When in doubt – Andrea Stéen

About the Author: My name is Andrea, I’m 24 and I’m a person who stutters. I live in Göteborg, Sweden and I’m currently a student enrolled at Linnéuniversitetet for a class in creative writing. I also work part time at a sports department store. I’ve stuttered since I could talk and spent many years struggling with acceptance. Now I’m involved with the stuttering community in any way that I can to spread the word about stuttering. I blog about my daily life with a stutter on www.andreasays.se and together with a friend run a girls’ support group on Facebook for women who stutter in Sweden. I’ve always loved writing and it was for a long time the only way I felt I could express myself. This paper is something I wrote about my experience at this year’s National Stuttering Association’s conference in Chicago. It’s about facing your fears and letting go.

You’re nine. Your bare knees rub against the cool linoleum floor in the classroom that is now a stage for the day. You wait patiently and fiddle with the sleeve of your shirt while a girl a few grades above you lives out the role as Cinderella; spinning around as if she’s showing off the layered, pink dress for you. It’s this year’s theme week, a week where every student gets the chance to try something new. You had hesitantly signed up for drama a few weeks earlier. You let out a giggle in the role as one of the mice, thinking it’s almost your turn.

The sun sneaks out from behind the clouds and casts a dancing shimmer along the wall opposite the windows lining up on one side of the classroom. The clock on the wall above the white board tells you the school day is just about to end. On the board, which isn’t as white anymore because of all the black lines written with a permanent marker, has this week’s schedule on it. The class only have a week to put the play together, time is short, and the air is filled with middle schoolers’ giggles.

You’re up next. It’s time for your line. It feels like a thousand butterflies is flying around in your stomach. Two lines are over in the matter of seconds and you exhale, thinking that you pulled it off. You already can’t wait for the next run-through. You turn to your classmate who is sitting next to you, but before she can say her line one of the teachers clears her throat.

”Andrea?”

You nod in reply.

”Do you think you could try to stutter less?”

You’re 24. You’re in Chicago for the National Stuttering Association’s yearly conference for people who stutter. You stare on your lap and start tapping with your index finger on the side of your phone, while the murmur fades out in the giant hall. It’s the weekend’s last workshop, closing microphone, and anyone who wants to take the stage can. It’s time for the next person in line, a girl waits for her turn right by the steps leading up to the podium that is placed on the small stage. You take a quick glance around the room. Your roommates are seated beside you and you register several other familiar faces in the crowd. A friend sitting a few seats to your right notices the panic in your eyes and nods in encouragement. He knows what you are considering doing, he knows you want to and it’s true, you want nothing else. The knot in your stomach grows bigger and you can feel the nausea sneaking up on you. You clench the phone in your hand and leave sweaty marks from your palm on it.

The hall fills over a hundred people. On the patterned orange carpet, chairs are lines up facing the stage. It’s a room made for great events, speeches, and important performances. The ceiling is high, and you feel small. You fiddle with one of the holes of your blue denim jeans, shift in your seat and listens only halfhearted to the girl’s story. Fear gets a hold of you, like it has done so many times before and you always tend to listen to it as if it’s a warning. Don’t speak. Don’t say what you want to say. Don’t open your mouth. Don’t lose control. Run. Protect yourself.

You like talking. In fact, when you were little you loved to perform, to dance and sing, to be the center of attention. But for every taunting laugh, for every mimic, for every ridiculed moment, for every “did you forget your name or something?”, for every glance and for every belittling comment, you’ve become quiet. Piece by piece, you’ve faded out and you’ve fumbled in the dark, but for what? What are you so afraid of?

You take an unsteady breath, because you’ve made up your mind now. You will go up on that stage. As you rapidly stand up and mumble in apology when passing the people in your row, you avoid eye contact with everyone. There are only two people in front of you as you line up, your pulse rings in your ears, and you put a hand on your chest above your heart and it screams at you not to do it. Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. It pounds as if you’re sitting halfway out from an airplane, staring down in nothing knowing you must jump and there’s no turning back. It pounds as if you’re standing in front of your class in high school and you can’t get out the words you want to say, the ones you’ve been practicing a thousand times, the ones you’re repeating in your head over and over again – but to no use. It pounds as if you’re standing with a group of boys when you’re 17 and you shake their hand to introduce yourself, but when you try to say your name, one word, three syllables, six letters, all that comes out is an emptiness that will silent you for many more years to come.

You’re up next. You don’t know how, but suddenly the microphone is only a few inches away. You turn your head up as the wall you’ve built starts to tumble down. It crumbles in the sea of people and you let out a soft ”hi” and ”I can’t believe I’m actually doing this”. Then you cry. And they all cry with you because they just know, they understand, they know your fears because they have the exact same ones and they let you be, just the way you are.

You meet your friends’ tearful eyes and you thank them, because they are friends you didn’t have four days ago but who already know the deepest darkness within your heart and how it’s lit up again. Because you’re not in doubt anymore. You’re not alone. You are good enough. You can do anything.

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Comments

When in doubt – Andrea Stéen — 13 Comments

  1. Wow, Andrea, what an incredibly powerful story. I am so glad you shared it and I’m so glad you allowed yourself to get up on that stage and do the Open Mic. The victory is in doing, right?

    Was this your first NSA conference? I was there too. I’m sorry our paths didn’t cross. Being from Sweden, what made you decide to come over to the USA for the Chicago conference?

    Oh, I would love to hear more about your experiences at the conference and what you are doing in Sweden with the girls support group and women who stutter. In fact, I think we should all hear about that. Please consider being a guest on my podcast, “Women Who Stutter: Our Stories.” You are doing amazing things and I look forward to hearing about your continued journey and your obvious track toward leadership in the stuttering community. Thank you for all you do!

    • Hi Pam! So sorry for my late reply. Thank you very much for you sweet message. This was my 2nd conference, my first one was in Atlanta 2016 and it changed my life. It was the world conference then so a few friends and I decided to go. This time I went by myself! I loved every minute of it.

      Too bad our paths didn’t cross. I heard you speak in some of the workshops and you seem like a wonderful woman. I love that you have a podcast for women who stutter! The thought of being on your podcast definitely makes me anxious but I’d be honored to. Let’s keep in touch! I’ll add you on Facebook.

      Thank you for your support!

  2. Hej Andrea 🙂 What you are doing with your podcast, your Instagram, your meetings for WWS and all other things you do, are so amazing! You’ve come a long way and are paying it forward. But not just that. Your way of writing is so descritive, you should write a book! Maybe even a columnist for our newsletter? Thanks for sharing this experience. My first NSA was also overwhelming and I was so happy I had a friend around. I hope to be able to make it to the next meetup. 🙂 Glad ISD.

    • Tack Anita! Thank you for being an inspiration and role model for people who stutter in Sweden. We are lucky to have you! Thank you for your support! It would be amazing to get to be a columnist for the paper. Let’s talk soon!

  3. MY heart was pounding as I read this. You’ve really captured how both scary and thrilling it is to do the open mic. And that connection of understanding. Wow, what a gifted writer you are! I look forward to your future creative endeavours.

    • Wow! Thank you for your seeet words! I’ve always loved writing and well, having a stutter, it was for a long time the only way of communication that I felt safe with. It’s a bit nerve wracking writing in English when it’s not your first language. So thank you very much for your encouragement! That makes me happy.

  4. Hi Andrea – First of all, you’re an amazing writer! Your ability to tell your story is phenomenal and it really touched me! I admire the leap you took to get up on that stage! I look forward to reading your blog. I would like to know more about the Facebook support group for women who stutter that you help run. How/when was that created and how has it impacted you?

    Thanks,
    Kayla

    • Hi Kayla! Thank you for taking your time to comment. Getting to that point to go up on that stage was one of the scariest things I’ve done, but I’m so happy I did. It was all because of the love and support at the conference.

      About a year ago I decided to start a blog and it was about that time too that I decided I wanted to be more involved with the stuttering community where I live. There wasn’t a whole lot happening there, so I got involved in every way that I could. I met up with a girl through facebook and we quickly became friends. We both wanted to become involved and felt like a women support group was something that we missed. There are some other support groups on Facebook for people who stutter in Sweden but none for just women. We all know how hard it can be having a stutter and sometimes women feel more comfortable talking about it with other women. So we created a safe zone for any woman who wants to connect and had our first meet-up in August. We ended up being 6 girls and had a blast! Next meet-up is in a few weeks and we hope to have regular meet-ups where we can hang out and have fun without worrying about anything else. It definitely has impacted me in a very positive way and I hope it can continue to bring women together in a supporting and empowering environment! Thank you for your question!

  5. Hello Andrea! Such a beautifully written piece. As I was reading through, I got stuck on the part when the teacher said, “Do you think you could try to stutter less?” Such a simple statement could really impact a person’s life. I feel a lot of people don’t understand what stuttering is and would benefit from education about it. I am currently a graduate student studying to become a SLP and am interested in ways to advocate for my clients who stutter. Based on your experiences with stuttering, what are some ways you would educate an individual who interacts daily with a person who stutters (e.g, teacher, classmates)?

    • Hi! Thank you very much for your comment. That is a great question! I would encourage them to ask questions and be curious. I know I appreciate it when people ask me questions about stuttering rather than to just tip toe around the subject. I feel like in general just to be open minded and patient, and know that stuttering is just something some people do. Some might want others to help them finish their sentence, some don’t. Best way to find out is to talk about it. And definitely educate themselves if they don’t feel like they can ask. Google is your friend! There are many myths that live on because not many people are well read when it comes to stuttering. Breaking myths is important to do to help change the way the world views stuttering. And it can start with one simple question 🙂

  6. Hi Andrea! Thank you for sharing your story. I read through some of the other comments and saw that the Chicago conference was your second time attending an NSA conference. Do you feel that having attended an NSA conference before helped you have the courage to speak on stage at the Chicago conference? I’m also wondering if the effect of sharing your story on the stage has stuck with you (i.e. do you feel more confident in yourself or in sharing your story? do you ever look back to recall how you felt speaking on stage?)? I appreciate your time and look forward to hearing from you.

  7. Hi Andrea,

    I found this post to be incredibly captivating and moving! It was powerful to read about your decision to speak on stage at the NSA conference. As a Speech-Language Pathology graduate clinician, I have witnessed the fear that public speaking can instill in one of my client’s who stutters. What is the best piece of advice you can share regarding public speaking? Do you feel your experience as the NSA conference allowed you to become more self-confident when speaking to a crowd?

    Thank you,
    Kristin

  8. Hey Andrea!
    This was such a moving piece to read! You are an excellent writer and portrayed your feelings through words so well. Do you think getting involved with groups such as NSA and the Facebook support group have helped you become more confident and more accepting of your stuttering? Would it have been beneficial for you to have a support group as a child when you were just learning how to cope with stuttering?
    I look forward to hearing from you! Thanks for sharing!

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