Tag Archives: Struggle

Me, My Stammer and I

If someone had said to me few years ago that I would one day write a blog about something I am extremely conscious of, I would have laughed out loud! But here I am and this means a big step for me.

As long as I can remember, I have always stammered. I remember when I was about 5 years old and I was struggling to ask for a toy from a boy in a classroom and he said with a puzzled look, why do you talk like this? Up until then I never really noticed my repetition of words, struggling to get the words out etc.. I went home and asked my mum and she said it’s because you are still learning to speak and I believed her for a very long time!

Fast forward many years and I am still “learning to speak”! I was bullied in school for my stammering and my parents had to come for many meetings with the school to talk about it. Having any speech therapy was never an option as my parents believed it would all go away if I gave it time. My family helped me immensely by showing their support and patience, but I grew up thinking stammering was something to hide and not talk about to the world.

Despite being good academically I could never enjoy school, but my good grades and the thrive to achieve more kept me going, I always wanted to act and take part in debates and speeches, but settled for singing instead. This gave me a chance to experience the fluency I dreamt of. I used to envy people who could say what comes in their mind without even thinking about it!

waves Over the years my stammering was like waves with high and low points, but I became very critical and unforgiving of it. I would go over and over my speech and keep telling myself that I was not trying enough to speak properly. Thinking about it now makes me feel sad at how I would be divided into two with one side trying hard to communicate and the other just being negative! I hid my stammering from everyone and would cough, pause or whatever known hideaways to cover my stammer when talking to my friends and family, even at work. I managed to work as a telephone operator in a Call Centre for four years, but the constant efforts to cover up my stammering often made me extremely tired and out of breath.

It was only few years ago that I decided to try speech therapy. That decision did not come instantly as I had often thought of it, but only found enough drive to do something about it then.

The first call I made to find out about NHS speech therapy was very daunting in its own way. I was invited very quickly to the first appointment with a therapist in Chippenham, Wiltshire where I lived at that time. I went to the first session thinking there would be a magic cure waiting for me, but was also very apologetic to the therapist for wasting her time! After a few sessions, it was obvious that we needed to address my psychological approach to stammering before the physical side.

I attended a few sessions there and learned to be as kind, gentle and friendly to myself as I am to others! I know this sounds strange, but I learnt to look at me from a distance and appreciate myself. I started to take each conversation as it happened rather than thinking the whole day was a failure if I had stammered a few times during that day. Just as I was beginning to learn the positive ways to understand my stammer, we had to move from Wiltshire to West Sussex.

This threw me out of my comfort zone and I went back to my old self! It took me many more months to find out about speech therapy in the new area. I was told that there would only be one or two sessions to attend in my area before this service moved to Horsham, West Sussex. Desperate to do something about my attitude and state of mind, I took the chance. To be honest those two or three sessions probably did little to improve anything but they were reassuring enough to make me feel I was on the right track.

Finally, the speech therapist in Horsham helped me to achieve more and explore further. My anxiety was more about causing discomfort to others, but I learnt how that might not be the case and that others are not even bothered by it! We went through the relaxing techniques as well as some breathing exercises to ease the tension around my neck and upper torso, which helped a lot. I had days when the therapy or techniques were helpful, but there were also many days when I felt lost, confused and went back to my usual self-blaming thoughts!

One of my tasks set by my therapist was letting my employer know about my stammering. It happened at the right time as I was going for a job interview for a role I was extremely excited about. I went for the interview thinking there was no way I would get this job after I mentioned my stammering – I guess old habits die hard! But I was a little shocked and somehow disappointed to see that as I mentioned stammering and my therapy, they thanked me for letting them know and just moved on! I was hoping for gasps at least, but not even a slight twinge! That proved even more that my stammering was not as much of a trouble to others as it was for me.

I got that job and am still working there 5 years on. Not even once has anybody mentioned that my stammering has caused them any trouble or has come in the way of my job. My confidence grew with the years and I found a relief in letting people know about my stammering. This also gave me a starting point to focus on learning new skills and making new friends rather than worrying about where I stammered or got lost for words.

As one of the three speech therapists I had once said, “there is no such thing as perfect speech! It’s all about how you get your point across.”  I still have days or moments when I find myself lost for words or feel out of control, but then I take a moment and think that as long as I am able to make the other person understand my point, it’s ok.

I decided to stop taking therapy back in July this year because I felt I had gained enough skills in order for me to find my own way to be a “happy stammerer”. This ability to be ok with stammering is something I never thought I would achieve.

As much as I appreciate all the hard work my NHS speech therapists have put in to help me achieve this state of mind, I feel this was only possible when I decided to take control of my stammering rather than being controlled by it.

Anyone out there who is wondering whether therapy is for them… or perhaps have had therapy, but did not find it much help, I would like to say it’s more like trying a hat… you will have to try a few to find the one that fits! And once you find it, it will not solve all your problems but it will give you enough lift to face life with your head high!


Amna

 

 

Stammering and the social model of disability: challenge and opportunity

Where does the real problem of stammering lie?

How does society communicate its values and norms about fluency and how does this affect people who stammer?

How does the SLT tread the delicate path between helping their client manage their stammering more effectively (and increase ease of communication) without reinforcing unhelpful ideas about stammering (and fluency)?

These are just some of the questions Katy Bailey, Sam Simpson and I posed in a joint presentation to the Oxford Dysfluency Conference on 19 July 2014.

photo 1

At the presentation’s heart was a conviction we all share that the social model of disability has much to tell us – people who stammer, speech and language therapists, and wider society – about stammering, and how by working together we can challenge and overcome some of the stigma out there and self-oppression in here which can make life so difficult for those of us who stammer.

Katy began by tracing the origins and development of the social model in the disabled people’s movement which disputed the traditional medical conception of disability as the individual’s problem requiring impairment expertise, cure, therapy and care. Instead, the social model locates the ‘problem’ of disability in society: in the physical barriers, but also in the negative stereotypes and prejudices which can push disabled people to the margins of society, whilst upholding powerful notions of ‘normality’. The physical barrier of a voicemail which does not let me finish saying my name may be familiar to people who stammer, but far more insidious and interesting for me is the stigma around stammering which operates along psychological and emotional pathways, and is there, Katy argues, in the struggle of stammering itself.

Sam then recounted her own development as a speech and language therapist and the disturbing realisation that she was training within a tradition firmly underpinned by the medical model in which she, the ‘impairment expert’ was expected to ‘fix’ and restore the client to normality (fluency), without any awareness of the social norms and stigma the therapy was reinforcing. Times have moved on since then – Sam’s book which she co-edited with Carolyn Cheasman and Rachel Everard, Stammering Therapy from the Inside is evidence enough – but there is still plenty of stammering therapy for which fluency is the overriding preoccupation, and which fails to take the client’s voice into account, and to grasp the broader factors of self-identity, society and social stigma.

Finally, I assessed some of the cultural pressures we face: the performance-driven and perfectionist zeitgeist in which we live and the haunting and destructive appeal of the ‘fluency god’ which I am happy to say more and more people who stammer are starting to renounce. That certainly seems to be the impression I get from a range of blogs, podcasts and websites: StutterTalk, Stuttering is Cool, British Stammering Association, Free Speech, Diary of a Stutterer and the latest, Did I Stutter? project. If you haven’t done so already, check them out! The internet and social media has been a wonderful way of bringing people who stammer together, to share our stories, insights and experiences, and to provide some collective resistance to the powerful social norms which tell us either to keep quiet and get it fixed, or at least to keep up the façade of fluency. This is the good news. And the other piece of good news is that speech and language therapists also have an important part to play in helping people who stammer overcome these barriers. Approaches such as mindfulness and cognitive behaviour therapy enable us to look at our thoughts around stammering differently, and foster healthier and more self-accepting thoughts and behaviours. There is much good work to build on, and more opportunity to continue this conversation between therapists, clients and self-help groups on how we can all work together to help people who stammer on our ongoing journey from oppression to liberation.

St John Harris
website: www.free-speech.org.uk

email: stjohn.harris@free-speech.org.uk
twitter: @StJohnHarris

Therapy: admitting defeat or an accomplishment?

It took 18 years of living with my stammer before I finally decided to seek help in the form of stammering therapy with Sam at intandem. 

So, why did it take me so long? 

Well, the answer was because I did not want to admit I had a stammer. By pretending it wasn’t there meant that it somehow wasn’t a problem and that it would just disappear… Of course it did not. If I admitted defeat maybe it would rear its head even more? Was I embarrassed by the idea of having a stammer…? Sure! 

Throughout the years my fluency has gone through high and lows. Approximately a year ago I felt I was really struggling. I had become a lot more conscious of my stammer and was even more keen to hide it. The negative feelings surrounding my stammer had increased, which in turn made me stammer more. I felt like I was on a downward spiral and through all the battling I could see no way out.  april14   So, I ‘admitted defeat’ and sought help. 

A year on, my thoughts and attitudes towards my stammer have changed quite radically. One of the key turning points for me was ‘self advertising’, which involved telling friends, family and others that I stammered. Through Sam I had an opportunity to put this into practice by speaking of my experiences to groups of speech and language therapy students: the first time I would give a speech to an audience who all knew I stammered. The scenario was quite alien and I was not sure how I would respond. 

The experience proved more rewarding than I could have ever imagined! The audience’s knowledge of my speech actually reduced the pressure to try not to stammer. If I felt a stammer coming I was more willing to let it out. Quite quickly and without realising I became more relaxed, a lot more fluent and public speaking actually became enjoyable. 

Now a year into speech therapy I have developed a more realistic view of others’ perceptions of my stammer and also put my own stammer into perspective. Rather than battling to avoid stammering I am now more willing to stammer openly. The end result (one which I was always looking for) has been an improvement in my fluency, however it is the underlying feeling of speaking without fear and being freer to engage in the things that I want that has made the biggest difference. 

So, in hindsight, ‘admitting defeat’ feels more like an accomplishment, and much, much more! 

Kal

Accepting my stammer

The last Stammering Open Space in May saw a great exchange of ideas and experiences among the people in the group. Of the many interesting discussions that came up during the session, one in particular resonated with me: the idea that acceptance can be a useful way of dealing with your stammer.

I’ll be the first to admit that I was quick to reject the idea of acceptance when I first began speech therapy. The word felt too passive for me. It implied resignation, while I was determined to fight. As far as I was concerned, throwing punches at my stammer was the best way to get rid of it.

Fortunately, my attitude has changed enormously since then. After many months of mulling over the idea of acceptance, I can now see that it is actually a very active process. It does advocate giving up, but not in the way I initially thought. Acceptance is about moving forward by giving up the struggle against a problem. This may sound like passive resignation, but choosing not to fight requires a lot of effort.

As an amateur violinist, I like to think of ‘giving up the struggle’ in the context of violin-playing. When I was just starting out on the violin, my teacher told me a story of a fellow string player – a cellist – who held his cello bow so loosely that it slipped from his fingers during a concert and flew into the audience. ‘Now that’s how you should hold your bow’, she told me.

intandem blog july 2013

 

 

 

 

I’ve never forgotten this anecdote. It was a turning point for me as a musician. A natural instinct for novice string players is to grab on to the bow as tightly as possible to control its movement. It was a revelation to learn that putting in less physical effort – though completely counterintuitive – actually produces a better sound.

Learning to work with the instrument and not against it was a difficult process and took a lot of practice. But it completely transformed the way I played. Even more surprising was how it freed up my mind (and muscles) to focus on other aspects of my playing.

I am now working towards giving up the struggle against my stammer, and hope that this process will similarly transform the way I feel about myself and the way I speak. It will undoubtedly take some practice, but I know it will be worth the effort. I believe now that accepting – and not fighting – my stammer is the key to coming to terms with it.

I guess you could say that I’ve accepted acceptance.

Cara Steger

Embracing vulnerability

Having recently been signposted to the photos and videos Steven Halliday has put together on the British Stammering Association Twitter page, I came across a fascinating speech by the actress, Emily Blunt at an American Institute for Stuttering Gala Dinner in 2009. (Listen here)

Emily Blunt

 

 

 

 

My initial response was one of surprise that this event had completely passed me by. Blunt’s speech is engaging and her openness and honesty about her personal experience of stammering is deeply moving. It is also encouraging to see such a glamorous celebrity coming out about stammering in this way and subverting traditional stereotypes of communication disability.

What has stayed with me, however, was Blunt’s willingness to be so transparently vulnerable in such a public forum. Her capacity to speak from this place of authenticity was like a tuning fork that touched in and resonated with something deeply human. Beyond words. An act of true courage.

Perhaps it also resonated because the struggle to be with vulnerability is a recurrent theme in my client work just now. It is intriguing how often we are untrusting of our feelings of vulnerability, how we automatically strive to keep them under wraps; by either trying to tidy the mess into a more acceptable form or to hide it shamefully from view. How very tragic then to learn how costly this natural tendency towards control and concealment actually is.

Brene Brown

 

 

 

 

In her inspiring TEDX talk, entitled “The power of vulnerability” (listen here), Brene Brown claims that embracing vulnerability is not only key to true connection with both ourselves and others, but is a necessity. As uncomfortable and unsettling as it might be, she describes the essential human experience of vulnerability as being the birthplace of joy, gratitude, personal growth and authenticity.

This led me to reflect on the many paradoxes involved in being human, on just how much each of us needs to let go of in order to truly be ourselves… in all of our beautiful inconsistency and imperfection.

Sam

The Stammering Open Space

I’d been to see Sam a few times before she introduced the idea of a group session. At first I was sceptical, after all I’d been trying to hide my stammer from everyone: family, friends, colleagues etc. so why would I want to be in a situation with people I didn’t know and be open about having a speech problem? Well that turned out to be exactly the point: the opportunity to be in a safe & non-judging environment, where I didn’t have to try to hide it!

The moment I arrived I was happy that I’d had the courage to attend – the session completely exceeded expectations and was actually good fun and a lot of laughs. The other guys were a lot like me, which was the biggest surprise of all. Everyone was open, honest and going through the same things, which made me realise that I wasn’t actually alone in any of this – and that’s really encouraging. We all have varying degrees of stammering and each of us different aspects we struggle with. Listening to everyone’s experiences and how they deal with their speech has definitely helped me overcome some of my obstacles and has made the whole process of speaking that much easier. Being able to share, push the boundaries and experience something new in a group environment is incredibly beneficial and I’d encourage everyone to try it at least once. And of course, did I mention the superb tea, coffee and biscuits that are on offer as well…?

See you at the next Open Space, cheers.

Joe