Has stammering really held me back?
20th December 2022
After a tough time at school and university, David Collier reflects on the positives that have happened since, and tells us what helped turn his feelings around.
From a young age I was sometimes told my brain was working faster than my mouth — slow down; pace yourself. Clearly, dysfluency was there lurking just below the surface, but just as quickly as it arrived my asynchronous speech would melt into fluency once again. Stammering was not an issue. Life was good.
I realised later that I'd inadvertently been using mental crutches to get me through the day. My favourite crutch was leading into every sentence with "umm", which seemed to do the trick every time. Then one day, aged 15, somebody in my class said, "Why do you say 'umm' before every sentence?". Once I heard this I became self-conscious and tried to switch-off my lead-word, which had the unexpected effect of eroding my fluency. Naturally, I tried to re-instate 'umm' as a runway to every sentence — but there was no going back. The cat was out of the bag. My stammer had arrived.
The Sixth Form years were quite bleak. Although I had friends and no-one made fun of me, my head was in turmoil. I would often spend time alone just so I didn't have to speak.
...but there was no going back. The cat was out of the bag. My stammer had arrived.
At university, I started to stammer more. I remember one particular presentation when I had to say 'umm' before virtually every word. I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me whole.
But what about all the positive events that happened along the way?:
- Aged 18, I started dating the woman I would eventually marry. Fast forward eighteen years and we're still more in love than any couple I know.
- Aged 24, I enrolled to study a PhD in Cell and Molecular Physiology, where, for the second two years I had the amazing experience of relocating to Tokyo, Japan.
- Aged 28, I started a job as a post-doctoral scientist at King's College London. I remember seeing my name and photo on the staff noticeboard and beaming with pride.
- And now, aged 35, I work in a client-facing roll as a business liaison for UCL university, in a job that I find immensely satisfying.
Reflecting on these experiences, I ask myself: has stammering really held me back? I can honestly say that it has not. If anything, my stammer has helped to keep me grounded, to show vulnerability and to have a quirk that people remember.
I've found that by stammering openly and confidently, dysfluency can be disarmed, blunted, made-safe.
Stammering is still an ever-present in my life, but how I feel about it has been turned upside down. Now, I co-exist peacefully with my stammer — we have developed a grudging respect for one another — we are symbiotic.
Huge thanks to my speech & language therapists, my wife and family for helping me to accept responsibility for my stammer. Yes, I am neurodiverse and at first that was hard to accept, but over time I've come to see that stammering is not something that has to make us feel powerless. Mindfulness, quiet observation, forgiveness and an attitude of 'feel the fear and do it anyway' can douse the emotional flame of stammering. I've found that by stammering openly and confidently, dysfluency can be disarmed, blunted, made-safe.
I'm so proud of my stammering journey and wouldn't change it for the world. After all, without stammering I never would have joined the STAMMA community. I just wish I could have told this message to my 15-year-old self: that everything turned out just fine, and that stammering has helped to define me in more positive ways than I could possibly imagine.