Written by Zahra Bassan. Zahra is a final-year medical student at Liaquat National Medical College.
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I’m in my early 20s and have been stammering since I have the faculty of memory.
Growing up, I had access to all kinds of privileges. But my speech impediment was one thing that kept me from being ‘perfect’.
It was, however, not until my 4th year of medical school when everything spiralled out of my control.
I was propelled into speaking situations that I could no longer dodge and in which I had to prove my competence. My confidence took a plunge for the worst and my anxiety compounded with each passing day.
At this point, I needed a miracle.
Stammering is a faulty speech impediment which renders a person incapable of uttering words and letters with fluency. The speech, therefore, becomes incoherent, repetitive and, at times, meaningless.
What makes it worse is a listener’s impatience, lack of interest and mockery.
Imagine a student with a vast amount of knowledge, eager to share their information in a class, only to be met with giggles and mimicry.
The person in question is unable to comprehend the mechanism of their distorted speech. All that he/she wants to say is right in their head but their vocal cords have left them helpless.
Yet, just a few hours ago, alone in front of the mirror, the words had flowed seamlessly.
One can’t blame kids. Anything unusual, which is seen or heard for the first time, is usually laughed at or derided.
But for the stammerer, this reaction is permanently stored in the memory, only to terrify him/her whenever put under the spotlight, accompanied by a rapid beating of the heart, profuse perspiration and tremors.
Science has not yet discovered the pathology behind stammering hence no cure has been found till date. There is no confirmation whether a genetic predisposition or a traumatic psychological event constitutes the triggering factor.
Stammerers are normally found to have both or, in some cases, it is an idiopathic disorder. It starts from early childhood and continues throughout the lifetime. Once a stammerer, always a stammerer.
Fortunately, there are a few exceptions.
Every stammer has a different way of speech, and the severity varies from person to person.
But the reactions that we receive from our surroundings are more or less the same. We are normally brushed off with phrases like: “Oh it is only in your head”, or “I didn’t even notice until you mentioned it to me” without them realising that that they had to finish our sentence for us or looked away while we were still stuttering.
Just like other stammerers, I was also a target of bullying and would often go through a cycle of negative perceptions, self-deprecation and depression.
Simple things turned into tedious mind-wrecking issues. I underwent many therapies without much success. After many failed attempts, I continued to survive on faith alone.
My miracle came in the shape of the McGuire programme, which is a four-day intensive course run by stutterers themselves that focuses on eloquence rather than fluency through breathing techniques, speech weapons and self-actualisation.
It deals with both the mechanical and psychological aspects of speech, and is conducted across the world. I attended one of its workshops in Dubai, which covers the Middle East and North African regions.
I enrolled in the said course without many expectations, thrilled to just meet people from varying cultures with a common problem and share our experience.
What culminated by the end of the 4th day was something I had never anticipated.
After having done 100 contacts and public and farewell speeches to a room full of people, I had come face to face with my fears. My dreams were unleashed and I had gained more than I could have ever imagined.
My farewell speech for the programme didn’t even encapsulate 10 per cent of the gratitude I have for it, and the integral role it played in my transformation.
“Speaking to a room full of people was always just a fantasy. This is my dream, and you’ve given me this. I would like to thank the McGuire Programme, my course instructor, my coaches and everyone else. Thank you.”
“Countless nights, I cried myself to sleep. There was no one I could talk to about what I was going through. I did not have the courage to face the following day — the bullying, guilt, self-pity and loneliness.”
Mine is a happy ending indeed, but one that requires constant persistence, perseverance and dedication. I’m not fluent, but am markedly eloquent.
I also recently attended a refresher course to further work on my speech and help new students.
With every tribulation, there is now also an ease which wasn’t there before. With my new way of speech, I am ready to embrace all the challenges that life has to throw my way, and I intend to take them head on, eloquently.
Original Article featured at dawn.com