Serving in the police force and stammering
22nd June 2023
Self-doubt over his stammer almost stopped Tom applying for a job in the Police Force. Read what happened when he pressed submit…
My relationship to my stammer has always been a tumultuous one and over the years has caused recurring bouts of anxiety and self-doubt. However, I found that through self-awareness and acceptance, things have started to change for the better.
The first time I saw my stammer as an issue was during secondary school. It was then that I began using avoidance behaviours to try and hide it. I'd refuse to raise my hand in class, pretend not to hear my name called on the register, pull a sickie on the morning of a presentation or drama class and would refuse to read aloud through fear of stammering.
Due to this withdrawal, many teachers, friends and fellow students were completely unaware that I stammered. A seemingly good thing, it did little to quench the anxiety and dread I felt every morning. The constant need to hide my stammer led to a feeling of detachment from myself, as I always felt like I was pretending to be someone else. Nobody around me seemed to notice or appreciate the internal battles I was fighting.
My first interview
My first interview at 17 was at a supermarket and I remember physically shaking beforehand. During the interview I stammered more than I'd ever experienced; the psychological pressure I placed on myself not to stammer caused it to appear with a vengeance. But I got the job and I will be forever indebted to Stephen, the manager who took a chance and employed a trembling, shy young man who took a long time to say his own name.
It was only thanks to my dad, who has a stammer and was a Firefighter for 30 years, who proved to me that it was possible.
I have since completed management training, managed hundreds of complaints over the phone, interviewed job candidates and spoke to customers, suppliers and senior managers on a daily basis. However, the niggling feelings of inferiority and thoughts that I was undeserving of my successes, on account of my stammer, remained.
I later applied to join the Police Service, something I had dreamed of as a kid but felt completely incapable of doing because of my stammer. I remember hovering my mouse over the submit application button, completely incapacitated by self-doubt. I thought I wasn't good enough, so what was the point? It was only thanks to my dad, who has a stammer and was a Firefighter for 30 years, who proved to me that it was possible and inspired me to persevere with my application.
I passed the Police interview (which included a verbal assessment) and was recruited into the service. Due to the nature of the role, years' worth of self-doubt, fears and repressed anxieties resurfaced. But I kept thinking of my dad; if he could do it, I could do it, right?
First day of training school, I was in a lecture theatre with 40 other recruits and senior ranking members. The assistant chief constable called my name and asked me to stand and tell everyone about myself. I felt like I had been concreted to my chair and with 40 faces turning to look at me, panic set in. Why had she picked me? I stood up, spoke about myself and my reasons for joining and then sat back down. I stammered but nobody seemed to care. Nobody judged me for my speech. Surely they had noticed I stammered?
I felt like I had been concreted to my chair and with 40 faces turning to look at me, panic set in. Why had she picked me?
One day, I was sat at the back and we were asked to share one thing we were looking forward to and one thing we were fearful of, about being a Police Officer. Being at the back only heightened the sense of dread, waiting for my turn to speak. Others expressed concerns about age, dyslexia or their lack of physical ability. When it was my turn, I stammered severely on my name before something within took over. Suddenly, out of nowhere, I expressed that I had a stammer and said that anyone who was fearful of their own issues shouldn't be for they had earnt their positions in the Police for a reason and we would work through any doubts together. To my surprise, I was applauded. This was the first time I had ever honestly and openly admitted that I stammered, and it was as though the world was lifted off my shoulders. For too long I had carried a burden of worry and doubt that wasn't necessary. I realised everyone has their insecurities.
Speaking on the job
I served on a response team within the Police, arresting and interviewing offenders, relaying information over the radio in emergency situations, consoling victims and people who were suicidal or in mental crisis and delivering news to bereaved relatives. At no point did my stammer prevent me from doing any of this. In these situations, my stammer humanised me and gave me a level of compassion/empathy that I otherwise wouldn't have. I still stammered as I always have, but it never stopped me from performing my duties.
This was the first time I had ever honestly and openly admitted that I stammered, and it was as though the world was lifted off my shoulders.
I owe a lot to my Inspector who was extremely supportive of me and my stammer. He told me that in the 8 billion people in the world, there is only one me and that I should never hide but instead let my light shine and share my unique gifts.
I have since left the Police Service to pursue a change in career but the lessons it taught me will stay with me for the rest of my life. Stammering doesn't limit me, it never has. It was the perception of my stammer that held me back. Everyone has their insecurities, but it is only through acceptance of these that we can let go of self-limiting beliefs and grow as people.
Courage is not the absence of fear but the acceptance of it. Confront it, for on the other side your dreams wait for you. I often wish I was able to speak with my 17-year-old self and tell him that he is capable of things far greater than his current expectations or fears.
I hope that my words inspire the same notion in you. Never give in, never settle for less and gently, with humility, accept that you have a special and unique gift. Do not hide your light from the world but embrace your insecurities, for they are your superpowers.