"No matter where you are on your own journey – keep going"
I started stammering at about 3 years old. My parents could identify no reason for my sudden speech difficulties. Advice from the family GP was that I would grow out of it.
When I was in primary school, I was very shy and rarely spoke. Luckily, I wasn’t bullied too much, and I think this was because there was a boy in my class who also stammered. He was quite overt about it and was definitely one of ‘the lads’. I, however, feel very alone and isolated. I was always afraid to speak, as I suppose even then, I thought I was different and perhaps ‘didn’t quite fit in’. I was the original teachers’ pet, always doing everything the teacher asked (well unless that was to go to another class and ask for scissors – I cried then and refused to go, oh the shame!). I think I just did what I was told and did not get into trouble as confrontation made my stammer worse. My stammer was, and still is, at its absolute worst when I am nervous or anxious.
High school was pretty much the same as primary. Again, I shied away from people and had very few friends. I still felt like I did not fit in. I guess my reluctance and downright avoidance of speaking to people made them assume that I thought I was better than them – oh if only they knew! Once I reached 4th year, I needed to start thinking about what I wanted to do for a career. I would have loved to have trained as a chartered accountant, but honestly thought that no employer would be interested, given my speech problem. So, I kind of stopped trying as hard at school and did not do that well in any of my exams. My stammer had defeated me! I decided to go to college once I left high school at the end of my 6th year to study an HND in accounting & finance. It took months to get a position after the course as interviews were so very hard. My mouth dries up and I lose all answers to questions.
Depression was a great battle that I fought for probably 20 years. It got very dark at times. But I survived! One of my tattoos has a hidden semi-colon to signify this time for me.
In late 2016, a few months before I turned 40, I started to notice changes about how I thought about my stammer. I was beginning to care less what I thought others thought about me. About a year later I stumbled upon the Scottish Stammering Network’s website. I was added to the mailing list and got an invite for the December Christmas lunch in Glasgow. I decided that I just did not have the courage to attend – what if I was asked to speak! Oh, there was no way I was going to be able to do that! I did, however, find the confidence to attend the Edinburgh Open Day in April 2018 and I am so glad that I did. Just being in a room where others spoke a bit like me totally changed my life. I instantly no longer felt so alone or isolated. The embarrassment and shame started to recede too. I recall travelling home on the train to Fife with a huge grin on my face which probably remained in place for weeks. I was suddenly so much happier, and my self-confidence and self-esteem started to peek out from their hiding places. I contacted James Stewart, our amazing chairperson, and asked about starting up a Fife support group. My first support group meeting took place in August 2018.
In October 2018 I attended The Starfish Project Intensive Speech Therapy course, in Hailsham, East Sussex, England. Starfish (like McGuire) teaches a costal breathing technique that can help to control the stammer. The technique, in my opinion, does work, but it is not easy when you are the only person who is using the technique. Patience and perseverance are certainly required with this technique (and probably all techniques). I know that Starfish did not give me a cure but a way of working to become happier with my speech, along with a way to try to control it. I can now go back on any Starfish course, as a refresher and teacher of the technique. Teaching the technique to the new recruits is a fantastic way of re-enforcing it. The change in each new person in the 3 days is certainly remarkable!
Since becoming part of the SSN and after attending The Starfish Project, my speech has improved so much. I now have the confidence to speak about stammering in public, post live Facebook videos and run support groups.
For a long time, I had thought that my speech was not the problem on its own and after reading John C. Harrison’s book Redefining Stuttering it was confirmed (available as a free download from www.FreeStutteringBooks.com). I am now working on the feelings below the holding back – another change is that I no longer see that I have a stammer, I simply sometimes ‘hold back’ when speaking. Stammering is used to describe so much when it comes to disfluency. I am trying to heal all the past issues around my speech and everything that went with it. I read a quote once that said something like:
“behind every action is a feeling, and behind every feeling an emotion” – that makes complete sense to me and I am trying to analyse what goes on within me when I hold back in my speaking.
I am now quite far along on my journey to more controlled speech and loving it. I am so grateful to James for setting up this charity and allowing me to be a part of it.
There was no internet when I was growing up and limited knowledge about stammering. However, things have changed now and there is a wealth of techniques, courses and Facebook pages that will help you. People who stammer, or hold back, are also beginning to speak out and be more open about it, which is what is sorely needed. For too long we have allowed the one thing that can help us hold us back – talking! The stammering community is something wonderful and I am so glad that I happened upon it – it probably saved my life!
For me, the absolute crux of the matter is to just accept that you speak differently to the perceived norm and then find a technique that works for you. For anyone who is maybe a bit apprehensive about coming along to any SSN support group or open day – DON’T BE! You will never be asked to speak and I honestly think that you will leave the meeting or open day with a great feeling of happiness. Push those comfort zones and join us at a meeting or event – you will be glad that you did.
Our stammering community is absolutely fantastic, and it is great that we are finally finding our voices to raise awareness of stammering, educate the public and increase our confidence and self-esteem along the way. The SSN is allowing me to become the person I am meant to be. I now really enjoy and actively pursue public speaking opportunities and have even joined Toastmasters to improve my speaking skills.
Stammering has taken so much away from me and I have let it control me for far too long. I am now taking back the control, little by little, and absolutely loving my new crazy, busy life!
No matter where you are on your own journey – keep going – it is not likely to be easy and will take time, but you will get there.
I used another quote when I finished my speech at the Glasgow Open Day in October 2018 –
“You cannot go back and start again but you can start again now and change the ending”
Thanks to Cheryl for this inspiring blog. You can read more real-life stories from people who stammer here.