The Ken Sema interview could help many people who stammer
Professional footballer Ken Sema has accidentally raised people’s consciousness of stammer by giving a normal post match interview. The video on Twitter has reached 11.5 million views (so far).
But it is not the number of views that matters.
Instead, it is how people have responded to Sema’s stutter and his approach to it.
The outpouring of support and love has overwhelmed the Watford player, and I use the term player on purpose. Why?
person first, then player…or patient
Sports people are often referred to as players but they are people. There is more to them than being a player.
Much as a ‘patient’ is a person. You are not a condition.
You are not a stammer.
And it is at times like this that we see the person.
The vulnerable person — we are all vulnerable but can be exceedingly good at trying to hide it.
Here Sema showed who he is by doing an interview on TV, demonstrating that his stammer will neither define him, nor stop him.
This is an act by Sema that inspires others who are suffering, in taking part in an interview the first place, and then by describing how he relates to his stammer.
These are options available to people who think that they are not.
Sema has shared possibilities with people who stammer.
And with people who don’t stammer, to understand more deeply with compassion.
At a time and in a society where compassion and togetherness are much needed.
How am i relating to this?
This is a key insight.
It is not what happening that matters, but how you relate to it.
What is happening, or how things are in the moment are how things are right now. Not how they will be (future is always imagined), but how they are.
Considering this you understand there is nothing you can do about what is already happening.
How you relate to it and then respond is what you can control.
By focusing on what you can control and learning skills to deal with different situations, it changes the whole experience.
Sema has shown us how he relates to his stammer.
What is stammering?
On the Stamma website, it is described as following:
“Stammering is when someone repeats, prolongs or gets stuck when trying to say sounds or words. There might also be signs of visible tension as the person works hard to get the word out. But it is different from the occasional repetition that everybody experiences.”
Do check out their site for more information.
why did this resonate with me?
Firstly, I work with people who have been diagnosed with dystonia, a movement disorder.
There are different forms of dystonia largely described by where the involuntary movements occur. For example, cervical (neck) dystonia or musician’s cramp (upper limbs), and blepharospasm (eyes). I also see people with functional neurological disorder (FND).
Others are affected around the jaw, mouth, and tongue, or all of these plus the eyes, which is called Meige Syndrome.
Whereas the people I see who suffer chronic pain have little to show (you can’t see pain) and often have to fight to prove their suffering, those with dystonia and stammer typically try to hide their movements or avoid situations when they will be seen and heard.
The symptoms can be general or appear under certain circumstances. Yesterday I was with someone who stammers when talking to strangers on the phone but not other situations.
These experiences can be very distressing and cause suffering. Not only do the symptoms interfere with day to day activities, their predicted existence means people choose to disconnect from activities and people.
A double whammy.
A once transparent body, silently there, now features prominently.
Secondly, I am always delighted to hear positive stories that offer hope.
There is hope. People do get better in different ways. Some recover significantly, and some go into remission. Others will need to manage symptoms through their life but do so with increasing skill and less impact.
Each person has their own experience.
Understanding the condition and then learning skills to deal with situations can be practiced. You build confidence and the feeling of empowerment, which changes the nature of the experience.
With any condition, the biggest theme to follow is ‘living life in the best way you can’ considering the current circumstances, but knowing they are always changing. You can practice and become more skilful.
Other important themes include specific skills and exercises to achieve particular goals (eg/ sensorimotor training), skills of being well (eg/ focus, relaxation, awareness) and skills to deal with challenging moments (eg/ an inner coach). The four themes interrelate.
Giving further hope is the newer understanding of the science of how we perceive, move and think (ie/ enactivism, predictive processing, embodied cognition), which helps us explain the lived experience and provide many tools, skills and strategies to help the person.
But hope often comes in the form of a shared lived experience.
Thanks Ken 🙏.
Ken Sema, his stammer and its symbolism: Why TV interview could leave lasting legacy, Adam Leventhal (Mar 2, 2023)
British Stammering Association