The spider in the corner

A man looking at the camera

Alex Crisp writes about seeing stammering as a battle, and wonders if there's a better approach.

My relationship with stammering has been like living with a spider which keeps appearing at night in the corner of the room but by daytime it's gone. I dislike it intensely, but most of the time it's easy to ignore. It lurks in the darkness and then jumps out and messes things up. And although I'm confident I can pretend it's not there, I know it'll never be gone completely. But I would love to get a broom and kill the damn thing for good.

My brother has always stammered more overtly than me. But he deals with his differently. He rides his like a wave, stammers through his sentences like it's a machine gun. I try and avoid the stammering like a disease — I don't want anyone to know it's there. When I feel one coming I just skip it and say something else. This means my conversation can sound stilted — not fluid. This is the greatest handicap of the stammer for me.

Battling a ghost

Very few people know that I stammer and I tend to try and live life like I don't have one, but actually it's always there. It feels like my entire life has been about confronting it and going into battle with it. But because it's invisible to everyone else it might appear like I'm battling a ghost. I wonder whether my personality is moulded around it, whether my flighty nature is a response to it.

I have my theories around what makes me stammer more or less. I stammer more when I'm tired, or hungover, or depressed. I stammer less when I'm busy, or happy, or drunk. Travel seems to quell it — but that could just be because travel makes me busy and happy.

I wonder whether my personality is moulded around stammering, whether my flighty nature is a response to it.

If I'm reading something aloud I don't seem to have a problem. It's when my brain needs to think about the words before or as I say them — then the stammer kicks in. It's like my brain is unable to multitask.

Pride & acceptance

Job interviews have always been the most difficult thing. I don't think I've ever come across well in interviews even though I felt confident and able to do the job. I feel that interviewers just see me as somebody who cannot articulate his ideas and hesitates. It has been the most frustrating aspect of my life.

In my youth I got fired from working at Ticketmaster because they felt I lacked confidence on the phone. But I never tell anyone that it's because I stammer. If I rode my stammer like my brother then people might feel sorry for me and give me the job anyway. But my pride stops me doing that. I'd rather people think I'm inarticulate than think I have a stammer.

I sometimes wonder whether a better approach would be to confront it and just accept stammering into my life.

But the question is: why do I feel ashamed of it? I suppose it makes me feel weak, disabled — and I don't want to be that. I don't identify as that person.

I sometimes wonder whether a better approach would be to confront it and just accept stammering into my life, like a second head. But instead I'm at war with the spider, and so I've armed myself appropriately.

Positive reinforcement

I am a practising hypnotherapist. It's something I became interested in when I started university and used hypnotherapy to help deal with my confidence around stammering. It really changed things for me and I've found it a constant aid throughout my life. I find confidence is the key to feeling in control of my speech, and hypnotherapy has helped me maintain confidence and reduce anxiety around stammering. I loved it so much I became a hypnotherapist.

Whenever I feel my confidence around stammering getting low, I give myself a shot of positive reinforcement. For instance, I'll say to myself: "I have power enough to overcome all obstacles. I have power enough to determine my own destiny. My mind is free from constraints". They're mantras for meditation practice, which are essentially taken from my hypnotherapy scripts. I find when I repeat positive things to myself it sticks.

I've helped lots of people with anxiety and confidence. The slow calming speech during the practice of hypnosis is very helpful.

I also host a podcast about encouraging a future without intensive farming, something I'm passionate about. I initially started writing articles and then decided to experiment with a podcast. It soon took off.

Nobody I've interviewed for the podcast has mentioned anything about my stammer because they generally wouldn't know I have one — unless they know how to spot the signs. But producing it means I have to listen to myself talking and I hear it all the time, in the hesitations and pauses. Have a listen to my podcast 'The Future of Foods' and see if you can spot the signs.

If you'd like to get in touch with Alex, email us at and we'll pass your message on.

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