Emma Jayne Carroll was determined not to let stammering hold her back. Read how she took things into her own hands with the help of musical theatre, making conversation with strangers and the Sony Walkman (remember that?).
Growing up in the 90s was especially hard with a stammer in the Hereford and Worcestershire region. First and foremost due to the fact that there was nowhere you could go to get help — it seemed all doctors would do is put you in a room and try to force you to converse, which was not for me.
My family often tried to force me to get sentences out before I could do certain things. For instance, when my brother and sister would go out to play, I’d go to ask too but it would take me over an hour to get out the ‘C’ in “Can I go out?”
School was just as bad as the teachers never understood how to help and I was put in lower classes purely down to my inability to answer questions, even though written work-wise I would be top of the class.
You would probably expect me to remember the day my issue with stammering got easier. Truth is I honestly don’t remember, although I think it was sometime in my late teens, though it comes back to haunt me from time to time.
But I can say for a fact that there were things I did that helped, things I still do to this day that are perhaps the reason I haven’t lapsed much since.
Hobbies that helped
All my life I have enjoyed theatrical work along with reading and writing, so I tried to find hobbies and long interesting books that would keep me occupied.
Obviously theatrical work was a lot harder for me to get. But when I was 23 I joined a theatre production company and I had speaking lines in the plays we put on. We did lots of musicals such as Bugsy Malone as well as many Shakespeare plays. However, on one night I did have a lapse in confidence and pulled out, but luckily I had someone who was able to cover my lines.
I think the final ingredient was the determination to do things myself without people trying to complete my sentences for me.
Secondary to my love of theatre is music. Now this you could do literally anywhere, especially growing up in the days when Walkman's were still a thing (you know, the portable cassette player and the CD Discman): listening to audiobooks and music while out walking, and talking along to them; singing along and, hell, for the fun of it when you're really feeling it, a bit of a dance to keep you in the mood. At this point everyone already thinks you're crazy anyway but you learn to ignore passers-by or hush down as they approach or pass.
These activities helped me gain the confidence I needed to get words and then sentences out rather than just letters over the years.
Talking to people
Another thing I would do was go for a walk to the local lake and look for people to converse with, to help desensitise me. I found elderly people the easiest to talk to as they would be more supportive if you did start to struggle. If I could find anyone, I would recite plays, theatrical shows, songs or just make up my own stories and speak them aloud. Hilariously, it turned out I wasn’t the only person to do this in the town I grew up in and I made a friend. OK we’re not mates anymore, but we supported each other for a long time.
Now I'm not saying that those things alone are what got me through. Hell no. If that was the case I probably would have been speaking with confidence by the time I was in middle school. I think the final ingredient was the determination to do things myself without people trying to complete my sentences for me, thinking they know what I’m going to say or contradicting me even more by trying to make me over-enunciate each letter, thinking that’s the issue. No, it was nothing to do with enunciation, thank you very much. I guess it was that desire to finally be free of that constant ridicule. Even if they didn’t intend it as such, unknowingly the way they do it can seem like serious ridicule.
I'd like to see if anyone else can excel by trying my success story. Hopefully it might help. Everyone has their own influences so one person’s victory might not be identical for another, but there's never any harm in trying to help, and that is something I have now decided I want to do in life — help people from having to go though it alone like I did until I found that friend.
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