BSA trustee Paul Blythe talks about schooldays, avoidance, and gradually becoming more open about his stammer.
I get stuck on words. In other words I stammer. I’ve done this all my life. When I was young nobody told me it was okay to stammer. In fact, as far as I can remember, nobody spoke about it at all. So I thought my stammer was a bad thing and something to be ashamed of. I, therefore, tried to hide it. This very quickly became an ingrained habit. From an early age I changed words I thought I would get stuck on for words I thought I could say.
At junior school my stammer wasn’t a big issue for me. I enjoyed school and my stammer didn’t hold me back. Though I do remember in my last year telling my form teacher I didn’t want to be in the school Christmas nativity play because I stammered.
After junior school my stammer was a big problem for me. I hated the thought of people making fun of me because of my stammer. I just wanted my stammer to go away so I could be like normal people and not stand out. Also, my habit of changing words didn’t always have the result I hoped for. I remember when I was once talking about a rock and roll singer. I wanted to say “he waggles his legs and shouts”. However, I thought I would get stuck on “shouts”. So at the last moment I changed “shouts” for “bawls”. Not one of my better word swaps and I was left with egg on my face.
My stammer could be scary and stressful. It made me moody, resentful and angry. My stammer had a big impact on my life, eg I left grammar school at 16 because of the fear of stammering; my choice of career was mainly based on how little talking it would involve; I avoided using the telephone and I spent a lot of time and effort trying to avoid situations in which I might stammer.
I was in my 40s before I finally accepted my stammer was here to stay.
I was in my 40s before I finally accepted my stammer was here to stay. It was at this stage in my life that I made up my mind not to let my stammer stop me doing the things I wanted to do. I started to look for better ways to deal with my stammer. I joined the Association for Stammerers (now the British Stammering Association), attended their open days, spoke to other people who stammer for the first time and read stories about stammering. Over time I was more open about my stammer. It didn’t happen overnight. It was a slow process. I find using the British Stammering Association’s facebook page is a great way to share views about stammering.
Changing my attitude about my stammer didn’t make my stammer go away completely but it did help me to be more relaxed and in control of my life. It also helped me, amongst other things, to stop avoiding the telephone, do some presentations at work and give 2 father-of-the-bride speeches. Things I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing a few years earlier.
I will end by saying that accepting I stammer and doing what I want anyway makes me a much happier person. That’s a great result in my book and makes the effort involved worthwhile.
This article is based on a talk given by Paul at the PLUTAS (Please Let Us Talk About Stammering) open day in Manchester, October 2013.