James Stewart, chairperson of the Scottish Stammering Network

The most difficult thing for a person with a stammer to say is their own name. I was often asked to introduce myself and that’s when it would happen. That’s when I would crumble. The easiest way to describe it is the iceberg effect. At first glance, above the waterline people might not even notice a stammer, but below the surface where people can’t see, it can impact everything.

My stammer wasn’t an issue at first. It developed in my early childhood when I was told that there was a problem with my pronunciation. I was five years old at the time but it didn’t control my life. My school report cards always said that I was talkative, confident and participated in all of the classroom activities. I was even given a leading role in a school production.

Life changed when I made the move from a small primary school of 80 pupils to a high school with 1200 people. I sat in class avoiding all eye contact with the teacher, fearing the dreaded moment that I would be asked a question. Jokes were often made by other pupils about my stammer which only made matters worse. I felt misunderstood and it completely ruined my self-esteem. The teachers didn't understand my stammer and some weren't even aware that it was a condition. They just assumed that I was nervous.

My behaviour soon became self-destructive. My class was asked to take part in a work shadowing competition were the top ten reports would be selected and the winners were expected to give a presentation in front of everyone. I couldn't think of anything worse. I took matters into my own hands and purposely sabotaged my report by adding in mistakes to ensure that I wouldn’t be picked.

I used to be a teacher, I ended up homeless - football saved my life

When I was studying at university, I worried about everything from being knocked back on nights out with my friends to buying train tickets. I thought that I would never get a job or make anything of my life. I had a good circle of friends, but it was always in the back of my mind that I was going to be made fun of by others. It reached the point were I knew that I had to take charge of the situation and not allow it to take over my life any more.

Although there are speech therapists, there isn't a great deal of support for people living with stammers. I set up a support group in 2012 for other people with the same concerns. People from all walks of life attend and share their stories. Each monthly session looks at ways to cope with everyday situations that stammers can make difficult. It explores ways to desensitise stammering, build people’s confidence and help them manage stress.

At one point, speaking situations were the first thing on my mind in the morning and the last thing on my mind at night. Now, I work for the NHS in a job where I’m required to speak in public and give presentations. I’m at a stage where I often find that I actually enjoy public speaking which is something I never thought I’d say. I’ve learned how to overcome my stammer by reaching out and connecting with others.

Visit stammeringscotland.org