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 — 53 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.

    • Hi and thanks for your comment! Having attended a conference before definitely made me more willing to go up there. I remember my first conference and how I thought it was so amazing to see people challenge themselves in that way. I desperately wanted to do it in Atlanta too, but I was too scared to do it then. I knew I would regret it if I didn’t take the chance in Chicago. And I’m so glad I did! Seeing other people do it, both in Atlanta and the ones who went up before me in Chicago, definitely gave me strength to do it too. I try to think of that moment on stage to remind me that I am more than my fears! It’s a good reminder whenever I’m in doubt to know that I am capable of doing things I could only ever dream of.

  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

    • Hi Kristin! Thank you for taking the time to comment and for your kind words. I don’t feel like I can give much advice on public speaking. Going up on stage in Chicago was my first public speech since high school. It was definitely one of the scariest things I’ve done, but I also knew I was in a safe environment and that made it easier. But it has given me motivation and inspiration to keep pushing towards more public speaking 🙂

  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!

    • Hi! Thank you very much. I’m glad you enjoyed reading it! Yes, for sure it has made me more confident. I always used to feel very lonely with my struggles and finding NSA has been life changing. I now have a family I didn’t know I had and I only wish I’d find something like that sooner. I struggled a lot with acceptance growing up and I think a group like that could’ve helped me. I think it’s very important to try to reach out to kids early to help them maybe ease into it without having to go through so much hurt. All kids (and any human being) want to feel like they’re not alone, that they belong somewhere. I can’t put into words how important it is to spread the word that stuttering is okay, and not teach kids (and the rest of the world) that it is something you need to “cure”. Having that mindset is what really makes more damage than just having a stutter. I look at it this way. I don’t “suffer” from having a stutter – I suffer from the way society sometimes views stuttering. That’s why it’s so important to educate, educate, educate. Friends, family, coworkers, strangers, kids. Anyone can make a difference here!

  9. Hi Andrea, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I bet your teacher has long since forgotten about her question, but it has stuck in your mind for all these years. I guess it goes to show how powerful words can be, for the good or for bad. Thank you for having the courage to share you experience!

    • Hi! Yes, I think she probably didn’t even think twice about it while for me it was a prominent moment that followed me all through my childhood to this moment. Crazy! Thank you for your support!

  10. Hi Andrea! I love this article and I appreciate you making yourself vulnerable and open in order to share your important story with the world. Thank You!

    • Thank you for your comment! It’s so scary being vulnerable but also very rewarding when you get this amount of support and love. Just goes to show how amazing the stuttering community is!

  11. Andrea,

    Thank you so much for sharing this emotional piece, you are an excellent writer, I was truly captivated while reading this. It is very uplifting to see how far you have come from that girl who was asked to stutter less. I am currently an SLP undergraduate student, and I just wanted to know do you plan on doing more public speaking after this uplifting moment? Your courage and confidence is truly contagious.

    Thank you again for sharing this experience,
    Casey

    • Hi Cassandra! Thank you for your encouraging words. It means a lot to get comments like yours! I definitely got a taste for public speaking and it is something I would like to do more of in the future. It was my first time speaking in front of a crowd like that and it was a very thrilling and empowering experience. I try to remind myself of that moment when I struggle to speak up in groups and other similar settings! Thanks!

  12. Andrea,
    Thank you for sharing your story! I am currently a Speech Language Pathology and Audiology undergraduate student who is very eager to learn. Did you try therapy as a child or was that not an option for you at the time? If you did not try therapy, do you think it could have been beneficial?

    • Hi! Thank you for your question. I went to speech therapy for the first time in my early teens and I was very ashamed and not receptive at all. I went to one session and then refused to go back (for years). I think it would have been beneficial for me to meet other kids who stuttered because I felt alone with my struggles. I didn’t give speech therapy a chance then, but at the same time it’s difficult to know if things would have gone any differently in terms of how long it took for me to accept my stutter. As a child, you don’t want to feel different from everyone else and the thought of speech therapy bothered me then. I think it all depends of what kind of speech therapy you get, I feel like it’s much more evolved today 🙂

  13. Hi Andrea,

    I am a Speech-Language Pathology graduate student in the United States. If not too personal, I was wondering if you could tell me your feelings towards how family members and friends have treated your stutter throughout your life? what has bothered you? what do people do that actually helps?

    I loved your story, you are a very expressive writer!

    Thank you

    • Hi! That’s a good question but also a very difficult one to answer. I think my family did the best they could at the time, but I wished we had talked about it from an early age. It became the elephant in the room and I didn’t feel like it was something we could talk about. It made me think stuttering was something shameful not to be discussed. I think that’s why I feel it’s very important for me to talk about it now and why I always say talk, talk, talk! I cannot stress it enough because that’s what I felt went wrong for me. Having a stutter can be extremely difficult and feeling like it’s okay to talk about it is no. 1. I feel like I had to figure it all out on my own and that was very lonely. Today I’m very open about if and how I want any help. Just having people around me that supports me unconditionally with love and patience is what helps me the most!

      • Andrea,
        I’m so sorry that was your experience growing up! Just so you know, in my stuttering class we are taught that talking about the stutter and how it impacts the individual is just as important as treating the stutter. We’ve been learning a lot about the psychological impact it has, and how we as Speech Therapists can also address that aspect. Thank you so much for providing me with insight into your life as a PWA, it’s always nice to see first-hand accounts. I’m happy and impressed with how you’ve taken control, and that you have support.Keep writing! you’re good at it!

        Thank you,
        Hana Esquivel

  14. Thank you for your post, Andrea. I could definitely see the creative writing skills you have developed in school! I can see how words like “Do you think you could try to stutter less?” would be very discouraging to a person who stutters, especially a child. What have been things that SLPs or family/friends have said to you over the years that were actually helpful? I’d like to learn more about helping people who stutter grow in their identity instead of being seen as having a problem that needs to be fixed.

    • Hi and thanks for your comment! That’s a very tough question, because I never talked about my stutter for the longest time. It was never discussed in my family or with my friends until I was almost out of school. But I remember the moment I talked to my friends about it for the first time and their reaction is something I will carry with me forever. I was 18 and didn’t have a lot of friends before so I was scared to lose these ones. For some reason I thought they would never like me with my stutter so I never talked about it for the first few months. They could tell, I knew that, but I pushed it away because I was ashamed. Then I sent them a group text some time after, explaining to them that I had a stutter and that it was sometimes very hard for me and that I wanted to get it off my chest. They replied with how much they loved me and how amazing they thought I were, stuttering or not. For me that was one of the turning points towards accepting my stutter, knowing I had my friends’ full support. It was crazy to realize they loved me for ME and not the times I successfully tried to hide my stutter. From the time I started talking about it, everyone has been very supportive and helped me in any way that they can. I appreciate when people ask questions instead of assuming. That’s what’s helpful to me.

  15. Thank you for sharing that emotional experience, Andrea! I found especially powerful the line where you said, “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.” What a beautiful sense of togetherness and understanding that creates, and I am so glad you were able to find that at the conference. As an undergraduate SLP student in the United States, I’d love to ask you, in your experience, was it was easy/difficult to find that sense of community? Before you ran your blog and support group, how did you connect with people who stutter in a way that let you know you were not alone? Who introduced you to these resources, or did you seek them out on your own?

    Thanks, again!

    • Hi! That’s a good question. Thanks for your comment! I was around 19 the first time I met other people who stuttered and that was at a weekend camp in my hometown. My speech therapist at the time recommend I’d go. That was a very cool experience, but I didn’t get that “community” feeling then. With a few girls that I met there, we decided to go to the Atlanta conference in 2016 together. And that truly opened my eyes, being surrounded by that many people who stuttered. I think it was that moment that I realized I had a big community, this family, behind me. I’m very happy I’ve found the NSA since our stuttering community in Sweden is very small. I hope to reach out to more people and strengthen our sense of community here, because I feel it’s very important to make sure people know they’re not alone. NSA is fantastic – I just wish it wasn’t so far away!

  16. Andrea, thank you for sharing this incredibly well-written and touching story. I cannot imagine having to face my classmates, teachers, or even strangers with the same fear that you did as a young girl. I admire your bravery in speaking of these instances, and also about your experience at the National Stuttering Association’s yearly conference in Chicago. What potential advice do you have to offer to other young women who stutter? How can they believe that they too, are “good enough?”

    -Thank you!

    • Thank you very much for liking my story. That means a lot! I would tell them everything I wish I’d known when I was younger: there’s nothing wrong with you. You deserve to be heard. Don’t be scared, don’t be quiet. Don’t hate it, don’t hide it, embrace it. You were born to stand out. Don’t let your stutter silence you. Seek out to meet other people who get you, who supports you, who loves you. Find your family. Speak up, raise your hand, say yes. Look people in the eye even when you can’t get your words out and find the strength when they laugh at you to tell them: I stutter. You will be okay. Everything will be okay.

  17. Adrea,
    This was very well written! I could feel your nervousness with how well you portrayed your emotions. Im so happy for you that you overcame and accomplished this. I was able to relate to your statement “Piece by piece, you’ve faded out and you’ve fumbled in the dark, but for what? What are you so afraid of?” I dont have a stutter but I do struggle with social anxiety and it has definitely silenced me. You’ve inspired me to not be afraid of people and just be yourself. How have you overcame that fear?
    Madison

    • Hi! Thanks for your comment. That’s awesome that you found your way here. To answer your question, it’s definitely a process. I can’t say my fears are gone because they are sometimes still there. But I just think I got to a point where I got so so so tired. Tired of pretending to be someone I wasn’t, tired of feeling scared, anxious, nervous. Tired of not being able to fully live my life the way I wanted to. I think when I got to that point, I knew I had to make a change. I had to do something, push myself so far out from my comfort zone and see where it got me. Because to keep doing what I’d always done wasn’t getting me anywhere. I just had to realize I couldn’t keep worrying what people thought of me or I’d go crazy.

      Keep fighting!

  18. Hi,

    I am a graduate student at University of Minnesota Duluth. I am going to school to be a speech and language pathologist and currently in a fluency class. Thank you so much for sharing your story! Your experience inspires me to continue on this path of helping others through this profession. I was wondering what type of advice would you give your younger self? What type of advice would you give a future speech and language pathologist who will be working with other people who stutter? Thank you so much!

    • Hi! That’s very exciting, thanks for wanting to help. The advice I would give to my younger self is not to worry so much. You’re doing fine. There’s nothing wrong with you. Stuttering isn’t shameful or something that makes you less worthy. Stand tall! I think the most important thing for future SLPs is just to have that mindset that stuttering isn’t something that needs to be fixed. I think focusing on acceptance and help people find that sense of community goes a long way. We need to teach the world to be patient and not for people who stutter to feel like they have to comprise themselves to be heard. Thanks for your comment!

  19. Hi Andrea,
    Thank you for this post. The way you illustrated this incredible moment gave me chills. It demonstrated the power of support from others who sympathize with you. I had a question regarding the girls support group you run. Do you encounter persons who clutter in your support group on Facebook? If so, do they derive the same emotions of understanding from others like them?

    • Hey! Wow, that’s awesome. Thanks! It feels very special to know that my writing can have that impact. I have yet to encounter a person who clutter in the support group, but maybe there is. I’m sorry I can’t answer your question! I’m afraid I know too little. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  20. Hi Andrea,
    I just think this was very brave and beautiful I couldn’t imagine what you go through everyday but I can say its great that you found out your never alone I wish I was as brave as you. This is really inspiration.

    • Hi! Thank you so much. You’re not alone! Sometimes little things mean you are brave too. Sometimes it’s waking up in the morning and going to work. Sometimes it’s bigger things like speaking in front of a crowd. We all do our best. That’s enough 🙂

  21. Hello Andrea,
    How brave of you to share your story with us. I am inspired by your courage and your perseverance. This passage was beautiful and touching.
    I am second year SLP student and it was nice to read this and hope that we never forget everyone has feelings and deep rooted feelings.
    Thank you,
    Katelyn

    • Hi Katelyn! Thank you so much for telling me this. I get moved from all of these nice comments! It makes my heart happy. Thanks again 🙂

  22. Andrea,
    What a touching story, and incredible writing. You are so brave, and so so inspiring, and I want to thank you for sharing this beautifully written story.

  23. Hello,
    Thank you for your beautiful writing! You so eloquently allowed others to step into your shoes for just a few moments- my heart was pounding as I read this. As a future SLP, anything I can do to further my understanding of how a client experiences their daily life is so helpful. Thank you for sharing your experience

    • Oh wow, thank you very much for this! It feels crazy to me that my writing can do that. But thank you so much for your encouraging words! It’s important for not only SLPs but everyone to know what it’s like. Once we let people see inside we understand each other better!

  24. Hello,
    I would love to thank you for sharing your story, I love your descriptive details in the story, it allowed me to put myself in your shoes for a few short moments. Your story is beautiful!

  25. I really enjoyed reading your story! I was wondering at what age did you fully accept that you have a stutter and how hard it was to get to that point of acceptance and how many times people tried to knock you down?

    • Hi! Thanks! It’s been a long process so it wasn’t a specific moment that it just happened. I started to accept my stutter around the age of 20ish but it definitely took me a few years to fully accept it. Even this last year has changed a lot for me and I realize I keep learning things about myself still. There are some days I still struggle with acceptance, because some days are harder than others. That’s why I’m happy to have a community now that reminds me when I’m feeling low, that I am enough just the way I am. And it’s not really about people trying to knock me down, I was the one standing in my own way because I was scared of what people would think. I know now that most people are good… and those few ones that laugh at me or mimic me, shouldn’t control how I live my life.

  26. Hello, Andrea
    In your story, I love that you found friends that’s going to help and support you while you faced your fears/challenges and gave your speech, thank you for sharing your story.