I never forget the dark old days

March 21, 2010

I started this blog last year to write about my stammer, and I wrote a number of pieces about that and thought I had pretty much written as much as I wanted on the topic, and it was very therapeutic for me.

However, every now and then I get reminded of the history of my stammer and I feel impelled to write some more words, and this is one of those times.    There will be, no doubt, plenty of repetition from my previous blogs but that is what will happen when you write infrequently on something you have lived with for your entire life.

This evening I watched a couple of youtube videos linked from the US National Stutterering Associations (NSA) facebook page.   These videos showed children struggling to talk, and you coould clearly see their growing anxiety as they struggled.   You could see the pain in their eyes, and how uncomortable they were, and it was exactly how it used to be for me.  When, I was a child, my stammer was a very big issue for me and it used to fill my mind almost every minute.  The easy option was not to try and talk, which is why I was the shy boy who used to sit by himself, and entertain himself at home.

I cannot watch videos such as these without remembering the dark old days of my childhood, and recalling how tough it was to encounter such times.  Watching these videos divides me.  I watch them and feel sorry for these children and wish them to improve, and I feel some sadness as I recall similar thoughts that I had 30 years ago when I was 9-10 years old.   Then half of me feels some pride for getting to where I am today.  Today in a world where I still have a stammer, but where to some people, it is not obvious.   To a world where I can talk fluently on many days and where I no longer feel scared to talk, where that fear of just trying to talk only occasionally surfaces.   I want to talk to those kids, and tell them that I used to be where they are now and that it has been a long hard road, but now I am in a better place and I have learnt from having to travel that road.   I want to tell them to believe it won’t always be this way, and that there are better days ahead.

Today my wife, Kim, often asks me how I can so positive about everything and why I always see the bright side.   I have not always been this way, but I honestly believe that it is because of my history of stammering that I am now normally positive in many way in my life today.

I went through some tough times when I was younger trying to deal with my stammer.  These tough times were much in my head, in how I perceived the struggles of dealing with my stammer.   These were dealing with the perceived humiliation and embarassment of struggling to say a sentence fluently.   The doubts this led to of what my future was, the worries that I would be a lonely bachelor for eve,r who could never get the sort of job that I wanted.

As a stammerer, the worries go much deeper than trying to say a word or trying to communicate in a manner that most people can do without thinking.    The worries are about what other people think, and whether we are doomed to have our lives controlled by the unspoken, the stammer.   This for me was the topic that everyone knew about, but I would never talk about.  Maybe talking is the wrong word, because the whole act of talking was never easy.

So, why does this make me positive today?   I am positive today, because I never forget the days when it was so much tougher.   My stammer taught me so much, and showed me that I am one of the lucky ones.    I have come so far with my stammer, where I am now at a place that most days I can speak completely fluently.   There is not a single fluently spoken sentence that I ever speak where I don’t appreciate the wonder of being able to say those words.

Afflicted with a stammer is not something that affects you intermittently.  It is with you all the time.  Every time you either talk, or think of talking it is with you.  It causes frustration, and can make you wonder why can’t you speak like everyone else can.   It is not a physical ailment, and it’s not even known if it is a mental ailment, all you know is the final output of struggling to talk.

Therefore it is impossible for me not to be positive about my life, when I can remember the past and the stresses I used to go though.   I can now talk well most of the time, and the thought of talking does not worry me.   Actually, every day I speak well is a great confidence boost for me and reminds how lucky I really am.

Living with a bad stammer can be like a vicious circle, and I wish I had a way to tell those young kids in those videos to stay positive and that it won’t be like that all their lives.   Equally, my story may not be one they want to believe, that it has taken me 30 years to get where I am today and that the stammer has completely gone away and I do have blocks still today.

In my view, my stammer was a result of lack of self-confidence and low self-esteem.  Then when I stammered, it made me feel even more inadequate and it just spirals out of control.    The more you stammer, the worse you feel about yourself and your confidence dips even further.  The stammer not only happened due to my lack of self-belief but the more I stammered, the worse my confidence became.


Sometimes a stutter has no logic…

October 30, 2009

I have often thought over the years that my stutter has no logic.    Sometimes it is everywhere around you and you can’t say a word without it controlling you.  Then a short while later, the speech can be fluent.      Most stammerers can talk freely when they are alone, but although I found that also to be the case, there were occasions when I would stammer with only the walls for company.

I realised many years ago that rational thought with regard to my stammer was a wasted thought.    It is very easy to over-analyse a stammer, and I began to stop even trying to do that.

However, there is an aspect to my stammer that is hard to ignore completely and seems to be completely contrary to logic and rational belief.   It is generally accepted by most people, especially those with personal experience of stammering, that stammering is more prevalent for people in potential nervous situations.

Having to talk in front of a number of people, including making presentations is often perceived as being a nightmare situation for stammerers, and is a situation that most stammerers will avoid at all costs because of the total embarrassment involved with stammering in public.

For most of my life as a stammerer, that has been the case for me as well.  Everything so far sounds very logical, until I have experienced something weird in the last couple of years.

Put me in front of an audience, be it at a conference or a meeting, and my stammer disappears.  A situation which should scare me to death has the opposite impact and I have this feeling of calm come over me, and the whole notion of stammering is not in my mind.   I cannot explain this, but it is true.  Ten minutes later, in a private conversation and my stammer may re-surface,

I actually have a potential explanation for this, but it still doesn’t really make sense.    I have become more comfortable by having some experience in those situations, and when I was first exposed to those situations it was a very different story.      I have got better with experience, and I think the lesson is that there is nothing to be scared of.   Do it once, and you are terrified, but by the 4th or 5th time, it is different.

It is no different from practising at anything, we as humans have the ability to improve by repeating things be it playing sports, or be it something as seemingly simple as talking.

Just because it works for me, does not work that it will work for other people but the turning point in my life was when I decided not to hide anymore but to confront things.   To say when ‘I decided’ is probably not correct either, as I was put in positions by people that believed in me, and gave me opportunities and I’ve been very lucky to have that happen to me, but equally I believe they gave me the chance as I showed something that could be believed it.

Having a stammer can teach us good habits sometimes, such as perseverance.  A stammerer who gives up, is one who hides and never lives their life.   Living with a stammer is a great life lesson and treats us to be grateful for what we do have, and not to focus on what we won’t have.   It often takes a long while to come to that realisation, but having a stammer has taught me a lot even though it continues to have little logic, and still totally mystifies me.







How do you ‘work’ on your stutter?

October 16, 2009

Many years ago – it seems like a lifetime ago, but was probably almost 20 years ago – somebody told me that I would never cure my stutter because I never worked on it, and therefore I accepted it too readily.

To me, it was a very easy to thing to say but it also suggested a lack of understanding from that person on what exactly a stutter is.   I have never regarded myself as defensive, and generally have always been very open to criticism to determine the validity of comments about me.

The biggest problem with dealing with a stutter is knowing what to do about it.  If we knew how to overcome it, then we would do it.   If only it was as simple as working on it, then stuttering would already be a thing of the past.

I know that if there is something I’m not very good at, then I can work on it for as long as I need to, to reach a level that I’m happy with.   If i struggle with something at work, I can keep trying until I attain the standard I want.  If I’m playing a game, I can keep going until I’m happy with my progress.

However, if you have a stutter, how exactly do you work on it?   Talking more doesn’t make it better.   It’s not a case of continuing to stutter because we are too scared to talk.   The irrationality of a stutter is what can make it so frustrating, as one doesn’t know what to do to make it better.  If we did, then  I guarantee you that we would keep working on it above everything else in our lives.

I actually think that ‘working’ on it actually can make it worse.   Having progressed significantly over the last 20 years, I can easily say with confidence that my greatest advances have come by not thinking about it, by living my life as if I didn’t stutter.

This can easily be construed as not wanting to accept the condition we have.  I have always accepted I have a stammer, but equally I have known for a long time, the more I think I about it, the more extreme my stammer will be.

The hardest thing to solve is something that you don’t know how to solve, where you have no idea what to do.    I tried so many things over the years, mainly physical activities and looking back now, I see them all as failed efforts.  I read articles about stammering, seeing some claims about it being linked to genetics or even it being a physical condition.

Personally, I do not believe that.  I do not believe it is physical, I genuinely think it is my head, it is 100% psychological.    What other reason can there be for saying one thing perfectly one time, but being unable to repeat in an hour later.   To me, it cannot be physical.   When I stammer, it is not a surprise to me.   Not in the sense that I’m expecting to stammer because that is what I do and what I am, but when I block on a word I KNOW I will stammer on it before I get to it.   As I am talking, I see a word ahead of me in my mind, and I can see that I am going to struggle with it.

The difference between now and 20 years ago is only that thesedays I see fewer blocks in my mind as I approach them.  However, when I do stutter now the process is identical.  I see a word ahead of me, and I know I am going to have problems with it.   The only difference is that it happens less often and to this day, I still do not understand it.

There are many theories about why it happens, and it would be easy to over-analyse why it is the way it is.   In my mind, it is not about being nervous, or being put into scary situations, it is all about my own self-confidence.    It is only by experiencing life, that I have grown in self-confidence and realised that I can do many thing I never thought was  possible.

I have no idea why I lacked the self-confidence before and why this lack of confidence would manifest itself in a stammer, but that doesn’t matter anymore.   I am just glad to be where I am, and god help you if I go through a time where I am fluent because then you can’t shut me up 🙂

Equally, I wouldn’t have made the progress without the incredible influence of 5 people who have touched my life over the last 39 years.    One of my targets is to make those people aware of the impact they have had on what I am today.   That is not easy, as not all of them are involved in my life right now, and even if they never know the impact they have had, I will always know that and feel I’ve been lucky to cross their paths.


Easily Embarrassed?

October 10, 2009

It is easy for me to recall feelings and thoughts that seem to relate to my own level of self-confidence while talking about my stammer.   To me, my stammer and my self-confidence are inextricably linked and cannot be separated.

I’m positive in my own mind, my stammer was caused by lack of self-confidence and therefore in the context of my stammer, I often refer to changes in me evidenced by changes in my level of self-confidence.

A clear example of this is my propensity to get embarrassed really easily, which would be evidenced by severe blushing which is embarrassing in itself.   In the past 6 months, I’ve noticed that I don’t get embarrassed as easily as I used to it, and my ‘fits’ of blushing have diminished significantly due to higher self-confidence.

Until fairly recently, I used to blush severely at seemingly small things.  If anyone ever praised me in front of other people, I would blush so badly and I would feel my whole head getting so red and heated.  Anytime, I was the subject of a discussion I would get embarrassed even if there wasn’t anything to embarrassed about.

Over the last couple of months, I have realised this is no longer the case.    There were a couple of instances in an off-site event at work a couple of months ago that illustrated this perfectly.   These were experiences that previously would have made we want to shrivel into a ball and hide!

I will recount one of those instances as an example.    Often at work, my shirt would come untucked from my trousers and I wouldn’t be aware of it.  No big deal really, even if it made me seem a bit untidy at time.  However, a woman at work then gave me a nickname as a result of this.   It seems that I was unintentionally exposing some hair around my belly button and so I was given a name of ‘fluffy’

Although I didn’t really like the name, it was no big deal to me and I actually find it funny at times.  Not sure how many people knew of this nickname, but at this off-site event, I had to do a presentation in front of about 25 people.

The presentation itself held no fears for me, and I got up to talk at the front.  Unknown to me, one of my buttons on my shirt had come undone to expose my ‘fluff’ to the entire audience.    Before, i had really started this was pointed out to me, and so I had to quickly do up my button.

I just then carried on as if nothing had happened.   Even 6 months ago, I couldn’t have done that.  I would have blushed such a deep red that you would have thought I was going to explode.  On this occasion, I had a smile, a brief blush which was probably hardly noticeable and it didn’t affect my presentation at all.

This change is down purely to increased self-confidence in my view and this is clearly attributable to my stammer and how much more confident I feel about talking.   I do not embarrass as easily as I used to  and it is a great feeling.  I believe I belong now in the environments I live in and the difference it makes to my life is hard to express in words.

If something really embarrassing were to happen, then I would still blush that deepest red but those time when I would blush for seemingly such a small reason are gone.


Stammering and Talking on the Phone

October 10, 2009

It is no secret that most stammerers dislike talking on the phone, and that it can be an object of great fear to a stammerer.   I am very clearly in this camp too, and even with the great advancements in my stammer in recent years, I do not like to talk on the phone.

With my job, I actually do have to use the phone extensively and therefore avoidance is not really an option for me which is probably a good thing!   Although, I do not enjoy talking on the phone, I wouldn’t say that it scares me at all and like many things about a stammer, I don’t have a rational explanation as to why it causes so many problems.

If I look at where I am today with my stammer, it is probably accurate to say that in excess of 80% of the ‘blocks’ that I still encounter happen on the phone.  It is also true to say though that I have many conversations on the phone without the slightest trace of a stammer, so it’s not even the case that all phone calls produce a bad result.

Thinking about the circumstances that surround the ‘blocks’ I have on the phone,  I think the problems revolve around the issue of overcoming potential blocks, and a common method used in face-to-face conversations that is not available on the phone – namely eye contact.     We, as stammerers, are often advised that when  experiencing blocks, it is important to maintain eye contact and not start to look down as is often the temptation.   Obviously eye contact is not possible in a telephone conversation, and I think that perhaps the difference on the phone is often the lack of success in overcoming potential blocks.

The potential blocks actually manifest themselves into blocks a higher proportion of the time on the phone than in face-to face talking.  This however is just a theory of mine, and one thing I have learnt above all else about stammering, is that very little of it is logical and easily explainable.

Most of my problems on the phone are often limited to either starting the phone call (either answering the phone, or saying something initially when I call somebody) and also actually ending the phone call.  I therefore like people who like to end phone calls quickly and abruptly (I can think of a couple of people at work like this) as it often helps me.

One aspect that has helped me is the mobile phone.  I make alll my calls with my mobile, as I don’t have a regular base and have therefore no landline for work.    With a mobile phone, when you receive calls from people you talk to regularly, you know who is calling and to me that makes it a little easier.

Let me start with the problems I have when answering the phone.  I struggle with saying ‘hello’ when answering the phone and sometimes I also struggle with an introduction saying ‘hi joe.’   Too many times I press the button to answer the phone, and then I follow that up with silence!  However, for some reason, my problems do vary depending on the person on the other end of the phone (even though I may have no problems with that person in a face-to -face conversation.)  This I cannot explain.

There is one other thing worth mentioning too, and I have no idea if it is linked to my stammer and my historic lack of self-confidence or whether it is completely un-related.  Thesedays, in a work environment, most people when answering the phone, say their name especially if they don’t know who is calling.   I have never done that and just don’t feel comfortable saying my name.

Why is this though?  I don’t have any problems with saying my name anymore when I have to introduce myself, so that is no the reason.  (I refer back to  a previous blog entry now where I said that the more I say words, the more confident I become with them and they no longer become stammering issues.  My name is a classic example of this as I used to fear having to say my name.)   Is my reluctance to say my name linked to old issues with my stammer?  Can’t answer it because I don’t know for sure, but instinctively I think it must be true.  Perhaps this is another area where I need to try and improve, but where I am now, I’m still not comfortable with it.

The irony here is that I like people who answer the phone saying their name so I know who it is, but I refuse to do it myself!  My tendency is to answer the phone with a ‘good morning’ or a ‘good afternoon.’   It may not be ideal, but it is where I am right now.

There is one other thing that I hate about the phone – the dreaded conference call.   This is a call where many people are on the call, and I lack the confidence to contribute to the extent that I do in face to face meetings.  This is because you cannot make it obvious you want to talk and saying that 1st word is often hard, so often I only speak if spoken to.  I really wish I could change that,  I really do.  If someone, asks me a question directly, then I have no problems with that.

Another irony about using the phone for me is that when my stammer was at its worst, the phone was no more of a fear than speaking in person.  However, now that my stammer is so much better, the phone makes me nervous in a way that it never used to do.

There are a number of things I would like to change about my performance on the phone, and these are items on my list of areas to improve:

  1. Avoid the silences both when answering the phone and when calling someone else at the start of the call
  2. Feel equally comfortable irrespective of who I’m talking to
  3. Be prepared to say my name when answering the phone
  4. Overcome my fear of conference calls!

Won’t be easy, but all important steps for me and to work on not avoiding situations but to continue to confront them.


Some people may have thought I was lazy, but I was just scared

October 4, 2009

Thinking back to when I left school 23 years ago, at the age of 15 (that may sound like I was a drop-out, but I wasn’t as my final day of school was a couple of weeks before my 16th birthday).    I then started college at age 16, and it was very interesting for me to start to be responsible for myself, without the structure and inherent discipline involved with being at school.

I met some new people, and I began to see how other people were beginning to get part-time jobs.  Most of these jobs were generally on Saturdays and sometimes on Thursday evenings too and were generally working in shops, dealing with the public normally as shop assistants.

For me, looking for a job was not even something I could even contemplate at this time.  It could easily have come across as being lazy, and I have no idea if anyone thought that way, but I was just too scared to even try.  At this age, my stammer had improved from how it had been 5 years previously, but nevertheless my stammer was still obvious to all.

I was fortunate that my financial situation was better than some, and I did not have to earn some cash to stay afloat, and to participate in any social activities with the people on my course.   This was a real blessing to me, as it gave me some breathing space to try and develop my confidence.

Maybe I didn’t really believe that I would be able to develop my confidence so that in time, I could make that change.  I think I was trying to ignore the concerns about what the future held as it was a thought too scary to embrace.    I had been used to hearing my family tell me for as long as I could remember, that I was very intelligent and therefore that my future was very bright.   My mind was full of self-doubt though, I wasn’t confident about all these forecasts about my future.

Looking back at where I am now, it would be easy to say that they were right and that I was being overly negative – although I think that I generally kept my negative thoughts to myself, and tried to avoid the thoughts about the future.   However, I believe that we were all right.   My concerns were that my stammer would hold me back, and unless I could make significant improvements in that regard it would be very hard for me to progress.   To a degree that has proven to be correct, as my advances have come with the improvements in my confidence and therefore my stammer.

Back to life at college, everyone else was getting jobs and I wasn’t.   I would have loved to have done that as well, but I just didn’t have the confidence to even try.   There was no doubt that I was scared, and I probably wasn’t ready to face the world.    Also, at this time, my stammer was the unspoken.

Everybody obviously could see it and hear it, but I would never talk about it.  If someone asked why I didn’t have / look for a job, I would make a comment about not really wanting to.   I would never be open and say the truth that with a stammer it is very hard to do so.

Whether this means that I was in denial or not, I can’t really say.  I never denied I had a stammer as it was obvious to all but looking back maybe I used it partially as an excuse for my lack of courage to try things.  I can easily talk now about how I wish I had done something different back then, but equally I remember how it felt back then to be restricted in everything.

I can easily say if only I knew what I know now back then, and I could have addressed some of those fears rather than hide from them.   However, I know that would be a silly thought.  Kimmie often says that she so wishes that she could have known what she knows now 20 years ago.   However, that is just not the way of the world and we all learn as we grow up and mature and no-one can be as wise and knowledeable when theyare young as they are in later years.

To me, all you can do is be able to learn as you progress through life and I think that I have managed to do that.  I try to look back at my experiences in life and see how I can improve for the future.   I have learnt to confront my fears caused by my stammer, but I know looking back it would be silly for me to even suggest, I should have confronted those fears back when I was 16-17.  I was just not ready to make those moves, and I didn’t have the wisdom brought about by actual experience to know that was the right thing to do.

I didn’t have the knowledge and experience either to realise that I was one of the lucky ones in what I am blessed to have been given. It was easy to think my stammer made me one of the unlucky ones, but now I know it was actually the opposite.  I have been blessed with far more good than bad, and it is up to me to make the best of what I have.   The stammer has been an obstacle all my life and it still is an obstacle.   However, it is only an obstacle and one that easily be overcome.

In some way, having a stammer has actually taught me good habits.  It has taught me no matter where you are and what you are doing, you can improve and the value of being positive and upbeat because no matter how things are going on at any moment in time, we can influence things to make them better in the future.

For many years, my stammer made me scared but now I have learnt to be excited by the future.  There is no greater satisfaction than knowing you have overcome something.


The Dreaded Job Interview!

October 2, 2009

For many people who stammer the scariest thing of all is a job interview, and I’m no different either.    The job interview is the worse thing of all, and something that I have studiously avoided for many years,

A job interview is about impressing someone with your communication skills, and that is exactly what our weaknesses often are.   Looking back many years,I often think about whether I should have been more upfront at interviews with my stammer and openly admit I stammer.  It is easy to say yes, but many people have perceptions about stammerers which would not help at a job interview.

I haven’t had a job interview now for about 15 years, having stayed with a single employer for all of that time.  However, when I used to be looking for a job,  my whole focus was purely on not stammering and making sure the interviewer(s) did not know I had a stammer.   This resulted in me avoiding words that were going to cause my trouble, and probably ended in me giving a very disjointed interview performance.  Looking back, it is no surprise that I never got a job as a result of a job interview.

I think that if I attended a job interview now that I would be more confident, but I don’t think I would purposely try to conceal the fact that I stammer sometimes.    I think I may admit it at the right time, but use the opportunity to show how I have effectively ovefcome it, as an example of one the best achievements of my life.

Having said that I don’t want to go out and look for a new job now.   It has taken me many years  of hard work to show people what I can do at work, and to establish a good reputation and to be known  as a competent and skilled person at work.   Perhaps, that is my experience of living with a stammer for so many years that I still lack that confidence to go out and make my mark where I am not known.

Overcoming a stammer is incredibly difficult, and making that next move to welcome new territories is probably the next step for my natural development but I’m guessing I am not quite ready for that.  To do that one day, and show I can succeed at an interview and succeed in a foreign environment is where I want to be .

I often think that other people never realise how scary it is for a stammerer to go through the job interview process.   People at work have often asked me why I don’t look for jobs outside where I could earn more money, which I generally don’t answer with the truth that my stammer is a problem.  I think that if I was asked the question now though, I would be able to say the real reason that interviews scare me because of my stammer.

So other people don’t realise how scary a job interview is for someone who stammers?  As a stammerer though, I have to very careful as to what I think about that.    We want to be treated as normal, not to be seen as different and people who don’t realise the fear we feel about job interviews, are being exactly that.  They are treating us as normal, and not thinking of us as different.   Yet I want them to realise how difficult it is?    Therefore, we can’t have it both ways.   Which way would I prefer it?  To be honest, I don’t know.

When my stammer was at its worse, I think my biggest problem was a lack of self-confidence and that is the most important requirement for an interview.  You need to show you are confident, that you believe in yourself and that you create an impression of being the right person for the job.

I have given a lot of thought recently to whether it is time for me to confront the biggest fear of all, the job interview.   I have already said on here that the most important thing for me was to confront my fears, and by doing that I improve however I’ve not confronted the job interview and so can I really make that next step?

I actually don’t want a new job now.  I am happy with my current job but perhaps this is a good time to confront the fear of the job interview, when I don’t really need it.    Maybe, I need to start the learning process so that if I ever need it, I will be in a better position to succeed.

However how would I react things if I try out the job interview again, and it doesn’t go well.  Could it do more harm than damage?  Not going to do anything yet, but this could be a very interesting question to see if I feel ready to accept this challenge.  Perhaps I need to do this to really make the next step, in overcoming my stammer.