“I could only succeed if I went through my fear, if I walked through that door that I never thought I could. That led to not only improving my speech and improving my ceiling as a speaker but also led to me being able to do things in the other parts of my life that I didn’t think I could do.” – Adam Perry
Adam Perry is an omnipresent talent in Colorado. The Pittsburgh native is a certified paralegal and accredited veterans’ representative who works in veterans’ disability law. He is also a drummer who has played with various local artists including the alt-country rock band Gasoline Lollipops and is deeply involved in Colorado music, from booking and promoting concerts to writing regular features for the Denver weekly newspaper, Westword.
I first met Adam when our daughters were in preschool together in Boulder, about eight years ago. What struck me about Adam was his quiet intelligence, his passion for music and the outdoors, his devotion to parenting, and that rare quality of being an extraordinary listener. I had the sense that everything I said was being carefully regarded. Every word mattered.
And for Adam, it does.
Adam is a person who stutters. This isn’t an identity he easily embraced, but one that he has come to regard as a pivotal force in his life.
Speaking by phone for this interview, he shared that as a child he felt bullied and ashamed about stuttering and managed it by hiding his speech as much as possible.
In his own words, “I think it was so much about trying to pretend that I didn’t have a stutter. I did anything I possibly could to be the kid who was quiet…and that had a big effect on wanting to do things where I could express myself without verbally speaking, so that included playing drums for hours on end, writing, reading.”
Adam says that while growing up he would “do anything he could” to get out of talking. Rather than acknowledge his struggles with stuttering, he developed his abilities as a musician, a poet, and a journalist.
He attended parties and listened more than spoke.
He says that, even now, most of his friends would be surprised to know that he stutters and what his internal experience is when speaking in a group. Adam often works himself up silently in preparation for speech and can experience profound frustration if he is cut off at just the wrong moment.
As he explains, “People would be shocked to know that I had to do so much internal work to get the words out. It can be incredibly frustrating and demoralizing when I’m waiting for a pause in the conversation, and I’m ready, right? And somebody else will start talking – that can take all of the air out of me. I’m like, ‘Oh God, I’m gonna have to do it again.’”
I asked Adam what it was that turned the tide for him, what moment helped to shift his feelings about stuttering and convinced him to face his fears head-on.
Having a child.
Adam was struggling financially as a writer trying to make ends meet when his daughter was born. As luck would have it, a much-needed job opportunity soon came his way.
It would require talking on the phone, something he’d taken great pains to avoid.
Adam says, “Maybe if I had been offered that job before I had a child I would have said, ‘I’m just gonna try to do something else; I’m struggling right now financially but I’ll work through it.’ I think having a child and being responsible for supporting that child, there was nothing in the world that could have made me say, ‘I’m gonna pass up this opportunity to support my family.’”
He continues, “I have a tattoo that says,’ Death or Glory.’ The Clash is such a huge part of my worldview. And that was, like, ‘Well, I’m gonna have to do this on my own…No one’s going to do this for me.”
He took the job. He says the first phone call he had to make was terrifying. Instead of using the office phone, he took his personal cell phone to make the call and walked outside so that nobody in the office would hear him.
“I never did that again,” he remarks.
Being forced to make the calls he had so calculatingly avoided is what eventually helped him to conquer that fear.
In Adam’s words, “It’s a kind of therapy to just walk through the fire. It’s a good analogy to compare it with someone who is barely able to swim, just throwing them in a pool. And they realize, “Oh, I can swim a little better than I thought.’ And then maybe they actually get better at swimming, by practicing.”
He goes on, “I could only succeed if I went through my fear, if I walked through that door that I never thought I could. That led to not only improving my speech and improving my ceiling as a speaker but also led to me being able to do things in the other parts of my life that I didn’t think I could do, like interviewing David Crosby on the phone, answering the phone when Red Rocks called to book my band, or developing the great relationship I’m in.”
Discovering that he was capable of overcoming his greatest fears around stuttering also drove Adam’s curiosity to connect more with others who stutter and to shift his internal perspective on stuttering itself.
He started to read articles and listen to podcasts about stuttering. In so doing, he began to see that he was not an island unto himself. There were many people who stutter with very different attitudes about their speech out in the world living life.
Adam was especially floored hearing other people stutter. He speaks with great admiration about the highly lauded investigative journalist Barry Yeoman, who also stutters.
Adam observes, “In one podcast interview Barry did, he’s stuttering and the interviewer is stuttering. And it made me think two things: One was, wow, they’re not trying to get around it. They’re not trying to hide it. They’re just, like, ‘This is who I am.’ And that’s inspiring. But also, it made me feel like my stuttering isn’t as severe as some people’s. It made me feel empowered and grateful. I definitely still struggle with it on a daily basis, even around my best friends, but I can get around it. And a lot of people don’t even have that choice.”
Stuttering openly and self-acceptance of stuttering are clearly inspirational to Adam, especially as those are two things he worked so hard to bury as a child.
Others who inspire Adam?
Adam notes that Biden is not only someone who is in the spotlight of the world’s biggest stage, but he also takes the time to give young people advice about stuttering and even his personal phone number if they want to call him and talk about stuttering.
Adam concludes our phone call with a story.
He says the first time he really spoke to someone about stuttering wasn’t until he was 29 years old. As he tells it, “When my daughter was a baby and she and her mother were on a walk, a friend came over. I was really stressed about money and what I was going to do with my life and I was trying to get words out, and I was stuttering really badly. Instead of saying, ‘Take your time,’ which can feel really condescending, or just, ‘What’s wrong?’ she listened to me stutter and she looked at me and said, ‘That must be really hard for you.’ Something about the way she said that made me melt. Nobody had ever experienced me stuttering and just said, ‘That must be really hard for you.’ That was the first time in my whole life that somebody else had initiated a conversation about it and it made me realize how I wanted other people to be with me in my stuttering.”
Adam has come a long way from the quiet child who avoided talking. He no longer shies away from any opportunity because of his speech.
And if he could go back and give advice to his younger self?
“Be yourself. If you stutter, it’s okay. Don’t just cope – accept and thrive as much as possible while not hiding. I would be more open. I would disclose more to other people. It helps to just come out and say, ‘I stutter.’”