Saturday, 25 January 2014

Dealing with a Stutter

This is new writing ground, as this post is going to be brutally honest.
I realise that one of the reasons I decided to blog, was to encourage others who face similar challenges in life. With this in mind, it would be rather dishonest and perhaps selfish to keep quiet about one of my greatest struggles...my stutter.

Society has sadly portrayed stammering to be a reflection of poor intelligence; this is certainly not true as some of the greatest minds in various fields are stutterers. Stuttering can be debilitating, not only on a physical and mental level, but also emotionally. Hence this post aims to encourage stutterers to not be broken by it and non-stutterers to be more empathetic - don't worry, I shall not bore you with scientific facts!

I started stuttering when I was 9 - as a school child, being asked to read a passage in front of the class was the most petrifying task. I still remember the jeers, not only from my peers but also my teacher, as I found myself stuck on a relatively easy word - canteen - for almost 10 minutes! The once extrovert soon started shying away; losing all self-esteem and confidence, I wondered many times why God made me stutter! Such experiences scarred me so much that just the sound of the word 'stammering' or 'stuttering' would hoist my defences as I vigorously denied ever having such a problem.

With debating and public speaking being one of my passions, I felt like I had lost my identity. Luckily, all this changed when I became a Christian.

As a Christian, you find your identity in God, not in what you can do but what He has done. This changed everything. I didn't have to prove myself to God with my eloquence in speech, all He wanted was a willing heart that trusted and obeyed. While I previously felt useless, I now know my life is purposeful - God used Moses, a stutterer, to lead the Jews out of Egypt; what stops Him from using me! I came to terms with the fact that I stutter, while it is still a struggle at times to pronounce certain words fluently, I can assure you that it is not a cross I regret bearing. Don't get me wrong, I get frustrated and embarrassed all the time - who likes standing helpless in front of a crowd!

When I am asked to speak or read in public, I usually say a mini prayer beforehand in my head for God to guide me - miraculously there are numerous instances where He has helped me speak with great ardour and clarity in the presence of many. Although there are other circumstances where He lets me face my stutter, I have learnt how to deal with it; instead of blaming God, I thank Him for reminding me that I need Him always.

I feel the need to share some of my futile attempts to disguise my stammer:
  • As Urban Dictionary says, I have become a synonym 'don' (this translates as 'expert' for you cultured folks)! I swap words while speaking and reading if I know it's a syllable that's troublesome. While this is amazing at times, it has left me looking foolish when I'm reading a text others have!
  • I skip words out while reading in public. I must admit that this is something I still do - I guess I'd rather appear blind than as a stutterer! However, this frustrates listeners as sentences lack sense - surprise!
  • People usually tell me to think before speaking, this does not help as too much care leads to anxiety.
How to deal with it:
My problem was denying I stutter - I remember being referred to a speech therapist at school when I was 12. The therapist asked me if I struggled with stammering...I told her that it must be a mistake as it is very rare and walked out the room - the greatest regret of my life. There are people out there who genuinely wish to help you, although it is hard, accept it.

As I mentioned before, prayer is my key.
I also find it helpful to meditate on verses like:
Next, let a friend know! This took a lot of courage but was worth it; the friends who know my struggle have helped me out immensely. Whether it be volunteering to read a part I might end up having to, or just lending a patient listening ear as I limp through a sentence, they are just super understanding!

I find it helpful to read over the texts a few times beforehand in order to not be shocked by the words in it. Breath control can also be a great strategy, although this may not be a foolproof idea, breathing before the word in question has often helped me through it.

When you feel down, remember it is normal, go and research some famous faces who struggled just like you did but refused to let that get them down. Here are a few to start you off: Winston Churchill (What! I know right!), Rowan Atkinson, Marilyn Monroe, Lewis Carroll...just check Wikipedia and watch your jaw drop!

Now to my non-stuttering e-pals:
The most frustrating thing about a stutter is when those close to you are not responsive or supportive. For many years since I began stuttering, there were those who rebuked me for pretending or copying someone else...that is really not helpful!

Also, I find it rather unnerving when people hurry me to speak. Please be patient with a stutterer; it is all thought through, we just need a little longer to express ourselves.

Finally, we can take jokes about stuttering but just remember to be nice and not take it too far! 

Stuttering isn't an impairment unless you let it get to you. I have heard of many who have struggled greatly with it but have overcome it completely.
While this is only a fraction of the array of trials, illnesses and disabilities out there, one truth resonates hope for all: God loves using the ashes of this world to bring forth immense beauty.

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