Make Room For The Stuttering


Posted on: September 14, 2009

I was talking with special friend Ramma and we got deep, as we are prone to do. Since we both stutter, we enjoy engaging each other and asking how we really think or feel about a particular aspect of stuttering. Believe it or not, he tends to analyze more than me! 

So this evening we were talking about blocking, and how he had felt about having a really bad speech day. I asked him about it. Just like me, its easier to have conversations like this with someone who stutters and really gets it. So Ramma made some phone calls on Friday. The person he was trying to reach was unavailable, so he wound up talking to someone else each time he called back. He called three times. The first time, he felt OK about his speech. He said he felt fluent. The second time, he was blocking badly (as he put it), and felt frustrated and bad about it. The third time he called, he was fine and felt fluent again.

I asked him why he felt bad. Was it because he felt bad for the listener? Ramma said no, that wasn’t it. He just feels bad when his stuttering is so unpredictable. He doesn’t understand why it can vary so much in the course of one day, with telephone conversations with the same person. He said it must be the mystery of stuttering.

I chimed in that I often feel the same way, and that yes, stuttering, and how we feel about it, is very complex. Just the night before, someone had asked me about some pharmacy samples. I didn’t hear it clearly, so I attempted to clarify, and asked, “Did you mean sam-sam-sam . . . . .?” It wasn’t coming out. So I wound up saying, “What did you say?’ I gave in, and I hate that, but it happens, almost unconsciously sometimes.

Ramma went on to describe how it feels sometimes when he is stuck in a block. He said it feels like someones hand is tightening on his throat. I asked if he meant feeling suffocated, and he said exactly, that’s how he sometimes feels.

Ramma went on to share that he always remembers the story of Moses, and from descriptions he read, he could relate to Moses’s stuttering. In the Quran, Moses said, “My chest narrows and my tongue fails to express. …”  It is known that Moses asked that his brother Aaron be allowed to speak for him. When Moses went to deliver a message to the Pharaoh in Egypt, it was said that Moses should not be believed since “he couldn’t talk right.” In the Christian Bible, references are made to Moses being “slow of speech” and that he had also asked that his brother be allowed to speak for him.

Ramma really related to the piece about the “chest feeling narrow”. He explained that when he blocks, his chest feels tight and he feels he is gasping for air. We then talked about breathing and how deep breathing is supposed to help. Ramma spoke of hearing about different breathing techniques and asked if I had tried any. I shared that I had, but it’s hard for me to sustain. We both agreed that it is difficult to carry over into real-time conversation, because it takes too much time.

Its funny how much I find we really want to talk about these things, but only with other people who get it. Someone who has never stuttered may not understand that real feeling of being squeezed, choked, restricted, suffocated, all while just simply trying to say a word. Saying a word -what most people absolutley do not think about and just take for granted. I appreciate when Ramma and I share -we dare to talk about things that we think about, but don’t always feel comfortable bringing up with anyone else.

What about you? How do you feel when you get stuck in a good block? Do you even think about it?

8 Responses to "Suffocating"

Wow, I feel the same as Ramma does, it is such a frigtening feeling for me becasue I feel I might just run out of breath before my words come out.

You are lucky to find people who stutters and gets it to talk to in ‘real time.’ I so wish I had that opportunity.

As it relates to the piece about Moses, It seem that from those days stutters have been stereotyped as inadequate.

What a blow to us.

Yeah, Annetta, exactly. What a blow! We have to get on skype and start chatting, and you should join twitter. There is a whole stuttering support community on there, from all over the world. Many of us use skype to talk with one another and share those common experiences.


Thanks for sharing your personal story dealing with stuttering. As Annetta mentioned above you are lucky to be able to share this experience with your friend Rama.

Our company is creating a web-platform that will connect Speech Language Pathologists with individuals in need of therapy. This platform will help address the nationwide shortage of SLPs while also improving access and reducing costs. Please visit our website, we would love to hear your comments:

When I get in a hard block I can’t breath and I desperately want to get out the word I am trying to say. Most time I stop, exhale and then word switch (trying not too as much ) or completley rephrase what I was saying. Depending on who I am talking to depends on how comfortable I am stuttering around them. I have to say I feel the least comfortable having hard blocks when talking to my parents. Anyone else feel the least comfortable when talking to their parents?

Hey Sarah,

I think its pretty common to be most uncomfortable stuttering around my parents. I always felt that way around my dad. He yelled at me when I stuttered and clearly disapproved. I always felt bad and flawed. Thats what primarily drove me on the long covert road.

To this day,even after coming out about my stuttering and being quite open it with just about everyone, I find it extemely difficult to stutter around my parents. So I don’t talk to my dad (other reasons too, not just stuttering!)

And around my mom, I get tense because she gets tense. So I really know what you mean. I feel more comfortable chatting with strangers than I do my own parents!


*waves hi – I lurk occasionally*

My speech patterns have all gone haywire after doing speech therapy about a year ago – to note, I don’t really block anymore; instead, I keep repeating a phrase trying to get the technique to work. (Which is probably harder for listeners to deal with. Too bad for them!) I do rarely get stuck for a bit longer, but it still doesn’t count as a block in my head and I’m mostly occupied with, as said, trying to get technique to work. *sigh*

However, pre-therapy I had what I’d actually think of as rather relaxed blocks – I could stutter along happily, there wasn’t any sensation of pressure unless I tried to push the word out but it was clear I wasn’t going anywhere. I’m starting to realise this is an unusual attitude to blocks, and wonder if this was in part because my blocks were ridiculously long – if I didn’t run out of breath at least once, I considered it a short one, and twice was about the norm. (After the third time I looked for pen and paper.) As a result, when I fell into a block I never saw any kind of light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak, didn’t feel as if it was ever going to end, so I’d just stutter along (with the occasional futile push) until it went away on its own. As when your blocks are that long you kind of have to give up and wait for it to do that. [/rampant speculation]

Waving to you too 🙂

Always nice to meet a lurker. I have also been trying to figure out why my speech patterns are changing so much. I was fine for a long time with my nice easy relaxed repititions. I am not fine when I get stuck in a block, and can’t seem to easily or quickly get out of it.
I ever noticed this before – either it wasn’t happening or I just wasn’t paying attention.
I feel sometimes my blocks are long, but in fact my frienda who are close enough to tell me so, tell me otherwise, they are fine and brief and without tension. But I feel tension, in my throat, shoulders and lips.
I really have not found any therapy techniques yet (after 3 years) that seem to help me and that I seem actually willing to try. It just seems to take so darn long to focus on a technique, it seems easier and more natural to just stutter.
Thanks for sharing!

Aw, that sucks. Looking back, I didn’t really mind my nice easy relaxed repetitions either, although there was some embarrassment there because I knew people must be thinking “what the HELL is going on”. When I was younger, though, I used to have blocks that were far more the classical tense blocks with lots of pressure – I’m not entirely sure what changed, though.

Re: therapy… to be honest, I’m entirely with you. The only reason I did the therapy was because I want to be a lecturer and I figured stuttering might be something of a problem there, but if I could I wouldn’t have done it. It seems as if the only therapies that have any kind of success rate involve severely modifying your natural speech – in particular, I was forced to change (stuttered) speech I didn’t particularly mind into (fluent) speech I absolutely hated. It’s got better since, but I’m filling out a questionnaire about before and after attitudes to stuttering now and I think the people evaluating it will be surprised to see my emotional reactions have all either stayed the same or got *worse*. And in some ways I really, really miss the way I used to talk. So if you don’t desperately need more fluent speech for some reason and aren’t massively unhappy with your stutter, I don’t really see the point.

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