Reality TV star Gareth Gates overcame a stammer

The difficulties and lost opportunities of living with a stammer

I spoke to this wonderful lady, Martina, who wanted to reach out to others and offer support. Over my career in healthcare I have had the privilege to work with the bravest individuals, from young to old, who experience stuttering in daily life. She put her thoughts in writing they were so powerful.

The Impact

Martina writes: “I have had a stutter for as long as I can remember, and my earliest memory of this is when I was about 4 and I was in school and I couldn’t say my name or read out loud. Reading in class was a nightmare. I would stand up but the words just wouldn’t come so the reading would pass on to the next student. Through my life in school nothing changed. I knew that I was different and I didn’t know what to do so I started to avoid words and speaking situations.

“I remember thinking, what will I do when I have to get a job? I never got the job I wanted because of my stutter. My first idea was to do a secretarial course and work in an office but realistically that was never going to happen because I couldn’t take or make phone calls. If I was in a place where a phone rang, I would walk away and pretend I didn’t hear it. I never made a phone call in earshot of anyone because I was embarrassed by my stutter and if I had to make a call I was very good at manipulating people to do it for me.

“I got a job in retail in 1975 when I left school, and it was only meant to be a summer job but I was employed and loved it. I had to turn down more interesting roles that I was so capable for as I would have had to make presentations make and take phone calls and interact competently on a daily basis. I made an excuse and declined the offer. I was very upset. I felt useless.

“I could never order what I wanted in a restaurant I would point at the menu if I wasn’t in a position to point I would order what I could say at that moment.

I would always struggle making appointments with doctors etc. Booking hotels I couldn’t say ‘double room’, I would say ‘a room for me and my husband’. Life went on and nothing changed. On my wedding day I cried walking down the aisle, so that when it came to saying my vows my voice was shaky and I could hide my stutter. I had planned this weeks ahead.

“I called my daughter a name I could say. When she was young I could never read her a bed time story. It made me sad. I never left the house without a pen and paper so that if I got into a stressful situation with my speech I would make an excuse and say that I had just come from the dentist and would it be ok if I wrote down my name and address as it was usually that that I would be having a problem with.

“That was the way I lived my life for 53 years. I did speech therapy and I tried hypnotherapy and neither worked for me.

“In 2002 there was a programme on TV called Pop Idol and there was a guy on it called Gareth Gates and when he came on stage he had to introduce himself and he struggled saying his name. He came second on that show and became a celebrity. I researched and found that he completed the McGuire Programme. I did a bit of research on the programme and I joined in 2010.

“I haven’t gone back to school where reading was a problem, but I put myself forward to do readings in my local church. Saying my name is no problem anymore and we are encouraged to say our name every time we answer our phone. I haven’t changed my job but I have no problem making or taking phone calls. I have gone for interviews just to prove that I can get through one with no fear of speaking. I enjoy making appointments and ordering food in restaurants not just for myself but for anyone else there too.”

Dr Eddie Responds;

I have recommended many people to the McGuire Program. Details on www.stammering.ie. I have seen the transformation from old negative feelings of shame, embarrassment, sadness , stress and anxiety to competence, confidence, empowerment and finally freedom. Living with a stutter is very stressful. You can’t be the person you want to be and the McGuire Programme offers you a way out of this restricted life.

What I like most about the program is its organisation run by people who stutter to help other people who stutter.

They deal with both the physical and psychological side of stuttering. There is no cure or magic pill but with hard work courage and perseverance your life can be changed.

Martina reminded me the importance of raising hope for people who stammer.

Original Post: LEINSTERLEADER

Katie Walsh Late Late Show (Irish Independent)

Katie Walsh on The Late Late Show (RTE)

20 years after joining The McGuire Programme,  Katie speaks confidently and opens up about her struggle with a stammer as a child.

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/