"Those of us who stammer are very special people: we are intelligent, inventive and above all we are courageous."
Those of us who stammer are very special people: we are intelligent, inventive and above all we are courageous. I would say that, wouldn’t I? But I truly believe it. I’ll tell you why in a moment, but first my own experience.
I had a stammer when I started school. My particular problems were words that began with vowels or hard consonants, which admittedly didn’t leave much of the English language to play with. I remember lying in bed at night making up a wish-list of first names that wouldn’t involve daily humiliation. Why didn’t my parents call me Susan or Mary? I even began giving my surname – Macpherson – first, but that just got me funny looks.
When I was asked to give my name there was usually a long embarrassing pause as I mentally took a run at it, that was followed by a few false starts as I had a go at forming the word but bottled it, and then, if I was lucky and didn’t start crying (which I did a lot) the word “Jackie” would eventually explode from my mouth when no one expected it. The result? The most terrifying word a stammerer can hear – pardon? As an adult I want to say angrily – are you kidding me? Did you see what it took to get that word out and you couldn’t be bothered to hear it? But as a child, I had no option but to begin the whole palaver again.
Every adult who stammers has their scrap book of embarrassing situations. School seemed to be one long humiliation while at home the evening visit by the ice-cream van was particularly tough. Asking for a bottle of Irn Bru and a Bounty chocolate bar meant that neighbours’ dinners got cold as the queue behind me grew.
And yet, I ploughed on. With the support of my deluded parents who relentlessly told me to tough it out and that I was the cleverest person on God’s earth, I got a job in journalism. Speech therapy hadn’t worked so I worked hard at all the avoidance behaviours that everyone who stammers knows about: how to anticipate words and cheat the tricky vowels and consonants; to control my breathing and to mentally work a few sentences ahead.
It wasn’t always plain sailing. I could never ask a question at a press conference and even during my years as a presenter on Reporting Scotland, I would tweak scripts to make sure I avoided any bogey words. Even now if I’m tired or under pressure, a stammer will pop out and surprise me and anyone else who doesn’t know my history and wonders what the heck is happening.
But I will never forget how it was when I was young: the visceral feelings of loneliness and the sheer hopelessness (or so I thought) of having a stammer. What I didn’t know then was that it also meant I was bright as a button with so much to say I wanted to say it all at once; that I was creative (a disproportionate number of people who stammer end up in the creative industries); that I was inventive – some of those avoidance behaviours are truly brilliant. But most of all that I was brave. With the support of my family, I didn’t shut myself away – and neither should anyone facing similar challenges. The stammer never left me but I got the upper hand. And so will you.
Thank you to the incredible Jackie Bird for writing this guest blog for us. Read more real-life stories from people who stammer here.