Living with a stammer is painful, scary and frustrating
It is heart-wrenching knowing no matter how hard I try the words aren’t going to come out
Stammering affects around 5 per cent of all children and 1 per cent of adults across all cultures in the world, and more males are affected than females with a ratio of 3.5 to 4. Stammering is typically recognised by a tense struggle to get words out, speech is often disrupted by hesitations and repetitions, involving prolonged sounds and words, or getting completely stuck without any words at all. It is the most heart-wrenching feeling knowing no matter how hard I try the words aren’t going to come out.
I hate the way my face contorts when I struggle to get words out, it is not only mentally but physically straining on my body. Imagine the blood rushing to your face, short breaths, sweaty palms, light headedness a constant nauseous feeling. Your heart beating away uncontrollably that you can feel it throughout every inch of your body. It is the feeling of just wanting to escape, the feeling of running as fast as you can to make the last train and having it disappear just as you arrive, having something so close to your grasp you can see it, but it is just ever so slightly out of reach.
One of the most frustrating things for me as a stutterer is that there is no known cause for stammering, and as there is no real cause there is also no real solution. Researchers suggest that a combination of factors are involved, at root it is a neurological condition however genetics is also very relevant, having a stammer is often passed through family.
I resent the laughter when I stutter: it’s a disability that people think they can laugh at. “Have you forgotten your own name?” is a question I get asked almost every day. Why do good people still think it is OK to laugh at someone who stammers?
I will never ever forget the feeling of someone laughing at me for not being able to speak, more so because it still happens on a daily basis. The panic, the sadness, the anger, the frustration. The feeling of being humiliated for a basic fundamental right of speech.
For some reason for me what works is swearing, the word fuck, I never seem to stammer when I swear, it alleviates the struggle and contortion of trying to get a difficult word out. Although this obviously cannot always be used in day to day professional life.
Ordering at a drive thru is a massive struggle for me, rehearsing my order whilst I’m sat waiting. Often I end up saying something random at the last minute because it is all I can say. “Chicken mayo meal and a strawberry shake” “chicken mayo meal and a strawberry shake” over and over again. Then when the assistant comes to me, “ccc” “cccc” is all I can muster, I’m then faced with “sorry what” “what do you want” “can you hurry up please” “hello?” I crack: “a fucking chicken mayo meal”.
A simple phone call also becomes the most daunting experience, the amount of times I’ve been hung up on because I cannot get my words out and people think no one is there. Or when I struggle to get my words out and often appear that I’m just heavy breathing on the other end of the phone like someone reenacting a clip from Scream.
Although I have faced humiliation and embarrassment, I would never wish that I hadn’t gone through this. I have learnt so much from living with my stammer, it has given me an insight into other peoples’ pain, embarrassment and suffering. Stammering has taught me to anticipate what is on the mind of the person I am about to approach, as I rehearse over and over the simple conversation I wish to have. It makes me think and focus on them, improving my communication skills. It has actually improved my courage to just stand up and let my voice be heard.
Everyone in the world has a “stammer” of some sort. Something of some sort they are trying to overcome, something they are trying to hide. It just happens mine is apparent almost every second of my life. I am a stronger and better person for adjusting my every day with my stammer. I couldn’t be as confident as I am today without my parents and family supporting me.
I am not defined by my stutter, it has nothing to do with my intellectual competence or my character, my behaviour, so why would I let it hold me back?