview panel was a family acquaintance. In later years, my Mom would tell me that the reason I didn’t get the job was because of my stutter.

All these instances happened at a time when I didn’t have a good attitude about my stutter. I didn’t know how to handle such situations. I never talked to anybody about those instances when they occurred. The only thing I knew to do was to move on, and seek other opportunities.

In hindsight, knowing what I know now, I realize the importance of being open about one’s stutter. Being open about my stutter has afforded me several benefits. For the job interview example, I know that for me, it takes the pressure off of trying to hide the stutter. Hiding a stutter by avoiding words or other techniques can be draining. By disclosing my stutter, I can concentrate more and channel my energy on what I want to say, rather than consuming some of the energy with circumventing words. The other thing is that being open about one’s stutter may be a learning moment. There are cases where a listener, may not be informed of what stuttering is. By opening up, there is the potential to educate those that are misinformed about stuttering.


Question: What do you intend to do in the future to live your life more fully?

Response: I intend to do my best at all the time. I intend to grab life by the horns and live it fully. I’ll go after and take advantage of all the opportunities presented to me. I want to be able to look back at my life, and have no regrets due to missed opportunities.


Question: What would you suggest to other PWSs to do to live a loving, full, honest, honorable, exciting, and enjoyable life?

Response: Sometimes we, as people who stutter, can be hard on ourselves and we shouldn’t be. The attitudes and views we have about ourselves can be irrational and self-defeating; remember no one is perfect. One thing my mentor Dr. Gunars Neiders has taught me is that we are all forever fallible human beings. To enjoy life, I have learned not to take life too seriously and I would recommend that to others. Whether one stutters or not, it’s not a big deal.

1,617 total views, 2 views today

Comments

My Experience with Stuttering and Therapy – LJ Muchenje — 40 Comments

  1. Great paper and video LJ. You and Gunars have done a great job. Good luck for the future.

  2. LJ, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I wondered what it was that brought you to that moment of acceptance? What changed your fear of stuttering to appreciation for it?

    • Thank you for the comment Robilind. You ask what bought me to the moment of acceptance, and what changed my fear of stuttering to the appreciation of it; a great question indeed.

      Well, I do not know if I can say that my fear is gone 100%. I still have my moments. However, what changed is that I simply got tired. I got tired of running away from my own shadow. Its only after I started embracing myself as an individual who stutters that I could begin to do something about it. Whereas in the past, I felt powerless. I felt like I had no control over my stutter.

  3. Hey LJ!

    Thank you very much for writing and for sharing your experience. The format of your paper, as Questions and Answers, is very effective in enabling me to understand your process.

    If I had a hat, I would certainly be taking it off to you. Kudos, my friend.

    Hanan

  4. Thank you for sharing your story and I love your positive attitude! What piece of advice would you give to a soon-to-be speech-language pathologist who works with children/adolescents who stutter to help to facilitate their acceptance process?

    • Thank you for the important question, and kind words. Although, I am not one to give advice, especially when it comes to stuttering, I am glad to share my personal experiences. The one thing I’ll say is that the acceptance process is a journey; it varies from individual to individual. I think it’s important for SLP’s to form a relationship with their clients beyond the therapy room. Its important to know an individual and what their needs are, and then have the therapy progress based on the individual’s needs. There is no one size fits all.

  5. Hi LJ,

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I am currently a graduate student in the field of speech language pathology. As a future clinician, I was wondering if you would share your thoughts on speech therapy. Did you have any speech therapy growing up, and if so what about it was beneficial or not so beneficial?

    Thanks,
    Mary Catherine

    • Hi Mary, Thank you for the question. I grew up in Zimbabwe, and so growing up, I didn’t have any form of speech therapy. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even know there was any such thing as speech therapy for stuttering. My first therapy was post college, and it primarily focused on the mechanics of speech. The therapy was beneficial in some way. It taught me some speech techniques, some of which I still use today. The only negative for me about that therapy is that there was a huge focus on the above surface issues (stuttered words, etc.), and didn’t address any of the issues below the surface, i.e. negative emotions, attitudes, etc.
      I believe that stuttering is one of those things that needs a holistic approach. And like I mentioned in the paper, the Sheehan’s iceberg fully describes what stuttering to me. Its only after I dealt with the below the surface issues, that I started to fully embrace myself as an individual who stutters.

  6. Hi there! Thank you for sharing this! I am a graduate SLP student and am wondering if there was a specific moment (or multiple moments) during therapy that were groundbreaking “aha!” moments? Moments where you felt a sudden change in your emotions and thoughts toward stuttering in one way or the other? I look forward to hearing from you!

    -Melanie

    • Hi Melanie, Great question indeed. I have multiple ‘aha’ moments. However, one stands out. For whatever reason, I used to demand ‘perfect’ speech. I used to focus a great deal on fluency, I made it such a big deal. So, an ‘aha’ moment came when I was told its ok to stutter, I didn’t have to chase fluency. After all, we are all fallible human beings, no-one is perfect.

  7. Hi LJ,

    I love your perspective on stuttering and I find your approach to embracing the challenges inspiring. Thank you for sharing so that others will become inspired. Were there any techniques you’ve used to help develop your attitudes and feelings about stuttering?

  8. Hi LJ,

    I love your perspective on stuttering and I find your approach to embracing the challenges inspiring. Thank you for sharing so that others will become inspired. Were there any techniques you’ve used to help develop your attitudes and feelings about stuttering?

    -Colton

    • Colton,

      Thank you for the note. What helped me the most was changing my attitude. I had to challenge some of the irrational beliefs that had accumulated over the years. For instance, I used to place demands that I can’t stand it if I stutter, and so I went to great lengths to avoid it. But as you may know know, stuttering is paradoxical, the more one tries to avoid it, the more it comes out. And so, I had to let go my avoidance behaviors. I also had to challenge my irrational beliefs. What evidence was there that I could not stand stuttering; after all, I am a still alive.

  9. Hi LJ!

    Thank you so much for sharing your story with the us! I love how you took the time to answer the questions thoroughly- it shows your vulnerability and pure heart! I am currently a graduate student for speech therapy and have had little experience working with PWSs. My question is based off of the part where your mom told you later that “you didn’t get the job because of your stutter”. How did your parents/family feel about your stuttering? Do you think culture affects how caregivers are involved with stuttering and pursuing therapy?

    Excited to hear from you!
    -Cole

    • Cole-
      Thank you for the kind words. Stuttering kind of runs me in family. I had an Uncle and Grandmother who stuttered, and so the subject of stuttering wasn’t anything new to my parents. They were quite ok with my stutter. As matter of fact, they encouraged and always pushed me to do my best. They never shielded me from doing certain things because I stuttered.

      And regarding the second part of your question-I certainly feel that culture affects how people react to stuttering or anything in general. For example, my Uncle who used to stutter; I am told that he wanted to be a teacher. But he was told he couldn’t pursue a teaching profession because of his stutter. And the thing about it is that discrimination like that is done in the open in certain cultures, because it might be the norm. Nobody challenges that kind of thinking.

  10. Hi LJ, thank you for sharing your story. You have provided one of my favorite quotes ever about covert stuttering: “by avoiding my stutter, all I was doing was delaying the day I had to face it.” What a crucial realization. I hope you won’t mind if I quote you! Best,

    Rob Dellinger

  11. Hi LJ,

    I really enjoyed reading about your story, thank you so much for sharing. I especially liked your comment about how no one is perfect and we shouldn’t take everything so seriously. I am currently a graduate student studying speech-language pathology. As a future speech-language pathologist, what do you think is the best advise that I can give to clients who stutter about keeping a positive attitude?

    Looking forward to hearing from you,
    Emily

    • Emily-thank you for the note. I certainly believe that attitude is everything. Here is a one of my favorite quotes you may share with your clients, ‘The only true disability in life is a bad attitude’

  12. Hi LJ,

    Thank you for sharing your story and insights with us all. As a graduate clinician working with PWS I often try to ensure I am doing everything in my power to make PWS feel comfortable and open with me. Sometimes I feel like my behaviors, in an attempt to create a welcoming environment, make a socially awkward and over-excited feeling into the air. In your experience, what’re are some of the best ways professors/ therapists/ bosses/ (really anyone) have made you feel open and comfortable?

    thank you,
    Maddy

    • Maddy-Great question. I read a paper by another SLP in this online conference who stated that in working with Person Who Stutter (PWS), their focus was on the P. I said to myself this is awesome. I believe it’s important to get to know the individual you’re working with beyond ‘working on the stutter’. Its important to create a relationship.

  13. LJ,

    I really enjoyed reading your post and watching your video. I liked how you compared stuttering with strengths and weaknesses. Everyone has them, and it is up to the individual to work with them. It humanizes the disorder and it’s a good reminder that we are all people doing what we can do. I am impressed with how far you have come in your life. From a child with anxiety and fear to a man that has faced his challenges and won’t be defeated.

    I loved these words: “Hiding a stutter by avoiding words or other techniques can be draining. By disclosing my stutter, I can concentrate more and channel my energy on what I want to say, rather than consuming some of the energy with circumventing words.” I don’t think I have heard that concept put in such an easily understood way.

    You are an inspiration to all facing challenges. Thank you for sharing your story. I wish you the best as you continue to face your challenges head on.

    Heather

    • Maddy-Great question. I read a paper by another SLP in this online conference who stated that in working with Person Who Stutter (PWS), their focus was on the P. I said to myself this is awesome. I believe it’s important to get to know the individual you’re working with beyond ‘working on the stutter’. Its important to create a relationship.

  14. LJ,
    I am currently a Speech Language Pathology and Audiology major and found your video to be very interesting. What was the most effective form of speech therapy that made you comfortable enough to stop hiding your stutter and helped you to embrace it?

    • Megan-Thank you for the note. I had been hiding my stutter for years, and it wasn’t working for me. I got to a point where I had to change. I don’t know that I would use the word ‘comfortable’ when in comes to being open about my stutter. Someone once said, you have to be comfortable with the uncomfortable.

  15. Hello LJ,

    I thought your ISAD post was beautifully-written and incredibly interesting. Your piece on vulnerability and journey to self-acceptance was wonderful to read from a graduate speech-language pathology student perspective. Even as a person who does not stutter, I find your attitude to be inspiring to living life in general! It sounds like from both your original post and responses to comments that speech therapy was a mostly positive one. I find it most helpful to know that you were helped more from counsel below the surface of the stuttering techniques.

    Overall, thank you for posting about yourself. I hope that you continue to strive to maintain that positive attitude and sharing your story. I will take away both clinical and personal perspectives and apply them to my own life!

    -Melissa

  16. Hi LJ – great contribution. It seems you have worked extremely hard on yourself and determining exactly what is important and what is not.
    I really love your definition of and examples of self discipline.
    You set priorities and set time aside for those priorities. Being so focused of course helps us achieve exactly what we wish to.
    I wish it were easier for me to really stay disciplined. Sometimes I take on more than I should and then that really interferes with taking care of myself.
    Great advice for everyone – not just people who stutter.
    Thanks again.

    Pam

    • Thanks Pam. Self-discipline is one of the toughest thing to do. Its never easy. All we can do is do our best.

  17. Hello LJ! I truly appreciate your viewpoint on stuttering and I am inspired by how you embrace the challenges that come with stuttering. Thank you for sharing so that others will become inspired. I particularly enjoyed your statement about how no one is perfect and we shouldn’t take it all so seriously. That is a concept I think many people now a days have trouble grasping.

  18. Hi LJ,

    Thank you for sharing about your experience! I really enjoyed your explanation of Dr. Sheehan’s iceberg. I am currently in a Master’s program to become and Speech-Language Pathologist and I am taking a fluency course. Our professor really emphasizes that it is just as important to work on the aspects below the surface, as it is to work on the aspects above the surface.
    Your outlook about your stutter and life itself now is truly inspiring. I love that you are now educating others on the impact your stutter has made on your life.

    Best,
    Meghan

  19. Hello LJ,
    Thank you for your wonderful responses to the questions. It is very nice to see your pleasantry and optimism in every post.
    I am a second year SLP student and it is a friendly reminder that living with this does not sway your decisions to be happy. Although, I did read that you were not always this positive and there were times that you said you were far from it.
    This passage was a nice reminder that staying positive and working everyday to do so is key to living with stuttering. This is something I hope to remember when entering into the field.
    Thank you,
    Katelyn

  20. LJ,
    I appreciate you sharing your story. I am currently a graduate SLP student. In class, we have talked about the “iceberg” model you discussed. I feel that it is important to target what is under the iceberg in speech therapy more so than what is above the surface. I have learned in class that we cannot necessarily eliminate a stutter in speech therapy, but we can focus on eliminating those struggles (under the iceberg). I am also learning that some client’s and family members become discouraged when they hear that SLPs cannot “fix” their stutter. Do you have any advice for a future SLP when talking with clients about why what is under the iceberg is more important than what is at the surface, and how targeting that will benefit them? I do not want to discourage clients when discussing realistic goals.
    Thank you for your time,
    Emily

  21. Hello LJ,
    Thank you so much for sharing your experience! It is very inspiring to hear about your personal experience with stuttering and to see how you can reflect on your experience as a person who stutters without allowing it to impact your quality of life. It is wonderful to see how you can now acknowledge that you are a person who stutters without avoiding it and having all the other negative emotions you mentioned you used to have. I agree with you, it must be very stressful to think what to say and how you sound when speaking and I can understand how accepting stuttering made communication a lot easier for you. You mentioned that you are from Zimbabwe and I was curious to learn how your culture views people who stutter. I’ve immigrated from Romania and I know that Romanians in general have a much harsher perspective towards stuttering than Americans in the United States. I was wondering if your cultural background possibly influenced you to view stuttering as something that was terrible and to be avoided.

  22. Thank you so much for sharing your story, LJ. As a pws and migrant I recognize so much from your life and stuttering journey. Your last paragraph made me happy, as that’s what it’s all about. Fluency is nice, but feeling good about yourself, no matter what, is the true gift. I’ve been blessed to have been to the world congress in South Africa in 1995 and hope to return to Africa, as I somehow feel I have roots there.

    Keep talking and keep inspiring.