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Section 6 - Feedback from Patients

Some testimonials have been edited for length and clarity.

J

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 But as soon as I left school I became increasingly isolated trying to hide my stammer, which in turn made me withdrawn.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 works!

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!

TD

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 it.

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.

'I have to compliment everyone on their pleasant persona and their expertise and knowledge. By the end of the 5 days, I did not feel as though I had been in a hospital ward and was very relaxed.'

Patient, Ward 16 Orthopaedics, University Hospital of North Durham