We asked two young people in their late teens to tell us about some of the stammering-related issues affecting them. Here’s what they said.
“I’ll always remember my first therapy session aged 4 or 5 at the Michael Palin Centre for Stammering Children,” says Rory Sheridan, aged 17. “I was introduced to the book A Nifflenoo Called Nevermind (Margot Sunderland and Nicky Armstrong), in which each time something bad happens, the main character tucks his feelings away. Since then I’ve never looked back.
‘At primary school my stammer didn’t affect me much but when I reached secondary school things got worse. At around the age of 13 I started to become more mature but also more self-conscious about who I was and what others thought about my stammer. I started getting therapy sessions at school and was introduced to the idea of thinking about my stammer more, and how my feelings might affect it and my future. Since then I’ve attended two intensive courses to help me get to grips with my stammer and it’s helped a lot. I know the script so well now that I think I could probably pass for a Speech and Language Therapist!”
Omabuwa Tetsola, 18, says, “Everything was simple in the beginning, when I was more oblivious to the world and especially myself. Problems just weren't that complicated back then. But I had a rather rude awakening at secondary school when I suddenly became self-aware one day as I looked at myself and thought, 'Dear God, I stammer!' It was as if that fact didn't mean anything until that moment, and I haven't been the same since. I became a recluse and kept myself under the radar at school, spending most of my time in the library, reading and writing. I thought it was rather fitting actually - when one cannot speak, one writes. But I was certainly not happy with the new life I had created for myself. It was depressing and my hopes, my outlook, my entire self sank into that depression for a long time. I managed to pull myself out of it before I did something drastic. Things then didn't look as bad, but I was still living under grey clouds; there was no doubt I was different.”
Socialising and social networking
“Stammering can be a huge barrier to socialising,” says Rory. “I have things to say but sometimes I just don’t feel like saying them. People might not listen; they could walk away, stare at me or ask if I’m alright. Luckily my school is a friendly, supportive place. It has helped me to stretch my comfort zone and to talk to people. I talk much more now than I ever did, but I still don’t feel ‘normal’ or able to socialise like others do. I tend to keep my conversations bland and uncontroversial and I have trained myself not to say anything long-winded. After all, I don’t always want to have to answer any more questions than I have to; I might stammer, right?! However, technology and social media is helping me to ‘come out of my shell’. I use Facebook, texting and emails quite a lot, in some cases to avoid particularly stressful speaking situations. My choice. I actually think that social media is helping to drive the world’s development and connectivity, so perhaps I don’t feel significantly different or out of place using it more than others. It’s also a useful tool to hear the views, opinions and advice of others who stammer.”
Social media also benefitted Omabuwa, but up to a point. He says, “After I turned a corner with my depression, I turned somewhat more sociable and spent a more than fair amount of my time on social media. It was a godsend as I could now say exactly what I wanted to say, when I wanted to say it. When I got comfortable enough talking with someone online, I told them I stammered. It was like I could be my true self behind the computer screen.
‘However, at a certain point I thought to myself that socialising that way just wasn't going to cut it anymore. Spending my life online, to me, sounded sad and made me think of what things might be like in the future. Getting speech therapy helped me with confidence issues and I started going out more. I became more inclined to take risks and chances, something that I'd have never even thought of doing a year or so prior.”
“Stammering has also affected other aspects of my life as a teenager,” explains Rory. “I try not to let it but sometimes it inevitably does. One example is with my career aspirations. I’ve always been interested in photography and it’s something I’m considering taking further in life. One of the things I like about it is that the photo usually speaks for itself, so you get out of some of the talking! But sometimes I do need to talk about it, and I find it relatively easy as it’s something I’m familiar with; consequently, I stammer less! Yet, it still presents some challenges. For example, if you’re taking portraits or photographing people, telling them to pose or do a particular action is quite tricky. I’m slightly worried about receiving enquiries and bookings over the phone in the future too, but since my therapy I feel more able to confront these difficult situations and I know what to do - sometimes it’s just a case of actually doing it!”
Aspiring writer Omabuwa is currently looking for an internship before he starts university in September and is upbeat about finding one. “When you have a stammer, it’s easy to feel boundaries and limits imposed on you whenever you begin to think about your future. You start to think realistically about the things you think you can and can't do, and once you do, futures can become depressing. For me, it was exactly that. My fear of interacting with other people due to my stammer made me want to seek a career away from interaction, although no such career exists. Whatever you do, you're going to have to talk to someone at some point. So, the only thing left to do is just go for it. A lot of the limits that we all think we have are self-imposed and, more often than not, exaggerated. In those moments of paralysis when you're unable to act due to fear, a lot of chances and opportunities that would otherwise be available to you disappear, so it is imperative that you make a grab for them as soon as they arrive. This could mean job opportunities. The role that you think would be unsuitable for you due to your stammer - go for it.”
When you have a stammer, it’s easy to feel boundaries and limits imposed on you whenever you begin to think about your future.
The importance of positivity
“Living with a stammer certainly isn't easy,” Omabuwa goes on to say. “Things aren't perfect right now, but the best thing anyone who stammers can do is to change their attitudes towards this curious impediment of ours and try to attain a balance. I'm still trying to attain one myself.”
Rory adds, “As a result of feeling more positively about my stammer after starting therapy, I am able to make sure that it doesn’t get in the way of doing the things I want to do. Stretching my comfort zone helps me to practice tackling stressful situations. Recently I’ve been on a training course, spoken to many new people, introduced myself, and been to university open days and degree shows, amongst lots of other things. All of these events have helped me to take little steps to feeling less stressed about social interaction. Although it might sound weird at first, choosing to do tough and stressful things helps you to feel positive about different speaking situations, which can only be a good thing for the next time you have to do it!
‘I know I’ll always have to live with this thing so I’m trying not to care what people think anymore. I’m just taking every day as it comes, putting what I know into practice. I will make sure that I’m not a nifflenoo anymore – bottling everything up inside. I will forever speak my mind, I promise!”
From Speaking Out Summer 2013 edition, p16-17