Living with my stammer

Imagine thinking about what you want to say, but you're not able to say it. That's what life used to be like for Seyi. He tells The Mix what it's like to live with, and to control, a stammer.

True Stories

sad guy

"People just natter on, but I can't"

People natter on all the time. Their mouths open and the words just come out. Simple, isn’t it? Unfortunately that isn’t the case for about 1% of the population who suffer from a stammer. When I stammer, I experience a sort of block, as though the words are caught in my throat. I know exactly what I want to say; I just can’t articulate it. Sometimes I feel the block coming and at other times it’s totally unexpected. The block creates anxiety which amplifies the problem, so I stammer even more. It’s a vicious cycle.

My stammer was always something I tried to forget about. When I did stammer in everyday situations I just tried to move on and forget about it. I didn’t see the point of dwelling too long on something that felt out of my control. The severity of my stammer fluctuates. Sometimes there are days when I barely do it, and days when it affects me a lot. It’s very unpredictable. In certain situations I stammer more than on a regular day, for instance when I’m tired or excited. My stammer is most prominent when I’m talking to groups or a large number of people; the anxiety and feeling of pressure is immense and therefore the likelihood of stammering is greater.

I’ve had a stammer ever since I’ve been able to talk, so of course my mum was concerned. She took me to an NHS speech therapist. From the little I remember of it, it didn’t have any effect. I have vague memories of practicing elongating various alliterated words over and over. My 7-year-old self wasn’t having any of that, so the next step was a private therapist where I made more progress. She taught me techniques to reduce some of the extra symptoms associated with stammering such as rolling my head, tapping my feet as a way to push words out and lack of eye contact. A lot of stammerers often have eye contact problems, because they don’t want to see the expression on the face of the person they’re trying to talk to. However, that stint of therapy didn’t address the stammer itself, so that’s as far as that went.

My mum then discovered The Starfish Project, a brilliant course, where I was taught a costal breathing technique. It’s actually the same breath used when you sing; strangely enough nobody stammers when they sing. So when I speak on the top of that breath, it helps to control the stammer. The key word here is control, not cure. For me, my stammer is probably always going to be there, but at least I have something to consistently keep it under wraps.

The best thing about the course is that unlike other speech therapies, they don’t just arm you with a method and send you packing. They too acknowledge that it’ll be hard work to incorporate it into daily life, so there’s a support network out there to help keep the technique ticking.

That didn’t necessarily mean happily ever after. Even after that, things haven’t been totally plain sailing, I haven’t always kept up with the technique and it has slipped many times. I go back to Starfish to teach others once or twice a year, which acts as a temporary motivator; however that never really lasts long and when I didn’t consciously try to keep up the technique or forgot, soon my speech started to slip again. Costal breathing isn’t a way of breathing that comes naturally, so it can be hard to keep it up.

As I’m approaching 18, the prospect of interviews and the real world has been a real motivator. I attend a local support group for people who have been on the Starfish course, and have used every method I can think of to incorporate it into my daily life. I’ve put reminders on my bedroom wall, on my desktop background and I’m even considering getting a small tattoo of a starfish on my wrist. Just anything to make sure that this doesn’t slip away and I fall back to old habits. Fingers crossed that one day the technique will be second nature and when I talk the talk it’ll be just as easy as walking the walk.

Photo of upset guy by Shutterstock and posed by model

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Updated on 29-Sep-2015