Coming to terms with my stammer

The article's author, Razane Cherk

Stammering used to have a huge impact on Razane Cherk's mental health and self-esteem. Here she describes how, with help from a speech & language therapist, she has realised things which have helped on her journey towards acceptance.

I felt like a victim of my stammer. It was this black cloud, this monster within that refused to let me be. My professors never remembered me because they barely ever heard my voice. Family and friends gave me looks of pity and spoke over me when I stumbled over my words.

I wouldn’t speak unless I felt sure I wouldn’t stammer. I avoided specific words, especially ones starting with vowels. I suffered from anxiety weeks ahead of events. My life started to feel like a living hell because I was obsessed with maintaining perfect fluency.

It was this black cloud, this monster within that refused to let me be.

But I refused to give up. I had to fight the monster.

I had tried speech therapy as a child but stopped because of how expensive it was. Unfortunately in the USA where I grew up, speech therapy isn’t usually covered by insurance, and this is a huge barrier to stammerers like myself seeking support.

Realisation

Throughout the spring of 2019 I looked into speech therapy again and started reaching out to therapists who could help me win this war against stammering, as I saw it. I eventually found someone I could afford and who could conduct sessions online.

 Fighting my stammer was only making it worse.

I had seen speech therapy as the solution to my problem, but what I’ve learned is that it isn’t my stammer that’s the issue. It’s my mindset. My stammer isn’t a dark cloud or a monster and I’m not meant to fight or be at war with it. My stammer does not define me. It is only a small part of me. 

I began to realise how important it was to be gentle with my stammer. Fighting it was only making it worse.

Perfect speech isn’t possible

This was a huge realisation for me. I began to listen closer to how others spoke, realising that they also hesitated and even stammered slightly. Even they didn’t have perfect fluency!

When speaking, I learned the importance of focusing on my message, rather than my stammer. If I could speak clearly and look into the person’s eyes while I delivered my comment or question, then my stammer could fade into the background.

People are always surprised when I tell them that I stammer. Much of the time your stammer can be seen as completely normal and a result of nervousness or even just the way you speak. Perfect fluency isn’t possible, even for non-stammerers! 

Why do you care if someone hears you stammer?

My therapist asked me this question and it took me further into examining why I was so stressed about being dysfluent. I would find myself feeling anxious for days before meetings. It was hurting my mental health and self-esteem.

I recently started letting myself stammer and it has transformed my life. I focus on speaking slowly, sometimes even preparing what I want to say beforehand, and this has already decreased the chance of me stammering. I decided to let go, to stop striving for a standard of fluency that was causing me to choose silence over speaking my truth.

Watching Obama

My speech therapist noted several times during our sessions that I spoke very fast and that speaking slowly could improve my stammer. I loved her anecdote about a client who tattooed the word ‘slow’ on his wrist as a reminder!

We all feel the need to hurry our speech and fear the other person losing interest in what we have to say. My speech therapist sent me a video of one of Barack Obama’s speeches. In it, he spoke very slowly, took several pauses, and I found myself hanging on his every word. Speaking slowly can actually be a great way to capture your audience’s attention.

Stammering in different languages

I speak three languages and my stammering varies depending on which one I’m speaking. I stammer the least in English, somewhat in Arabic, and the most in French. When you speak multiple languages, you need to utilise varying techniques to manage your stammer.

In English, I've found speaking slowly makes a world of difference in how much I stammer, while in Arabic and French, using the Camperdown Technique that I was taught, as well as taking longer pauses between words, is necessary for me to effectively guide my speech. 

We all stammer differently, but what we all have in common is fear.

Recognising what I needed to do based on which language I was speaking, has helped me immensely in learning to be gentler with myself and not give up as easily.

We all stammer differently, but what we all have in common is fear. Fear of stumbling over our words, fear of being seen as inadequate, fear of not living up to others’ expectations. 

Living your life to the fullest is much more worthwhile than worrying about what others think of you. Be kind and patient with yourself. Seek professional help if it feels right, but do not suffer in silence as I did for years. Good luck!

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