Yes, I stammer when I talk

Published: March 3, 2017
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PHOTO: AFP

This tale doesn’t have a happily ever after. The protagonist doesn’t emerge victorious against all odds; neither does she have a moment of epiphany or self-realisation. This is the story of how I haven’t and perhaps never will overcome my stammer, a speech impediment disrupting the fluency of speech due to involuntary repetitions and pauses.

Even as I write this I am plagued with the fear of being judged and the trepidation of being misunderstood – feelings that have been with me since I started stammering at the age of five. I am not your average stammerer who stumbles upon a few chosen letters or vowels. Nor have I been successful in developing techniques to make me more fluent while talking.

Despite being 27-years-old and a dentist by profession, I struggle daily with getting my ideas across to another person; it may be asking a shopkeeper the price of a certain item or something more complex like telling my cousin what I thought about a novel I recently read. There is always a barrier between the thoughts inside my head and the words that come out of my mouth. During especially bad spells, I choke on my words, producing a garbled sound akin to an animal drowning and my face and neck spam involuntary while I try to maintain some semblance of dignity.

As long as I can remember, people have poured in advice ranging from reading a particular verse of the Holy Quran to trying a painful and bloody procedure called cupping. Some have sent me links to the interview of the Bollywood actor, Hrithik Roshan, saying,

“If he can overcome it so can you!”

Some have asked me to get pointers from the movie The King’s Speech. I understand that everyone has my best interest at heart but they fail to realise that it is not that simple.

Over the past 20 years I have tried speech therapy, hypnotherapy, and homeopathic medicines. I have taken prescribed anti-psychotic medicines also, but all to no avail. Every time I started a new therapy, my stammer would get better and my family would rejoice at finally finding a cure. Sadly, this happiness would be short lived as my condition would relapse after a few weeks and I would find myself back at square one, disappointing not only myself but everyone around me as well.

I don’t know if it’s just a bad habit that I can’t kick to the curb or if, according to one psychiatrist, it’s a subconscious defence mechanism to make people “go soft” on me. But the bottom line is, it’s frustrating and tiring to go through the same motions over and over again, not achieving even a fraction of the goal you set for yourself and trying not to lose hope along the way.

I can sing without any interruptions but I cannot carry out a phone call without bumbling through it with a red face and thundering heart and it baffles me, as it baffles those around me. I still don’t know how other stammerers are able to advance to relative fluency while I flag behind. I still cannot fathom how to battle my demons and be accepted by this society which is quick to sympathise but never accommodate. Quick to advise but never accept. Quick to pity but never own.

Even though I was never bullied by my peers as a child, I have been laughed at by grown women at the clinic I worked at because of my stammer. Several times after talking to me, I’ve heard people say,

Haye bechari kitni mushkil say bolti hai!

(Poor girl talks with such difficulty).

They say these things as if I have a hearing impediment as well as a speech defect. It is sad to think of how ruthless and insensitive one becomes as they progress into adulthood and apparently become wiser.

Despite all this, I believe my stammer makes me a better person. I would never have been able to be as empathic as I am today without it. I feel solidarity not just with fellow stammerers but with all those who face difficulties in integrating into society – be it because of a disability or their ambiguous gender – anything that is out of their control. I find myself more patient and understanding of the flaws of others. Though I am a long way from being a proud stammerer, I have accepted it as a part of who I am and I face it with grace. But where it has given me insight, it has also raised some burning questions.

Is adapting ourselves according to social constructs the only way to survive? What happens to those who cannot cloak their disabilities? Are they fated to a second-class existence? Why do we only hear about the success stories and not of those who never made it to the finish line? Why do we solely celebrate the winners and not support the ones trying to make an effort?

I’m inspired by those who have struggled and made it and I hope that they go on to achieve even greater success. On the other hand, we also need to champion the rights of those who have lost repeatedly in the war against themselves and seek reprieve. We need to build a support system where the community comes together and not only gives hope but also provides solutions to the most common problems faced by disabled people. We need to find innovative ways for everyone to feel involved in society, because after all, humans are social animals.

As I said, this story is not of happiness. But it is of courage, resilience and endurance. It is of a hope once lost but now found. It’s a story about believing that sooner rather than later, we will find a way.

Mahvish Nazar

Mahvish Nazar

The author is a dentist with special interest in disability rights. One day she wishes to start her own support group for persons with disabilities. She tweets @miminazar.

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

  • Umair Ansari

    Hye – Nice article – did you try to speak other language – other than urdu? I have same problem – but when i speak english – i am fine – urdu sometimes make it difficult for me to say words – i know its one of many advices you received – but just telling you – because i have been into the same boat.

    Thanks.Recommend

  • jaffer

    You are a courageous woman Mahvish. Kudos to you. Recommend

  • Waseem Syed

    Bayta,
    I used to and still strutter/stammer. I am almost sixty four years old now. But now I have a better command. I have been living in the west for the last 42 years. Early school in Pakistan was somewhat difficult. When I speak in English no body can notice. I can improvise with different words, as most stutter usually do. Keep your self esteem high. Your are just better than average person. If you speak in a group, try to imagine that your are being watched by someone who care a lot about you. May be your Ami, Abu sister or who aver.This works great for me when I have to give small speech. Keep your head up. All my duas for you.Recommend

  • Ahmed Ata Khan

    Excellent article. Having been a chronic stammerer for the first 30 years of my life, and almost overcome it now, I can relate to the pressures and suffering of a stammerer. It has changed my whole lifestyle, my personality, and the worst part is, that normal people never understand the stress under which a stammerer is. Bravo. Keep it up.Recommend

  • Yusuf Jan

    Dr Mahvish – good article. I found myself stammering one day (probably at age 8 or 9). I still can’t remember why or how this started. But struggled with this all through my school and college days. I still remember dreading making phone calls :(
    After college I found myself being able to handle my stammering better — mostly by avoiding words that started with alphabets where I’d get stuck – mostly vowels.
    I never ever really went for or tried any treatments – just lived through it (for better or worse).
    I encourage everyone to be more patient with people who stammer – specially when they are young.
    I also recommend that people around someone who stammers — should observe where and in what situation does the person stammer more — or what triggers the stammering — and be more supportive when the person in those situations.Recommend

  • ab

    I also stammer maybe not a lot but enough that you can call me a stammerer. I run my company. The thing is that i am well prepared in most of the cases regarding my work. And secondly i don’t care a lot now. It improves with time as i started to deliberately take steps that increased my self confidence

    What i I understand that things are not as simple. But the thing is that most of the human beings in this world are not patient enough to try things that can help them to be better. We don’t have sabr. That’s my personal experience as well. I also lack sabr.Recommend

  • MelCooley

    Great piece! There are great free resources for stammerers of all ages on the website of the nonprofit Stuttering Foundation (www.stutteringhelp.org). The site also has a biographical article on Hrithik Roshan. This is the link:

    http://www.stutteringhelp.org/celebritycornerRecommend

  • liberal-lubna-fromLahore

    u sure as hell seem to write pretty well…
    so Im not sure whats going on here. did i just read a tale of fiction?Recommend

  • Muhammad Khan

    I did a lot of theatre and that helped me in general, but to be honest sometimes it feels like I’m normal and other times I can’t say hi. However, I do recommend calming down, building your confidence, and talking like nobody is listening. I sincerely hope your situation gets better. Just know that you aren’t alone. We are all here struggling with you.Recommend