Quarantine is helping me to better understand my stammer

The author of the article, Madhavi Roy

Writing from India, where the lockdown measures are stricter, Madhavi Roy worries what effect isolation might have on her speech. But it’s also providing an opportunity to explore her stammer and discover a new world of support online.

40 Days. That’s how long I’ve gone now without any human contact apart from my mother. More than a month under self-isolation and only virtual interactions with the outside world. No going out for grocery shopping, or even short walks. The effect of this on my stammering has been…mixed. 

On the one hand, the fact that I can no longer expose myself to anxiety-inducing situations like work and academic presentations means that I am sorely lacking in practise in these areas. I am afraid that once the lockdown ends and I’m flung back into those situations I’ll falter, panic and be terrified of losing control while talking. I do hope that doesn’t happen. 

The past few weeks have also helped me reduce my fear of stammering on phone and video calls.

On the other hand, I’m improving by leaps and strides in other speech-related areas. English is the language I am most comfortable using, and the language I stammer least in. Isolation has given me a lot of opportunities to practise my English-speaking skills from the comfort of my own room. The past few weeks have also helped me reduce my fear of stammering on phone and video calls, since that’s the primary mode of communication I use nowadays. 

But at the same time my proficiency in Hindi is getting worse, since I’m no longer conversing with rickshaw pullers or cab and auto drivers in Hindi. I hope that doesn’t lead to a spurt in my stammering while talking in Hindi when I step out of my house again.

Introspection

I think the most important and pervasive effect of isolation on my mental health in general, and on my stammering in particular, is that isolation has made me more introspective. All the time I have nowadays to stand and stare has made me aware of the various psychological and physiological correlations of my stammering. After 25 years of existence, I have finally begun to understand my stammer, rather than just fear it. 

I have realised that when the 'spotlight' is on me in a high-pressure situation and I am in front of a lot of people, my stammering is accompanied by panic symptoms of shortness of breath and panting. And this has made me wonder that perhaps if I engage in breathing exercises to relax myself and control my breathing, that might help reduce my stammer? 

I'm understanding it better and evaluating its connections to my mental state and health. 

My introspection has also led me to the understanding that my stammering is emotion-triggered. Anger is a major trigger. And somehow, if I express my thoughts in a polite fashion when I’m angry, I don’t stammer. If I shout, I do. I’m baffled as to why this distinction exists, and I have all the time right now to find out!

A young woman sitting on a bench looking into the camera, with the header 'Share your story'

Global communities

I’ve also been using this quarantine to seek out self-help groups and communities for people who stammer throughout the world, which is exactly how I came into contact with Stamma. I had no idea that such beautiful, helpful, warm communities even existed. And seeing that so many people in the world go through the same experiences and emotions that I do makes me feel understood and supported.

I’ve also joined The Indian Stammering Association (TISA) and the love, encouragement and advice I have received from this massive pan-Indian community has been unparalleled. I have learnt from TISA members that acceptance and self-love are our biggest weapons against the fear of stammering. I stammer, so what? It’s a part of me and it doesn’t define me or reduce my worth in any way. I am still an individual with thoughts I want to express and feelings I want to share, and so what if I stammer while doing that? 

I stammer, so what? It’s a part of me and it doesn’t define me or reduce my worth in any way.

To me, stammering isn’t an 'impediment', because it doesn’t stop me from doing anything in life; it doesn’t stop me from achieving my dreams and goals. Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed, and reject the self-consciousness — this is what I’ve learnt. Smile widely, speak loudly, love yourself and carry on the good fight. 

Isolation has helped me give my stammering the time of day it needs. I’m understanding it better and evaluating its connections to my mental state and health. I’m reaching out to fellow stammerers and getting the help I need. And I’m so glad I penned my thoughts on this topic, courtesy of Stamma and their encouragement.

If you'd like to explore the different UK and international online communities, see our Connect section. How is social and physical distancing affecting you and your, or your child's stammer? See our Share Your Story page if you'd like to write an article.

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