India Ramkissoon talks about the anxiety she felt before starting university and how being kind to herself helped stop the overthinking.
Before I started university, I was initially optimistic but also slightly fearful of what I would have to face and what experiences I would go through. I discussed it with others and did a lot of overthinking regarding my stammer. I always wondered, “What would people think?” and “What would people say?”. There was a lot of pondering on how I would make it through the next four years and in which ways I could hide my stammer. This constant overthinking made me have low self-esteem and a high level of anxiety around my peers.
Freshers' Week & Tutorials
Freshers’ week was rather enjoyable. My stutter got mixed reactions from people but most were welcoming and friendly. Some would simply smile. Some would be surprised while a minority would laugh at it and then move along. I made an effort to spend time with those who were understanding and were patient enough to listen to me.
I would spend weeks worrying before a presentation, unable to focus.
I found speaking in tutorials and classes extremely difficult. My degree had several classes where the teaching style was conversational. There were also oral examinations and presentations. Many times I felt as though I was at a disadvantage in class due to my inability to speak. I would spend weeks worrying before a presentation, unable to focus. I was constantly anxious and began spending less time on work. After presentations I would fixate on all the mistakes I made and how I was perceived by others.
Mindfulness, positivity and practise
In most university students’ lives, their schedule is hectic. On days when I was able to get sufficient rest, I noticed my stammer would decrease slightly in its severity. I would also practise mindfulness by trying to keep the mind present in all situations. It aided in keeping my mind calm and focused while I was speaking.
During presentations, it was important that I focused on the message I was trying to share and what I wanted to contribute rather than how I was being perceived. The week before presentations, I would usually start to talk to myself. I would watch how I spoke and refused to say anything negative to myself or anything that was likely to contribute to any fear of speaking in general. I ran through presentations several times by myself and then with other classmates. I would go to the class before the day of the presentation and spent time practising. I would also freeze up a lot before presentations but to stop this, I made points on cards to guide me if I forgot what I needed to say.
try not to dwell
For those starting university, my advice would be to prioritise your mental health. The way you feel and think about yourself and your stammer affects you more than what others think. Focus on your strengths and how you can contribute to those around you. Try not to dwell on your speech impediment.
I made an effort to spend time with those who were understanding and were patient enough to listen to me.
Having a stammer does not define you. It does not dictate your character and if you will be successful in life. Meditation, mindfulness, exercise and reducing alcohol consumption helped me in slightly decreasing my stammer.
Don’t let something as minute as a stutter play a leading role in your life. You have so much more to contribute. Many people have gone through it and have not let it define them. You can too!
Contact the Stammerers Through University Consultancy (STUC), which aims to support students and staff in higher education who stammer. STUC was founded by Claire Norman, who wrote an article on why she set the initiative up. Read it here.