Winning Back Words: International Stuttering Awareness Day

Do you ever have those dreams where you try to run? No matter how much energy you direct to your legs, no matter the sheer will, you’re capped at a slow amble. Or worst still, frozen. How about those dreams where you’re trying to shout for help? You’re lucky if it comes out as a whisper or a strained squeak. Fear bubbles up in your body, your heart hits your ribcage and you wake up in a cold sweat.

As a person with a stutter, this was a feeling not just isolated to the occasional bad dream, but life every day.

One in 100 people have a stutter, and it affects more men than women. I don’t know the catalyst for it. In family videos, I am pretty fluent up until the age of eight. At that point in your life, other children aren’t as cruel, and you don’t realise that you’re different.

However, as I got older I became more covert, attempting to find weird and wonderful ways to keep it out of earshot. I would walk through what I should say in my head, picking out any keywords I might struggle with and how to get around them. I built up a huge mental thesaurus of words I could substitute when I felt a physical block or freeze come on. When I gave my food order, I would go with the easiest option to say as opposed to what I actually wanted. The dish could change in a split second if I felt any tension. Avoidance of situations and sounds. Something other stutterers can resonate with.

The tricks and avoidance I put myself through got more complex, and frankly ridiculous.

I battled in social and academic situations to appear normal. To simply disclose my stutter was something I would never have dreamt of. As a result, feedback from university presentations was to “not be so nervous“, “relax more“, “have more confidence” and “be more fluent” in my speech. At that time, to only receive criticism referring to the content of a presentation or regular delivery feedback was my goal. I would wince as professors and other students gave feedback. “Don’t mention the stammer”, I thought.

I gave myself a hard time. How could I fail to master something that everybody else took for granted?

I was frustrated at myself and anybody who tried to offer me advice.

I didn’t have the knowledge and the right mentality at the time to own and manage my stutter.

READ MORE THE REST HERE: Talk to the pen!

Written by McGuire Programme member Sarah Maclean-Morris

Speaking up for stammerers!

Severe stammers can steal the voice of a person and badly affect confidence. As International Stammering Day approaches, Chris Webber talks to Jordan Hall, a young man with the condition

IT must have taken real courage for Jordan Hall to stand up on a stage in front of his friends, family, mum and dad, brother and sister, classmates, and try to speak.

But courage wasn’t enough.

Aged 17 this bright lad, full of enthusiasm for his history project about the Crusades, slides at the ready, opened his mouth… and nothing happened.

“I didn’t speak a single word, not one single word left my mouth. My mum was upset. Everything tensed in my throat. They just ended up showing the slides in silence. I felt really low. I think I might have cried when I got home.”

Jordan’s mother, Paula, took action after that night. After all, Jordan’s situation was becoming more urgent. He had a good set of friends at Conyers School, in Yarm, and in his home town of Ingleby Barwick, and – with some NHS-supported speech therapy – had got by okay.

But now university and the world of work, interviews, changing social situations, were on the horizon… and the stammer was getting much worse.

“There’d been a documentary about Gareth Gates, the pop singer, who had a bad stammer, and that’s when we heard about the McGuire programme.”

Six weeks later and Jordan was in Cardiff, about to start the four-day McGuire course, his parents having paid £700. There’s a physical side to the course based on breathing technique, encouraging stammerers to use a different set of muscles to talk.

But, of course, there’s also a psychological side: dealing with the fear and anxiety that make the situation so much worse.

Jordan threw himself into it. In one day he had improved. At this instructors prompting he walked into the street and started to ask people questions, directions, the time, you name it. “It’s something that would just never have occurred to me to do before, it just wouldn’t have crossed my mind to talk to someone on the street like that,” he says.

Then he had to a stand on a soap box and talk to a crowd of random strangers. Jordan was the last of the group to do it. “It was so nerve-wracking,” he says. “Lot’s of us couldn’t say our own names. I really struggled with mine. But that was my first word; ‘Jordan.’ I said it and it was exhilarating. It was an extra-special feeling. Adrenaline was going; everyone was buzzing.”

At the end of the course, everyone had to give a more official speech. Again there were family there. Jordan spoke well. Again his mum cried. This time from happiness.

But it was not the end of the story. The McGuire programme and other, similar, breathing techniques does provide a cure. Jordan must practice. He and other sufferers must push themselves their whole lives just to be able to speak.

Today, Jordan deliberately answers the telephone as part of dealing with his stammer. It is a device he would not go near for a long time. “Telephones are hard. People think you’ve just gone silent, there’s no visual, they don’t know what’s going on.”

Jordan was lucky in that he wasn’t bullied. Teachers were empathetic and helpful. At primary school, he had even managed to narrate a school play. But as he got older and life’s problems became trickier and more stressful, his condition became worse.

For other sufferers, about one per cent of the adult situation (of whom about 80 per cent are men), the lack of a voice can be excruciating and far worse than it was for Jordan. There are tales of bullying, isolation and heartbreaking frustration.

And not everyone can afford to join the course, or more accurately become a member of the McGuire organisation, which today costs £900.

Thankfully, as knowledge of the causes of stammering – there is now strong evidence that stammerers brains are “wired”’ slightly differently, although details are unclear – and there’s better help. An everyday, NHS GP will often refer sufferers to a speech therapist.

Jordan has a clear messages to fellow sufferers: “Do not let it prevent you getting on with your life. Get help. You do have a voice.”

Original Article featured in The Northern Echo