Some weeks ago I got a mail from the host of the (excellent) Pipes Magazine Radio Show, Brian Levine, in which he asked if I would be interested in being a guest. Of course I wanted to be on the show but felt compelled to tell him something which could be important for the broadcast. The thing is, I stutter.
I do this for a long time, since I was 7 years old when I was in the second grade of primary school. In the first grade I had no problems at all, I even was top of the class when it came to reading aloud. But then I got a different teacher: Miss Marja. Apparently she was going through some rough times because I later heard she was divorcing her husband. She vented all her frustrations and anger out on the class which lead to her verbally abusing and punishing us. Nothing physical but let’s say the corners of the classroom were often occupied by “naughty” children. So going to school every day was basically a nightmare which took a toll on me, I started stuttering. Luckily Miss Marja got so totally stressed out near the end of the year that she had to leave and we got a sweet replacement teacher. I can still remember the immense roar of joy from the class when she said that Miss Marja would not return and she would be staying.
During the later years of primary school I can’t remember having difficulties with the stuttering. I also went to a speech-therapist which did not really work out for me. But during puberty all hell broke loose. I got pimples, had teeth braces, wore big glasses so I wasn’t a good looking boy which affected my self confidence. The process of asking girls out was gruesome and only after weeks of plucking courage I dared to stutter out the words. After which I almost always got turned down. Delivering lectures for the class or having to read aloud chapters of study-books also caused me lots of stress and anxiety. To see my class-mates trying not to laugh even made me stutter more.
Luckily when I became older my self-confidence slowly but surely grew. I discovered that girls actually did not dislike stuttering, to my utter amazement they even thought it was cute. I found a steady job, joined a band, got my first girlfriend which boosted my moral to no extent but still I felt vulnerable with my speech. I was afraid to use the phone, afraid to speak to people I did not know etc. One day I had enough and made a pact with myself: no more fear. Just do the things I wanted to do without being afraid for the judgements of other people. As long as they understood what I was trying to say it was fine with me. About how they thought of me I did not care, their problem, not mine.
Today I still live by this rule, no fear, and constantly try to push my boundaries. For example by speaking aloud to the people at pipe-smoker meetings. By the way, the whole pipe-smoking community has really bolstered my confidence and self esteem. In general they are a great bunch of people! Now stuttering has become more of an annoyance for me than a handicap. I still do it when I am tired or when I am feeling not at ease with myself. In Dutch I have all kind of tricks to speak fairly fluent but other languages like English can be difficult for me. So when Brian said that stuttering was not a problem for him, that we are all pipe smokers, I decided to go ahead. No fear!
And the interview went baaaaaad… At least, my speech. Brian was absolutely lovely, a true gentleman really trying to make me feel as comfortable as possible. But my voice got tired quickly and that mixed in with a bit of nerves made that I could not properly get the words out any longer. I wanted to tell so much more. Luckily Brian did an amazing job editing and I really hope you folks will enjoy the broadcast. Despite the difficulties I am damn proud of myself, I did it and did not back out. So if someone reads this who stutters and has problems with it I would like to say to him/her: no fear, live your dreams and do not be afraid of the judgement of other people! Oh, and of course: please consider smoking a pipe.
You can listen to the Pipes Magazine Radio Show of April 14, 2015 here.