This is the second post I am writing this week in aid of International Stuttering Awareness Day which is on 22nd October. You can read Part 1 from yesterday here.
Over the years in my youth I tried many forms of speech therapy. NHS speech therapists, private tuition, books. My parents spent a lot of time, money and energy on help and support for me. A lot of it did help. For a while. But nothing really helped me in the real world. It might help in the therapy session but it wouldn’t last. And a lot of it felt like I was just using new tricks in order to avoid the stutter. I learnt that often that just made me even more afraid of the stutter. Speech therapy is fantastic for things like stroke victims or trauma patients where the problem is more physical, but for me my stutter always came back to the psychological elements like the fear.
When I was about 18 I basically gave up and thought I would just stutter for the rest of my life. But then when I graduated from Uni when I was about 24 I thought I would give it one last attempt before I entered the big wide world. I heard about The McGuire Programme and gave it a go and it was the one that has really helped me ever since. I don’t want to just make this an advert for the McGuire Programme as there are many good courses out there but McGuire has certainly been the only one that has helped me. It’s unique in that it is totally run by other people who have stuttered and who know what it is like deep down inside to have a stutter. And also it has an incredible support network where you can go to local support groups or ring hundreds of coaches around the world day or night just for speech practice.
The approach that helped me gain control of my speech was two-fold. Physical and psychological. A stammer is fuelled by the fear. That fear then manifests itself in a physical way by making your speaking tools tense up. Your diaphragm, your vocal chords and your articulators (mouth, lips, teeth, tongue). This makes you have a physical speech block. You then get strange looks from your listener which gives you more negative emotions and then the fear increases. Thus the negative cycle continues and gets worse every time.
Learning Costal Breathing helped me gain control of my diaphragm which is the real engine of speech. Smooth airflow leads to smooth speech. Coastal breathing is like how you breath when you yawn or after taking exercise. It’s a very natural and powerful way to breath and it helped me gain control of my diaphragm which had been previously trained to contract due to the fear. This and other speech tools that I could use when I had to, helped me to start speaking in control. When you then combine this with fear reduction methods and new habits of non-avoidance you very quickly start to change your whole speaking mindset.
After 3 days on the course I was giving a public speech in the middle of Durham town centre. After a few weeks and months I was in control and doing things I never thought I would ever do. I’ve spoken on stage, and even acted. I’ve been interviewed on Radio like this one here and also on TV. And more important than any of these achievements is the fact that I now don’t have to live in the fear of having to speak. I don’t need to worry weeks before a big work situation. I know I can handle any challenge that life throws at me. That’s a good feeling to have. Public speaking is the no.1 fear in people whether they have a stutter or not. But I now enjoy it. I actually enjoy speaking now. I never thought I would be able to say that. Literally.
There is no cure for stuttering. But that’s fine. You only have cures for diseases or illnesses. That’s not what stuttering is. It’s a learned behaviour. A negative habit. We’re not stupid or physically defected. We’re not patients or victims. I consider myself someone who is just improving at the sport of speaking. That keeps me positive.
When I was younger I used to wish every night that I would wake up and my stutter would be gone. That it would magically disappear. Obviously it never happened but in a way I’m glad it didn’t happen. If it had mysteriously disappeared one day I would probably then have lived in the fear that it might come back just as quickly one day. The fact that I have worked hard on my speech, have slowly improved my speech and I understand what is happening in my speech means that I have earned my recovery and that I know it is reliable. I’ve built a foundation that isn’t just going to fall apart out of the blue.
I’m not fluent, but I don’t label myself as a stutterer. That would be restrictive. I’m just someone who has had a bad stutter who is continuously improving with their speech. Some days I speak great and don’t have to think too much about it. Other days I need to focus more. I can still stutter or block sometimes. I don’t get negative about that because I know exactly what to do to keep working at it, like a golfer who keeps working at his swing to keep it consistent. I know I enjoy speaking and I know what I can now do with my speech. I have no pressure to be fluent or to speak perfectly but I know within myself what I can do and that keeps me working on my speech even more.
Having passed the exams on the McGuire Programme to become a coach, a course instructor and a staff trainer I have been able to attend many of the courses and meet many other people who also have stutters. I’ve travelled to places like The Netherlands, Sweden, South Africa and Australia attending courses and keep meeting the same types of people who inspire me. Stuttering can affect anyone. It doesn’t matter your age, your background, your education, your religion, your nationality or your intelligence. Everyone is at the same level. And it’s fascinating meeting other people from all walks of life who are also working hard on their speech.
My stutter used to be a majorly negative thing in my life but now it is a positive. The process of recovering from my stutter has made me a stronger and a better person. Struggle does make you stronger and I’m enjoying the journey.
Tomorrow I will be writing about advice on how to speak to someone who has a stutter.