September 19, 2011

What do you know about your stammering?

Chapter 2
You will be surprised to know that average PWS knows very little about his/her own stammering! All they know is the occasional strange reaction from their audience. Most of them blink and close their eyes during stammering- and therefore may not even see people’s reaction to their stammer! Is it just accident or is it by some sub-conscious design? Our subconscious mind erases stammering moments from the memory tape and therefore we can not recall what did we actually do (eye blinks, holding breath etc.), how did we actually feel and react in that moment. And therefore, we are able to do nothing about it. In fact, many of us believe that it is not something which I do- it is something mysterious that just happens to me. It is a visitation from some kind of supernatural power- it seems. 
Some of us, start projecting the entire responsibility on to outside circumstances and actors: I was talking fine, when I saw the teacher looking at me closely..I began stammering then. But the fact remains- it is something which we are doing and only we can do something about it. But what is it that we are doing in that hurried and blurred moment?

To find this, you need a lot of courage to face the truth about yourself. If you have it, go ahead and record yourself with a video camera and review it. Here are the steps, in the order suited to most:

Step 1 (Play with a tape or a video camera)

Record your speech under different circumstances: reading a newspaper or a book; talking to yourself or children, talking with a friend, sharing something in a small group, talking to a “senior” on phone, telling a joke etc. Arrange these in an order from easy to difficult tasks, before starting (this is very important). Begin with the most comfortable situation, like reading alone. Use a simple cell-phone with camera or a proper video-camera on a tripod, whichever is convenient and available. If possible, try and capture the facial expressions and the body language as well.
For the first few minutes, you might be too conscious of the recording but later you will get used to it and speak in your regular style. So let the recording be long enough, 10 minutes or more. If you are using the phone camera, you may request a friend to help. If this friend is a PWS, all the better. Essentially it can be anyone you trust. Save all the recordings, if possible, on a computer.

Step 2 (replay and review)

Replay the recording- listen to your speech (words, nuances, volume, pitch etc.), study your body language, facial expressions, hands etc. Review these even in those moments when you are speaking fluently. Compare this, with those moments when you are having a little hesitation or a big difficulty. As a listener now, try to guess how you are coming through as a speaker. Confident? Comfortable with yourself and the subject? Enjoying every moment of it? Or in a hurry to finish? Based on what you see and hear, try to guess, and feel, your emotional states as you were speaking those words.
Replay the moments when you think you were not very comfortable. Pause & replay the tape frequently to see and hear: did your pitch go up as you came across a 'difficult' word? Was there a struggle to push out a difficult sound? Did your lips press together with greater force and for longer duration than you would normally expect? Did your head go back? Hand jerked? Eyebrows went up? Record your observations in a diary. Make this list as exhaustive as possible. Remember, whatever you note down here is what you can finally change. Whatever you ignore, will stay with you- unfortunately. So be very honest and brave.

Step 3 (get in touch with emotions)

Review these recordings over a long period: 3-6 months and try to note down, what you do differently, in the moments of difficulty as opposed to when you are speaking fluently. It will be even more useful, if you could review these tapes with a trusted friend or a recovering stutterer. You could go a step further and fake your stutter while alone- and stay in that moment for a couple of minutes- to know what it actually feels like, in mouth, in body and in mind. In other words- consciously reproduce a moment of your stuttering and hold it (freeze) there: My name is S-------------achin. I live in K-k-k-k.....Kanpur. etc. This is Voluntary Stuttering and an important tool of knowing your stammer and overcoming it. Yes, it is not meant for weak hearts and should be attempted only after 3-4 months of starting on this path.
If you could do it in a normal conversation with a pet, children and friends (in this order), you would even discover unique emotions associated with your stuttering, but completely unknown to you till then; buried deep in your core. So, later on, when you start to deal with your stutter, you address not only what your mouth does, but also what your mind and your emotions do in those moments of difficulties.

Step 4 (wider explorations)

Meet other PWS, read their posts on chat groups, their biographies on the web. While reading, try to compare your life with theirs; your observations with theirs; your problem-solving approaches with theirs. This will help you to understand that:
  1. Your experiences as PWS are not unique even though you sincerely thought so!
  2. Your responses to your problems are also not unique.
You can learn form their experiments. Knowing your 'speech' is not enough; you must know yourself as a total human being: your attitude towards life, relationships, responsibilities, career, recreation, creativity - and how these have been influenced by your speech; your deepest fears and aspirations. One way is to meet others on the same path and compare notes and the second complimentary path is diving within yourself: sitting quiet and reviewing your life, contemplation, meditation. Vipassana meditation has helped some people in this regard. Read more about it later in this manual.
Steps 1-3 should be repeated as often as you want, with your review and analysis becoming deeper and deeper. It needs courage, determination and some 'quality' time to go deeper. Finally, a time should come when you know your stammer so well that you can reproduce it 100% at will in a mimicry contest among friends! This signifies complete emotional healing- an important stage in the long journey. But there is more to be done, so that your audience is able to understand what you are saying. You still have to become a good communicator, if not 'orator'. 
To summarize, you can not change your manner of speaking until you know what it looks & sounds like, what it feels like. To know that, video-recordings and review is a very popular and effective method. But this needs lot of COURAGE. If you have read this manual so far, we are sure that you have that quality and commitment. So, go on- lights, action.. and let the camera roll!

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