Coming to terms with stammering in my early 20s

A man in a restaurant sitting at a table and smiling

Alex McWilliam Cervera talks about finding acceptance by facing the things he fears and surrounding himself with the right people.

Growing up, I used to tell myself, "When I get older, I'll grow out of my stammer" or "When I reach university, it will have gone". Maybe it was naivety. Or maybe I just wasn't accepting what seemed like a  harrowing reality that I would live my adult years with a stammer. The idea that I'd have to face job interviews or make important phone calls (the worst thing ever, by the way) when I grew up played at the back of my mind even when I was just that young innocent boy enjoying school breaktimes with my mates. 

I was in and out of speech & language therapy from the ages of 5 to 18, which benefitted me in countless ways. But I've always struggled with the idea of using techniques to increase my fluency. It felt alienating, almost like I wasn't being taught to accept myself for who I am and instead being taught to speak a certain way. I know using fluency techniques is an amazing option, but I wanted to accept my stammer and for other people to accept the fact that this is the way I am. But I always felt the pressure of needing to be fluent to communicate, just like everyone else around me was. 

Into my 20s 

The jump from school to university was terrifying having to go from being comfortable with my friends and family to moving away and being thrown into a whole new environment where I was going to have to constantly introduce myself (the dreaded trying to get my name out). But time moved fast. Suddenly, I'd finished my first week and I realised people are nicer than what all my overthinking taught me. I remember sitting in my uni room on the first day whilst everyone was in the kitchen, trying to gain the confidence to go and introduce myself. But that's the thing with fear, it's only scary because you haven't done it yet. 

I always felt the pressure of needing to be fluent to communicate, just like everyone else around me was. 

University forced me to finally realise that I can do things by myself. I wasn't that teenager anymore who was too stressed to order for himself at a restaurant or even just answer to my name in the class register. I took time to try new things even if they did go badly. Yes, it still scares me sometimes to go into new situations where I might stammer. But it's better to try and find out than to wait and never know. 


Accepting my stammer was not just about trying to deal with things alone. But instead surrounding myself with people I'm comfortable with, people who won't think of me any differently because of my stammer. This way, they encourage me to try new things and help me to learn that I can be myself and that there is nothing wrong with having a stammer. 

In my second year at university, I started a football team with help from my society. This was a frightening idea for me; to be captain and talk to a group of people passionately in a fast-paced environment. But, proving my overthinking wrong once again, I loved it. So, do the things you enjoy and don't let your stammer get in the way of your passions. still scares me sometimes to go into new situations where I might stammer. But it's better to try and find out than to wait and never know. 

I am currently in my third year of university doing a year abroad in Valencia. Another change! You're joking' I know… change is scary, once again having to meet new people. But surprisingly, I was excited about this change. I've met some amazing people here who've helped me to feel comfortable, and (not to sound too clichéd) experiencing a change as big as living in a new part of the world has helped me to find myself and learn more about accepting my stammer. 

A man standing in the road in a Spanish town
Alex in Valencia for his third year at uni

My conclusion

I am not yet fully where I want to be but that's okay. I still get nervous or overthink speaking situations but I don't feel as anxious anymore, going into my 20s; I'm excited to experience new things. I aim to do things that I can look back on and be proud of and think 'Wow, a younger version of me would have never even thought about doing that'.

All this came from just taking one small jump, whether that's going to university, starting a new hobby, or simply ordering your own meal. 

It may seem daunting at first to accept your stammer but hopefully you will, and that you'll realise that the mean thing that person said or the time you felt anxious never really mattered. 

I feel grateful for my stammer. Stammering has taught me the importance of empathy and patience and I think it has taught my friends and family the same thing. You don't know what others are going through so it's better to be patient and kind than to judge and not make the effort. 

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