Shannen McEwen is my name, I’m from Letterkenny in Co. Donegal and I have had a stammer since I was 3 years old. Growing up, I was controlled by my stammer and it frustrated me to no end as I could not say what I wanted to say. I always tried my best to hide my stammer as I was embarrassed of it and the fear of stammering in front of people had always held me back from even the most simple of speaking situations such as making phone calls, ordering food in a restaurant or asking for a bus ticket home. One of my most feared sounds was the L sound and being from Letterkenny…It was quite awkward to say the least! I would never ask for a bus ticket to Letterkenny, I’d always end up paying more for a ticket to the next town because I was afraid of stammering in front of the driver and other passengers.
Throughout my life I had developed tricks and avoidance behaviours to get my words out and I relied on others to speak for me when I couldn’t. This was how I lived my life up until June 2016. I had just finished my final year at university and I knew I would soon be applying for jobs and attending interviews, which I felt physically sick at the thought of, and that was when I joined the McGuire Programme. I had speech therapy twice as a child and it was only when I joined the programme did I see any improvement in my speech. After I finished my first course I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders, and for the first time in my life I was excited to speak. If you asked anyone what their biggest fear is, most would say spiders or clowns etc. I would say that mine was speaking to people and that is why I joined the programme. I’d let my stammer hold me back all my life and I’d had enough, I wasn’t going to let it hold me back any longer.
The McGuire programme has given me so much confidence in myself. A year ago I couldn’t say my own name or where I was from without stammering and now I can actually say what I want and not hold back. It’s finally given me a voice, a voice that I’ve kept quiet for 23 years because I was too scared to speak. Since joining the programme, I’ve done a radio interview, given presentations and have spoken at the National Stammering Awareness Day which are things that I could not have imagined doing in my wildest dreams before joining the programme. I no longer need to use all the tricks and avoidance behaviours that I had developed over the years to get me through a speaking situation and I am no longer that shy and quiet person in the corner that rarely spoke. The McGuire Programme has given me back my confidence to be the person that I knew I was – I still have my stammer but now I control it, rather than letting it control me.
This year, I became a Primary Coach on the programme which allows to me to give back to the programme as it has opened so many doors for me and I enjoy coaching and helping new students on their journeys towards articulate eloquence.