I stutter, but I am not ashamed

Published: April 20, 2015

I always come back to the same question: Am I ashamed of stuttering? STOCK IMAGE

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?

Chaudhary Awais Salman

Chaudhary Awais Salman

A renewable energy engineer living in Sweden with interests in bio-energy. He tweets as @ovaissalman

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Garp

    Great read! From a fellow stuttererRecommend

  • anon0912

    We all bear scars on the inside and outside…yours is just visible.But you have to remember..there are people way worse off then you who would trade lives with you in a heartbeat.I mean Stockholm….you aren’t doing so bad.So try for it not to bother you so much and have a good time and oh…CARPE DIEM.Recommend

  • Adpran

    I am a stutterer too, but I have no problem in communication with other people. Just smile when you get stutter, then other people will understand and even will help you. In example, if you stutter when you say “wheat”, your speaking partner will ask you “Do you mean wheat?”. Then you can answer with nod.Recommend

  • Parvez

    That was an excellent piece on a subject that very little has been written about on this site……made me think of the brilliant movie ‘ The Kings Speech ‘ with Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush.Recommend

  • indian13

    Great article!! I also stutter and i know what you go through..for us each day is literally a challenge.. There are ups and downs..we try to avoid certain alphabets and it annoys me when someone says speak slowly.. They don’t know what we go through..sometimes i imagine a world where everyone stammerd and the people who spoke fluently would be laughed at..life goes on but we should never lose hope.Recommend

  • Lyari

    I can totally relate, been stuttering since i was ten, this really is a disability that gets mocked the most.Recommend

  • Edgar Torres Berumen

    I just had to reply to this blog given that your story is similar to mine. Sometimes I can too speak fluently, but other times I lack fluency. I experienced some traumatic events in my teen years that today are preventing me from joining social environments. I don’t let my issue of fluency to get involved with my educational life, however. I am currently an engineering major with a 4.00 GPA, but I still feel inferior to others that are around me. But I also feel that my fluency issue made me a better personal overall. I think about others and I care about others because I suffered and I know what it feels like to be down, and I am currently working with my speech to see if I can get gain some techniques to hide my problem. I still hope for my speech issue to be vanished for good. One of the reasons that I am an engineer is because I hope to find cures for diseases that people are suffering from today. Even If I face the destiny of being a stutter for the rest of my life, at least I will die in the future (hopefully when I am 100 years old xD) knowing that I tried to help someone to have a normal life, which is the dream of every person that has the some problem like ours. Am I a shame of my issue? of course I am, but I know that it takes more than fluency to be considered a good person =D.Recommend

  • Sara

    I had faced the stuttering during childhood. I don’t think its a problem rather its more about how the brain controls the speech process. I went to a homeopathy center and the guy thought maybe it was due to some horrific event or maybe i was afraid of something.

    But the good thing was that due to his medicine i was able to not to come out of it but now i speak like a bullet train lols

    Anyhow, i dont think its something to be ashamed of as its something physical we can’t do much about. It must be annoying though as today people have less tolerance and want swift answers.Recommend

  • Allu

    Buddy I too have the same problem. During my school days teacher used to make us read textbooks infront of class, which for me it was a night mare. I could not speak a word really I feel tenced a lot.. But now I think I could talk almost fluently may be due to my positive attitude which sometimes I fail if am tenced Recommend

  • Ashar

    one of my sons, who is 4 now, has fluency or stuttering problem (a big question here), being a father of a son, who has this, and helping him to feel comfortable, using the sake totka suggested, speak slow, though it works sometime and it fails sometimes, prolonging words, especially the beginning, but I have told all my relatives, they should not make fun of him, while he is speaking, otherwise, I am going to come hard on them. they know, that is what I can do as a father, I am glad to see you what you have acheived and wish you many more. my prayers for a brigh future.Recommend

  • Queen

    My friend back in school used to stutter especially when reading out textbooks in front of the class. I remember that she was very shy as all our class fellows used to make fun of her and no body wanted to be her friend. A good thing happened that our English teacher understood her problem and conducted speech therapy with her during free time. And now my friend is a professor at a university where she teaches several students. This proves that nothing is impossible to achieve if only you make efforts for it :)Recommend

  • Kazmi

    Suttering can be fixed at early age. Don’t waste your time wishing that it will get fixed one day – go to a speech therapist and try to get it recovered.
    My father didn’t do it when I was young and I suffer to this day.Recommend

  • Kazmi

    Can you share which doctor was it? What medicine did (s)he prescribe? I believe in homeopathy, they are generic medicines with no side effects as such.Recommend

  • Ahmad Taj

    Amazing-what you have written! I go through the same things everyday. I still suffer from stuttering at the age of 21 and it annoys me.Recommend

  • Areeba Mohsen

    And you should not be ashamed of it at all. Keep rocking.Recommend