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.
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.”
As Susan Jeffers says ‘Feel the fear, and do it anyway’. Don’t wait for the fear to dissipate, it won’t. The longer you wait for the fear to go away, the more intense the feeling grows. Susan Jeffers states that becoming aware of your fears and your limitations can change your life as long as you learn how to deal with them. All through life we will come across situations that make us fearful but we need to learn how to approach these fears and move on with our life. People miss so many opportunities in life simply due to fear and anxiety; we need to approach these fears with simple steps each day that will allow us to take those chances and open doors that were previously closed. Fear can make your world smaller so don’t allow the fear to overtake you.
“Fear is fine – embrace it, don’t dodge it. Then, walk through the fire anyway.”
On the McGuire Programme we have the same approach to facing our fears and how to deal with them. We have techniques and strategies in place to deal with situations that make you feel less fearful. We learn more about ourselves when we take action, we don’t learn by sitting back and feeding the fear. By taking action and facing our fears we become less anxious and less fearful. On the program we take every opportunity that comes our way to talk and speak using technique. We take every opportunity to ‘expose’ ourselves for who we truly are. We are not our stutter. We are people who are working hard on controlling our stutters. We no longer hide our true selves. And it feels amazing. Once you break down that barrier, your outlook on life and your behaviour changes for the better. We can finally live without holding ourselves back from doing the things we’ve always wanted to do. This even includes the simple things in life, like ordering the food you desire, to giving your name when asked for it. These are major steps for a person who stutters.
I experienced a new student facing their fears head-on during our last course in Düsseldorf, Germany. I brought her out for the contact session on the Saturday of the 3-Day Intensive course. Once the new student started using the techniques and ‘exposed’ herself as a person who stutters, it removed the feeling of shame and guilt, it allowed her to free her mind from the stresses that a stutter can hold over us. It was also very inspirational for me to see the changes happening in front of me, and to keep doing what we do on the McGuire Programme. Helping people, like ourselves, to break free from the freezing, struggle and distortion, and from the many tricks and avoidances we all created to be seen as a ‘normal’, ‘fluent’ speaker.
No more ‘hiding’ for the 5 new students who joined us in Düsseldorf, who learned concrete techniques to turn passivity into assertiveness. And learned how to stop negative thinking patterns and reeducate their minds to think more positively. And how to turn every decision into a “No-Lose” situation.
“The more we do things that we’re afraid of, we are proving to ourselves that we CAN handle danger, uncertainty etc., the more we can feel confident that we will be able to handle similar experiences in the future. In other words, facing our fears is something we can practice and get better at, even if we can never completely obliterate fear from our lives.”
Did you find this article useful? Do you know someone who stutters, who would benefit from trying out the McGuire Programme and giving themselves the best possible start to controlling their stutter? Do you, yourself stutter? If so, get in touch with one of our representatives today. No need to be afraid to contact us, we all people who stutter, who have found a new lease on life via the McGuire Programme and it’s extensive backup support.
“An important truth: YOU can’t wait for the fear to go away before you do something!”
Our next 3-Day Intensive Course in Germany will be held in Frankfurt am Main in October 2017
Date: 18.-21.10.2017 – Don’t be the one who holds you back. Reserve your place today!
The day incorporated lots of drilling and presentations. With courage we headed out on Street Contacts, to face the many fears associated with #stuttering, and this proved to be very beneficial with the support of coaches and grads.
It was a good disciplined day, working on our #stutter and putting time and effort into refocusing on technique.
The course was led by Rory West, whose disciplined, motivated and great sense of humour – captivated everyone in the room – from new students to returning refreshers / graduates / coaches.
One of the graduates who attended the June course said “This course has really helped me because I had a big presentation to do at work on the Tuesday after the course and from all practicing of the techniques on the course, my speech was very strong throughout my presentation.”
The 8 new students showed great courage, determination, perservance and gave a lot of trust to the coaches to teach this new technique. The transformation from Wednesday evening to Saturday evening was phenomenal.
During this course Eddie Spiers and Sam Anderson were presented with their Coaching Certificates. Both Eddie and Sam have proven themselves to be dedicated coaches and committed to giving the best possible coaching, not only to the 8 new students, but also to members of the McGuire Programme in Ireland and abroad. They are a great asset to our support network which is the foundation of the Programme.
And….. the next course is in the City of Belfast from 25th-28th October 2017. If stuttering is controlling your life – APPLY for that course!!
After only one month on the McGuire Programme the new members showed character and determination in working on their own stutters. The focus of the day was to recap on the techniques that they had practiced on the February course and in doing so dedicating a whole day working on their stutters and supporting each other.
There were a number of presentations on the day from members, focusing on both the physical and psychological aspects of stuttering. We also took the time to have some social interaction activities and a fun session. Smiles radiated throughout the room and the sound of laughter penetrated the walls.
Everyone who attended put in a great effort on the day and left feeling they had achieved something worthwhile. A lot of people travelled from all over Ireland to attend and their effort and determination paid off. They left feeling empowered and ready to tackle new opportunities ahead.
Thanks to all who made the effort to attend and prepared presentations for the day.
Together we are stronger and wiser. For events and courses in 2017 please check the website.
As Fairy Tales have a happy ending, there was also a happy ending on our recent course in Galway (22nd-25th February 2017). A happy ending for 11 students who put their faith is us to help them overcome their life restricting stammer / stutter.
All 11 students took on board our instruction and pushed themselves over 3 days to begin to get control over their stammer / stutter.
They embraced our war mentality and on Saturday afternoon they went to the battlefield having learned, repeatedly drilled and practiced their weapons to face their fear – their fear of approaching strangers on the street and in shops.
And to crown it off, they each did a public speech on Shop Street in Galway in front of many onlookers.
Here are some happy endings from the students on and immediately after finishing the course.
“The course has changed my life and I can’t wait to go back to my family and tell them all about it.”
“I never thought I would be able to speak to over 100 people today, never mind doing a public speech in Galway.”
“My stammer has held me back so much and now I can finally get to grips with it.”
“I can’t believe that so many people have a stammer and they had much the same experiences as I had. I truly thought I was the only one who felt like that.”
“Now I’m going to live my life free from the fear of stammering.”
Over the coming months, through hard work courage and perseverance, they will kill the fear (of stammering) and gain control over their stammer.
They will then adopt a ‘sports mentality’ – looking at their stammer as a worthy sports opponent and hopefully reach the stage where speaking becomes fun!
In December 2015, Tiernan McVey was named on the Gaelic Life Team of the week for his performance between the posts for Moortown at the St Paul’s Ulster Club Minor Tournament.
It is a moment that he cherishes, as it represented a major achievement for someone who had managed to battle with and conquer a stammer.
How he managed to get that nomination was interesting in itself. The 16-year-old McVey hadn’t been named on the starting side who were up against Crossmaglen, but he was called into action when first choice keeper was black carded.
In this difficult situation one might have expected a lesser player to wilt, but McVey played admirably, pulling off a string of saves that kept Moortown in the game.
While they were not able to overcome the Armagh champions, however McVey had made his mark and he was duly selected as the number one stopper of that week.
He had enjoyed the success of winning a Tyrone minor championship as a team, but this was an individual achievement, and proof that sticking with playing football, despite the challenges of communicating with a stammer had been worth it.
When he was a lot younger Tiernan had ignored his the condition, and tried to deal with it in his own way. But he gradually realised thanks to input from family that he needed to take action, but he wasn’t sure what.
“I went to a speech therapist for a while, but they didn’t help,” he said.
But he knew that he needed a solution. A keen footballer, he loved playing for his club Moortown, but having a stammer made it a challenge to take part and compete. He couldn’t communicate as easily with his team mates, and he also suffered some unwanted attention from opponents who would pick on him.
“Sometimes when you are out on the pitch it is hard to communicate.”
He moved schools, from St Mary’s Magherafelt to the Holy Trinity in Cookstown. More of his Moortown friends were there, and he felt more comfortable, but because of his stammer it was a challenge to make the switch.
“At the beginning it was tough, it was tough going into the football team.
“Because I was new people would ask a lot of questions and that could be tough.”
His solution was to join the McGuire programme.
The organisation was founded by David McGuire, who developed a system of managing the condition using a mixture of breathing techniques and psychology.
The technique very quickly became a great success. After five years, the programme had spread from Holland, David’s base, to the UK, Ireland, Norway, Holland, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States.
Tiernan is a massive proponent of the programme, which he has been involved in for the past two years.
He was inspired by people like Gareth Gates who had used the McGuire programme successfully to deal with his stammer, and he went on to take part in X factor.
“The McGuire programme had intensive lessons in a new way to talk. It took a lot of work but it is amazing what I have achieved in such a short space of time.
“Before I joined the course I ignored my stammer, I just tried to deal with it myself.”
But after taking part in the programme, he began to understand that he had to face the issue head on.
Armed with the new techniques he managed to control his stammer.
“It’s about controlling it, rather than it controlling you,” he said.
McVey also revealed that he has had to deal with unwanted attention on the field in the past. Opposing players have made fun of his stammer.
He said that it has happened a lot less than if he were an outfield player, but that it has happened.
“When I was younger it annoyed me. But if it happens now I don’t care. If you have accepted it then you can deal with people calling you names. Name calling is not going to change my attitude.”
However, he does accept that it is important that he can control his stammer for the good of the team. And as a footballer on a minor team, and a goalkeeper at that, being able to communicate to his team is important.
“I now don’t have any problem chatting with team mates. I know that before hand it might have been a problem.”
He says that he has no issue with playing.
“I give out instructions all the time now. The odd time I want to give an instructions but it doesn’t come out.”
At the moment he is out of action. He broke his thumb and has been sidelined from schools and clubs action. But he has aspirations of playing MacLarnon cup football for Holy Trinity, and in the next few years challenging for a place on the Moortown reserves and seniors.
All this serves to highlight his passion for the game.
McVey said that he thinks that Coaches need more help with coaching players. He said that there are misconceptions about those with the stammer. He said he knows coaches who single the players out and try to encourage them to speak, while others ignore them completely. He says that the latter is best.
“It would be good if there was help for coaches. It would help if they just treated us the same as everyone else.”
So why did Tiernan McVey choose to tell Gaelic Life to get his message about stammering and the McGuire programme?
“I wanted to help others, but particularly those in the GAA, I think there are people in the GAA who may be unsure about playing.”
After my second intensive McGuire course in Berlin, Germany, I feel energetic, gratitude, normal, loved, inspired.
I’ve been stuttering since I was around 7. I’m now 36 years old, mother of 2 girls: aged 8 and 6. Just to get it straight, none of my family members stutter, neither my siblings nor my parents. At school, I dreaded raising my hand to answer questions or give comments. I would rather take the beating. Reading English text aloud in the classroom was one of my biggest fears. Oh! Why was it so hard to get the words out? Why couldn’t I read fluently without blocks like when reading aloud to myself? I didn’t understand. I was lucky to have had great (girl) friends who never teased me during my school days. I studied in a boarding school for 9 years in Pokhara, Nepal.
Fast-forward – after working for 13 years in Finland as a software engineer, I quit my job last April. I really wanted to integrate my software experience with my business studies. But every time when some job description (non software related) excited me, one concern always remained – Can I speak?
I had heard of McGuire programme already back in 2000 when I was studying in Australia. Well, after watching how people spoke on the street, I was in denial. My stutter didn’t seem so bad like the ones in the programme! The thought of joining the programme didn’t cross my mind then.
Recently, one day I caught myself telling my husband – “I would do anything if I knew there was a chance and I really wanted it”. Then, at that moment I realised, how I was living in denial. I have had this stutter and hadn’t done much for it. It was even becoming a hinderance to my future job. Now, enough was enough. I was ready to face my challenge and take action. After all, I was doing it for MYSELF and not to someone else. So I started to google “McGuire Programme”. I also had another motivation to join the Programme. I was interviewed by a startup company for technical salesperson position.
Back then (around May – June) I really wanted that job. Coincidentally, during that time, I had also come up with a startup idea. To pitch my idea, I knew I had to speak with many people.
I am so glad that I contacted Emmet O’Connell. After knowing that the Programme will let me SAY what I WANTED to say without using tricks or filler words, I signed up. Finally, I was ready to let go of my shame and fear. Of course, I wasn’t sure what I was getting into but it felt so right!
My first intensive McGuire course in Dusseldorf, Germany last June has changed me in so many ways. It’s just been 4 months, but during this time many new exciting things have happened. I am now enrolled in Startup Program in Tampere, Finland and given 3 speeches in Toastmasters. I’ve made many phone calls and have had meetings with investors and prospect customers. McGuire Programme helped break down the walls I had built around me. I am so thankful to the coaches who gave me their time to speak with me. Especially, I would like to thank my primary coach, Bart van den Berg. Mary Moorehead (Ireland), thank you for being there when I was let down and for your presence. You are always wonderful to talk to.
“Anything that is usually a means to an end, make it into an end in itself.” – Eckhart Tolle.“The Power of Now”, book by Eckhart Tolle has helped me understand the deeper meaning of life and is helping me tackle the psychological factors of my stutter. In my opinion, it complements McGuire teachings perfectly. I highly recommend you to read this book, if you haven’t already. Anyone, including those who don’t have a stutter can learn to live in presence by reading this book.
In my second course in Berlin, I noticed some changes in myself. I was no longer asking questions like in my first course. I was comfortable practising deliberate dysfluency. I was thankful that I had decided to join the program in my “make up mind” session in Dusseldorf. I was inspired to see improvements of returning graduates. As a bonus, the number of Facebook friends jumped after the Berlin course 🙂 Emmet, it is really a great experience to take the class from someone who is so passionate about what he does! Thank you once again for the great course and the effort you put in.
Let us not get wrapped up in our own life situations. Let us not compare ourselves with others. Remember that “if ego can’t be the best it wants to be the worst” (Eckhart Tolle). So let us try to live aligned with our inner presence and practice McGuire techniques 🙂 There will be ups and downs but if the anchor is in the right place, we won’t get lost…
In February 2008 I took a leap of faith and joined the McGuire Programme, instantly I felt at home. A room full of stutterers is a highly unusual thing, especially when they are all talking openly about stuttering and supporting each other. Therein lies the magic of the McGuire Programme.
In the days, months and years that followed my commencement on the programme I was on a rollercoaster of highs and lows. Ultimately it was the McGuire technique that got me through the bumps along with the immense support of the coaches and instructors. My perseverance and motivation to gain control of my stutter prevailed.
8 years later, here I am, a newly certified course instructor intern, wanting to give back to the McGuire Programme that has given me so much. Society is full of inspirational people and stutterers are no exception to this. On the McGuire Programme you meet people of all walks of life, each inspiring in their own right.
Articulate eloquence shines bright in these people and this is my ultimate goal.