I've been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be known. Fully known. You know, like being seen and understood in a deep, personal way. Naturally, I've thought most about what this means in and for the life of a stutterer.
After first developing my stutter around age 8, I slowly settled in to my new way of speaking. And as my speech was often met with ridicule, I subconsciously decided that I would be covert -- before I was even familiar with the term.
Covert stutterers usually rely on avoidance behaviors to hide the fact that they stutter. For me, this brought years of anxiety, stress and even physical exhaustion. But back then, anything was better than having people know that I stutter.
Many covert stutterers have gone several years without anyone knowing the truth. However, my stutter was (and is) so severe that I absolutely could not (and can not) hide it. So, though it was clear to people that I had a speech impediment, I refused to be open about my condition and opted for some pretty peculiar avoidance tactics.
I opened up to a friend about my avoidance behaviors in 2014, it was the first time I had spoken about my experience with hiding.
"Even if I couldn't say the words I wanted, I always felt like I had to say something, anything or else people wouldn't know me," I told him. "I mean, having a conversation is, like, the foundation of getting to know someone, right? And if I couldn't talk, how would I be known? How would I be seen? How would I build relationships?"
My days as a covert stutterer are long gone. But during my adolescence, and in the years that followed, I began to think deeply about the idea of being known -- particularly whether I could ever be so with a stutter.
Many times as a kid, I'd opt out of saying what I actually wanted to say for something easier to get out -- and what I ended up saying was usually something weird that made no sense in the context of the conversation. This was one of my most common avoidance tactics.
I had believed that the only way to be known fully was to speak fluently -- and I could not do that. I believed that my speech would keep me from building personal relationships and, in turn, I'd be alone and ostracized. I know, these were pretty deep thoughts for a pre-teen to have -- but stuttering will do that to you.
I've often wondered whether any other stutters have shared these thoughts, or have had these experiences. But even without asking, I've learned a few things over the years about being known.
Surprisingly, I've managed to build and maintain healthy, loving, personal relationships despite my speech impediment. I've learned that I can love and be loved; I can be fully known even with a stutter.
Due to the enigmatic nature of stuttering, fluent speakers usually don't think much about the psychological impact the condition has on us. So, it is lost on many that a lot of stutters go through life wondering how they'll function (whether it be in relationships, in the work place or socially) in society with the condition.
To any stutterer who needs to read this: Stuttering does not disqualify you from being loved and being known. Although it may look bleak at times, these things are for you.
Side note: I know this isn't my most poetic post. I've been wanting to put these thoughts to paper for awhile, and here they are in their purest form. Thanks for reading!☺️