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.

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Comments

My Experience with Stuttering and Therapy – LJ Muchenje — 16 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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?

  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?

    -Colton

  8. 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

  9. 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

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