How I changed my views on stammering
12th June 2023
Erim Way tells us how speech & language therapy helped him to think more positively about his stammer, and how he wants to go into the profession himself.
Before I had speech & language therapy, I was very conscious about my stammer. I would think to myself, 'what is the best way I can say this sentence without stammering?'. It was exhausting. Negative experiences had almost made me want to avoid speaking altogether.
I remember not liking it when the kids at school avoided eye contact or finished my sentences when I stammered. It made me feel different to everybody else, even though I know now they were trying to help, most of the time. Giving speeches at school was really hard; everyone's eyes were on me. I felt the most amount of pressure not to stammer in those moments. My tics would reveal themselves and I felt ashamed.
But having speech & language therapy helped me face it. By facing my fears, I changed my views on stammering, as well as friendships, meeting new people, the world around me, and my life, for the better. It helped me feel comfort within myself.
Rather than running away from it, I made the decision to stammer openly, on purpose to a crowd of people while consciously thinking about not submitting to my tics. It took all of my mental effort and the risk of sacrificing my pride to do it. It was too important a task to avoid due to any temporary discomfort I might feel.
Therapy helped me make the distinction between what I thought my stammering was and what it actually was.
Therapy helped me make the distinction between what I thought my stammering was and what it actually was. I realised that it did not have to be associated with the anxiety I felt or the tics I had when I was trying to talk a certain (what I thought to be a less embracing) way. Instead, I understood that it was something I had, a part of who I was. But I wanted to sculpt it to my liking so that I could manage it. And that is what therapy provided me with — the power to sculpt.
Desensitisation exercises were a huge part of my therapy. I spent hours reading words or phrases aloud from things I saw in the street, on signs displayed in front of me. At first I experienced intense shame and heightened social anxiety when I stammered. But after a while the most surprising aspect of this exercise wasn't the calmness I started to feel, but rather how little people seemed to care. Sure, it may have seemed a little odd to a handful of people walking by doing their afternoon shopping, but for the most part people just went on with their day.
Doing this exercise again and again allowed me to open my eyes to the reality that people truly did not care if I stammered. I knew that when it boiled down to it, it just really wasn't that important in peoples' eyes. So why should it be in mine?, I thought. For the longest time I believed that people thought it was a hindrance, an annoyance, something to be ashamed of. I was wrong. Only I cared. And that was the problem. It was literally only me. And then I didn't. I thought, 'can I allow myself to not care about my stammer, just like the people around me?'. The answer was 'Yes. Yes, I could'.
I realised that stammering was an asset for looking at language and communication in an intricate and detailed way.
I noticed that it was all about perspective. What I thought of as a massive hindrance turned out to be the greatest asset I have. Stammering taught me patience, confidence, compassion, social skills, a focus on non-verbal skills, such as drawing and playing the guitar. I realised that stammering was an asset for looking at language and communication in an intricate and detailed way. It boosted my confidence and allowed me to be a better communicator at the same time.
It also made me realise that I wanted to become a speech & language therapist. Mainly because of the negative experiences with therapy I had as a child. If the therapists' methods didn't work, I was left believing that I was the problem. As I grew older, these feelings of failure at being unable to speak fluently built up and made me resent stammering and lose all faith in therapists. It wasn't until later when I met Dr. Veysel and Mahmut Kizilboga in Turkey, where I grew up, that I was able to open myself up. I started to think in a different way towards stammering (and life), and allowed myself to 'fail' without the constant need to be perfect all the time.
My social anxiety had become futile. I was able to speak to people again, and not worry about anything when I did. Therapy with them made all the difference. I want to become a therapist so that I can make a difference for other kids out there, like me, who are looking to be understood.