|About the presenter: Prakhar Sachan is a PWS (person who stutters) and he is 24 years old. He is from India. He has graduated as a computer science engineer. Presently he is pursuing his post graduate diploma in advanced computing. He is an active member of the ISA (International Stuttering Association) team, which is involved in setting up TISA (The Indian Stammering Association).|
What if I wasn't a stutterer?
This question, and other like questions, time and time again seem to surface to the fore of a stutterers' mind. I have been no exception.
I started stuttering as a child. With no family history of stuttering, it was hard for everyone to relate to my stuttering. Stating the obvious, a search for "cure" proved to be futile. Somehow stuttering wasn't an issue in my early school days. I used to stutter mildly and contextually (as far as I can remember), and stuttering still hadn't seeped into my psyche. As such, the typical stuttering mindset and the emotional baggage that goes along with it were non-existent. But, it all seemed to change when I was in middle school. I was made to feel different, because I didn't speak in the normal way. As an instance, my peers found it intriguing and sometimes amusing, why I took so long to say my name. I could very well have been labeled retarded, but as I did well academically, they were always confused and questions such as "why do you speak that way?" became common place. By the time I was in high school, my stuttering became severe. Really bad. I couldn't even answer the roll calls (my name included), forget about participating in plays and elocution periods which were compulsory; as they said it was essential for personality development. However, I don't think it improved my personality, but on the contrary nurtured my fear of stuttering which was a fledgling entity initially into something, which had assumed gigantic proportions by the time I graduated from high school. And it taught me how to be a pro at avoidance. Sometimes I would turn up late in class so that I wouldn't have to answer my roll calls. I would try pretending that I am sick during oral exams so that my "illness" would be an excuse for my silence and as such my grades won't hamper. During orals and elocution periods, I would pretend that I have forgotten the prose so that I can substitute hard words with words I was comfortable with. Telephone became a misery. If I perceived some part of a conversation to be hard, I would go round about it, filling it up with easy words. As such, sometimes I could never say want I really wanted to say. The whole effect would be diluted because I was too scared to jump straight into the "hard part".
Gradually, stuttering which wasn't an issue in my life, became a driving force in my life. And with it came the endless rounds of search for answers. I started to become more and more conscious of my speech, and I started viewing my whole personality from a stuttering lens. Every decision that I took which involved speaking was now being influenced by the fact that I stuttered.
After high school, it was time to decide for my choice of career and accordingly apply. As a child, I was always fascinated by science, and I had always thought of becoming an engineer. But, this is where the problem started. I would always hear my father who was an engineer himself talking about the seminars and presentations he had to make. Also, my elder brother and only sibling, who at that time was in an engineering school often related stories of how his seminars, orals, practical exams, quiz sessions et al went. Needless to say, all this caught me off guard. I was a severe stutterer, and there was no way I could do all that! Well, that is what I thought, when I was 16-17 years old.
Slowly, but surely, whenever I would think about my future career decision, this thought of seminars and presentations crossed my mind. Invariably, every single time, I would create a mental picture myself stuttering in front of a large audience. This was too much for me to handle, so I decided to "play safe."
By the time I graduated from high school, the fear of stuttering was so deeply engrained in my whole being that I made up my mind that I wasn't going to go for engineering. This was a bad decision indeed. But, since science as a subject always fascinated me, I thought of majoring in basic sciences. So, I applied for it, got admission, and found myself studying something, which I hadn't wanted to study in the first place. Somehow I persisted, but I was really bored. I was stuck doing something against my will, and my inner resistance against it was mounting day by day. Until one day, after 2 years into that course, I thought I have had enough. So, after a lot of introspection and soul-searching, I made the decision of my life so far. I dropped out of it, and went back to an engineering school.
It wasn't easy, but somehow I had made up my mind that I have had enough of "running and hiding". I went through all the oral drills. Sometimes I avoided, sometimes I didn't. Sometimes I was fluent, sometimes I wasn't. By this time, I had learned word substitution as an art, and started to put it into full force. I guess that carried me along. Also, in the meantime, my fluency improved and I stopped stuttering with my friends and peers. I had somehow learned how to maneuver through my blocks. Although it carried me along, a time came when it became too much emotionally grueling and mentally taxing. My defining moment came, when earlier I had decided to go through my oral drills without conjuring excuses, albeit with word substitution as a crutch. I decided to translate and expand that into a strict path of non-avoidance / no substitution. Scary indeed, because by this time I had turned into a covert stutterer, and none of my peers thought that I had a speech impediment. They just thought I "think" too much. So when they heard me struggling for words (as a result of non-avoidance/ non substitution), it was a cause of alarm for them as well as for me. They found it hard to digest why all of a sudden I had to struggle so much for words. What they didn't know was this struggle was always present. It was just that earlier it was an inner struggle; now it had translated into a visible outward struggle because of the Śno substitution path' I was treading on. Sometimes they would give the impression of being seriously concerned. Sometimes, they just looked lost and found it hard to relate to my overt stuttering moments; not knowing what to say, or do. Moreover, it was just an awkward moment for them. As a result, it was hard for me as well, because I could pick up those cues and that would make me revert back to masking my stutter. As such, sometimes that path wasn't as "strict" as I had initially planned. My natural instinct had been conditioned to always hide my stutter in moments of awkwardness and in moments such as these it started running the show once again.
But it was this guiding principle (of non-avoidance) that made me stick to my topic of seminar this semester. I had decided to present a seminar on AJAX (Asymmetric Java and XML). "Asymmetric" is a hard word for me. So I had this thought of changing my seminar topic to something I was more comfortable with. Of course, no one would want to start stuttering at the topic of his/her seminar! But, then again, I persisted, and went ahead presenting on AJAX. The seminar wasn't fluent. But, that did not matter. All that mattered was, I was beginning to counter my natural instincts and conditioned responses towards perceived stuttering moments. Earlier, I would just have chickened out; but this time around I went on with the show, despite of all odds. I was beginning to live the moment, rather than running away for it. I was beginning my fight back against my limiting beliefs imposed due to years of stutteringŠ
I have graduated this summer and what seemed to be impossible at first, didn't turn out to be that herculean of a task. The merits of staying in the moment, no matter how hard it initially seemed, ultimately started to pay off. It's a universal truth that whatever we resist will persist. It's easier said than done, but a start can always be made, no matter how small that start may be. It calls for one to be tenacious and a little brave. Of course, I have had my ups and downs, but I kept focusing on my intentions. That is what I could only do; the rest of it lay beyond my control.
Very often, in the course of my "stuttering journey" it feels as if I am completely lost, and there is no result forthcoming. My speech gets worse. These are intense moments of despair. This is where remaining true to my intentions provides me with the succor to trudge along.
I'd like to draw an analogy here. Sometimes it feels like you're stuck in a desert all alone and everywhere you look around is just sand, with no land (or destination) in sight. You keep on walking hoping that you'll at last see some land, but all you could see is still sand, and more sand. You start to loose hope. You feel like giving up. It feels as if you're fighting a lost battle, and you'll never reach your destination. But, you have a compass, which are your intentions (in terms of analogy). You keep on following it, walking along hoping that at last you'll end up where you wanted. As you continue walking, you still see sand all around. You'd still have self-defeating thoughts. You'll still be confronted by situations that will pull you down. You'll still have moments of hopelessness and despair. In order to get over such tumultuous times you need to focus on now. Do the best that you can do now. Never underestimate the power of now. By remaining true to one's compass (intentions), one can realize the power of now to different extents possible. And that is the only thing you can do, or possibly have control over. The expectation of whether you'll reach your destination or not is beyond your control.
Keep your eye on the ball, even if the ball is not visible.
And, finally, be kind to yourself.
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