“Everything that does not kill you, definitely makes you strong” this quote by Friedrich Nietzsche helps me everyday to move on with a stammer.
Stories help to inspire and change. I had read and heard many stories of people with struggles which helped and taught me in life. Here is my story about my journey with a stammer. I hope it would help PWS in a very small way. Though the story might seem a bit pessimistic because I have highlighted only one of many shades of my life. Life has been fair to me in general inspite of the challenges I have. I can do nothing more than thank for what I have.
My name is Sunil. I am 24 years old. I am a civil engineer by profession living and brought up in Mumbai. I have a stammer since the longest time I remember. Growing up as a child with a stammer was not easy but also not the worse if I hear terrifying stories of other PWS. Like others I also used to get mimicked by my friends older and younger than me for the stammered moments that I used to have while speaking but mimicking my stammer did not used to happen with the intention of bullying or offending me rather showing me how funny it looked to talk with a stammer. So I wouldn’t take it personally and move on. I also had a classmate with a stammer who used to overtly stammer and get laughed at times. The reactions to my classmates overt stammering made more a covert stammerer. My covert stammer made more shy away from stage activities. Communicating with friends was not as difficult but there were times when my friends use to make me repeat a sentence when I stammered and make me say without stammering on it, inspite of getting what I wanted to say. They were concerned that I do not carry on it as a habit. Was funny to me at that time. This is how much unaware and insensitive people are! Growing up from a child to adolescent made me experience so many negative reaction to stammer from getting bullied, being misunderstood, stereotypes that all PWS face created a huge self stigma towards my own speech. Choosing silence started becoming new norm for me rather talking with a stammered speech and get outlaugh. My Graduation days also consisted those dreadful introduction days, we all know how we manage to get away with those moments. Since all these years I was unconsciously internalizing all the negative reactions, attitudes, social stigma to my stammer. This lately took a form of self oppression within me. Wherever I had to perform with my speech it became harder and harder to hide the stammer and then a sense of self stigma started to develop within for hiding the guilty secret. It is like fighting your own self within a dark room in silence. My stammer started to have its own life as my self concept started to develop its root in the form of limiting my self in various situation, self doubt and controlling many decisions in life. I got into my professional life as time passed by, the situations of communicative pressure challenged me to keep the fluent facade I had worn to escape from the negative attitudes and stereotypes that would come by exposing my stammer. This lead to a tsunami of stammer within a short time. It was exhausting and frustrating. With all the self stigma within me, it was hard for me accept my stammer. Accepting stammering as a apart of my identity was just to much for me. It is thing that will carry as a PWS throughout our lives at some level. Then i decided to talk about it. To gain some emotional support I came across a support group dedicated to stammerers in India known as TISA. It just gave me an another dimension to look at my stammering. It was liberating to see soo many people with stammer and not trying hide their stammer. Fortunately no one would judge on the way I speak being the support group. It was good to share similar experiences and stories with other PWS mates. Then I came across the word acceptance and its role in our lives. I was surprised to hear that it was okay to stammer and there is nothing wrong in that. This arena within the support group was very thought provoking for me. At that point I started to realize that I knew nothing about my stammer and if I had to deal with it I had explore and introspect my knowledge and beliefs about it. I started to read and understand stammering literature, listen podcast and accumulated knowledge related to it. By reading and listening to people who have deeply understood stammering I found out that stammering is just a speech condition rather than disorder or disease to overcome. Many of my myths started to burst. Slowly and steadily I consciously tried to change my perception and understanding. Because I have started to believe that my old beliefs and mind frame about stammering are a recipe for disaster. Instead of looking stammering through a cruel and pessimistic lens I have started to view as a part of myself which I may or may not like. It is not like that I am totally comfortable or ok with my stammer but I have chosen the path to walk on. Sometimes or many times I would be disgusted, frustrated and unhappy with myself in getting out words and struggling with my blocks. I would sometimes desire to pass away not stammering and mentally beat myself up for that. Disclosing myself as PWS in situations is also not so easy but the change now is that I challenge and question my uneasiness that I have towards accommodating a stammering identity. I consciously try make my self realize that willing and desiring to change these negatively perceived experiences is the problem. I consciously try to tell myself that I am a person who stammers and I am bound to have these experiences because my speech sounds different from others and my desire to change my speech and talk like the rest is my core problem and not my stammering itself.
Standingup for myself with a stammered voice will be a life long challenge for me. It’s a non linear path with ups and down but choosing to walk the path with self compassion is what I look upto.
- Sunilkumar Bombale (Mumbai)