Geeks Vs Loneliness: life with a stammer

A few words about battling through life with a stammer, and what help is out there...

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

It’s Geeks Vs Loneliness time, the space on the site where we chew over things that may be affecting you, or people you know. We know that not everything we write in this pieces is of use to everyone, but we do hope that somewhere along the line, there’s something we cover that’s of help.

This week, we’re handing over to Chris Thomson. He wants to have a natter about stammering. Over to the brilliant Chris…

Apparently I haven’t always had a stammer. I’m told it first started when I was about seven or eight years old, but that’s of little importance to me. As far as I’m concerned it’s always been there, and I know it’s never going away.

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According to the British Stammering Association, around 5% of children will go through a stammering phase during speech development, but only 1% take it through to adulthood. For so long I felt bitter and ashamed about being in that 1%.

School wasn’t the easiest, and as I’m sure many of you know, kids can be pretty mean when someone’s a little bit different. Don’t get me wrong, I had plenty of friends at school, something which I’m very thankful for, but that didn’t stop the name-calling or, as was often the case, the mimicking when I couldn’t get my words out.

Being asked to answer questions or read aloud in class would fill me with dread. I could hear the sniggers and feel the awkwardness spread around the room as everyone waited for me to try and squeeze the sentences out. I can even recall one instance when a teacher told me to ‘spit it out’ in front of the whole class. Helpful.

It just seemed so unfair. Why was everyone else able to talk so freely and without any problems, and yet I could barely get through a sentence? Speech is such an innate thing that should come naturally, so why didn’t it for me?

In my adult life, having a stammer has thrown up its fair share of issues, too, from being told I wouldn’t get certain jobs to people putting down the phone on me because they think the line has gone dead when I can’t get my words out fast enough.

But my own attitude towards my stammer has changed as I’ve got older as well. A couple of years ago I decided to bite the bullet and go to speech therapy. I knew I wouldn’t be able to cure my stammer, but I wanted to learn to manage it better.

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And I did. I learned to control my breathing, to try and stay calm when I can feel myself stammering, to insert pauses into my speech, and other such techniques. It doesn’t always work, but I have at least have something in my locker if it gets bad.

However, perhaps the most significant part of my speech therapy was how it helped me come to terms with it. My therapist was fantastic and incredibly patient with me. She helped me re-evaluate how much of a problem my stammer was, for myself and for other people.

In my head, it’s always defined who I am, a flashing neon sign I was chained to that everyone could spot a mile off but couldn’t see past. But my therapist helped me see that I was so much more than just my stammer. It’s still a part of me but not the only part, and the same goes for anyone else with a stammer or any other impediment or disability.

I’ve also learned to have a little more faith in other people. I always assumed that everyone I spoke to, including my friends and family, were embarrassed of my stammer in the same way I was, but that’s not giving them anywhere near the credit they deserve.

There’s still the occasional instance when someone will think they’re hilarious or original by taking the piss, but I don’t really care what they think. They’re not worth knowing anyway.

I doubt think I’ll ever really be okay with having a stammer. I still worry pretty much every time I open my mouth, whether I’m ordering in a restaurant or talking on the phone, and it still frustrates the hell out of me not being able speak as fluently as other people. But I now know that it’s not that big of a deal, and anyone worth giving a crap about doesn’t see it is as one either.

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If you’d like more information or help regarding stammering, the British Stammering Association and the Stammering Centre are fantastic resources. And if you have a friend or relative who stammers, this previous Geeks Vs Loneliness post provides some advice.

Thank you, as always, for reading.