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My (confused) relationship with my stammer

15th August 2023

Will Rook writes about the conflicting thoughts and feelings he has around stammering.

I've always had a quite confused relationship with my stammer. When I'm not talking I often don't think about it. And it definitely doesn't define who I am. However, that ignores the reality of how my personality has been shaped by living with a stammer and the daily trials and embarrassment I've sometimes felt. I've often wondered whether others have an equally unclear opinion of their own stammer as I do.

I've never been ashamed of stammering, nor have I ever felt inferior to anybody else because of it. It is what it is. It's there, I stammer, and I try to get through each day as best I can with all the tips and tricks I've accumulated over the past 27 years to minimise embarrassment. But it's that embarrassment aspect that I struggle with and it's something that has certainly seeped into my
personality.

I've often wondered whether others have an equally unclear opinion of their own stammer as I do.

I don't mind having a stammer, it's actually something that's quite interesting about me. But it's the humiliation of knowing that people around me are waiting as I order, for example, "Vodka, Coke and a Guinness please" with four Gs and seven Ps. In reality, the person behind the bar will rarely even think about it again in a few seconds' time. The issue is that I know they won't care, and I know I'll still get my (expensive) drinks. But I just can't connect that reality to the false one of humiliation I've developed in my head. I'll turn around and go back to my seat sweating with a racing heartbeat, filled with embarrassment when all I've done is order drinks or food, or ask for a table reservation.

That same thought process happens every time I meet anyone new, even though nothing negative has ever happened as a result. I get so nervous beforehand that I more than likely sabotage myself. People perhaps come away from meeting me thinking I was rude, grumpy, or that I didn't like them as I didn't talk or engage much with them. Whereas in reality I'd love to talk and get involved, and make who I'm with proud of me. But I don’t want to embarrass them as much as myself. I don't want any awkward moments so I play safe and talk as little as possible unless I'm completely confident I can get the words out and get my tongue and mouth in the right position — whilst hoping the conversation hasn't moved on.

The issue is that I know they won't care, and I know I'll still get my (expensive) drinks. But I just can't connect that reality to the false one of humiliation I've developed in my head.

What I have learned, however, is that although having a stammer can be undoubtedly hard, that it can be mentally and sometimes physically draining at the end of a particularly talkative day, you can still achieve a lot. I moved to London at 18 and didn't know a single person in a city of nine million. But I got through it and ten years later I'm still here. I got through all my University presentations, job interviews, made friends and now work for the Royal Household where I've spoken and engaged with some pretty nerve-inducing people! But that's for another article.

Whilst I have half cried, half laughed in somebody's living room as they made a phone call look so effortlessly easy, to the point where I probably looked a bit unbalanced, I'm still not ashamed of having a stammer. It's made me introverted and quiet, yes, and nowhere near as outgoing as I'd like to be — which adds another level of anxiety of wondering if I'm good enough, professionally or personally. But at the same time my stammer has made me kinder, far more sensitive and a much better listener than would otherwise have been the case.

It's small acts like these that really make a difference on my outlook on life 

Stammering has also not impacted on the things which perhaps do define me. The things I'd still have whether I stammered or not — my love of history, politics and reading, enjoying sport or just going for long walks and happily talking nonsense to somebody.

I have been made fun of and teased in the past, which was hard to deal with. But the vast majority of people will be kind and understanding of a stammer, and I do believe this increasingly so. Chances are they really don't mind or even notice as much as we do ourselves. I was caught off guard when a colleague asked how they should react when I stammered. Should they finish the sentence for me if I was struggling, or let me do it myself, they asked. Which would be best for me? I've been very lucky in having people around me who not only don't care, but actively try to understand about stammering and would do anything to help. It's small acts like these that really make a difference on my outlook on life and have undoubtedly made me a better, happier person.

I think I need to be prouder of my stammer, of what I've achieved with it, and realise that embarrassment is only temporary. Everyone deserves to find happiness in themselves.

Can you relate to Will's experiences? Would you like to write something too? See Share Your Story or email editor@stamma.org for details. Read more Your Voice articles from people who stammer and their allies.

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Tayo & Bhupinder
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A speaker on stage at STAMMAFest 2023

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