Some testimonials have been edited for length and
I've had a stammer for most of my 48 years of life. It didn't
really bother me as a child or going to senior school, but it
really became a big problem in my adolescent life trying to make my
way in the world. I really found it hard to form relationships.
When I was at school I had lots of close friends. As we were in a
group I didn't have to stand out in when I was in social
situations. But as soon as I left school I became increasingly
isolated trying to hide my stammer, which in turn made me
withdrawn. I was even embarrassed to stop and chat to friends I
knew from school.
I think I was more embarrassed about going to speech therapy. I
really thought it would be a humiliating experience, but I summoned
up the courage and took the first step. I'm not saying my thoughts
about speech therapy were allayed, but as soon as you walk in the
therapists really understand you and there is no pressure. They
will always go at your own speed but they will push you: with
techniques to improve your confidence, and to help you desensitise
your stammer, which is a big part of how your stammer actually
All I'm saying is it worked for me: I'm not saying I am as
fluent as I want - who is! I have a wonderful partner who pushes me
too. I'm not saying I'm perfectly fluent but with continued support
from my therapist and partner, I'm working towards reading my
wedding vows and saying "I do" next year. So if you're reading this
trying to make the decision then please take that first step!
I developed my stammer around five, at the time having no idea
what a stammer was, or that I spoke differently to others. As
primary school progressed, I was sometimes aware I was dysfluent,
but at this age kids play together and everybody is much the same,
as long as they like riding a bike and getting muddy. The
years rolled on, with my relationship with my stammer becoming
gradually more fraught as I realised both what it was, and the need
to control it. I was now attending secondary school with
everyone needing to make friends. My stammer became a point
of isolation which identified me as 'the boy who sometimes couldn't
say his name properly'. This was a hard identity to shake
which sometimes caused shame.
I went to college but began avoiding classes in History because
of the presentations we had to do. Despite loving the
subject, every presentation was an absolute terror. I began
avoiding History classes and my grade suffered because of it.
My mind was focused on fluency and being able to 'get
it out' properly. I would read a piece of paper
containing a carefully crafted script (having already scanned over
the words to remove or change words I knew I usually stammered on),
read it to myself, yet when speaking it was an altogether different
experience. Whilst speaking, I would be proof-reading
rapidly ahead, all to try to reduce my risk of dysfluency and words
I knew were hard to say. It is an exhausting roller-coaster,
with every full stop and comma the anticipation of the next block
or episode of dysfluent speech.
After graduating from uni, I went to live in Scandinavia
after being offered a job. I learned Norwegian quickly, and
it surprised me how I would not stammer whilst I spoke it.
For the first time in my life, I could understand what it meant to
speak with a focus on what you are saying, rather than how you say
Jump forward almost a decade, and we are nearly in the present
day. I moved back to the UK for a change of job and
also due to how little I saw my aging family. The
difficulties with my speech resurfaced again, but slowly. I
became increasingly dysfluent until I was back to letting my mind
rapidly swap the difficult words - all to desperately hide my
stammer. The familiar exhausting dance returned, where
I had to move faster and faster to the beat, afraid of missing a
step as the tempo became ferociously quick.
But 90% of the time I am a fluent speaker. I have a relatively
mild stammer which I control with sheer effort and mental
tricks. For me, much of the stress is under the surface, but
very much still there.
It was too tiring to hide, it was too stressful, and it was
giving me major anxiety with even the smallest of questions.
I requested an appointment with the speech & language therapy
(SLT) department to try and find a different way.
So what has changed for me now?
The most significant change for me has been in my attitude
towards my stammer and towards myself. I had always felt my
stammer was a part of me I hated, a part I wanted removed, and
would excise it with surgery if I could. SLT has let me
engage with and accept that my stammer is not something I will
lose. I will always be a person who stammers. It is
surprising how hard that was to understand, even at the beginning
therapy. Stammering itself is peculiar in that the more
you fight it, the more effort you put in trying to control it and
shape it to your will …. the worse it gets.
The techniques varied, with a focus on ACT and Mindfulness, but
also different therapies for those who required them.
Believing was the hardest part, believing that the methods I had
developed to manage my stammer since being a little boy were no
longer relevant. My fear was, what if I let go, and it
gets a lot worse? The fact it was delivered by a qualified
therapist who plainly had success before was a large factor in me
letting go and committing to therapy of another way.
I feel more peaceful with stammering now, conversations no
longer involve crippling anxiety and I am much more at ease with
being in the moment. Yes, I stammer a little, sure, but it
doesn't spin away from me as it did before. I see it more as a
quirk rather than something which defines who I am, and I am much
the stronger because of that. Personally and professionally,
I believe this has reduced a lot of difficulty and improved my
quality of life substantially.
'As I was very, very nervous, I must have been the worst patient
ever and they were brilliant with me and I can't thank them enough
- could you please pass on my sincere thanks.'
Patient, Hysteroscopy Unit, Chester-le-Street Community