Acceptance: (noun) willingness to tolerate a difficult or unpleasant situation.
In October, I was asked to lead an activity at one of the National Stuttering Association’s (NSA) many support groups. This particular group meets monthly in Brooklyn (I’ve been attending on-and-off for a little over the year).
The meeting was just a few weeks after the Mercy College panel (a.k.a the panel that birthed my obsession with acceptance), so I viewed it as the perfect opportunity to pick the brains of my fellow stutterers about the topic.
My activity was simple. I had the about 20 attendants all write down on a note card what acceptance meant to them in terms of their stutter. We placed our answers in a container, then I had everyone pick one at random to read aloud and respond to.
The answers were all so different.
- Acceptance means not valuing the ups or the downs
- Acceptance is believing I don’t need to change the way I speak
- Acceptance is knowing that you’re strong enough to get up and try again and that nothing can ever take that from you
- Acceptance is not being afraid to stutter in public
After reading many of the note cards, I brought up my dilemma to the group: is apathy a form of acceptance?
One of the most striking responses came from my dear friend Roisin (thats: row-sheen). Roisin has been a leader in the NSA for a few years now and her wisdom never ceases to amaze me.
Her answer to my question had the initial sting of tough love, but I know she was right. She said parading apathy (or not caring) around as acceptance is a cop out. Apathy is easy, acceptance is hard.
A few weeks later at another “stuttering event,” Roisin wrecked me once again with a simple phrase. “People who stutter … are gonna face a lot of bullshit. And we have to be resilient,” she said.
Apathy defined is a lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern. That doesn’t sound too “resilient” to me.
Okay, okay, so apathy isn’t acceptance. I was wrong. I will admit, this revelation scared me but, in studying the word, I realized that maybe what I had done all these years wasn’t practice apathy at all.
I took my dilemma to a professional, Craig Coleman, MA, CCC-SLP, BCS-F. So, Craig Coleman is absolutely everything. Among many, many things, Craig is an assistant professor at Marshall University and an adjunct instructor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP). (That’s where we met, at IUP). I was a client with the school’s speech/language graduate program and (because I was everyone's favorite) the pathologists scheduled for Craig to meet with me.
I’ll be honest, I don’t remember much of what he said. But I remember the way he made me feel. I remember he spoke with compassion and wisdom, and despite my nonchalant, tough exterior, I cried like a baby. In regard to my stutter, I felt understood, I felt seen, and for once I didn’t feel like the only stutterer in the world.
But back to acceptance (although I could talk about Craig all day). I spoke with him about my dilemma, explaining that while I genuinely don’t care about what people say or think of my stutter, it’s not that I “block them out,” but that I assess the situation and my feelings and, 100 percent of the time, come to the conclusion that 1) what they think of me is none of my business and 2) my stutter makes me no worse or better than them— then I don’t give it another thought.
Craig said that he believes a stutterer is more likely to be apathetic in regard to their stutter “when denial or avoidance is present.”
“A person who is apathetic about stuttering may not challenge themselves to participate or face difficult speaking situations,” he said. “When acceptance is happening, I think the focus shifts from apathy to active management.”
But, to be honest, I don’t always feel like working to communicate effectively. Trying to talk is exhausting. And I simply don’t go through my everyday life with conquering my stutter in mind.
“There may become a point where active feelings are not present on a day-to-day basis,” he continued, addressing my concern. “But feelings are not being suppressed at that point, because the person genuinely believes that stuttering is okay. And they are happy with themselves as a communicator.”
I’ll admit, I often feel pretty guilty if I’m not going above and beyond to manage my stutter. But I like the way Craig put it.
“We all could be doing more at anything,” he began. “I could be working out now, but instead I am watching CNN while emailing. I would not consider that apathy to exercise.”
So, here’s what I’ve gathered, apathy is not acceptance, no. But what acceptance is varies from person to person. For me, I believe a huge part of my acceptance journey is acknowledging my feelings and keeping things in perspective.
It’s okay to be angry or sad when someone laughs or asks “did you forget your name?” (clever). But it’s absolutely vital to address and acknowledge those feelings, first and foremost, then give the appropriate encouragement to yourself and perspective to the situation.
Most important of all, I believe, is grace. Be gracious toward others and gracious toward yourself. Cut yourself a break. Stuttering isn’t easy, and society isn’t always so nice. This is all the more reason to go easy on yourself. Don’t spend the next week thinking about the jerk that laughed at you at Starbucks, or the massive block you had on the telephone. It’s okay.
Stuttering is okay. That’s acceptance. Acceptance is a journey, and we’ll often have to remind ourselves that the way we speak is okay.
Like, Roisin said: “People who stutter … are gonna face a lot of bullshit. And we have to be resilient.”