By Audri Gundersen
My team is down by two points. My opponent made a crucial mistake, and I’m the one who has to talk to the referee because I am the captain. I don’t know what’s scarier: my team losing or stuttering in front of everyone. Am I able to talk without humiliating myself?
I was staring down a flashcard. A simple child’s toy stares back at me. My speech therapist says to me, “Audri say what you see.” I am repeating the picture back in my mind over and over again. Even as a child, I know that my brain is not clicking the way it should. I open my mouth, but no words come out. The frustration begins to set in. After minutes of staring at the picture, I throw out the word that was captured inside of me: wagon.
I pick up the phone in the small cramped area of the therapy room. “It’s just another simple drill for you to practice,” my speech therapist says. Before dialing, I stare at her in disbelief. Talking on the phone feels like a trap for people who stutter. But instead of allowing my overwhelming fear to tell me to drop the phone and walk out, I start to press the number on the phone. I hear the dial tone, and I grip the handle on the phone more aggressively because my hand is starting to perspire. In my brain, I wish that my mind and my mouth would connect. Then I hear it. Her voice. A stranger says hello. I pause and breathe out the word “hey” without any complications. My speech therapist smiles back at me.
All I can see are my teammate’s faces in the huddle, yelling in triumph. Every single one of us is dripping in sweat from head to toe but that does not matter. We grab each other and group hug with everyone on my team. We shout in celebration because our hard work has shown itself. All of the hours of training and conditioning were not wasted. Every single minute was built for this moment.
I am living with constant self-training. Looking back at where I started from, not being able to say simple words without stuttering. Now I am able to talk on the phone for long periods of time or lead a team to victory. This gives me hope for my future. Little triumphs need to be celebrated because they are the stepping-stones that will take me where I need to be in life.
I want to use my experience in conquering small victories to help others who have gone through, or are going through, similar struggles that I have. My dream is to become a speech therapist. I want to create confidence in those who feel like they are living with a deficit. Since I have lived with stuttering my entire life, I can fully comprehend what it feels like to be trapped within yourself. I want to be the smiling face that looks back on my patient because I can see and understand that saying one word is a victory in itself, whether it is big or small.
I am 20 years old, and I still go to speech therapy. It is rare that I do not put some consideration into what I am going to say next. But with the help of my speech therapist at Circle Creek Therapy, I have made tremendous progress. My secondary behaviors, like excessive blinking, squeezing my fists, and tapping the table, have vanished, and I do not stutter as consistently anymore. I have developed a newfound confidence, and I have made other progress in my life. I got a job working at Circle Creek Therapy as an aide, I just received my AA degree from Highline, and I will be attending the University of Washington in the fall to pursue a career in speech therapy. Go dawgs!
I am still in the process of being okay with this part of myself. But if I can move forward and help others the same way my therapists have, then learning to cope is possible for you or your family member. I have come to realize that it is not always about speaking perfectly all of the time. It has taken me all of my life to come to grips with the idea that stuttering is not a fault and being fluent is not always an accomplishment. But the real success story is being courageous in spite of your stutter. It will not always be perfect. But in the end, you will be proud of yourself, like I am of myself, for taking your voice back.
If you are someone who stutters, or are a parent of a child who does, I want to emphasize that you or your child WILL get better. Even if you or your child can never become fully fluent, the bad misconceptions can disappear. Over time, perspectives change.
If you’re interested in learning more about stuttering, fluency, and speech therapy, call us at 253.237.3405 for a free consultation. Hopefully, I’ll be there to meet you.