Me and Mr. Jones

“You Girl!” The sonic boom of his voice streaks high and fast across the room and collides violently with the top of my head. The impact leaves no external trace but beneath the surface it fractures. I feign ignorance but I know that this particular greeting is reserved exclusively for me.“You…Girl…” The crisp crack of the first assault is replaced with a rumbling growl which slithers beneath the tables and chairs and enters through the soles of my feet; bleeding into the tears and fissures inflicted by the initial blow it obliterates any remaining vestiges of defense. Resigned, I peel my eyes from the text ridden page and force my buckling knees to straighten as I take to my feet. His ordinarily listless black eyes shimmer wickedly into life and his dirty red mustache does little to hide the vicious sneer that has begun to infest his obtuse face, “Read. Now.” Steadying myself with sweaty palms on the desk I open my mouth to speak but the words refuse to come, preferring to seek refuge somewhere in the back of my throat.“Tick.Tock.” I try to coax them from their sanctuary but they are steadfast in their resistance.“Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven…” Panic stricken I resort to force; squeezing my eyes closed I snatch furiously at the consonants which cower just beyond reach.“…Six. Five. Four. Three…” I seize the offending sound and propel it forth with every ounce of effort that I can muster but its not enough, “BBBBBBBBBB” The rest of the word is anchored firmly inside my mouth.“…Two. One.” Too late.“WHY DO YOU WASTE MY TIME GIRL!? . . . WHAT ARE YOU STUPID?! . . . ARE YOU A ST,ST,ST,STUPID G,G,G,GIRL!? . . . CAN’T YOU EVEN READ . . .”

The delightful Mr. Jones was my English teacher; a fat balding man with a ginger mustache and black eyes – he seemed to gain enormous pleasure in berating me. Suffice to say I loathed him. And myself. It’s been a long while since then and I am not a frightened little girl any more but the spectre of Mr. Jones still looms large. He still chastises at any given opportunity, still scolds me every time I get stuck, still castigates me when I take too long. He personifies that voice that we all have, the one that can’t wait to bring you down, the one that points out all of the things that you have done wrong.

For a very long time Mr. Jones reigned supreme when it came to stammering. That was until about two years ago when, after one particularly disheartening day in a series of many, I sent an email, a distress signal if you like – an SOS into the ether. Fortunately my call was answered by a fantastic speech therapist who became a much needed ally in the battle against Mr. Jones and I can honestly say that I haven’t looked back since. Its by no means been an easy trip, there have been ups and downs and at times I’ve even wondered if we have just been going round in circles. But lately, however cliche, I’ve started to realise that it really is the journey rather than the destination.

For me, coming to terms with stammering has been a gradual process which has only very recently started to make sense; the only way I can describe it is as a kind of movement or shift from thinking to feeling. For so long I was wrapped up in thought, what I thought, what I thought others might have thought, what they might not have thought, every kind of thought you could ever imagine! Almost always negative, I didn’t give myself a chance to experience the reality – whether good or bad. I didn’t want to feel the way I did when I was a scared child made to read aloud in class, so I ran. I ran away from my stammer, so far away that I didn’t really know what it entailed anymore. But slowly I’ve managed to stop running and fully encounter what is to stammer. I’m learning to live with the Mr. Jones in my head rather than perpetually fighting him on the battleground of my stammer; of course its not always easy, after all, the little tyrant has been sitting on a gilded throne in the centre of my brain for the past fifteen years so he’s not exactly keen on relinquishing control!

But, with the help of speech therapy and perhaps more importantly, the sense of togetherness and compassion that is fostered through reading and engaging with other people’s stories and experiences – I feel like, although we may never be friends, me and Mr. Jones could eventually be quite amicable neighbours.

2013 – The year of acceptance and change

I am 22 years old and my stammer has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Although it can vary on the size of a part it plays from time to time. I remember first going to speech therapy when I was around six but after a couple of years my stammer seemed to disappear and everyone thought that I had ‘grown out’ of it.

There were always many theories for why I stammered, the first being that my mother and father split when I was eighteen months old and this might have been the time when I would have first started to speak. My mother moved a couple of hours away and I went to live with my dad and Nan. I remember having difficulty vocally communicating, but it was never a real issue to me then.

My stammer then came back when I was fourteen, around the time that my Nan suddenly had a stroke and passed away. I was in a very different mind set about my stammer back then and I seemed ignorant to the fact that it was there. It took me around a year to admit that it was back and go to see a speech therapist. When I finally saw a speech therapist I seemed to be fluent when I spoke to her but then I would have real trouble as soon as I left. Due to this I didn’t think speech therapy was benefiting me in any way and I chose to leave.

I had always been able to control my stammer until a few years ago when it began to control me. My dad split from his wife, who was a substitute mother to me for 10 years, and then my brother got sent to Afghanistan with the army. Since then my stammer got worse and worse, which was a very scary thing to experience. At the beginning of 2013 I started to witness a change in my personality as I would start avoiding certain situations. I used to be an extremely sociable person and was always known for this but I began to dread meeting new people. As soon as I realised this, I referred myself back to speech therapy.

My stammer has always been different to the ‘average’ stammer you hear about. I stammer more with people and situations that I am most comfortable with and, for many years, prior adult speech therapy, I thought that this was psychologically based. I had never met another person with a stammer and felt as if I was the only one in the world with this problem.

Since having adult speech therapy I have learnt a lot more about myself and the way I breathe, speak and my posture. I had picked up a few bad habits, also knows as fillers, that I believed helped me speak but got stuck somewhere down the line such as, closing my eyes, bending my legs and tapping. I am a very anxious person now, I constantly tense my body and I take huge breaths before speaking.

I recently went to a stammer support group where people meet monthly and share experiences. I met a few people over the age of 60 who still stammer and even though it was terrifying trying to accept that it will be there for that long, it gave me comfort to know that they had learnt to be in control and not their stammers. Along with this I read Katherine Preston’s book ‘Out With It’ which I could relate to in so many ways. I felt as though I had joined her on her journey to accept stammering. It was a very difficult thing to do, still is, but by accepting it I have opened up so many pathways which I never thought were possible. I no longer ask friends to make phone calls for me, I order exactly what I want in a restaurant and if someone doesn’t have time to listen to my stammer then I have no time for them. I still have the ‘bad’ days but don’t we all from time to time?

I have had many theories throughout my life on my stammer and have always blamed something for it being there. But from the support of the BSA, Katherine Preston and many fellow stammerers I have met in the past year, I have found acceptance, my confidence and the love of speaking and listening again. I could not thank the British Stammering Association enough for the support they give individuals every day who struggle to come to terms with their stammer.