2nd March 2023
Samuel Gill tells us how he's learned to accept his stammer and not let negative feelings about it stop him saying what he wants.
I've always had a stammer and navigated a world of communication where I just couldn't get my words out. I perceived my stammer as such a negative, disabling issue which I had no control over. It took a lot of strength and honesty to turn it around and begin viewing the positives.
There's a genetic link as my grandad, who unfortunately passed away many years before I was born, had a stammer himself. Although I was named after my grandad, little did I know we shared this other trait, one which I would have loved to discuss with him. He could have told me that the world is not as cruel as I first thought, that things get better, and that I can't let it hold me back and stop me being who I am.
School was difficult for me as the butt of my classmates' jokes. It's hard to defend yourself when any response is giving them more ammunition! Kids will be kids and cruelty is something most children experience. I know I am not alone in this but at times, it felt like there was no escape.
I try to be confident... but it's difficult to maintain that confidence when you struggle every time you open your mouth to speak.
I gradually became more insular and withdrew inside my own little world. Why put myself out there and risk humiliation when I could stay safe in my comfort zone? I blamed myself that I couldn't be 'normal'; that there was something wrong with me that I should be able to overcome.
I didn't know anyone else that stammered when I was young and only met others when attending the Starfish Project course at the age of 16. It was wonderful to meet other people who stammered; I felt such an instant rapport with these people and felt safe in their company.
Links and phases
For me, stammering is linked to my confidence. When I am confident in my surroundings, the people I am with, or in the things that I am saying, my speech is fluent. When I am not confident in one or more of these factors, I'm less fluent. Like most people, I try to be confident and put on a front, but it's difficult to maintain that confidence when you struggle every time you open your mouth to speak. It makes me feel weak, doubt creeps in and the negative internal monologue takes hold. I do go through phases where I'm more fluent or less fluent. The latter can be a downward spiral but at least they make me appreciate the fluent phases!
It's one thing I can't control, but what I can do is control the negative connotations or the way it makes me feel.
My speech tends to be less fluent when I am presenting at work, talking in front of a group of people or in a pressurised situation, such as an interview. I have learnt not to get myself worked up about it and even try to get myself excited about presenting to be in the right mindset.
It wasn't until later in life, as part of a speech therapy group, when I learnt that if I have something to say I should say it regardless of my stammer. I've learnt to accept my stammer as a part of me; it gives me a different perspective of the world and I don't let it hold me back. I am the person I am today because of it after all. It's one thing I can't control, but what I can do is control the negative connotations or the way it makes me feel. I've also found that talking to people about my stammer helps put me at ease and can be used to get rid of the elephant in the room.
I still meet the odd person who smirks, laughs or makes a joke of it, but now I accept that it's the novelty of my speech, the misunderstanding and simply the social awkwardness it brings. If there is more to it than that, well that's their problem, not mine, and I wouldn't want to interact with that sort of person anyway!
If there is some advice I would give a young person who stammers, it would be:
- Own it — it's a part of you but it doesn't define you.
- No one is 'normal' — everyone has their own struggles; yours is just a little more obvious.
- If you have something to say, say it — don't let it hold you back.
- If someone is interested, embrace the situation and tell them about your stammer — educate them so they have the opportunity to treat other people who stammer with respect.
Read more Your Voice articles from people who stammer. Would you like to write something? Email email@example.com or see our Share Your Story page.
The Starfish Project is one of the courses available for people who stammer. See the full list of options on our Therapy & Courses page.