Would you like a m-m-m-mimosa?

kittilstvedAbout the author:  Tiffani Kittilstved is a PhD student at the University of Tennessee, studying Speech Science.  She desires to pursue a career as a professor, researcher, and clinician, working, specifically, with persons who stutter.  Tiffani is a person who stutters and desires to research the neural substrates of stuttering in order to better understand the disorder, in hopes of improving our ability, as a profession, to treat this condition.  Tiffani also advocates for the need of acceptance and empowerment for persons who stutter.  Last year was Tiffani’s first year participating in the ISAD online conference and she is honored to be back again this year.

Just about everyone who stutters can tell you that they have feared sounds or words that give them special kinds of difficulty.  Whether these fears are founded in the statistical probability of how often we stutter, using them in relation to other sounds or words is disputed. Regardless, these words and sounds have been built up in our minds to be difficult so we have become afraid of them.  We begin to sweat when we think about having to say them, and we might even avoid the word or sound altogether.  This is one of the many difficulties that co-exist with a stutter.

For me, my feared words have extended to a large variety of words in my vocabulary. However the word that was especially difficult for me this year was the word ‘mimosa’.  Despite my deep fear of this word, I had to say it ALL THE TIME – far more often than I would have liked.  Throughout this year, I worked as a server at a local restaurant/bar in Knoxville, TN, USA.  Every Saturday and Sunday morning, I was scheduled to serve.  I dreaded these shifts, trading and giving them up as often as I could.  It wasn’t that they were bad shifts – I actually made great money on those mornings – it was because we had $4 mimosa specials.  Our managers liked us to inform every guest of the daily specials and it helped us sell more of our products (which, in turn, increased our tips) so every morning I grudgingly (with a smile of course!) told my guests about our $4 mimosa specials.  And every time I did that, I stuttered….  It was horrifying.

I am, what many experts in this field call, a covert person who stutters (PWS).  Instead of stuttering openly, I do everything I can to avoid stuttering.  A wise man once said,
“Stuttering is what you do when you’re trying not to stutter.” –Johnson
There is so much truth to that statement.  The things that we do to avoid stuttering are probably far more distracting and effortful than stuttering itself.  Also, using these “tricks” makes us more and more afraid of stuttering each time we try to avoid specific words and sounds.  Instead we substitute words rather than using the words that we think will give us trouble. We talk around words that we think will be particularly difficult. We avoid talking altogether when we can’t think of a way to say what we want to say without relative fluency. We change our voices by adding accents or “playing a character”.  The list of tricks that we come up with to help us be a little bit more fluent is endless.  These tricks work for a while but pretty soon our brain catches on to what we’re doing and they stop working.  We begin to stutter in those “character voices” oron words that were previously easier for us.  Using these tricks and having to continuously change them is exhausting and it has given me a sense of evasiveness – I felt like I was pretending to be someone I was not and never saying exactly what I wanted to say.  I have now found so much freedom in stuttering openly or even voluntarily. I know it sounds crazy but it’s kind of awesome!  It enables me to say what I want to say, when I want to say it, and how I want to say it.  The time that it takes me to say it may be longer than I, and my listener, would like, but that’s the reasonable tradeoff in order to achieve a sense of credibility and express my true self.

Naturally, every time I had to say that dreaded word ‘mimosa’ I would try to do something – anything – to avoid it.  I couldn’t substitute it because there aren’t too many proper nouns that actually have synonyms (that’s the unfortunate problem with a specific language).  I tried to talk around it but my guests either didn’t understand or thought that I was weird.  Plus, the time that it takes to say “Would you like a delicious beverage that contains champagne and orange juice?” is just long and imprecise enough that most guests are no longer interested – there’s a lot of sales value lost in vague description.  I tried to avoid the word altogether by either not saying it, prayed that my telepathy would kick in and they’d magically want one on their own, or pointed to the menu that detailed our specials.  This was not ideal either, since most customers don’t really want to read at 11:00 AM on their weekend.  Plus, utilizing both sight and speech (as many senses as possible) has benefits for selling any product, so that was lost every time that I tried to get by with just pointing at the menu.  It didn’t work to simply change my voice because I was already doing that.  All of my serving shift was spent using various character voices that I have adapted and mastered in order to help me be more fluent.  It worked fairly well. By “well”, I simply mean in regards to fluency. This definitely does not imply that it was easier or better in any other way.  Even my best character voice wouldn’t work for this word; I stuttered on it every time.

Stuttering on the word ‘mimosa’ wasn’t that bad in hindsight.  In the moment, of course, it was the worst thing that could possibly be happening.  I was filled with embarrassment, shame, resentment, anxiety, frustration, and so much more.  Who knew a person could feel so much negativity just from saying one word?  That is the struggle that so many other people who stutter face every time they talk.  It wasn’t all negative though. This one consistent opportunity to stutter, enabled me to slowly become more open about my stuttering while serving – which was, at the time, one of my most difficult and feared situations to stutter in.  The week before I quit serving, I decided to try stuttering in front of my tables.  I wasn’t stuttering completely openly but I let it out quite a few times in front of each of my guests.  The responses surprised me.  Almost everyone that I served during these four shifts reacted very positively, just waiting and listening, with kindness and understanding.  It gave me several opportunities to educate people about stuttering and they were nothing but compassionate and impressed to see me doing it very boldly in public.  It was so encouraging.  With each shift that I did it, it became easier and easier.  I had a few confused looks and a couple of people who made fun of me but it was just out of misunderstanding.  When one table was making fun of me particularly harshly, I told them that I stutter and, after that, they were much kinder and more understanding (and actually tipped really well).  The biggest thing that surprised me from all of this is that my tips substantially increased!  I went from getting 20-30% to getting 40% in tips every shift that I stuttered!  I wished I had tried this earlier in my serving career!

The moral of this story, aside from encouraging people who stutter that they can make great tips as a waitress, is the freedom and unseen benefit of stuttering openly.  Throughout my experiences with serving and, in many other situations in my life as well, I have learned that stuttering is not the most terrible thing that could happen.  Although it may feel that way before, and during that moment of stuttering, the positives outweigh the negatives in the long term.  Stuttering openly provides the person who stutters the ability to free themselves of the burden of trying so hard to avoid stuttering.  It enables them to be genuine and authentic with the people they interact with, instead of pretending to be someone that they are not.  We have a right to express ourselves when and how we want to – because we have voices.  Our voices may not be perfect but they are ours and they are a part of us.  There is so much empowerment that can be felt by embracing your real voice – stuttering and all.  As demonstrated in this story, many people really don’t care; heck, they even thought more highly of me when I stuttered!  Some people will react in a negative way, mostly out of ignorance, but they really don’t matter.  We will never please everyone. It is fruitless to try.  There is so much personal benefit that can be gained by stuttering openly that a few confused looks, or frustrating interactions, is a small cost to pay for such an amazing feeling of vulnerability, acceptance, and empowerment.

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Would you like a m-m-m-mimosa? — 129 Comments

  1. Tiffani,

    Thank you so much for sharing your story! I loved the point that you touched on how difficult it can be to use so many strategies constantly during communicative opportunities. I am currently a first-year graduate student and we often talk about different strategies that are more effective than others, but as you probably know well, every one is different and what works for one individual may not work for the next. The fact that you could embrace those situations where you could not avoid stuttering just exudes self-confidence and empowerment! In class, we have been asked to pseudostutter from time-to-time, and to be honest, I often rely on my classmates to simulate this and avoid it myself due to embarrassment and anxiety. I give you a lot of credit for owning those situations and making the most of them! Thank you again for sharing and for encouraging PWS to be confident!

    ~Chelsea McKinnis

  2. Tiffani,
    I admire your confidence and bravery! Your story is so inspiring, for those who stutter and even for those who don’t. I love how you had such a positive experience with something you avoided so greatly and saw as so negative. I am a speech-language pathology graduate student and I really enjoy learning about this realm of communication disorders. I feel silly asking, but my question for you is: I noticed how you used “character voices” when you wanted to avoid stuttering. By the term “character voice”, does this mean you spoke as a character? Or is this a commonly used term that refers to stutterers who just avoid using their own voice in general? If you did indeed speak as a character which voices would you use and what about this voice made speaking more fluent?
    Also, where are you working now? Did you start your next job with the same acceptance of yourself as how you left your waitress position? Wish you the best and thank you so much for sharing your story!
    Lisa Ricottone

  3. Tiffani—
    I am a second-year graduate student studying speech- language pathology at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. I am currently taking an advanced stuttering course and we spend a significant amount of time talking about the perceptions, emotions, and stigma of stuttering. You have expressed that you have traded off your covert behavior for embracing your stutter, which I admire considerably. You went to extreme lengths to hide your stutter while being a server. I believe your article radiates a sense of empowerment that results when one becomes comfortable in their own skin. Was there a specific moment in your life that triggered your avoidance to stutter? Do you find yourself avoiding certain words unconsciously even after finding acceptance? In your opinion, what can SLPs do to encourage acceptance?

    Furthermore, PWS tend to experience difficulty with finding a job. Was it difficult for you to land a serving position or any job? As a future speech language pathologist, what would your advice for clinicians working with covert PWS? At the present time, I have no experience with the assessment and treatment of stuttering, so your guidance would be much appreciated. Thank you for sharing your admirable story!

  4. Tiffani-
    I am also a graduate student studying speech language pathology at Idaho State University. I also am a waitress at Red Robin (a burger joint). I can only imagine the day to day anxiety on top of working at a busy restaurant! To be made fun of by customers is unacceptable, I can’t believe you had to put up with that! But cheers to you for letting them know about stuttering and putting them in their place 🙂
    I thought it was pretty funny (and perhaps a good technique!)that people tipped you better once you embraced your stutter, perhaps it is similar to being pregnant? I have heard people tip pregnant waitresses better as well.
    I am eager to read your response to warzonek2015′ questions!

  5. Tiffani,
    I really enjoyed reading your story and felt inspired by your confidence. I am a graduate student in Speech Language Pathology and was just wondering what advice you have for future clinicians when treating people who stutter? I find the balance between providing treatment but also empowering clients to be confident in their study to be difficult to manage. I think sometimes speech therapy can be a negative experience for people who stutter but I would like for it to be positive! How can we best be our clients’ cheerleaders but still providing them services that they are happy with?

  6. Hi Tiffani,
    I admire your bravery and confidence! You are an inspiration for both those who stutter and for those that don’t! I am an aspiring speech-language pathologist and am in my first stuttering class. I am not familiar with this realm of communication disorders and I truly enjoy learning about it, especially from firsthand experiences as your story. I feel silly asking, but my question for you is : When you discuss in your story how you used “character voices”, were these actually voices of different characters? Or is this a term that refers to avoiding stuttering in general? If they were indeed characters, what about these voices helped you to avoid stuttering?
    Also, where do you work now and did you carry over the same self confidence into the new job? Are there any difficulties in this new job that you face as a stutterer? If so how do you cope? Sorry for so many questions! Wishing you the best and thank you for sharing your story!

    Lisa Ricottone

  7. Tiffani,

    I am currently a Speech-Language Pathology graduate student and in a Fluency class this semester. I really enjoyed reading about your experiences as a PWS, and I was wondering, in what moment or situation did you officially decide that it was time for you to openly stutter all/most of the time? Thank you so much for sharing with us!

  8. Hi Tiffani,
    Thank you so much for sharing your story! It is very inspirational and well written. I’m so glad that even though you were not comfortable stuttering in front of your tables, you took the opportunity during your last week of work to do so. Not only did you no longer have to fear how to go about offering the $4 Mimosa special, but you even got an extra bonus with your tips increasing! Everyone should feel comfortable using their own voice, and I’m glad you’ve become so confident in yours. There will always be negative people, but don’t ever let them shake you.

    Kimberly Somoano

  9. Hi Tiffiani!
    I really enjoyed reading your article. You give fantastic insight into what it is like to stutter. It made me smile to read that your customers were positive and understanding. I think it is wonderful that you were able to help customers understand more about stuttering as you became more comfortable stuttering at your job. I hope more people take your advice and find ways to become more comfortable openly stuttering and are empowered by freedom it provides.

  10. Hi Tiffani,

    I am a second year graduate student in Speech Language Pathology. It was really interesting to hear about your experience with avoiding stuttering and coming to be more accepting of the overt aspects of your stuttering. It seems like this was a really empowering experience for you. Do you have any advice for how a SLP can help their clients who stutter to not avoid saying what they want to say in order to avoid stuttering?

  11. Hi Tiffani,
    You are to be admired for your courage and commended for being employed in such a communicatively demanding job while facing your stuttering head on. While I am disappointed to know that there are people in society who would show such disrespect to you by teasing/making fun of your stutter, I am glad you chose to use those situations to empower yourself and become a person who is comfortable with herself just the way she is. I am currently a graduate student at Idaho State University and in my second year of their SLP program. This semester I am taking a fluency disorders class where we are learning a lot about the theories behind stuttering. It is very beneficial to read personal stories written by PWS as it gives me insight into the struggles in which my future clients may encounter. I, too, wondered the same thing as the previous person – the “character voices” to which you refer in your story, were these real characters you were mimicking or just your reference to the voice you would use in an attempt to reduce or avoid stuttering? Wishing you the best of everything in the future!!

    Kari Pascoe

  12. Hi Tiffani,
    Thanks so much for sharing your story. I am also an SLP graduate student and just today did my pseudo-stuttering assignment for the day. 😉 I AM EXHAUSTED! To concentrate on changing your speech and thinking about it all day was almost more than I could take.
    I am glad you experienced that freedom when stuttering openly. I am even more glad that you monetarily rewarded for it!
    Thank you again for sharing your experience and allowing me to take from it.
    Kendra S

  13. Hi Tiffani,
    Thanks so much for sharing your story. I am also an SLP graduate student and just today did my pseudo-stuttering assignment for the day. 😉 I AM EXHAUSTED! To concentrate on changing your speech and thinking about it all day was almost more than I could take.
    I am glad you experienced that freedom when stuttering openly. I am even more glad that you monetarily rewarded for it!
    Thank you again for sharing your experience and allowing me to take from it.
    Kendra S

  14. Tiffani,

    Thank you for sharing such an inspirational story. Currently, I am a first-year graduate student studying speech-language pathology and have recently been learning about avoidance behaviors associated with stuttering for a fluency course I am enrolled in. Personally, I love how you mentioned the quote – “Stuttering is what you do when you’re trying not to stutter.” –Johnson. That statement is currently in my notes for my fluency disorders course and I believe it holds so much truth. Your story is such a great example for individuals who are experiencing the same characteristics associated with stuttering. I admire your honesty and I hope people truly understand the benefits of stuttering openly. Again, thanks for sharing!


  15. Tiffani,

    Thank you for sharing your story. I also am an SLP graduate student, and I am so grateful for your story, and the others, because they are helping me to understand all of the sometimes dry and impersonal book knowledge that I’ve learned on a much more personal and real level. No amount of hearing about the fear and effort and feelings of inauthenticity of covert stuttering in class has made as much of an impact as hearing your story, from living your own life. So thank you again. Your take home message about embracing the real you and freeing yourself is so empowering, and I think it would help many people, both those who do and those who do not stutter, to hear it and live it.

    Also, reading some of your comments, I have found your view of balancing (whatever that balance may be) stuttering openly with using strategies as needed/wanted very realistic and insightful and will be something that I keep in mind as a future clinician.


  16. Hi Tiffani! I loved reading this paper and how I could just feel the confidence that you have with who you are. Self-confidence and acceptance is a huge part of therapy and it is often something that seems to fall by the wayside. It is often hard to be accepting of who we are when we are different from others, and you are a great example of how happiness comes from finally putting ourselves out there with all of our uniqueness. How do you think we can teach this to young children though? I know growing up and being confident in ourselves is hard enough and it seems to just come with age, but I think the younger we can teach self acceptance the better quality of life the PWS will have and the less anxiety they will experience.
    Thanks, Miranda.

  17. Hi Tiffani,
    Thank you for such an honest and humorous account of your struggles with covert stuttering. As a speech-language pathology graduate student, hearing a positive account like yours makes me even more excited for the career I am about to head into. While you came to the conclusion that openly stuttering is the best thing you can do for yourself, I hope to someday be a catalyst for someone else to also find acceptance of being a person who stutters and being proud of who they are. Your story is not only beneficial for people who stutter, but for anyone who privately struggles with something and fears what people will think about them if they show their true self. I admire your bravery and hope that I can too can overcome any anxieties and be my true self!

  18. Hi Tiffany. Have you ever been to a speech-language pathologist to receive services for your stutter? Just out of curiosity and as a future SLP it would be interesting to know if any techniques they taught you either benefited you or simply was a waste of time. Also, I am so glad that you started to become increasingly comfortable with your stutter. By offering a disclosure agreement to your customers you received (mostly) positive reactions and your attitude towards your own stutter shifted. I hope your increased confidence has remained and that you are sharing your story and experiences with other people who stutter to assist them in their journey of potential acceptance.

  19. Tiffani,
    Thank you for sharing such an honest story. Currently, I am a second-year graduate student studying speech-language pathology. This semester I’m learning about the different types of avoidance behaviors associated with stuttering, and found your story really educational. It’s interesting to hear what tactics people have tried in the past not to stutter. Im happy that you found freedom in stuttering openly. I will definitly use what I’ve learned from your story to integrate it into my future practice. Again, thanks for sharing!

  20. Tiffani,

    I think that the first step to truly loving yourself and embracing your stutter is to confront it head on, rather than fearing it and avoiding it, just as you did towards the end of your narrative. As a current server and an SLP graduate student, your behaviors and thoughts resultant of your stutter are exactly what I have witnessed and/or learned about. How long have you been stuttering for? Did you grow up stuttering and just recently begin stuttering openly, or is the stuttering a new diagnosis that you decided to confront head-on soon after becoming diagnosed? I currently have a friend who is a covert person who stutters, and who only feels comfortable being an “open stutterer” around family and close friends, such as myself. Should I share your story with him and convince him to be open to stuttering freely, or should I let him continue doing what he is most comfortable with (which is primarily avoiding the stutter via circumlocution and other strategies)? What would you recommend, as someone who has experienced this first hand?

    Thank you for sharing this post, and good luck pursuing your career!

  21. Tiffani,

    Thank you for sharing your story. I am currently a graduate student in speech language pathology and am enrolled in a fluency course this semester. We recently had an assignment where we were asked to go out into the community and pseudo stutter for a day. I was shocked by how instantly I became self-conscious about speaking with unfamiliar listeners. As a future SLP, I was wondering how you would recommend a instilling the confidence in a client to openly stutter and not be so afraid of what others might think?

  22. Tiffani,

    Thank you so much for sharing your story! I am currently a first-year graduate student studying speech-language pathology and I am currently taking a class on fluency. These past couple months, I have learned an ample amount of information about stuttering and while reading your story I could relate my knowledge to the actual reality of stuttering. You are so brave to have the confidence to be a waitress and I think its great that you feel so free to stutter in front of your customers! I feel that your story will have a positive effect on many PWS and will hopefully give them a boost of confidence to freely stutter instead of feeling uncomfortable and trying to avoid the behavior. Thank you again!


  23. Hi Tiffani,
    Great article! Thank you for sharing your struggles with us, and helping people who don’t stutter gain insight into the world of people who do! I applaud you for accepting your “voice” and having such a wonderfully positive attitude towards it! I hope other individuals draw strength and empowerment from your courage and follow your lead to openly stutter.

  24. Hi Tiffani,

    I really enjoyed reading your paper! I served for two years at a restaurant, and it was one of the most stressful jobs I have ever had. Promoting specials is something that you have to do even if you lack the time and/or motivation. It is awesome that you continued working despite your discomfort with your stuttering. It is so inspiring that you reached a place where you were able to be comfortable with who you are and let your stuttering shine through.

  25. Tiffani,

    I really enjoyed reading your story and appreciate you sharing it with everyone. I really love that you were making much better tips once you were open about your stutter. A lot of the time, we expect the worst and think people’s thoughts are worse than they are. You are right in the fact that most people don’t care. What advice do you have for a person who feels too embarrassed to be more open about their stutter? What kinds of things do you think we, as clinicians, can do to encourage PWS to be more open and honest? I will definitely share these articles with my future stuttering clients. I think it is so important for PWS to know that how they are feeling is common and they are not alone. Although it feels like it is the worst thing in the moment, stuttering is not the worst thing. I wish you luck and thank you again for sharing!

    Kind regards,

  26. Tiffani,

    What a great story, thank you for sharing it. Your self description of being a “covert PWS” is really interesting. I am a graduate student and really appreciate how well you captured your feelings of anxiety and embarrassment, it provides great insight for a new clinician like myself. You mention how using “tricks” and avoidance strategies can often be more distracting to both the PWS and the listener, how awesome that you were able to develop more self awareness and openness with stuttering.

    Thanks for an enjoyable and informative read,
    Kaylie Senger

  27. Hi Tiffani,

    Wow what a great read! You are such an eloquent writer, I really enjoyed reading your story. I am graduate student in Speech Language Pathology and am currently in a Disorders of Fluency course…very interesting and humbling stuff! One of the most humbling aspects of this part of our field is the resilience I see in people who stutter! This line really caught my attention: “Using these tricks and having to continuously change them is exhausting and it has given me a sense of evasiveness – I felt like I was pretending to be someone I was not and never saying exactly what I wanted to say.” As someone who does not stutter, I can’t really quite imagine this. It sounds incredibly frustrating, disheartening and like you said- exhausting- to be someone you’re not and still not even say what you want to say. It is so refreshing to see you view your stuttering in a positive light. It is so difficult to see individuals experiencing all the emotions you mentioned. I am glad you are able to share your stories and confidence with all! Thank you for sharing this experience with us!


  28. Hi Tiffani,
    My name is Karen and I’m a first year graduate student in Speech Language Pathology at Edinboro University in Edinboro, PA taking a Fluency Disorders class this semester. I admire your desire to research the neural aspects of the disorder and to pursue a career as a clinician to work with persons who stutter. I also would be interested in how using a “character voice” made speaking more fluent. I’m positive that you have reached many, especially cover stutters, who feel trapped and isolated who now may have more confidence in interacting with the general public. Your strategy to put yourself out there in your waitressing job will carry over positively in your future endeavors!


  29. Hi Tiffani!

    Thank you so much for sharing your story and wisdom. I am a second year graduate student studying communicative disorders in California. I have always been intrigued by fluency disorders but incredibly intimidated about working with fluency clients. It is so helpful to hear the perspective of a person who stutters. I think it is absolutely great that you found acceptance of your stutter as the best way of “handling” it. I find your empowerment inspiring and I am so grateful for you sharing your story. Not only does your story help other people who stutter, but it helps future and current speech language pathologists understand the emotional aspect of stuttering. I also believe it is absolutely great that you are interested in researching the neural aspects of stuttering!

    Thanks again and good luck in your future endeavors!


  30. Hi Tiffany,

    Thank you so much for sharing such an episode and your thousand ways of reaction! I was surprised to learn that a PWS could adopt and master voices, among other methods, to disguise the stutter. It seems that even someone like you, who seems able to get on top of your stuttering, have to struggle with a feared word every time it comes up. I wonder how you got motivated to stutter openly in the first place?

  31. Hi Tiffani,
    I am a speech language pathology grad student and I really enjoyed your article. How did you decide to be a waitress? I know when I first started in the restaurant business, I was so nervous to begin waiting tables, and I am not a PWS. I can’t imagine how nervous I would have been had that been the case. I know that many PWS avoid careers, jobs, and situations that require them to speak in front of people. How did you find the courage to voluntarily speak in front of people on a regular basis?
    Thank you!