Living & Dying with a Stammer
In this searingly honest account of living with depression, Naheem Bashir shares the depths to which his stammer took him, highlighting the extreme effects it can have.
Nope. Can’t say that. Think of something else to say. Just don’t say anything. Leave. No one wants to listen to you. You can’t even say your name. Everyone else can talk so easily. Everyone is looking at you, laughing at you. You’re embarrassing. You’re pathetic. You’re a joke. You’re deficient. You’re abnormal. No one understands you. No one wants to understand you. You can’t let anyone find out you stammer. You won’t have any friends. No one is going to love you either, why would they? Who wants to listen to you stammer for the rest of their lives? You don’t even want to listen to yourself. No one will want to hire you. You don’t have 'excellent communication skills'. You’re useless.
I could do so much and be so much better if I didn’t have this stammer. Why can’t I just be like everyone else? If only. This is how it will always be. Stop trying. You will never get what you want. You’re not good enough. You don’t compare to those who can speak properly. You have no choice. You’re not in control. Be quiet. Don’t speak.
Those were some of the greatest hits from my inner monologue as a person who stammers. Some real chart-toppers in there! Endless repetitive cycles before, during and after every interaction and foray into the outside world. Every day. Like one of those potato smiley faces being fried, I would be smiling away on the outside, pretending it’s all good while basically being on fire on the inside.
My stammer was an ocean and I was right in the middle. Everywhere I looked, it was just water.
There was also a constant feeling of dread, suspense and being on-edge: that feeling you get when watching a horror movie and a character just HAS to go and explore where the noise came from. That, mixed with the endless thought spirals, would stretch over the whole day, a constant hum in the background like a fan on a hot summer’s night. However, rather than a soothing sound which helped me get to sleep, I got the opposite: loud screams in my ear that kept me awake at night. Every night.
My stammer was an ocean and I was right in the middle. Everywhere I looked, it was just water. I wanted to get to 'Fluency Island' because I thought there was a chance at life over there. But regardless of how far I swam, the view remained the same, all water and no island. I felt trapped in the vastness of my stammering ocean. Eventually I became resigned to the idea that there’s nothing I or anyone can do to help, so I stopped trying to swim. All I could really do was keep my head above water whilst floating endlessly in this oceanic purgatory.
I didn’t know it at the time, but that was depression, which developed as a reaction to living with stammering. Depression was not really a feeling. It was more a lack of feeling. After years of floating, things like emotions, aims, hopes and joy had become abstract concepts rather than anything tangible. I thought 'is this it?'. Is this the life of a person who stammers? A limited, restricted, isolated and meaningless existence? A life full of regrets, missed opportunities, what ifs and if onlys, absent of all the experiences that constitute a well-lived life. I didn’t choose to be like this. If this is all there is to life, I don’t want it. Stammering felt like a life impediment rather than a speech impediment. I wanted a normal life, doing normal things like everyone else, but I felt it wasn’t an option because of my stammer.
I didn’t know it at the time, but that was depression, which developed as a reaction to living with stammering.
This all came to a head in a bad way. The prospect of an unlived life made me try to end my own. I was terrified of dying. However, the fear of living with stammering was greater than the fear of dying. Stammering was a monster scarier than death. Really, I didn’t want to die, I just didn’t want to be alive if that’s all living was. I thought I’d rather just go through pain for a few hours at most now than have a lifetime of pain because of my stammer. Yeah, it was a bit of a low point!
SPOILER ALERT… I’m still here! Fast forward almost ten years. I’m in a relationship, I have friends, I’ve just completed a PhD researching stammering, I was a STAMMA Trustee, I co-lead the London Support Group, I’ve given talks at national and international conferences, won awards, organised stammering events and I’ve even tried stand-up comedy (watch Naheem perform live in this YouTube clip). I’m doing everything I believed I could not do with a stammer. Crucially, I found out that none of those thoughts above are even slightly true. Life, and happiness, is possible with a stammer.
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Naheem told his story in our BBC Lifeline appeal, broadcast in November 2018.