Do you ever have those dreams where you try to run? No matter how much energy you direct to your legs, no matter the sheer will, you’re capped at a slow amble. Or worst still, frozen. How about those dreams where you’re trying to shout for help? You’re lucky if it comes out as a whisper or a strained squeak. Fear bubbles up in your body, your heart hits your ribcage and you wake up in a cold sweat.
As a person with a stutter, this was a feeling not just isolated to the occasional bad dream, but life every day.
One in 100 people have a stutter, and it affects more men than women. I don’t know the catalyst for it. In family videos, I am pretty fluent up until the age of eight. At that point in your life, other children aren’t as cruel, and you don’t realise that you’re different.
However, as I got older I became more covert, attempting to find weird and wonderful ways to keep it out of earshot. I would walk through what I should say in my head, picking out any keywords I might struggle with and how to get around them. I built up a huge mental thesaurus of words I could substitute when I felt a physical block or freeze come on. When I gave my food order, I would go with the easiest option to say as opposed to what I actually wanted. The dish could change in a split second if I felt any tension. Avoidance of situations and sounds. Something other stutterers can resonate with.
The tricks and avoidance I put myself through got more complex, and frankly ridiculous.
I battled in social and academic situations to appear normal. To simply disclose my stutter was something I would never have dreamt of. As a result, feedback from university presentations was to “not be so nervous“, “relax more“, “have more confidence” and “be more fluent” in my speech. At that time, to only receive criticism referring to the content of a presentation or regular delivery feedback was my goal. I would wince as professors and other students gave feedback. “Don’t mention the stammer”, I thought.
I gave myself a hard time. How could I fail to master something that everybody else took for granted?
I was frustrated at myself and anybody who tried to offer me advice.
I didn’t have the knowledge and the right mentality at the time to own and manage my stutter.
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Written by McGuire Programme member Sarah Maclean-Morris