Written by Sybren
These corona times have changed much in our daily lives and activities. When we are normally used to going to our work or study in the day time, nowadays we have to work and study from home. Many of our daily activities now take place in front of a screen. This has consequences for people who stutter, leading to avoidance but also a new way to look at your own stuttering.
Like many others for the past few months, I have been participating in very diverse meetings, seminars, social events, learning and training activities and even religious activities that I would usually do ‘live’ but that I can now ‘comfortably’ do in front of the screen of my laptop or smartphone. I say ‘comfortably’ since it saved a lot of travel time, but to see yourself stuttering in front of a screen is a confrontation that I have experienced myself and have heard from other people who stutter that they have felt similarly. However, eventually this struggle also helped me to find a way to embrace my own stutter more.
Unlike in a live situation where you just hear yourself in a Skype, Zoom of Google Meet of Hangout-session, you also see yourself if you speak, just like a mirror that is always in front of you. For people who stutter it can be very confronting to see your own stuttering from so close by and to see what your ‘blocks’ look like and the facial expression you make. All these ‘screen activities’ also confronted me with my own stuttering. Although for me personally it did not really change my behavior, from other people I have heard it has led to more avoidance: to not share when you would like to say something, to react in the chat instead of speaking in the camera or to turn off the camera. All are very understandable reactions. But the interesting question is to ask what lies behind this avoidance behaviour? Is it because you do not want to see yourself stuttering or are you afraid of the reactions of other people who stutter?
What has helped is to see my stuttering just the way it is, in a non-judgmental way. If I now see myself speaking I start to look at myself in a kind of neutral way. I do stutter in front of the screen and I can see it, but I do not feel a negative emotion anymore or want to avoid the situation. In a way it even helps me to be more aware of myself and to relax my speech if I see myself.
And sometimes I even get a very positive reaction. This morning I had an online meeting with someone who does not stutter. At the end of the conversation she said that of course the stuttering had made her have to wait more in the conversation, but that it was also a great way for her to be able to think of her own reaction and gave her unexpected rest.