My stammer during the Covid-19 pandemic
9th July 2020
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Writing from the USA, James Hayden shares his current state of mind in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, explaining how all the uncertainty, zoom calls and facemask-wearing is taking its toll on his speech and mental health.
I'm a creature of habit. I enjoy my routine and the sense of stability it provides me. Needless to say, good-ole Covid-19 has destroyed my routine and sense of stability. In addition to this, it has done a number on my speech. The precautions and a new way of living, caused by Covid-19, have served as accessories to this wreckage.
My stutter is mild to moderate or, as I like to say, consistently inconsistent. Yet, the events of the past few months have made it more moderate to severe. I've noticed that I'm stuttering a lot more than I typically do. In situations where I would have only a few stuttering moments, I'm now having several. In situations where I typically have several stuttering moments, I'm now having what seems like a million during a two-minute conversation. I'm also blocking a lot more than I typically do. This was evident when I was talking to my friend, Brad, the other day via Discord. It seemed as if I was blocking at least once during every other sentence.
I think these excessive stuttering moments are due to my lack of a regular routine, the staples of my life being on hold, the stress caused by the uncertainty about Covid-19, and spending too much time worrying about how bad the second wave will be if and when it occurs.
Realising that pre-Covid-19 life is not returning anytime in the near future is causing me more undue stress and anxiety, resulting in more stuttering.
Since the end of March, my work schedule has changed many times. As someone who had the same schedule for two years and liked it, that adjustment took some getting used to. I've played the "what if I or someone I love gets the coronavirus?" game so many times I'm now an expert at it. For the past three months I've been super cautious about who I'm seeing, where I'm going, what I'm touching and how quickly I'll be able to wash my hands, that I'm not able to fully enjoy what I'm doing. I'm also spending too much time longing for a return to some sense of normality. Realising that pre-Covid-19 life is not returning anytime in the near future is causing me more undue stress and anxiety, resulting in more stuttering.
The side effects of the world closing manifest themselves mostly when I'm meeting virtually with others, ordering food, wearing a mask all the time, and in my mental health.
Zoom & Drive-thrus
Like the rest of the world, Zoom has become a staple of my life. I work in the medical field and instead of being able to guest lecture in person, I now do it via Zoom. Instead of having National Stuttering Association (NSA) meetings in person, they're now held via Zoom. Although Zooming has its perks, I'm not a fan. I miss the intimacy and connection that comes with in-person meetings. My biggest issue with it is that it requires me to look at myself while I stutter. Yes, I know I can turn my camera off, but that doesn't feel right to me and I keep it on as a result. I've used Zoom a couple of times before this and I've recorded myself before, so I'm used to seeing myself stutter. Yet, it's a sight I'm still not comfortable with seeing. Hearing my vulnerability is one thing, but seeing it in action, and more pronounced than usual, is a whole different level of vulnerable. I wonder, "If I'm uncomfortable with this, then how uncomfortable is my audience?" But then I try and remind myself that my audience cares more about the content of my message and not so much its delivery.
I've used Zoom before... so I'm used to seeing myself stutter. Yet, it's a sight I'm still not comfortable with seeing.
Back in speech therapy, ordering at a drive thru was always one of my goals. In the four semesters I was having therapy, I never scratched that one off the list. I used one for the first time in almost two years late last year after someone challenged me to use one. Since the world closed I've ordered via a drive thru more in the past three months than I have in the ten years of having a driver's license. Overall, it's been a mixed bag; sometimes I'm fluent and the person on the other end doesn't know I stutter. Other times, I stutter on most of my order and it's a non-issue, as it should be. Yet, there have been a couple of times where my stutter has gotten in the way. They were minor moments in the grand scheme of life, but in that moment they were major, because I allowed my stutter to win. It won because I didn't feel like dealing with it by asking for an unsweet tea instead of a sweet tea. In those moments I have to remind myself that "it's OK" and to forgive my hard days.
Wearing a mask
As we all should be doing, I'm constantly wearing a mask outside and at work. I understand and appreciate the reasoning, but it sucks. When I'm out in public it's not that big of a deal because I don't really talk to people; I get what I need at the store and leave. I may make small talk with the cashier, but that's about it.
Work is a whole other story. I find that my voice is muffled, which causes me to speak louder or repeat myself before my coworkers hear me. Whenever I have to speak louder, I tend to stutter more. Whenever I have to repeat myself, I'm inevitably fluent the first time, but stutter a lot when I repeat what I said. Another reason I hate wearing masks is because I can't see my audience's reaction, nor can they see mine — my non-verbal cues to let them know that nothing is wrong with me are severely limited because of my mask.
If I'm being honest all of this is doing a number on my mental health.
If I'm being honest all of this is doing a number on my mental health. I'm having more bad days than good days with my stutter and I'm hyper aware of how much I've been stuttering recently. This isn't to say that I would take a magic pill to get rid of my stutter because I’m not there. Rather, I'm having difficulty finding the good in my stutter. More often than not I'm having great difficulty embracing it. And that's OK. That's all part of this crazy rollercoaster that is my journey with stuttering.
If wearing a face mask is difficult for you, try downloading one of our free cards to let people know that you stammer and need more to time to speak. Download a card here.
If you'd like to write about your own experiences with stammering, see our Share Your Story page to find out how.