Angela Morgan from the Department of Work and Pensions opens up about her covert stammer.
For those colleagues who know me, you would potentially describe me as confident, wears nice shoes and doesn’t stop talking. What most of you don’t know is that I have a covert stammer. Well, there you have it – I have a stammer – it’s out there now.
I substitute words I can’t say for alternative ‘easier’ words. I avoid situations on a regular and consistent basis. I order drinks I don’t want, because it’s the only one I’m confident I can say, without being ‘found out’ as someone who stammers.
When I started working, my mission was to hide my stammer at all costs. The shame, embarrassment and humiliation of being ‘non-fluent’, therefore not ‘normal’ was a huge burden on my shoulders. Over time, although my confidence grew, my stammer remained. The emotional and mental energy it took to keep up the pretence of being fluent was beyond measure.
Occasionally, I was pushed into a corner and had no option but to tell a colleague (usually my line manager at the time). At that point, I referred to my stammer as ‘the thing’. The negative feelings I had around my speech impediment wouldn’t even let me say the word ‘stammer’… What was I thinking ? If I didn’t say the word I didn’t have it ?
My previous job as a Work Coach was as rewarding as it was stressful. Although I managed to appear fluent most of the time, the mask slipped occasionally and the limited confidence I had took another few hits. I am NOT good on the telephone, and with the agreement of my line manager at the time, my phone was diverted to another member of the team. Everyone was very supportive, I was less anxious and this continued for a number of years.
Everything changed one day last year. My role at the time was as a coach and I was chatting with a colleague about an example of customer service. Before I knew what I was doing, I told him about my stammer. My colleague encouraged me to call the Employee Assistance Program to speak with one of the counsellors. It took me about 4 weeks to pluck up the courage to make the call… Great, I thought – I need to use the phone to tell someone I am have a huge issue with not being fluent on the phone! After speaking to the team, I was offered counselling, which helped me to be less negative about my stammer. I was encouraged to be more open and confide in more people and colleagues.
With just one exception, everyone I have told has been very supportive and understanding. They have asked me how they can help me and what would make my life easier.
I started a new role in January 2017, and the anxiety of the phone returned. I made the decision to tell my new team and be open from the start. Although my desire to be ‘normal’ was just as strong, the energy used to remain covert was enormous.
My new team have been incredibly supportive. Every concern or worry I had was dealt with or resolved with compassion and understanding. I am currently receiving speech and language therapy and I am working with two colleagues to produce some intranet guidance to support other people in DWP.
Although my phone is still on divert, my new mission is to move forward, gain skills and confidence. Who knows… I may even be able to answer the phone one day!
There is a huge spectrum of the severity of stammering, both overt and covert. Although general consensus is to not interrupt a stammerer, and give them all the time required for them to speak, please don’t assume – personally, I would welcome someone helping me out if I was struggling or stuck on a certain word. I am happy to talk to other people who are thinking about coming out as a covert stammerer – take the plunge! Just comment below or contact the Civil Service Stammering Network.