|About the Author: James Hayden is a 26 year old New Orleans resident, New Orleans Saints fan, Survivor super fan, writer, and a person who stutters. James is the author of Dear World, I Stutter: A Series of Open Letters from a Person Who Stutters. James’ work has also been published by The Stuttering Foundation, The Mighty, MSN, and Yahoo.|
Growth through speaking is the best way to describe my journey with stuttering over the past two and a half years. It took me getting out of my comfort zone and openly talking about stuttering to many people, mostly of who were complete strangers, to get me more comfortable with stuttering. It sounds like a lyric that Alanis Morissette could include in an updated version of her song “Ironic,” doesn’t it?
Let’s backtrack to how we got to this point. If you would’ve told me two and a half years ago that I would be more than happy and actively looking for opportunities to stand on a stage or appear on podcasts to discuss my journey stuttering I would’ve laughed in your face and said, “Not in a million years.” Funny how things can change over two and a half years. Now, talking to different groups about stuttering and my journey with it is one of my biggest passions.
It started in spring of 2017 when the chapter leader of my stuttering support group asked me if I wanted to speak to his SLP class about my journey with stuttering. I said, “Sure.” I had only been going to these meetings for a little more than a year and I was ok with and had generally accepted my stutter. I was ok with talking about stuttering in my support group or one on one conversations with people I knew, but this was a whole new ball game. I had done a similar thing during my time in speech therapy, but it was done more so to get me comfortable with public speaking than willingly sharing my story. At the time, I thought it would be nothing more than a cool experience and a day off of work. Little did I know how much that invite would impact my life.
The day arrived and I loved it. I realized that talking about my journey with stuttering, up to that point, was cathartic for me. Also, I enjoyed educating the next batch of speech language pathologists. Around the same time, I participated in a panel discussion about stuttering that was open to the community. These two events got me more comfortable with talking about stuttering and as a result helped me discover my voice as well as my passion for stuttering advocacy.
Once I spoke to his class and was a member of the panel, I knew I wanted to continue speaking about stuttering. So I took my speaking to a different medium, the written word. I began writing about my experiences through stuttering. My writings eventually turned into a book and opened doors for me I could not imagine possible. I write because it is cathartic for me, shows others they are not alone in this journey we call stuttering, and most importantly it allows me the opportunity to be the person I needed when I was younger: someone who says stuttering is ok and nothing to be embarrassed by.
This pinnacle of this journey, so far, of growing through speaking was on June 12, 2019 when I was one of the eleven speakers at the inaugural TEDxOchsner. I spent nearly five minutes talking to a room of 300 colleagues and livestreamed for 25,000 more and stuttered hard during my entire talk. Yet, I walked off the stage as proud as can be. Yes, I stuttered big time, but more importantly I accomplished a goal and wasn’t mad at myself for stuttering nor embarrassed by it. Those are two things the 21-year-old James didn’t think were possible. It was growing in confidence, through speaking, that allowed this to happen.
Since that first invitation in the spring of 2017, I have guest lectured at nine different universities, presented at the NSA conference, appeared on a stuttering related podcast, and as previously mentioned given a TED talk. More importantly, I’ve grown in confidence in myself and in my stutter through speaking about my experiences with stuttering. As I have been told numerous times and have told others, “There’s no growth in your comfort zone and no comfort in your growth zone.” At times this wasn’t comfortable, but I’ve grown so much by getting out of my comfort zone and speaking about the one topic younger me never wanted to discuss.
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