My Stuttering Journey: from PWS to PWSS
How it all began
My name is Tasneem, and I am an admitted attorney and conveyancer of the High Court of South Africa. I started stuttering at the age of 10 and have absolutely no idea how or why it started. I do remember though, that there was another boy in my class, let’s call him “Brandon”, that stuttered too. I remember asking him to call out my marks to the teacher when she/he would ask us to call out our marks so that he/she could write them down. I have no idea why he had no problem stuttering; he did not seem to care at all. It may have something to do with the fact that he was ridiculously good looking and charming (girls, boys, and even teachers absolutely adored him). He was outgoing and carefree. I, on the other hand, was the complete opposite. I was overweight, I had no confidence, I struggled to make friends because I refused to speak to anybody, and my father (while well-intentioned) refused to admit that I had a stutter. There was definitely no malice on his part. Think about it, who wants to admit that their child has any flaws? It is painful for a parent to watch their child struggle in any way, and unfortunately, some parents think that by ignoring the problem, their child will just “grow out of it”. Besides that, I was, for the most part, fluent at home with my family- as I am told by most PWS that this is the case.
The worst part is that schools did nothing to help either. Teachers too are uneducated about stuttering, as I think most of the world is, considering that only 70 million people stutter (out of 7 billion). Teachers thought that they were helping me “cure” my stutter by making me do an extra reading in front of the class, extra speeches, answering more questions, performing in plays, debate teams, etc. They had absolutely no idea that all that was happening was that, my brain was forming more and more stuttering memories. Remember, neurons that fire together, wire together. So basically, your brain stutters, it remembers the stuttering and it will stutter the next time when a similar situation arises. Now, in order for you to understand exactly what I mean by all of this, I suggest purchase Stuttering & Anxiety Self-Cures, 3rd Edition and/or take the course. I read this book and applied its methods, and after 17 years of hapless stuttering, I completely cured my stutter. You NEED to do this in order to understand all the content which will be coming in my following blogs.
As a PWS, I am sure that we can all agree that stuttering is DEBILITATING, to put it lightly. It determines our jobs, our friends, our hobbies, our partners, our attitudes, our views on ourselves, how much money we make, the outings we go on, even the things we order at restaurants (there have been a few times that I have ordered something completely different to what I actually wanted because I was too afraid to stutter on the word of what I actually wanted- looking back it is both funny and sad that I ended up with a cheese sandwich instead of a beefsteak!).
Can you imagine how powerless I felt at the age of 23, there I was, a legal graduate, ready to enter the legal world and make a huge impact in some big legal firm. I was so excited. I would finally have a purpose, my own money, I could meet new people, I could start a whole new life, but stuttering reared its’ ugly little head in every single interview that I attended. Nobody even bothered calling me back. I remember in one interview, the interviewee asked me if I liked sushi, it took me about 45 seconds of me bobbing my head just trying to say “yes”. How humiliating not only for me but for her too. Now you ask yourself, would you as an owner of a company want to hire a lawyer no less who cannot even say “yes”? I do not think so, I wouldn’t! Luckily for me, my stepmother owns a law firm and she (out of pity of course) told me that I can come and work for her. Of course, I could do not much except draft documents. I had to get other people to make my phone calls for me, I could not attend my own meetings. I was stuck sitting in my chair churning out boring legal documents day after day. Again, powerless and quite literally feeling dead inside. I thought that this would be the rest of my life until I was old enough to retire, being alone with my 20 cats who I did not have to speak to, thereby avoiding stuttering! Haha. What a ridiculous thought! And as PWS, we know that the powerlessness that we feel in our jobs spills over into all other aspects of our lives.
For example, I wanted to join a hiking group/Bootcamp group/book reading club, I could go on, and what held me back? The fact that I would have to introduce myself by name to each person in the group. So, because I could not say my own name, I could not join any groups, I could not lose weight, which made me even more depressed, resigning myself to sitting in front of the TV and eating more food to cover up the feelings of shame. It all had a snowball effect. I feel so cheated out of so many years that I could have been doing so much more with my life. Luckily, I LOVED reading (and still do), so I was always intellectually stimulated in some form, albeit was by books and not by other people or social events.
Anyway, I digress, there I was at my first job, desperately unhappy and would browse jobs all day that did not require speaking. Imagine the feeling of looking for a job, not based on how much money you will earn, whether you will excel at the job or most importantly, whether you will enjoy doing the job, but ONLY on whether there would be speaking involved. I repeat, completely powerless, and nobody wants to feel powerless, it is one of the worst feelings that I have ever experienced.
Eventually, I struck it lucky, I landed an interview at a law firm, let’s call it “CCM”, and my interviewer did not seem to care that I stuttered. To this day I do not know if she felt sorry for me, or just saw potential in me that nobody else saw, but being hired by her changed the course of my life obviously for the better. I still stuttered of course, but it did help me with my self-esteem. Only problem? Now I had to appear in Court, speaking in front of not only a judge but other lawyers (CRINGE!). I resigned myself to having to make a complete and utter fool of myself every single time that I had to appear in Court, and guess what happened, it just added more bad memories of stuttering. My stuttering got worse. The two people I shared my office (bless their souls) used to offer to make my phone calls for me, but again, they must have felt so sorry for me. It is extremely unfortunate that PWS are viewed as less smart, more anxious, less confident, less successful, less content and less powerful than their counterparts.
A “cure” is available to you
Now I know this goes against everything that you have ever been told about stuttering. “It cannot be cured”, “It can only be managed”, “Be proud of your stutter”, “Accept your stutter as a part of who you are”. Now tell me, I have not stuttered in 2 years. Is that not a cure? What would you call that? Sheer luck? A miracle? Did I sell my soul? Did I just wake up one day and not stutter again? No! I used the techniques as outlined in the book mentioned above, and I worked hard at it, every single day. It was not easy, sometimes it was brutal, there were days where I wanted to throw the book in the bin, quite literally, and I almost did. But then I figured that I had two options:
1) Continue working at it every single day in the hope that eventually my stutter would be beaten; or
2) Living a powerless life, where every decision I made was based on my stutter rather than my actual wants, dreams, ambitions, and hopes.
The proof is in the pudding
Now I think it is fairly obvious which one I decided on as I am sitting here writing this blog. I am now 29 years old and I have never felt more alive or more powerful in my life and it is all because I no longer stutter. Curing my stutter showed me that if I can overcome something as debilitating and all-consuming as stuttering, then I can do absolutely ANYTHING that I put my mind to.
Every single PWS that I have ever met through my coaching and in real life is extremely smart. I am speaking about doctors, financial analysts, medical students, even just really wise people; you get my point. Yet, people are reluctant to view us anything else but PWS. I do not like the word “stutterer”. We are not “stutterers”, we are people who stutter. Calling PWS “stutterers” is defining them by that and only that. No! We are PWS, but we are also smart, marathon runners, readers, doctors, mothers, sisters, leaders, caretakers, music lovers, painters, etc. We have interests and feelings just like everybody else. We are NOT defined by our stutter, it is simply a small part of who we are (and if you stick with me, it will not be a part of who you for much longer). Pretty soon, you, like I, will be able to say “oh yes, I used to have a stutter”. Every few months I think about funny things that used to happen due to my stutter and I now laugh about it (I will share many of these stories in my upcoming blogs). Stuttering has been the best thing that has ever happened to me as it has forced me to take control of my mind and life, that is why I can sit here and have a good laugh at all the sticky situations that I found myself in.
I have since lost weight, I am a Speech Anxiety Anonymous certified coach in which I help people cure their stutters, I wake up every day with a zest for life. I take control of what I will do, I do not let myself be controlled by a stutter or anything or anybody else. I come first and I decide my actions and plans based on what I WANT, and NOT what I am forced to do due to having a stutter.
Until next time remember:
IF YOU CAN SAY ONE WORD ANYTIME, ANY PLACE, YOU CAN SAY ANY WORD ANY TIME, ANY PLACE