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‘What’s wrong with you?!’: What it’s like to have a stammer at uni

Whoever spelt stutter with three ‘t’s was making a sick joke

It's estimated that one in one hundred adults suffer from a stammer, with men being four times more likely to be affected than women. Although four out of five young children recover from their stammers, I never did.

For as long as I can remember, I've had a stammer. When I speak, I often get stuck at certain sounds, I repeat the same word over and over again, my jaw locks up and I have to start again. And again. I've become a pro at switching words around in sentences, and although I can feel a block coming from two sentences away, there's nothing I can do to stop it. My grammar isn't correct a lot of the time, not because I'm uneducated but because that's the only way I can get a sentence out.

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Before university, my affliction was met with nothing but compassion and kindness, except for maybe one or two incidents. Coming from a small school, the majority of my classmates knew about my stammer and paid no attention to it. I was never bullied or laughed at.

A different experience

Starting at university was always going to be a big hurdle for me. The prospect of having to make new friends and fit in, all while being 350 miles away from home, was daunting. I was lucky enough to make friends who didn't care I had a stammer and didn't mind waiting for me to finish speaking, even if it took a little longer. I wasn't viewed as any different by the majority of my peers, which was a huge weight off of my shoulders.

But of course, with every upside there's a downside. More so than ever before, my stammer has been met with sneers and comments, something I hadn't experienced before. Examples include: "What's wrong with you?", "What are you doing with your face?" and "…are you okay?!".

I started noticing how people would interrupt me and start their own conversations when I was getting stuck somewhere, completely ignoring that I was in the middle of saying something. I would fade away in group conversations, too paranoid to raise my voice, fearing that no one would bother to be patient enough to listen.

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I know that the majority of these incidents stem from a place of ignorance rather than malignance, but having to do it every day is exhausting. It's hard not to feel like I'm worthless. What's worse is the look of pity I sometimes get and the misconception that having a speech impediment comes with. It's frustrating when I have so much I want to say and no eloquent way of putting it.

In my lectures and seminars I never ask questions, even if I didn't understand something, and choose to email lecturers instead. I didn't join as many societies as I wanted to because the prospect of having to introduce myself over and over again was too much. I struggle with things everyone else finds so easy, like ordering food at restaurants, asking for directions and making a phone calls, just to name a few.

There's good days and bad days

With everything there comes a sense of resignation. Over the years I've tried different programmes and attended speech therapy, with no luck. Like everything, it's cyclical. I have my good days and my bad days. Sometimes I have good weeks, other times I have bad months. Some days I can speak freely, other days I can't say my first name.

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What's keeping me going is the knowledge I have amazing friends who I adore, who are supportive of me and don't mind waiting the extra few seconds for me to finish my sentences. Despite knowing I will never fully recover, I hope that one day I'll be in the position to do the things I want to do without worrying about how I sound when I speak.

If you'd like any additional information on stammering or have a stammer yourself, visit The British Stammering Association or The NHS