In September, a stutter buddy of mine— that’s what I call my friends who stutter— asked me to speak to her class on a panel along with five other stutterers at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, New York. Of course, I was happy to. When the day came, we all filed into the classroom and sat in front of 40-plus speech pathology students (my friend neglected to tell me there’d be so many people, but anywho).
I will admit I was a bit unprepared (okay, a lot unprepared). I’d resolved to just “wing it.” And I totally did. I began by asking a few of the students why they decided to study speech pathology, and then briefly shared a few of my experiences as a PWS (Person Who Stutters).
My little speech paled in comparison to the lengthy monologues of my peers. But I was completely content with listening, gleaning from their stories of shame, triumph and, ultimately, acceptance— I even contemplated sitting at a desk alongside the students rather than in a chair in front of them, but I digress.
Amid the stories, tips and confessions, stood a common theme: Acceptance.
Acceptance is a big part of life as a stutterer. The moment a person begins to stutter, so starts their journey—usually a pretty long one— to acceptance, accepting their speech and, in turn, themselves. When speaking with my friends who stutter or simply going to one of the National Stuttering Association’s support groups, the conversation almost always shifts to a discussion about acceptance.
I’m used to this. But that September day, participating in that panel, there was one, small phrase regarding acceptance that caught and kept my attention.
“Acceptance isn’t apathy…” my brown-haired friend sitting two seats from me on the panel said. Almost everyone in the room nodded in agreement. Except me.
Those three words shook me and I had to catch my breath. You see, to be honest, one of my many mantras in life is “I don’t care.” One of the most apathetic phrases known to man. In regard to my stutter, I viewed my apathy as a key component to accepting my impediment. I have often taken great pride in “not caring” about what people think or say about my speech. And I thought that was the meaning of acceptance, I believed the words acceptance and apathy were synonymous.
But, in just three words, my brown-haired friend turned my perspective upside down
I began to question my mantra, and myself. Is acceptance actually the opposite of apathy? Is apathy in regard to my stutter a bad thing? Wait, do I even really accept my stutter at all, or have I just gotten really good at hiding?
And with that, I was launched into a new journey, a search for answers, a search for perspective: acceptance, apathy or both?