Raising public awareness is rife these days. There seem to be colourful wrist bands and ribbons for almost every health and social issue you can think of, and stammering is no exception. Today, on International Stammering Awareness Day, you can mark the occasion by sporting a unique sea-green version. It may be a small gesture, but it’s a positive step in the right direction:
We need more awareness around stammering!
This is true for all people who stammer, but it feels especially relevant for people who have interiorised stammers, like me. I like to think of interiorised stammering as the invisible twin of overt stammering. People with interiorised stammers are able to maintain a near-perfect fluent façade by skirting around difficult sounds and words, and avoiding certain social situations altogether. But while they may appear to speak ‘normally’, this comes at a huge mental and emotional cost. Internally, they are struggling with all the thoughts and emotions that come with having a stammer. Anxiety, fear, frustration, shame, helplessness, loneliness – these are just a handful of those emotions. And they are underpinned by a flood of negative thoughts, such as ‘People won’t accept me if they find out that I stammer’, ‘I need to be fluent to do my job well’, and ‘Stammering means that I’ve failed’.
It’s difficult for people to understand that someone can have a stammer without actually stammering. I remember confiding in an old friend many years ago that I stammer. Her response was both rewarding and devastating: “But you speak perfectly fluently.” I was elated to hear that I had successfully pulled off normal speech, but at the same time it felt very lonely to know that this meant I would receive none of the support and understanding I really needed.
I believe this lack of awareness of interiorised stammering comes in part from an overly simple portrayal of stammering in the media. The King’s Speech – a film that shone a powerful light on stammering – profiles the struggles of someone with an overt stammer. And more recently, Musharaf, from the TV programme, Educating Yorkshire, captured the nation’s attention as a boy with a severe stammer fighting to be heard in a fluent world. While difficulty with speech is a hallmark of all types of stammering, interiorised stammering challenges the perception that this difficulty is immediately apparent. It shows that stammering is actually a very varied condition, and that there is so much more to having a stammer than just talking differently.
International Stammering Awareness Day is a wonderful opportunity for us to raise awareness of these, and other, aspects of stammering. Whether it’s talking about our experiences with others, wearing a wristband or a ribbon, running a marathon, or writing a blog post (!), every effort to improve the public insight into stammering will lead to a better understanding of this condition. I look forward to the day when I can tell someone that I stammer and they nod unquestioningly.