Everyone else could talk so fast and fluently that I always got the feeling of stealing their time whenever I wanted to share a story. That did something to me. I did a lot of thinking before finally having the courage to talk to others. Somehow, I got stuck with the thought of being dependent on their understanding, putting me into a weak position. Many times, the person I was talking to would avoid eye contact, hoping it would help me. It certainly didn’t. Being the friendly and open character I am, it even discomforted and hurt me. I would have loved to have some eye contact. Well, the stutter always bugged me as much as the people I talked to. Anyway, they were only trying to help me. Others would help by just filling in the word I was unable to utter. It was humiliating, even though it was meant to be helpful. To make it short: There was nothing others could have done that would have really helped me – If I had known anything, I would have told them. All that lowered my self-esteem, be it only the fact that I did not come up with any solution. On top of that, others spoke so rapidly I really envied them. What kind of freedom to just freewheel without needing the courage to speak. I always had to consider things. Sometimes it was certain sounds that didn’t seem to come out, sometimes just a small break in the conversation I had to jump into.
I often practiced sentences before actually letting them out. For example, I would repeat my order on the way to the baker’s over and over again – without stuttering, of course. I didn’t stutter talking to myself or speaking in my dreams. When I finally reached the bakery, I was glad when there were no other customer besides me. The only hitch then was the sales lady who, of course, had to ask me what I wanted. This question alone made me stutter again. Besides, it was important for me whether she smiled or was in a bad mood. All this had an effect on my speaking. When she asked in a friendly, warm-hearted manner, the chances were good I didn’t stutter. When she was imperious and bad-tempered, it took me some time to place my order. My worst nightmare was coming into a crowded bakery where customers queued up to be served. I literally kept count of the people before me and became ever more nervous the closer I got. Situations like that arose in rounds of introduction, even on the playground where you introduce yourself in the sandbox. When it was my turn, I was already strung out before anything had happened. With a bright red head I was pushing out the words. As far as it seemed, they themselves were also to blame for it. Of course, there were reactions I had to live with. I constantly emerged from these situations as a loser. That did something to me.
It made me feel frustrated, sad and tired. I seemed to be fighting an enemy I couldn’t defeat which also aggravated me.
That enemy was invisible, cowardly. So I end up having four speech-enemies already: the saleslady, the other customers, my words I couldn’t get out and that “something” that made me stutter. Moodily I also blamed my mother for making me endure the horror of having to buy three bread rolls! Defiantly, I thought to myself that I wouldn’t speak at all, then. For quite some time I took a note with me to the bakery that I had written myself beforehand. I would just drop it on the counter in the moments I couldn’t get anything out! This note was my first refusal. I did not want to expose myself to the pressure of having to speak. I just couldn’t do it. I was around the age of fifteen at the time I introduced this "self-protection precept”. It was delightful. The people that served me in stores thought I was mute. The other kids on the playground probably thought I must be an a**hole. Muteness was a holiday for me and at the same time something quite effective. Besides the whispering of the other kids, I in fact did not have any pressure resting on me. For myself, I often had a bad conscience for pretending to be deaf and dumb and you don’t joke about that. Some spoke up and more slowly. They were smiling while forming their lips so that any deaf-mute would have understood them. Apart from a notion of guilt it gave me rest, peace and TIME!!
When it comes to stuttering, it’s all about time. About the stutterer’s and other’s time alike. Anyway, I recognised for myself that it stuttered within me. Like a self-driven automatic I couldn’t interfere with, kicking off independently without any chance of intervention. I knew for myself that I did not want to stutter. Thus, I came to understand that it wasn’t me who was stuttering. So there must have been someone inside of me who was. From this day on I had to care for ”HIM”! I developed an understanding for HIM. He needed a lot of love and peace. So I first let him be who he was and protected him from the non-stutterers wherever I could. He was very sensitive, afraid of all sorts of letters, situations and of fast speech. In short: the stutterer inside of me was a freak who was very, very scared and insecure. One day, I even kind of liked him for that. After all, he was a part of me and I promised to help and be there for him from that day. We talked daily. For the first time we had a connection. I couldn’t do without him and likewise. Therefore, we decided to make a common cause. I imagined what he looked like. As I have been stuttering since my early childhood, I remembered a child photo of myself, just before my first day of school. I had long dark hair and looked more like a girl, actually. I should have become one in the first place. When I was born, my mother was rather consternated that it had been a boy again. She seldomly missed a chance to tell me she’d been wishing for a girl. I loved my long hair, the other girls at school loved me too. I looked kind of like the jungle boy Mowgli, always a bit boisterous, naïve and interested in all kinds of things. I really marvelled at the world and I sensed that I was somehow strange. I had more girl friends than boyfriends!
So that was him, little hurt and insecure Tom inside me. It was easy to take him into my heart. From that day on I’ve been always taking him along. He especially enjoys going on motorbike rides with me. Even today I sometimes feel him clinging onto me from behind when we’re cruising down the road. These are the moments in which I feel myself. In which he and me find security and peace. I don’t mind him stuttering from time to time. Au contraire, we even take turns sometimes. We’re a team after all! But let us commence with the story of little Tom and myself.
As mentioned, I only had the delicate guess that something made me stutter. I was able to speak very fluently, especially when I was talking to myself. I didn’t stutter in my dreams, either. I noticed that when I was in the circle of my loved ones, i.e. with my mother and my little brother Jörg at home, I could speak in a much more relaxed way. When I was a child, I took notes in a leather-covered diary I had found on the street. It was from the previous year and there was not a single appointment in it. Completely unused, just thrown away. At that time I kept a book about my stuttering, not on a regular basis, but whenever I'd notice anything. Often I did this before I turned off the light to sleep. The book was always beneath my bed, ready to hand, with a pencil and a grey round eraser. My first entries were cryptic. So I borrowed a book about stuttering from the city library when I was ten years old. I took something that seemed interesting to me. So this great tome was lying on my bed on a rainy weekend and I was looking forward to being the first stutterer in the world to find the solution for my "independently working talent" as I call my stuttering in this book. It was a book about brain research. It was about the second human language centre, the Broca Area, which was hidden somewhere in the brain lobe. I looked at all the pictures with great interest. Of course I didn't understand the texts, but I painted my brain, inspired by this book. I remember my mother entering my room and saying something like:
"Well, Tom, are you painting something beautiful?"
"Yes, I’m painting my brain, Mum!"
she said without looking and disappeared. To this day I don't know what she really thought. Maybe: "My child’s up in his room on a rainy day painting his own brain. Everything is in perfect order". Maybe she hadn't listened properly. I proudly presented her my picture in my practice, because meanwhile I had transformed my room into a practice for stutterers. For this I had to borrow the dark rocking chair from the living room. My future patients were supposed to sit on it. With a wooden sculpture from Africa representing a grazing deer or a similar animal (which by the way was the only remnant of my father who had left us early), I knocked a nail into the wall to hang up my brain image and already had the first patient standing in my door: my mother. Her interested interjections like "A-ha!" and "Well, well!" completed my childlike illusion of medical independence and so she let me treat her immediately and comprehensively. In the evening, sitting on the bed I wrote into my book that my first patient had a "rocking disorder" as mother was sitting on a rocking chair and wasn’t rocking. In my cash box, a cigar box I had found, lay the ten pfennig of my first session. My patients were all private patients and had to pay cash!
One evening, a good 30 years later, I sat in front of my fireplace in the living room and remembered these early childhood pictures. At that time I was quite helpless, but at the same time creative in wanting to defeat my stuttering - even more, I wanted to seriously help other stutterers. I remembered the little Tom I had been. That evening, as I had stopped stuttering, I decided to explain to little Tom how I had managed to do so. So I remembered an early childhood picture of myself and put that little Tom on my shoulder.
About the Author!
Tom Waschat has been stuttering since he was four. At the age of 23, he was able to successfully establish fluency in speech alongside his stuttering!!
In numerous TV formats, the trained and award-winning chef from the ruhr region became known beyond the borders of Germany. As a top chef he was internationally coveted. In spring 2018, his debut work was published as an author: 'Tom Waschat on the Road - The Club of High Eyebrows'. A story and travel book about his worldwide encounters with interesting people, their favorite recipes and personal stories. Across the nation, Tom Waschat gave readings and (of course non-stutteringly) enthused his audience!!
In his new book, which bears the provocative title 'Proper stuttering 2.0', he describes his own troublesome story….by embarking on the cognitive (and successful) journey of fluency with his inner child!!
He wishes to offer stutterers a ray of hope, namely: you may keep your stuttering!! After a heart operation, Tom Waschat studied psychology and decided to share his knowledge about fluency of speech with other stutterers. In addition to his personal experience he enjoyed training as a certified hypnotist (TMI) and as The Work-Coach (TM) according to Byron Katie. Tom Waschat lives in Berlin where his team train and advise stutterers on the basis of comprehensive personal analyses, psychological counseling, special breathing, training and various relaxation techniques.
Irish Stammering Association provides information but does not endorse any particular therapy or person / organisation offering therapy.
Read about the importance of having peer support as a person who stammers. This article is written by Stephen Greene, a person who stammers and an ISA volunteer.