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Stifled by a stutter

My childhood, adolescence and part of my adult life were plagued by a debilitating stutter. Can you imagine being terrified to say your own name, order food in a restaurant, ask a question in school or even answer the telephone? That was my life.

When I was 5 years old in Ireland and my mother was in the hospital, our neighbor picked my siblings and me up for school and asked who was looking after the baby. I tried to say “Daddy,” but the best I could muster sounded something like “Paddy,” which happened to be the name of our pet cow. This prompted other kids to make fun of the cow looking after the baby.

When I was 9 and in elementary school, I was asked to recite a poem, and I couldn’t get a word out. The other kids laughed, and I was put in detention because the teacher thought I hadn’t done my homework.

All these negative experiences take over your mind and strengthen the fear of speaking.

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Starting a new school was a nightmare for me. Teachers would ask each pupil their name, and when my turn came, the room would spin and my hands would sweat as I sat there blocking on my name for what seemed like forever. The shame and embarrassment left me feeling withdrawn and stupid.

The simple task of announcing my name to the doctor’s receptionist or at the salon was pure torture. I would plan it meticulously so no one else was within earshot, but by the time I got it out, there was a line of people behind me. Most people enjoy chatting with the hairdresser; I often pretended I had laryngitis.

There are so many simple, everyday speaking situations that fluent people take for granted. For stutterers like me, it’s like going to war. There were many nights I wished I would not wake up.

My stutter shaped my professional and personal life. I became an accountant so I could work in a back room and not have to talk to people. I lost golf competitions that I could have won so I would not have to make a victory speech. I felt unworthy of having a relationship.

I had some speech therapy as I progressed through school, but it was not productive. I attended speech therapy programs again when I began working. Some helped for a week or so, but the monster always returned, and I’d wind up right back in the land of fear.

I finally gained control over my stutter when I went to the McGuire Programme in London. It is not a cure, but it concentrates on retraining the diaphragm with breathing exercises so that you can control how you speak. It also addresses the psychological aspects of stuttering and forced me to face my fears.

It requires courage, perseverance and hard work, but the results are well worth it. The McGuire Programme is run by people who have been through the program, and I look forward to helping other people who stutter reach the level of freedom I now enjoy.

I no longer fear using the telephone or other common speaking situations. I recently did a reading at my sister’s wedding. I also developed the self-esteem that led to a proper relationship, and I was able to say my own wedding vows.

McGrath is a part-time bookkeeper in Santa Barbara. Snow lives in Santa Barbara and would like to continue the work of the McGuire Programme in the U.S. She can be reached at MM93101@gmail.com.

My Turn is a forum for readers to recount an experience related to health or fitness. Submissions should be no more than 500 words. They are subject to editing and condensation and become the property of The Times. Please e-mail health@latimes.com. We read every essay but can’t respond to every writer.

McGrath is a part-time bookkeeper in Santa Barbara. She can be reached at MM93101@gmail.com.

My Turn is a forum for readers to recount an experience related to health or fitness. Submissions should be no more than 500 words. They are subject to editing and condensation and become the property of The Times. Please e-mail health@latimes.com. We read every essay but can’t respond to every writer.


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