Councillor Alasdair Tollemache shares with us his experiences of stammering and helps to show that a person who stammers can do any job.

Living with a stammer has made my life both interesting and challenging. Anything from asking for a drink in a pub for my girlfriend (she often got the wrong drink when I couldn’t ask for the one she wanted) to using the phone. This is still not easy for me as people can be very impatient but once I get going, I’m fine. Meetings can still be interesting when we have the traditional introductions and well, I can’t change my name. Actually, at school I called myself Fred Stolle, an Australian tennis player, easier for me to say than Alasdair Tollemache; my friends went along with this.

I have had high and lows with my stammer and now want to encourage others to speak about their experiences. For a long time, I felt professionals expected fluency from me and this put more pressure on my speech. I feel the two vital ingredients to living with my stammer are support from others and not letting it restrict what you do. Support is vital to be able to achieve things in anything we do.

Since I have been involved in local politics, I have had to face the challenge of speaking in hustings, canvassing on doorsteps, representing the council at civic events and speaking at council meetings. All of these situations are different and require a different form of interacting with others. I prefer to be able to adapt so if have a difficulty with a particular word I use a substitute. Our council meetings are now recorded and available for the public to view.  I have advocated for this as it makes us more accountable and transparent. One fellow councillor asked why I would expose myself to this and people would know I stammer sometimes. This type of view of stammering needs to be countered and challenged, it comes from the view that a stammer reflects on the person who is speaking in a negative way.

We are all unique and having a stammer is part of the person I am. Different techniques work for different people and in my experience, the worst possible thing is to put pressure on myself to be fluent in all circumstances. For me this actually makes my stammer happen more frequently. I would encourage folk to find out what works for them and take up the support they feel comfortable with. Balance is a key here I think, and confidence grows through support from others and belief in oneself.

I have not previously attended self-help groups but recently have felt that I will benefit from doing so and hopefully, can contribute by supporting others. The Scottish Stammering Network offers people a chance to meet others and hear from experts who work in different roles concerning speech and stammering. I am a member of many communities; family, geographical, political, cycling/walking and the stammering community. I hope that this article encourages you and I would be happy to have a virtual coffee and chat anytime.

Scottish Stammering Network thanks Alasdair for his contribution to our blog. Find more guest blogs on Our Network.