“Living with a stammer”

 How many people do you live with? An easy question, everyone knows how to answer to it, but what if you can’t? Not because you don’t know the answer but because you simply can’t get the word out. This is what a stammerer experiences every day, not being able to say what you want to, even when the answer’s ‘easy’.

 A stammer (or stutter) is where your speech is filled with involuntary pauses, blocks and repetitions. I think of it as like having a glass wall inside your head. You know exactly what you want to say  but when you try and actually say it the words hit the wall and refuse to come out. The repetitions of vowels, blocks and weird sounds or facial expressions you see are what happens when we try to force the words out.

I’ve had a stammer all my life, the overwhelming feeling associated with it is of frustration. Frustration that you can’t say what you want to, when you want to. Something that seems so easy for everyone else, that they don’t think twice about it, can be almost impossible for me. Imagine not being able to say your own name, make a phone call or order what you want in a restaurant. Imagine being filled with terror every time one of these moments comes along. For a stammerer this  happens on a daily basis and it wears you down, a lot of us try to avoid these situations all together.

A stammer can, roughly, be compared to an iceberg. The 20% above the water that you see is the tension, struggle and embarrassment associated with stammering. The 80% you don’t see is the avoidance of words, avoidance of situations, avoidance of relationships and the self hate, guilt and shame when you can’t even say your own name.

One of the worst parts of stammering is the way other people react to it. People make judgements about you based on how you speak (having a stammer isn’t great for making a good first impression). People think that how I talk is a reflection of how I think, that because I can’t speak fluently somehow I can’t think fluently and am “a bit stupid” or not as capable as others. You can see it in the way people react when they think you’ve forgotten what school you go to, or don’t know how many people you live with.

 

How do people with a stammer get by then? Personally I try, as much as possible, not to avoid situations where I have to speak. Avoiding situations gets you into a cycle of avoidance that’s hard to break out of and can result in you engaging with an ever decreasing number of people. It’s very hard trying to force yourself into new situations and almost everyday there’s something new I’m thrown into that scares me. Public speaking in front of large groups is one of the scariest things to do, for me more so then others. I have to do A LOT of preparation. I know exactly what I’m going to say before I say it and will have practised it 50 times. Not only that but I almost have a second speech memorised in my head with alternative phrases/words, so if I do block on a word I’ll have alternatives to it.

 

I know I’ll have a stammer for the rest of my life and that it will be a constant battle for me to maintain fluent speech. It will go through good patches and then there will be times where I really need to work on it. I’ll never be ‘cured’. So what do I want? Simply for people to be understanding, to know that some situations are more difficult for me then other people and to give me the time and respect to say what I want to say. People with speech impediments are just like everyone else, we think the same way, it’s just sometimes it’s difficult to say what we’re thinking.

 

If you were wondering I live with three other people.


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