For years I was not aware that I had a problem until my last few years in primary school. I don’t know how it happened or why it happened but one day I had an intense realisation – I was not able to communicate efficiently like my peers. This revelation changed everything for me. No longer did I put my hand up to answer a question or read aloud. I did not want to take the lead and challenge myself to go outside my comfort zone.
Stuttering was not an issue that solely interrupted the flow of my speech. It interrupted the flow of my life. Many people don’t understand what it’s like to have the ability to speak but be so afraid to do so. It’s so easy for people to mistake me as shy and quiet because they assume my reservedness is optional. Many people think I choose not to speak because I don’t want to, but really it’s that I chose not to speak because I’m afraid to.
How some people react to my stutter
My most embarrassing stories warrant this. For example, a few years ago I was talking to a good friend of mine. We sat comfortably in the hallway of our secondary school to eat lunch together. Our conversation was going well until I tripped and stumbled on a word that took me too long to get out. It was humiliating. My friend laughed at this even though all the other words came out smoothly after my slip-up. It wasn’t her fault. No one outside my family knows I have this impairment because I choose not to disclose it. I don’t want them to change the way they act, but sometimes I wish they would know so that they wouldn’t chuckle when I fail to say what they can say easily.
The impact on my self-esteem
Anyone who stutters quickly knows that the world revolves around speaking. To be someone who doesn’t attain that level of quickness and fluidity that comes with speech is distressing. I used to spend days in agony, crying over this disability. I hated how it felt like my tongue was tied by invisible strings that I couldn’t loosen. During those days I would recall the embarrassment I felt when talking to people and tripping over my words. I would live in the moments of those thoughts, but meditating on thoughts like that really damages your self-esteem. Basic things like talking to a cashier or a secretary are daunting. I wouldn’t be surprised if most stutterers rehearse not just what to say but the speed of what they are going to say. You quickly think of words that you can easily replace or if you can’t you make sure to avoid rushing it. You may pause before saying the word, you use filler words such as ‘like’ or over-pronounced other words. It didn’t matter to me if I looked silly. To me that felt a million times better than stammering.
Reaching my full potential
School presentations in secondary school were horrible for me. I had them 5-7 times in all my years of post-primary school. I recall not participating in discussions in my politics and society class because of my stammer. I chose to remain silent even though I could have contributed a point of view that hadn’t been said before. It was one of my favourite subjects but I couldn’t maximise my debating potential due to my fear. With stuttering it feels like you can’t reach your potential; there’s always current pushing you back.
Learning to not being so hard on myself
When you are so conscious of your own speech, you become conscious of the way others speak too. You note the language they use, the words they are able to say, the ones they can’t say. You notice a word they use that is convenient for you. In your mind, you are grateful to them for providing you with a filler word. The one thing I’ve always noticed is that many people do stutter in their speech. It wasn’t as infrequent as I perceived it to be. I remember the times when the teacher would ask us to read aloud – as usual I was petrified to be called on – but when it wasn’t me I listened to who was speaking. I heard their trips, tumbles, and falls in their speech. When I realised it wasn’t one person, but it happened to many people, I realised that I didn’t need to be so hard on myself.
I have learned to not allow my stammering to define me. I used to spend days thinking about how debilitating it was for me. I wouldn’t allow myself to go outside my comfort zone simply because I was scared. I have learned to deal with it and find ways to cope with it. Because of that I don’t feel so scared to ask for directions or even ask to use things like a pen. It’s not easy because sometimes I do feel bad for not saying words stutter-free but I am way happier now being able to not speak in fear. I just do it all one step at a time.