before I forget those little details, which could be important for other
travelers, I thought I should put everything down. I claim no originality –
others may already know this. I also claim no universal efficacy for the
approaches I share here: they may or may not work for you.
field of stammering therapy today, a little ‘hit & trial’ may not be amiss.
I will try to summarize main principles which helped my recovery from
stammering mindset. I do not claim that my stammering is cured. I do say that I
have become a reasonably good communicator, who still sometimes stammers – but happily!
is not the outcome of a controlled trial. This is just a retrospective (and
subjective) attempt to understand what MAY have contributed to my recovery. It
is, by no means, comprehensive, exhaustive or infallible. It certainly has not
made its way to peer-reviewed journals yet!
in childhood, some boys shouted at me and my sister (not me) picked up a stick
and chased them off! Similarly when a teacher in class 9 asked me: Do you
stammer? I promptly said “no” because I did not have the courage to say
what I knew to be true in my heart. But every time such things happened, I felt
a pang of remorse. Somewhere deep down, I always felt that I should have taken
the other path – even if less traveled. Gradually, I began trying out my ‘baby’
courage in small ways: like participating in the school debate in class 9 in
spite of excessive stammering; stepping into boxing ring – and trying out
things which boys my age often avoided.
inspired me? A senior colleague in sixties, who once shared in detail and with
amazing openness, about his struggles with his stammering during a training
session! A mountaineering trainer, who in a very matter-of-fact way announced on
top of his voice to us, the trainees, standing on a glacier at fourteen
thousand feet: “I sometime speak too fast and stumble all over words. Dont
hesitate to ask me again, if you dont understand- before you take off the
made me realize that common men could demonstrate great courage in day to day life.
It hurts no one. But still, stammering was another matter! I just could not
say, even to myself that I stammer.
decided to fulfil another old ambition of mine: Martial arts. I began learning
Goju-ryu karate. While as part of training, I fought many bouts in our dojo, I
never went for the open championships. Sometime in 48th year of life, I found
myself facing someone half my age in one of those regional tournaments; our
scores were equal through the four rounds. Then, it was the match point; as I
stood in my corner, a thought came to my mind: You are afraid of getting hurt in the face. You are working too hard to
save your face. If you could give up all your fears just for one second – you
could score the winning point by going on offensive…
physically I was totally exhausted and my conscious mind too was losing grip.
It was like a SOS flare from a sinking ship on a dark night. I just acted on it
and won the match point- to my great surprise! I had read a lot of psychology
books: Feel the fear and do it anyway etc… But this real life incident
was a kind of ‘on job training’ and went straight to my heart. From this point
onwards, I was convinced that one could feel the fear and still go on. Learning
from the books could not convince me. But actually putting myself in danger
helped me to internalize this fact that fear is like a big shadow- but only a
shadow. When you go looking for it with a torch, you don’t find it at all.
was a part of my avoidance, subsequently introduced me to the inner untapped
resources of courage – Mountaineering and Trekking. I guess, going for a walk
in nature for me, initially was only meant to avoid human company and small
talk. I gradually began to enjoy it. I did some mountaineering (6000 meters,
twice) but later on stuck to trekking: Solo trekking, often crossing high
passes at 4500 to 5000 meters. At least on four occasions I got lost in the wilderness
of Himalayas. All these experiences taught me one thing: we will never know
what we are capable of, unless we try. For that we need some courage, which is
already within each one of us. You dont have to wait for it to come or it to be
granted from the above. More you use it, the greater it becomes, easier it
becomes to access.
forties, in sheer desperation, I decided to talk about my stammering. I found a
saint, who I felt, will be able to handle
this; I told him how my life long stammering and attempts to hide it have left
a dark heaviness in my heart. He looked at me and listened whole heartedly- and
blessed me with a gesture of his hands, since he was in silence. Nothing
unusual but I felt totally accepted in that moment. He did not do any miracle.
But a miracle did happen in those moments. My secret was no more a secret. I
felt incredibly light and free. That feeling has persisted ever since.
Because it takes courage to come out of it. Not huge courage – just a little
bit. This first step, only you can take. Because even God respects privacy of
your thoughts, primacy of your will and therefore will never force you to do
anything against your wish. Therefore, I think courage is the first requisite
on this long journey..
had no access to direct sources of information. You would go to a speech
therapist only if you thought something is wrong. Internet and books came to my
rescue. I was not only reading extensively, but meditating deeply on it- analyzing
and absorbing, finally actually experimenting on those ideas: joining IPWS
yahoo chat group; posting and responding to other’s questions and comments.
Quiet private browsing was not enough- I had to participate! I had to get my
hands dirty. So in search of open-ness, I started a blog dedicated to stammering,
because I realized that most of chat groups discussed issues in the privacy of
their own groups. I wanted to go beyond that stage.
I discovered that:
My problem and issues were not unique. Many have been
Many had walked this path and emerged successfully,
having overcome their issues. Stammering was not the end of the life, as it
seemed to me in my teens. It was also possible to reach a point where you could
genuinely look at stammering as a little funny detail of your life OR even a
blessing in disguise.
What happens in stammering, happens in many other
situations: anything which makes you look or act different, can fuel, if
allowed, development of an entire psycho- socio- physiological complex. In
Eckhart’s words, your pain-body (link). So,
people with Leukoderma, walking calipers, Albinism and a million more
differences of superficial nature have issues just like ours. It was difficult
to believe that a girl with Leukoderma and I with my stammering had so much in
common. But there it was. It helped me to grasp the underlying universal nature
of human suffering.
Stammering is not just what you do with your mouth. It is
much more than that. It is (or soon becomes) a “system wide” issue. Therefore, it
needed that kind of (“system wide”) approach to recovery. Just learning a
little prolongation to launch myself in opening sentences was not enough, until
I looked closely at the deeper psychological factors pushing me to speak fast.
I approached stammering literature with seriousness,
that it deserves and learned many techniques and approaches to counseling.
Being a medical professional, I already understood neuro-physiology of brain, mechanism
of speech production and basics of psycho-dynamics underlying counseling. Sites
like Kuster’s Home page, Veils of Stuttering, Stuttering Brain, NSA, BSA etc.
helped me to apply my general understanding of health & wholeness, to
specific domain of stuttering. I would not have succeeded, if I had tried to
learn just a few fluency or modification techniques.
Stuttertalk encouraged me to record stammering
interviews in my self-help group. So, knowledge and information from Internet
and books, were not limited to conceptual level, but encouraged me to go out
and practice those ideas. This is how a “community” sprang up in last 15 years.
THIS benefited me greatly. How? See
the next paragraph.
the only one who stammers in this big “bad” world; I am the only one who is
having these weird thoughts 24/7. This generated a deep sense of loneliness and
alienation. For quite some time I found it difficult to truly enjoy human
company – barring the company of a few very close friends. The feeling in my
youth could be compared to the feeling of a cosmonaut left on an uninhabited
planet by some accident. Only, my alienation was made worse by all the people
around me who were having a great time! I felt locked out of a big hall, where a
merry party was going on from the beginning of creation.
to travel around and meet many many many pws- big and small, from all walks of
life: NC, Communication workshops, Sunday meets and what not: sometime on
Marina Beach in Chennai, or Connaught Place in Delhi or I***sys campus in Pune
or some park in Hyderabad or some school in Chandigarh or.. or.. and the list
one after another. After meeting all these pws, that sense of being marooned on
some God-forsaken planet, left me for good. Thank you, ALL of you out there! If
anyone cured me of my mysterious ailment, it is YOU ALL, spread across India. I
cant thank you enough, ever.
we exchange gifts. Such relationship cannot be one sided. While I received a LOT,
what could I give back? I had nothing of value to give back. But I tried to
offer total acceptance to others – the same kind as I had received from the
Silent Saint. No questions, no judgement. Just acceptance of others as myself.
In the process, I was learning to accept myself too – with all my failings.
social till 45, suddenly was interfacing with hundreds of people across the
country (some abroad too) and was developing fine social skills in the process.
Now, I knew how to crack a joke in a full on party- without offending anyone
and having great fun doing it.
“social” is our destiny; being “social” is FUN; being “social” is the very
essence of our human life. And – being “social” is EASY.
into my life needed a long period of checking out, experimentation and follow
up. My enthusiasm will vary from day to day, week to week as did my stammering.
What helped my commitment to last longer than my enthusiasm was the fact that I
found myself in a position of responsibility towards others: I was coordinating
a self-help group in Herbertpur – and later TISA at the national level. Even
when I did not feel very motivated, I had no other choice but to whip myself
into that frame of mind. Had I been looking for fluency for myself, I would
have most likely stopped exerting after 6 months. But as SHG coordinator, I had
to go week after week, to SHG meeting, even if no one came: I would take a book
with me and read. Outwardly, it seemed as if I was getting nowhere.
getting involved in other’s problems was developing my grit, my sensitivity,
social skills and my long term commitment. Offering communication workshops
year after year, made me somewhat indifferent to setbacks. I understood, that
any worthwhile project cannot be completed in a few days, or weeks or even
months. Changing ourselves, our thought patterns and our habitual reactions is
an important project. It needs long time and commitment.
that I analyzed things too much? Difficult to say but I did introspect a lot as
a child and tried to make sense of the world around me. This trend got
strengthened by reading Vivekananda and other great masters, both from east and
west. I began to see that the external world is not the only world available to
us. There is an inner world too. I could see myself in the light of what the
world told me about myself: You stammer; you are different. But I was
also free to view myself in an inner light.
my self-concept, I could seek relief in an inner world too- get rejuvenated and
bounce back. Still later, I realized that I need not be defined by the external
world at all. I can have an alternative self-concept, based on an inner
like a word and its meaning. Inner world offers meaning of whatever happens to
us in the outside world. The meaning we attribute to our day to day actions
decides how they are going to affect us in the long run. If we think we are
victims of a tragedy, beyond our control – then victims we will be for the rest
of our lives. If we think that stammering can be cured, we will spend rest of
our lives – not living – but looking for a “cure”. If we think stammering is a
burden – burden will it be. If we think world will not accept me till I have
fixed my stammering- that is what the world will do. Because the world is just
opportunity for problem solving – then our entire experience will change. So,
it is important that we search for the meaning in our stammering experiences –
and not be satisfied by readymade answers that others (including therapist)
hand us down. This can be done by being quiet and diving with in – call it
Vipassna or “down time” or “prayer” or whatever..
approaches work equally well for other issues in life too. Introspection helps
not only communication and relationships but it may bring down your Blood
pressure too. Courage works not only for dealing with stammering but also for
taking calculated risks in job and getting ahead in life. And so on.
while working in the hospital as a GP. It was a dominant relationship with the client,
the patient. Mostly I had to just give some “instructions”. It was a one sided,
top-down communication. Not a problem for most stammerers.
sector, I discovered soon, that the best communication is two-way, free of
hierarchy and based on exchange of meaning, rather than sounds. And this could
be ensured only by asking “What did you understand?” – and then, LISTENING to
the answer whole heartedly. In this long process, I understood that
communication was a lot more valuable skill than just speaking fluently; I also
sensed that, good communication skills would need a long term commitment.
realized that I could try anything but stammering would not be “cured”. It went
away for days, weeks, sometime months but never failed to return faithfully!
So, I decided to read about, learn and practice communication, as much as I
could. That was the only thing left for me to do.
had to constantly conduct training, meetings, and workshops. I remember one of
my first challenges: The ANM (our staff) had asked me to conduct a session for
village birth attendants (Dai) in a small village in Chamoli district. I
accepted the challenge, took the Flash card in my hands and started with some
trepidation. I found it easier to speak while using the flash card, which
displayed reproductive organs, fetus, child birth etc. Ten minutes into the
presentation, one of the old wrinkled Dai, whispered to her neighbor – How
focused on the message I was trying to convey. When I talked about blockage in Fallopian
tubes due to unclean delivery practices, the same Dai sat up alert and asked: How
is it that some women have a child and there after become infertile, no
children at all?
infection and blockage of fallopian tubes AFTER the birth of one child and
subsequent infertility. The same Dai, was now nodding her head in great
appreciation, as if to say: This brat may be shameless, but he has told me today
what no one had ever told me before! I just don’t remember whether I
stammered in that session or not. I remember only this little exchange with a
grateful old Dai. I had finally understood the meaning of communication. It is
not about the impression you left behind – it is about the understanding you
desensitization – don’t forget, I was having to do Voluntary Stammering willy
nilly in every communication workshop! – and now with plenty of workshops /
trainings with “normal” people behind me, I was approaching a place, where
facing a large audience did not intimidate me: It rather inspired me to give my
best – my best thoughts, energies, knowledge and inspiration. Those of you who
have been in theater, would know this feeling, this subtle excitement, just as
you step on to the stage.
firm footing – I was also reading books on communication (and online courses
like this), trying
to grasp the underlying principles. All this has taken a lot of work spread
over 2-3 decades. I don’t know of a shortcut. If I had my life all over again –
I will not hesitate to do all this over 2-3 decades again because journey is
more interesting than the destination! Let me end with a quote from Emily
“To live is so startling it leaves
little time for anything else.”
promise of a better world, where people are valued for their inherent worth as humans,
not for what they say or do or look.