I stutter, but I am not ashamed
I just defended my master thesis successfully. But the process of preparing the presentation for me was not so simple. It took one day for me to prepare the presentation and more than one week for selecting the words and sentences carefully, so that I could conceal my stuttering in front of the jury.
After selecting the words, I practiced the whole presentation for about ten times and tried to reduce my speaking rate by stretching the vowels and consonants. But I was still worried; this led me to video recording my presentation to assess my voice and hand gestures. The presentation went smooth, but after giving it, I found myself asking the same old question.
Why do I not want to be myself and why do I feel the need to hide the fact that I stutter?
As an individual who has stuttered since I began to speak, I find comfort in silence among people and by avoiding social gatherings altogether so that I may cover my stuttering. I was never really bullied at school, but was definitely made fun of when I stuttered during any activity in class which involved speaking.
Despite having so many questions during classes, I did not dare ask my teachers. My friends used to get angry at me when I would write the answer on their notebooks so that they could say it instead of me. I grew up in the era of land line phones. Whenever I heard the phone ringing, my stomach muscles would immediately contract and I would begin to breathe heavily in anticipation of having to introduce myself. But I do not want to be a victim here; stuttering has not hampered my life in any measurable way. It has only affected my internal frustrations and low self-esteem problems as a child.
Right now, more than 70 million people worldwide have a stuttering problem which constitutes to about one per cent of the total population. Stuttering is more common in males than females; four times as many males have a stuttering issue as compared to females.
There is no sufficient data available to conclude how many people in Pakistan suffer from this problem, but genetics is the main cause of stuttering worldwide. About 60% of people who stutter have a family member with the same problem. For me, the pain of stuttering is not the speech interruptions, because sometimes I do not even know why it is happening. What is painful though is the realisation of being different from others. Stuttering is not considered a disability as compared to when you see a person on a wheel chair or with other visible disabilities, which you can sympathise with, but when you are holding up the phone trying to say something and nothing comes out, nobody knows the helplessness we go through.
In developed countries, there are various organisations and foundations dedicated to this problem. Speech therapy is one of the most efficient methods that have been put to use. Parents are increasingly becoming more aware of this problem and the child is usually treated in the early stages. In Pakistan, we have a solution to every problem, but for stuttering the only solution people have is:
“Aahista bolna try kiya karo”
(Try to speak slowly)
And after 25 years, I still cannot explain to anyone that speaking slowly does not help us at all. Other techniques have been applied on me, ranging from “desi totkas” to “religious healing” but obviously none of them worked.
With the passage of time, I developed some tricks to hide my stuttering because I wanted to come across as fluent. My friends allow me to be more confident in certain situations. They let me talk the way I do. They support my desire to feel good about myself. When I am at home or hanging out with my close friends or loved ones, I am completely at ease.
But I always come back to the same question: Am I ashamed of stuttering? Perhaps. Or maybe, not at all. I just use my fluency techniques to hide my stutter, just as a person who uses a glass eye to hide the fact that he only has one eye.
I mostly do not stutter when I am speaking to new people, especially with children, and I also stutter much less in professional situations. I am afraid, I cannot pinpoint the reason. I am not sure whether it has to do with psychology, reverse-psychology, or some other affected-speaking technique, or something along those lines. But, of course, there have been situations where I wanted to be myself, where I forgot my techniques and I did not want to conceal my identity, situations where I did not care whether my speech was fluent or not.
There seems to be no habitual behaviour associated with my stammer. This also goes to show that much of my impediment is uncontrollable. Also, at the same time, just like how people have bad hair days, stutterers also have bad days and good days and sometimes fluent days. According to my experience, stutterers can communicate effectively but they cannot communicate fluently.
I already accepted this reality long ago, which has made me feel good about myself in my personal and professional life. I do not suffer from an inferiority complex nor do I suffer from low self-esteem. My stutter only annoys me; it does not make me feel inferior or less valuable than others. I would work harder to participate in activities which others without the affliction would participate in, and I would make every attempt to sound just like they did.
I am writing this blog in a food court, in a local shopping mall in Stockholm and I am about to get my usual subway sandwich. I usually stutter on the w- in ‘wheat’.
I am still thinking, should I say “w-we-wheat” to them, or should I simply ask them for “brown” bread instead?
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.