If 18-year-old Mallory Anderson could flip a switch and turn off her stuttering, she wouldn't do it.
It's part of who she is. Like the color of her eyes, or the tone of her voice.
Still, if there were a pause button for stuttering, Anderson said, she'd use that in a heartbeat.
"If there were a situational switch, I would turn it off for job interviews and sometimes in class," said Anderson, who is a freshman in the honors college at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Occasionally, she said, she has the impulse to ask a question in a large class, "But I can't because sometimes nothing comes out. There have been times I say to myself, 'I'm not going to ask a question in front of all of these people.'"
In a one-on-one interview, Anderson is hyper-articulate. It's easy to see how she was chosen for the elite Brock Scholars program at UTC. Although her speech is occasionally halting, she is a gifted conversationalist.
Stuttering is part of her personality, she said. Plus, it has led her to meet people who stutter whom she finds inspiring. People who she said have "led extravagant lives."
Anderson has found community in the National Stuttering Association, a nationwide support network with chapters in Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville — but not yet in Chattanooga. (Although that may change, Anderson said. She is mulling the idea of trying to start a chapter here.)
Growing up in Cheatham County, Tennessee, Anderson said she was placed in speech therapy classes in her public schools, but found those sessions to have limited relevance to everyday life.
"I'm more fluent in controlled situations," she said.
Experts say that the roots of stuttering are neurological, not psychological. Yet, it's known that stress can trigger stuttering, which is technically called a speech "disfluency." About 1% of the United States population stutter, a condition that disproportionately affects men.
Anderson said that, while two members of her immediate family also stutter, it was not discussed much at home.
Last year, as she prepared to go off to college, Anderson decided to see if she could connect with other stutterers. A quick Google search turned up the NSA, and Anderson decided to attend a chapter meeting in Nashville, which is about a 30-minute drive from her home. Anderson said she needed to talk to people — specifically adults — who had pushed through their stuttering.
"Now that I was almost 18, I had finally accepted that my stutter was not just a childhood thing, it would accompany me well into my adult years," she wrote in an essay published on the NSA's website.
The other adults in the NSA chapter were lovely to her, Anderson said, noting that she was by far the youngest person in the group.
"I'd never met an adult who was a stutterer and was willing to talk about it," she said.
The knowledge that she would not be judged in an NSA meeting was liberating, she said.
"It was the one time I didn't have to worry about how other people thought of me," she said. "Not having to worry was really amazing."
"I think it [stuttering] has hindered me in the past, but I think I've begun to realize that it's not such a big deal," said Anderson, who is majoring in biochemistry and dreams of working for NASA. "I've met a professor who stutters, who has his Ph.D. If he can do it, I can do it, too."
Contact Mark Kennedy at email@example.com or 423-757-6645.