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/

Brian Dempsey instructing the February 2018 course in Dublin

66,000 Steps To Control In Dublin – Overcoming Stuttering Together

Not everyone can relate to the physical struggle seen with a stutter but everyone can connect with raw emotion. The documentary in January did many things. It projected to millions how a person who stutters feels when they cannot say their own name or make a phone call in work. It revealed to stutterers what is possible through hard work and a little self-belief. Most importantly, it uncovered the “I’m the only person who stutters” myth and broke down that sense of isolation.

Eighteen very courageous people took the big step to finally gain control of their stutter in Dublin with the first Irish McGuire Programme course of the year. The course was held in the Ashling Hotel. The course commenced on Wednesday 21st of February and finished up at 7.30pm on Saturday 24th of February. Brian Dempsey – a Dublin native – instructed the course. Brian’s first course was November 2011 with Gareth Gates at the helm. Brian steered a tight ship and kept everyone energised throughout the 3 days. It was clear from Brian that discipline was going to be key during these next few days. “Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishments” became Mr Dempsey’s mantra during the course. The point was made that to break bad habits of a lifetime, discipline is going to be the cornerstone to success.

Around sixty graduates, coaches and course instructors (returning members) came back to help improve their own speech but also to teach and support the new students’ progress during the course.

Although there are many things that may separate the new students, they all share the one drive and determination for a better life, no longer controlled by their stutter. The younger new students were a breath of fresh air. They showed that a wise head really can sit on young shoulders.

Eighteen people took that first big step to control, and they all did fantastic. It was a pleasure to see them all grow and progress in confidence as the course continued. They now have the techniques and the support to help them improve and become the people they have always wanted to be whether it is speaking in church, making a speech or finally ordering what they want to order in a restaurant. Sometimes it’s the little things in life! Here’s to taking those steps to success (however little or big).

Cormac King