Worsening stuttering
January 3, 2012 7:25 AM   Subscribe

I've had a very mild stutter since early adolescence. I'm 30 now. For most of this time, I had it under control such that I was able to go through high school, college, a few years of working, and law school without anyone ever being aware of it. It was always there to some extent, but it never posed a real problem and never weighed too heavily on my mind. The stutter has gotten significantly worse just in the past couple months though, and is beginning to affect both my quality of life and my job.

I started work as an associate at a law firm a few months ago. This was around the time I really started noticing the stutter getting worse, though I think it had probably began a few months prior to that as I was finishing up law school. The stuttering has always been a bit less manageable on the telephone, and I think maybe the amount of phone-talking I've had to do at this new job, along with some baseline anxiety about starting work in a high-pressure environment, may have set something off. In any case, the more I'm aware of the stuttering now, the more it seems to crop up. I can generally hold in-person conversations without a problem, but placing telephone calls on certain days has turned into a major obstacle, with all sorts of hemming and hawing, repeated words, and awkward subsitutions, and I go to lengths to avoid having to use the phone now.

Strangely enough, alcohol has also begun making the stuttering dramatically worse, whereas before it had no effect at all. It takes literally just a few sips of beer before my fluency begins to slip. A couple drinks in and having any kind of conversation (or even giving instructions to a cab driver to get home) becomes difficult. I can "feel" my ability to talk going haywire as a mild buzz sets in. I've been a fairly avid partier the past couple years -- drinking large amounts regularly on weekends, staying out very late -- and while my lifestyle certainly hasn't been conducive to getting great rest and nutrition, it's never seemed to have had much of an ill-effect until now. I now find myself avoiding some social occasions or going home early while out with friends at a bar because of a frustrating inability to converse.

Like a lot of people who stutter, I can talk perfectly fluently when I'm alone, and there are good days and bad days. I've wondered whether perhaps I've just become more aware of it in recent months, but people have also begun to comment on it now too, where they never have before.

So my questions after all this are basic and two-fold: 1). What's likely to have caused this development, at this relatively late stage in life? And 2). What can I do to end it, or at least get it back to its previous, entirely manageabale state? Thanks in advance.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I grew up with a terrible stammer, the type that people would think I was making up because it sounded like people who tried to sound like they had a stutter to be funny.

I went to intensive speech therapy in grade school and learned a whole bunch of techniques on how to deal with it, and yet in various times of my life, the stuttering (never as bad as when I was a kid, but noticeable) has come back in one form or another. It could be stress-related, it could be because you're tired, it could DEFINITELY be related to alcohol intake (I don't drink at all, but after surgery when I was on pain meds, I really had to concentrate so my speech wouldn't halt).

So 1.) It could be caused by a lot of things, and the only one that I can think of that you can change all by yourself would be to lower your alcohol intake.

As to 2.) Talk to a speech therapist. While there are many at-home tricks you can learn, a qualified professional can work with you, figure out your triggers and roadblocks and come up with a plan to minimize or alleviate the problem.
posted by xingcat at 7:30 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

IANYSLP, but I agree that therapy can help you work through some of these issues and give you some new strategies on how to deal with the stutter. Increased stress could certainly be a contributing factor. It would be better to get a handle on it now than wait until it starts to spill into other areas of communication. Good luck.
posted by absquatulate at 7:42 AM on January 3, 2012

That is a significant reaction to a few sips of alcohol, if you meant that literally. I think you should consult a doctor, and not necessarily assume that this is related to your childhood stuttering before you rule other new developments out. It must be frustrating though - good luck!
posted by juliplease at 8:01 AM on January 3, 2012

Cut the alcohol and try to get a little more sleep.
posted by Yorrick at 8:30 AM on January 3, 2012

I've had a very mild stutter since early adolescence. I'm 30 now. For most of this time, I had it under control s [...] It was always there to some extent, but it never posed a real problem and never weighed too heavily on my mind.

Change 30 to 52 and this is me pretty much to a tee. Except my stutter goes further back to when I was maybe seven or eight.

My guess is your current situation is very much stress related, which is kind of like saying that wet hair is caused by liquid (ie: profound statement of the obvious, particularly when you indicate that you have no problem stringing the words together when you're alone). The singular problem that I've had over the years with stress issues is accepting just how complex and comprehensive stress is -- how subtly it can sneak up on us, how unconsciously.

So what to do about it? The answers so far are pretty good to which I would add the sort of obvious, "Focus on your breathing." Seriously. Correct breathing is A. good for pretty much any stress-related situation and B. particularly good for stutters. That is, I've personally never had a stutter-moment that I couldn't conquer by simply stopping mid-blockage and taking a deep breath. Sounds so easy. So unbelievably difficult to do, because my stuttering is nothing if not mind and passion (the intention and desire to speak words) getting ahead of the complexity of my physiology (the ability to actually form those words).

Good (deep breath) Luck. Yeah, those "L" words can be a bitch.
posted by philip-random at 8:52 AM on January 3, 2012

I'm 34 and have always stuttered. My fluency has a direct correlation to my fatigue/stress levels. As I get older, I get tired easier and have greater responsibilities that inherently bring about more stress. So, more stuttering.

You're in a career where presentation skills can help a lot to manage a stammer. A relaxed speaking candence and good breathing can help minimize the physical aspects; a strong stage presence* can help with the mental aspects for both you and your audience. Have you ever tried Toastmasters?

* Ever tape yourself? You may be surprised at the physical ticks you've accumulated over the years that broadcast your discomfort with your stammer... which in turn, makes your audience uncomfortable... which then makes you even more uncomfortable... until you have nosedived into a spiral of mutual embarassment. Try to cut that shit out. It helps a lot, even if the stammer itself never gets better.
posted by Wossname at 10:32 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Mod note: This is reply from an anonymous commenter.
I'm a stammerer and prefer not to be so openly on the internet so have asked the mods to post my comments.

Re what could have caused the change. This is anecdotal of course but my stammer and those of other stammerers I know do change over time, sometimes for no apparent reason. Trying to work out why can be very seductive but for me it isn't helpful - it makes me focus more on stammering, more self-conscious about speech, more likely to stammer. Having said that, you mention anxiety about the environment you work in, and for most stammerers anxiety increases stammering. And if you're spending more time on the telephone than you're used to, again that tends to be a high-stress activity for a lot of stammerers so that could have contributed.

You don't ask about the alcohol specifically, but I'd guess (and again, no more than a guess, but you may know whether this is true for you) that you are spending a great deal of energy being a covert stammerer (ie, trying to hide your stammer), and that alcohol lowers your inhibitions enough for you to stop doing this - so a load of pent-up stammering comes out.

Things you could do to end it. If it is affected by stress, anything you can do to lower anxiety (relaxation etc) should help. Tiredness is the killer for my speech so consider whether you should be getting more sleep. Consider "outing" yourself as a stammerer at work, if you are not already. For me, this relieves anxiety and therefore makes me stammer less. You could do this by mentioning it to your manager, or, if there are people you talk to frequently on the telephone and stammer with, telling them - by email if you like, something like "It was good to speak to you earlier and I hope we got the issues you rang about resolved. I just wanted to let you know, as we speak fairly often, that I do sometimes stammer - please don't worry if I do, just give me a moment to finish my sentence (or whatever strategy would help you)".

I don't know what country you are in but for me it was useful to know that I was covered by disability legislation and could choose to take fewer calls sometimes and communicate by email.

I have never found speech therapy useful but I know others do. There are books and videos that cover breathing techniques if you'd rather not do face-to-face therapy. There is at least one speech therapist (christinetheslp) on MF who may be along to give more informed advice.

Best of luck - resurgence of stammering can be really hard, especially when you're just starting your career, and telephone stammering I think is especially grim. If it helps, my experience is that generally over time stammering improves - it's quite possible this is just a blip.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:34 PM on January 3, 2012

I should clarify and say that speech therapy will only be useful if you a) are invested and b) find a speech-language pathologist (or speech therapist in most of the world) who specializes in stuttering. You may want to take a look at The Stuttering Foundation for more information. If you are in the U.S.A., the American Speech-Language and Hearing Association (ASHA) has information about stuttering for the pubic and you can find a board recognized specialist in fluency (commonly known as stuttering) as well.

If you are outside the U.S., there is most likely a professional organization for speech therapists in your country who might be able to point you towards specialists. Try Googling "[your country] speech therapy fluency disorders".
posted by absquatulate at 1:41 PM on January 3, 2012

Seconding absquatulate that if you work with a speech therapist, it would be best to find one *board recognized in fluency.* Speech is an INCREDIBLY broad field, with therapists working in nursing homes with stroke patients, to little babies who need help swallowing, to people in the deaf community, to kids with articulation problems, or people with autism or cognitive issues that impair their communication.

That said, I'm a speech therapist who works with kids in a school setting, and I like working with stuttering. I was a speech therapy graduate student clinician with West Virginia University's Support Group for People Who Stutter, and enjoyed listening to people there and learning about adult's struggles and frustrations with their own stuttering.

Any chance you live in Virginia? I'm ASHA certified and state certified to work in VA as a speech therapist. I'd be happy to informally talk with you over the phone or meet with you somewhere in the Richmond area to listen to your concerns and help you figure out your types of stutters and different techniques to help with them. If you'd want just some basic strategies for your types of stutters, I'd be happy to talk with you and try to give you some tips. (You could also just memail me your concerns or examples of what is difficult for you or what your stuttering sounds like, since the phone is stressful.) I don't have professional experience with adults who stutter, so I'd be happy to have the new experience, too. Feel free to memail me if I can help out or just listen.
posted by shortyJBot at 5:45 PM on January 3, 2012

Being under stress, overly tired, or having any extreme emotion can make stuttering worse or make it start if you are prone to stutter. The Stuttering Foundation of America is a great source for help. They have information for all ages, online videos, free e-books, and downloadable brochures.
posted by Bud at 4:31 AM on February 25, 2012

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