Episode 6 is a wrap! I think I am finally starting to get the hang of this? I remembered to plug everything in and managed it in one take. Uploading has gotten easier as well as I get my system down. There is even an “All Episodes” Page and “Support the Podcast” Page.

In this episode, I’ll be discussing triggers, a particular incident, and how my mental health journey had many parallels to my journey as a person who stutters. I wish I had learned a few lessons from myself but that is not my way. I typically see the writing on the wall but …oh look, a shiny thing!

You can find the new episode below:

The Transcript

Welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining me. I’m your host, Christopher Gajewski.

Let’s get naked about mental health!

In this episode, I’ll be discussing triggers, a particular incident, and how my mental health journey had many parallels to my journey as a person who stutters. I wish I had learned a few lessons from myself but that is not my way. I typically see the writing on the wall but …oh look, a shiny thing!

Before getting into the episode: the important stuff. I just want to remind everybody that I am not a psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist, or any kind of professional with an –ist at the end of their title. I am just a guy who has been there.

If you are in crisis, or know somebody who is, I implore you to reach out to a professional. There is now a national hotline you can call or text. 988.

I’ll repeat that because it bears repeating. If you or someone you know is in crisis, I implore you to reach out to a professional. Dialing or texting 988 will put you in touch with a crisis counselor instantly.

Now, let’s get into the episode.

Yes, I did stutter.

You may have picked up on it in previous episodes, my videos, or you may know me personally. I have a speech impediment. A stutter. I call myself a PWS, a person who stutters.

On a rooftop bar in Chicago, a few years back, I was chatting with an old friend of mine. We were talking about life and various things. Regina got this look on her face, the look that told me I was in for something. She asks the best questions.

She asked, “Why do you refer to yourself as a PWS, but also as a depressive.”

It would be over a year before I had answer to for her. I only knew at the time that it was not a matter of semantics. It was a deliberate choice of words. Somewhere during my odyssey across the United States, the answer finally hit me.

I always say I am a lousy advocate for people who stutter. I can’t give a rat’s ass what people think of the way I talk. I never did. Despite a very severe stutter when I was younger, I was one of the kids that always got the dreaded “talks too much” on their report card.

Each year, on October 22, International Stuttering Awareness Day, I repost something across the various groups I am a part of on social media. Aptly titled, “Yes, I did Stutter,” it talks about how though I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about what people think of the way I talk, for others, it can be a true disability that robs them of hope and a full life. I then give advice on how to have a conversation with a person who stutters.

People can make a difference just by understanding the disability is there and by listening. –I’ll do a full audio of the post at the end of this episode.

Was it a disability for me? Eh, I had my moments. Puberty was a bitch when I watched my friends and cousins talking to the pretty girls, an act that would trigger my stutter to new heights. Graduating college and applying for jobs, where the first contact was a phone interview, was pretty awful. For the most part, though, I return to the “rat’s ass” phrase.

My stutter never hobbled me the way I’ve seen it do to others in the groups. Those who know me know that my mouth, and not being able to shut it, has gotten me into far more trouble than any single thing in my life.

Looking back, I think a huge part of that was my support system. Home was a “safe place.” Anywhere with family was a safe place. I never did figure out if it was an unspoken rule or if word had been spread, but nobody ever said anything about my stutter. Ever. I was treated like every other kid in the family. I was given the opportunity to speak, and even told to shut up when I shouldn’t be speaking–like every other kid in my family.

“This is not a carrot in my ear,” is a phrase I remember often from mom when she was talking on the phone.

I was allowed to be me, and me is what I became.

Many people have wondered why I don’t write a book about my experience. With my life experiences, they feel it would be a powerful book for people with disabilities. It is on my list of projects, but I really don’t know how to approach it. Every time I think about my life, the stutter gets shoved far to the background, behind other things I had to battle to live the life I have had.

Life wasn’t easy. Who’s is? There was a lot going on and the stutter seemed like such a small thing compared to the events that triggered the depression, anxiety and PTSD. Only now am I learning a lot about childhood trauma and the effects that it can have on an adult.

I wish I could find the damn thing but I can’t. I saw a video on Instagram where they listed seven signs in an adult that are manifestation of childhood trauma. I read through the list and thought, “aww, hell, that’s me.”

Like I said, with the stutter, I had a large, supportive family and network of friends. The depression was a different story.

Back to Regina’s most excellent question and the answer: “Why do you refer to yourself as a person who stutters but also a depressive?”

I didn’t have an answer for her on that rooftop bar in Chicago in the summer of 2019, but the question nagged me. The answer finally came to me as I made my odyssey across America during the summer of 2020.

To me, a person who stutters, as opposed to a stutterer, is not defined by their stutter, it does not make choices for me. There were bumps and snafus, but it never really determined my choices.

Aye, I’ll never be an air traffic controller, but that still left a few million job choices.

A depressive, on the other hand, as opposed to a person who has depression, is controlled by their illness. On that rooftop bar, I was 48. I knew that the depression had controlled large parts of my life, made many decisions for me, and altered my course. Much of why I was traveling across America was to figure out how to stop it.

The depression, the stutter, and many other things are intertwined. Recently, I was triggered, making me fall back in time to a scared 12-year-old who stuttered uncontrollably, without his family there to support him. Without my Mommy.

It was so much like a trigger for the depression. I was 12 years old again and I was a stutterer, not a person who stuttered. I had been attacked. I went into “protect the child” mode, which then triggered the depression in the 51-year-old man.

I shouldn’t be here.

I retreated and processed. I realized I had been stupid. I really need to stop doing that.

With both stuttering and depression, there are triggers. I avoid them as best as I can. I’ve learned what can trigger both. Some can’t be completely avoided and that is where therapy comes in, to learn better coping mechanisms. My mom was once told that because of her manic depression, she should give up her kids and move away to be on a farm.

With the stutter, I’m pretty good at seeing the triggers. I see those red flags from a mile away. A benefit of the stutter is that it has served as an “asshole detector” throughout my life. I’m a good judge of people and the stutter has made me a quick judge. When I first meet them, how do they react to my stutter? There are subtleties involved and everything is not black and white–I’ll get into that later in the episode when I go through my annual stuttering awareness post. But, in short, certain red flags make me avoid certain people. I don’t waste my time.

The depression can make me like a drunk driver, plowing through the red flags and orange cones, wondering what all of the bumps in my car are. Then, total surprise when the cop pulls me over.

That’s pretty much what happened.

Last year, I almost completely isolated myself. I would go out with friends once in a while, but mostly I stayed inside and kept to myself. I lied to myself, saying it was a healthy regrouping. It wasn’t.

I then made changes in my life. When I moved, I refused to isolate. I start each morning, and spend most of the day, sitting outside of my apartment. There is this fantastic sitting area where I sip my coffee and type away. The interruptions to my work are more than compensated by the incredible connections I have made.

First, it was the staff. I know everybody and they have become like family. My coffee pot floweth over! And they started feeding me. I now have a few “mothers” who make sure I eat breakfast. Julio, in particular, makes sure I eat every bite.

Then, I started meeting my neighbors. And their puppies. I have met some truly incredible people: warm, friendly, and generous. We barbecue upstairs, chat and sip coffee here, and help each other out.

Then, along came…let’s just call him Bob.

He seemed like a nice enough guy, smart with a wry humor. There were a couple red flags at first, but I ignored them as they were tiny ones. The humor had a bite to it, and he would continually talk over top of me. But he was engaging, and I engaged. He did try once, to be funny I guess, to mimic my stutter. I called him on it, and he apologized and moved on. He was sober at the time.

The big red flags came out when he got drunk. The humor became more biting, more judgmental, more angry. Being stupid, I ignored them.

It’s a problem I have with the depression. There is a pull to go outside my complex and drink. Mingle. Bob was an option as almost all of the people I meet in here are absolutely wonderful, but couples. Bob, like me, is single. He likes going out.

I own it, but the depression makes me stupid. I know better. I even lecture other people on it. By keeping unhealthy relationships in our life, it inhibits us from developing healthy ones. I was experiencing that here in my new home.

It was another red flag, a big one, flapping high above. When I first moved in, I met these two couples that live on my floor and across from each other. When I became friends with Bob, they started keeping their distance a bit. I would later find out that the one couple lived below Bob and had had multiple altercations with him when he was drunk.

The turning point –not the trigger yet– occurred a few weeks ago. I went and knocked at Bob’s door to tell him some news. Because we had become friends, I shared a lot with him. He was drunk.

Later that day, it became a “thing.” Even more drunk, he approached me with a tirade about how nobody knocks at people’s doors, they stand outside and text. The red flag was finally shoved into my face and I finally stopped ignoring it. After a little back and forth, I told him he would never have to worry about me knocking at his door again.

I just went inside my apartment and ignored him. Later that night is when the attacks started, the trigger. I’m sitting outside and chatting with a neighbor when Bob starts texting me. Mean, angry, abusive. I blocked him.

Ever deal with an abusive drunk? I had driven through those orange cones with the big red flags and the cop was pulling me over.

Later that night, I’m sitting outside as usual, and, now even more drunk, he comes down to confront me. He wants a reaction, needs a reaction. I ignored him. All I really wanted to do was beat the hell out of him, but that does as much good as arguing, and I knew that would cause me problems.

He knew exactly what buttons to push. Like I said, I had thought him a friend, ignoring the red flags, and overshared. In the texts, he had brought up my stutter. Now, he started mimicking it. It was easy to push aside, though. It’s not like I hadn’t heard it before, but not since I was about 12.

When that didn’t work, he got even nastier. He went deep into the things I had shared with a friend and tried to beat me with them. My marriage, my relationship with my daughter, my stutter, my employment, everything. Somehow, even my father got brought into it. That tipped me off. Abusive drunks are typically projecting.

Yeah, I got triggered. I started to make my way into my apartment, pissed off at myself that I was allowing him to chase me off, but I didn’t want it to lead to a physical confrontation. It almost did anyway. As I was stepping into my apartment, he said something, and I had enough, lost control. I turned around and it was the wrong thing to do.

“Keep it up,” I said. “You’re about to get your ass kicked.”

It was exactly what he wanted. What he needed.

I got a hold of myself, went into my apartment, and closed the door. The tirade continued outside. Louder, meaner, nastier. I cuddled up with the 12-year-old me.

The staff caught the entire thing, and other neighbors, but the damage was done, and I started the downward spiral.

I was 12 years old again with a man’s body and pissed off at myself. Bob was throwing around the word, “coward,” and the little boy, who had thrown himself at attackers no matter what their size, was thinking I was.

The 51-year-old me knew I was doing exactly what I should be doing. It’s not about turning the other cheek or any kind of pacifist route, but about being smart. Ignore him and allow management to handle it.

I struggled. I had been triggered. Bob kept approaching me when I was with people that didn’t know, mimicking my stutter and trying to provoke me in small ways, sneaky ways. I kept retreating to my apartment. Confused. My complex had become a place of safety and health, a place where I could really heal. It wasn’t anymore.

I guess this is really good example of where a therapist would help?

To top things off, I began stuttering badly again even when he wasn’t around.

How do you stop the downward spiral?

I guess management spoke to him. For the most part, he kept his distance. That helped but wasn’t really a solution. He’d still make passes and throw out the odd comments. Even sober now. I knew he was enjoying chasing me away, so I stopped. That just encouraged him. He wanted and needed more of a response from me, more of a reaction.

Embarrassed, though I shouldn’t have been, I took to my stuttering support group on Facebook, where I am typically a mentor. I received a ton of positive reinforcement that I was doing the right thing. It started to help the 12-year-old me feel better though it had been a titanic struggle to hit the “post” button–I have issues reaching out for help.

I finally started to open up to my new friends in the complex, finding out that more people than I thought had had run ins with Bob, and they supported me. I slowly began building the healthy relationships that I had unknowingly inhibited because of my friendship with Bob.

I slowly began to feel safer again. But annoyed.

I told my one friend, who had had a run in, that I felt bad for Bob, that he obviously had problems.

“No,” he replied, “he’s just an asshole.”

One night this past weekend, I was having a barbecue and drinks on the rooftop with the couples I had first met. Friends. It was a great night. I was really getting ready to leave, having had my two beers and knowing I needed to get some more work done. Bob showed up, drunk. He made some comments, “coward” was thrown out, and he even pulled up a chair. Like I said, I was getting ready to leave anyway and what he thinks of me returns me to “the rat’s ass phrase.” Even the 12-year-old me was quiet.

A fresh, open beer was put in front of me. My one friend’s wife, a lovely Brazilian woman, had become Momma Bear. “No, you are not leaving. You are welcome. You are wanted here. He is not.”

He finally left. He had a few choice comments for me the following morning, but I just ignored him and he finally left. I went back to management.

The spiral is slowing and even reversing. The stutter is back to normal. My safe place is my safe place again. Now, the 51-year-old me is just annoyed at management.

No, we can’t avoid the triggers. I can’t go live on a farm for the rest of my life and can’t isolate myself. But I can get better at seeing the red flags and orange cones. I can find better, healthier coping mechanisms. And then, when I do screw up –and I invariably will– I can learn how to recover faster. If I see myself driving through the orange cones, I don’t have to make it a game to see how many I can take out before I get pulled over.

I can find and develop the healthy relationships that will help me on my journey, while maintaining the healthy relationships that I already have–that I typically isolate from when in the depression.

I’m mentally drawing the lines now. The interconnections between the depression and stuttering, how they are similar. They are actually both classified as “disabilities.” There is a much, much larger picture here. It is something I need to talk to someone about, maybe a therapist?

But I STILL didn’t make it onto my systems theory soap box. I’ll climb on up eventually. But, for now, here is my annual post for International Stuttering Awareness Day. While listening to it, can I make the suggestion that I have ignored most of my life? Listen to it while thinking about how it could relate to other things. Depression and mental illness in general.   

Yes, I Did Stutter

I’ll be honest: I really don’t give a rat’s ass what people think of the way that I talk. In my fifth decade, I just don’t have time for that nonsense anymore. But there are a lot of people who do, so I ask my friends, family, and other people that might get a hold of this thing to keep them in mind.

I am probably being a lousy advocate here. Many people who know me forget that I stutter or don’t think very much of it because I have been so open about it and, well, let’s be blunt: the stutter, drill sergeants, particularly mean nuns and everything else under the sun have never been able to shut me up. It has affected me, but in other ways, and I won’t get into that now. I think my inability to keep my damn mouth shut has hindered me far more than my stutter ever did.

But, while remembering that I do stutter, forget about me…

You can make a difference in a person’s life by listening to them, hearing what they have to say, and by simply being aware that they struggle with something that comes naturally to you, fluency.

First, how to have a conversation with someone who stutters:

1) Don’t finish their sentences. I always hated that. Most of the time, they were wrong and I would just have to start all over with the extra added stress of having my stutter pointed out to me.

2) Don’t tell them to relax. I realize you just want to help but it doesn’t help. It does the opposite. Yes, relaxing would help, but putting a spotlight on the inability to relax just exacerbates the problem.

3) Don’t talk over them. I know, I know: I’ve heard it a dozen times. I’m from Philly. “I do that to everybody!” You are not talking to everybody. You are talking to a person who stutters. I walk faster than everybody. But when I was walking with my mom, I didn’t drag her along at my pace. I walked slower, allowing her the respect and dignity she deserved.

For me, I just roll with it. And I reach out to others in groups and whenever I can to try to equip them with better tools for living with a stutter, trying to share my experiences and what has worked for me.

A lot of people stutter. It’s more than you think. If you go by the numbers and do the math, about 77 and half million people in 2020. It is something that a lot of people hide but we are a large group.

For many, stuttering is a true disability that hobbles them, crushes their self-confidence and generally makes their lives hell. They crave the ability to engage the world but get slapped down so often it makes a simple task like ordering at a drive through a nightmarish experience.

Yeah, I think we make too much of our stutters, but that it neither here nor there.

Just by listening to them (while following the above rules), and being aware that people stutter, you can really make a difference in somebody’s life. There is this expectation that our stutter is going to met with rudeness, laughter, ignorance, pity and that our conversations are going to become a battleground for fluency.

Confound the expectations! Help people that stutter learn that their voices are just as important as yours. It is really such a simple thing to do.

Afterthought: Because this is being posted on Facebook, with many family members and people I grew up with, I just want to say thank you. I don’t know what you did, or how you did it, but you helped me be me. I’ve read and heard stories of the other side of stuttering, where a difficult environment led to the stutter being a true disability. But all of you, without even knowing it I think, created this environment that I wish for all kids who stutter or with other difficulties, where there was not really a battleground to be “normal” or accepted. You rolled with my stutter, helping me to roll with it as well. I never wanted special treatment, just given the same opportunities as everybody else. Yes, I was teased, but I don’t think it ever rose to the level of targeted viciousness that made me withdraw. Know what I mean?

And that is a wrap for episode six. As usual, I have no idea where I’ll be going with the next episode. Eh, I meander. I get lost. Tangents can take me into far away …oh look! A shiny thing!

Thanks for joining me!

One last thing. Triggers? The fear of hitting “post” on these episodes or my columns? Insecurities? Yeah, I’m about to dive into one head on. Okay, maybe not head on. I’m not quite ready for that yet. Maybe just a glancing blow. One of my biggest fears, insecurities, is asking for help.

If you are enjoying these episodes and are finding them helpful, I invite you to check out my podcast webpage under “Support the Podcast!” I can’t even link to the page yet from the main page, but it is there. I’m getting there. Working on it.

Any amount can help. You can become a patron with a monthly donation or make a one-time donation through my GoFundMe page. The easiest way to help me is by sharing this podcast.

That’s the best I can do for now but they are explained further on the page and on the Patreon and GoFundMe websites.

Until next week…

…but, before I go. One last thing. I reread the script for the episode. And then I looked at the last word that I end each episode with. It is right there below. Aloha, a Hawaiian word of greeting and parting, an offering of love, affection, peace, compassion and mercy.


Aye, I’m still SW Philly. And I’m still a bit raw. But this podcast is as much for Bob as it is for anybody else. Alcoholism is a disease. Yeah, I agree with my friend and think that he is an asshole. But I also think he needs help. He needs aloha.

Management finally did their thing, and he is being evicted. As much as there is a huge part of me saying, “Bu-bye Felicia!” there is a tiny, small part of me that is offering him aloha. Aye, I have to teach that 12-year-old me better.

Maybe that will be my next podcast? Something about forgiveness.

Anyway, thanks again for joining me.


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