IT’S GOOD TO TALK: Margaret O’Brien who has successfully overcome her stammer. Picture: Dan Linehan

Finding her voice: How a mother of three finally overcame her lifelong stutter – aged 53

Internally she was silenced from a very young age, as those lengthy verbal pauses to pronounce words that contained the S or F sounds in particular, left her embarrassed by the responses of the other kids, “smirking and smiling” at her attempts to express herself.

It didn’t get any better as she got older: “As a teenager, I used to avoid the words that I stammered on and try and change the answer,” she tells Feelgood.

Eventually I became a covert stutterer; I tried to cover up that I had the stammer and thought nobody would see it, if I kept trying to veer conversation away. But there were an awful lot of drawbacks, as a result. I wouldn’t be able to start off a conversation with a new person for example; I was on my guard the whole time.

This continued into adulthood, through her marriage at age 22, the rearing of her three girls now aged 32, 30 and 25, and through separation and divorce. “It kept me from being myself, having my own opinions. I could never stand up for myself because I was constantly in fear of getting stuck by stammering, making a fool of myself. It was easier to keep my mouth shut, rather than speak up.”

But all that changed in October 2016, after Margaret attended a three-day intensive course called The McGuire Programme, run for people who stammer, by those who stammer themselves.

She first heard of the course several years back when English singer-songwriter, Gareth Gates, spoke about how he had conquered his own speech impediment through the programme, when interviewed by presenter Ryan Tubridy on RTÉ’s Late Late Show.

But it wasn’t until she hit her early 50s that Margaret plucked up the courage to do it. “At that stage, I was tired of not being me and being involved in other things. I wanted to be more confident — and I knew if I could speak properly I would have a lot more confidence,” she says.

 

IT’S GOOD TO TALK: Margaret O’Brien who has successfully overcome her stammer. Picture: Dan Linehan

 

But all that changed in October 2016, after Margaret attended a three-day intensive course called The McGuire Programme, run for people who stammer, by those who stammer themselves.

She first heard of the course several years back when English singer-songwriter, Gareth Gates, spoke about how he had conquered his own speech impediment through the programme, when interviewed by presenter Ryan Tubridy on RTÉ’s Late Late Show.

But it wasn’t until she hit her early 50s that Margaret plucked up the courage to do it. “At that stage, I was tired of not being me and being involved in other things. I wanted to be more confident — and I knew if I could speak properly I would have a lot more confidence,” she says.

“I think it was that stage of life… being the age I was. I just wanted to do something for me. A new start.”

Once on the course, it lived up to being an intensive one, with participants starting at 6am and not finishing until 10pm over each of the three days. She learned many tools to manage her stammer, including how she should take a deep breath to fill her lungs if she thought she was going to stumble over a word.

Afterwards, there was follow-up support by phone or Skype with others who had successfully gone through the programme — communication which still continues weekly, so they can practice their speech and talk about problems that might arise.

The fact that Margaret can even use the phone this way, is a huge leap forward.

Before I did the programme there wasn’t a hope I’d speak to anyone on the phone because I always stammered. I can answer the phone now and talk away, having a normal conversation.

She is also determined to continue her progress by putting herself in situations that challenge her to communicate, saying it is “all about practice, practice, practice.” The reward includes exploring a world from which she felt so excluded in the past.

“The past year and a half have given me a freedom I could only dream of,” she reveals. “I have challenged myself and believed in myself enough, to push myself into speaking situations that I never thought I would be able to do. I’m getting involved in a lot more things. I am the union rep now at work where I have to hold many conversations and do a lot of speaking.

“I entered the local Strictly Come Dancing competition for charity and am involved in The Kube competition, another fundraiser. I can ring for takeouts and order whatever I want on the menu. I can go up to someone now and show an interest in them and ask them questions, whereas before I would have been standing back.”

The everyday tasks that the majority of us carry out with ease, from practically toddler stage, now open up half a century later for this brave woman.

She has truly found her voice. “Yes, I have. And it’s brilliant. When I went on the course I was thinking ‘am I too old to be starting doing this?’”

But I realised you’re never too old to make changes in your life and to better yourself.

To find out more about the McGuire Programme check out http://www.stammering.ie/