On the path to becoming carefree about my stammer
Tom tells us how going on an outdoor activity/therapy course made him think differently about stammering.
I'm Tom and I wanted to write about a course I went on that means the world to me. It was run by The Fluency Trust, a speech & language therapy charity with a twist! On their course, you get to go to a centre called SKERN Lodge in North Devon, where they do activities with therapy thrown in. For example, you do two hours of therapy and then two hours of surfing, climbing or tunnelling.
It's the best place I have ever been. To explain everything properly, I should tell you a bit about me first.
My stammer started when I was about six and it really hit hard. It felt a little like being strangled by an invisible man every five seconds while everyone looks at you like you're the stupidest person on Earth. It was a lot to handle and I was sensitive. The slightest comment about it would bring me to tears.
Needless to say, I hated this. I craved fluency — I was angry, jealous and miserable and kept asking the question: Why does it happen to me?
It died down (a little) at nine or so. I always wanted to act, and I got to do that at secondary school. Man, I can't recommend it enough. Words flowed out of my mouth for the first time in years because, to quote the author Kingsley Pilgrim in his article for STAMMA: "The adrenaline of being on stage kept my stammer at bay".
I was angry, jealous and miserable and kept asking the question: Why does it happen to me?
I kept the acting up, but as I became a teenager things went downhill. Some mistakes were made and I got PTSD, along with a few other issues, which I'm probably not mature enough to start publicly speaking about in detail yet. I was once again angry, jealous and miserable about things I couldn't control, and asked again: Why does it happen to me?
THE FLUENCY TRUST
That was when I signed up for the Fluency Trust course. Despite being in one of my worst places at the time, I loved it. After a couple of days, you feel like you've been there way longer thanks to the amount of brilliant things the organisers pack into it. The other people on the course don't just feel like some guys who you'll only know for a week; they feel like family. It's one of the most wholesome things I've ever experienced.
But my time at SKERN went from being enjoyable to life-changing when I was chatting with my friends there and mentioned my 'issues'. A guy told me he had them too, and we comfortably discussed it. I was never the same after that. Thanks to this conversation I felt more positive about everything that troubled me, including my stammer.
This is why the course means so much to me — it put me on the path to becoming carefree about my stammer, unaffected by my PTSD, and so much more.
One member said, "Every year deserves Tom as a mentor". I love that compliment.
I was even asked to come back as a mentor for the next trip. Being there felt like the end of a film — every plot point had been tied up with a neat little bow, and I felt like I had won. It was the most glorious sensation I've ever felt, and I wish anyone else who struggles with their feelings around stammering could feel it too.
I passed down this positivity to others on the course. They had a great time and one member said, "Every year deserves Tom as a mentor". I love that compliment.
WHAT I LEARNED
I now have the answer to the question: 'Why does it happen to me?'
I realised that stammering, along with other things that can be a struggle, is not a burden. It is a challenge. It can be painful, sure. But if you can endure that pain you can do anything!
However, you don't really 'overcome' stammering. It will always be there. Some people won't ever be fluent speakers, and that's okay!
'Overcoming' stammering, to me, isn't about killing it. It's about not letting it stop you from doing what you want. This isn't easy. Putting your hand up to answer a question even though you'll stammer all the way through is terrifying, but you can do it.
My conclusion from this experience is that challenging things happen, and that's okay. These things make us wise. That's why people keep saying things like, "I wouldn't change the fact that I have a stammer". I used to think they're insane, but really they think that stammering has given them wisdom and strength. I know from experience that this is right.
So, after all that I can genuinely say that I wouldn't change the fact that I stammer. Can you?