To the girl with the stammer
Lyndsay Edgington tells us her story about growing up and making her way in the world while trying to come to terms with her stammer. (Warning: this article contains a bit of strong language.)
You will look back on times with disdain, embarrassment and wonder for what could have been. You will regret being that shy girl. You will make mistakes. Friends will come and go. Your view of people will change. Your view of life and what life is about will change. Your goals, ambitions, hopes and dreams will evolve. You will mature. And with maturity you will become new, fresh, confident. You will live life to the fullest, remembering that each day, hour, minute, second is precious. Time is finite. And you only have a set amount of time so make it count.
When I was younger, I was shy, nervous, attention-seeking. My stammer developed and formed a weight on top of my body. I was hamstrung but to the outside world I played a game of pretend. I pretended I was normal and that I wasn't the girl with the stammer. I was a teenager catching a bus, walking confidently to the bus stop, thinking how normal a situation this was. I rehearsed in my head what I had to say. Over and over again. I couldn't get it wrong. But I did. And the words wouldn't come out. And I would sit on the bus in shame thinking everyone was staring at me, talking about me, mocking me.
The elephant in the room
I can't remember when my stammer started but I remember that my parents thought they knew best. I didn't know anything. I thought it was normal that they hit the back of my hand each time I tripped over a word. I thought it was ok that they told my friends to do the same in the playground. Eventually it became the elephant in the room. Maybe I made it that way. I was ashamed, and if I talked about it, it would become real.
School was tricky. I knew people knew. People knew I knew they knew. I would grow sick to my stomach when we had to read out in class. I made excuses. I can't remember any bullying. I gave the impression that I thought I was better than everyone. That was my cape of security, my mask. I had good friends who saw through it and we had some fun times, making lasting memories.
I was shrouded in a cloak of pretend confidence which nobody ever questioned.
GCSEs came and went and before long I was starting college. I lasted three months and quit before Christmas. I couldn't bear the thought of participating in lectures, conducting presentations, of more reading out loud. I got a job in Customer Services. I thought I could answer phones and speak to customers. I wouldn't stammer on the phone. I was a normal girl embarking on her career. Be confident. Of course, that didn't work. A man called asking why his bin hadn't been collected. He never found out as I put the phone down after struggling to give him the answer. I was called into the office and I broke down. That was the first time I started to bare all and the first time I made a decision to do something about it.
I went on an intensive speech course in Wigan for a few days. One that Gareth Gates went on. At 18, it was refreshing, liberating, life-affirming. To meet other people in the same situation, in worse situations, was reassuring. I wasn't alone. I shared a room with another girl who could barely speak. I felt like a fraud. To end the week, I stood on a soap box addressing the people of Wigan. I was empowered.
But reality hit and once again it became the elephant in the room. I couldn't tell boys. I started a long-term relationship and we didn't talk about it once. I couldn't speak openly about it to my friends, family. I hid it from places of work. I was wearing the mask again. But beneath the mask, a strange confidence began to grow.
I knew I deserved better. I knew I was meant for better things. I wanted a successful career, to earn good money, to have prospects. And why couldn't I? The chip on my shoulder had grown and grown. I was going to prove everyone, and the voice inside my head, wrong. And I did prove everyone wrong. I set myself goals. I set myself targets. I was shrouded in a cloak of pretend confidence which nobody ever questioned. The stammer remained the elephant in the room and I was cool with that. Or so I thought.
The truth surfaces
I got a new job. I wanted to progress. My stammer wasn't visible to people when I first met them. I hid it well. I asked for more responsibility at work which I was given. I was capable, competent, trustworthy. I cleverly avoided certain situations. When I was 25, I was promoted to a team manager. I was managing people, developing people, coaching people. Me.
Something else happened when I was 25. I met my now husband; the person who is the reason for the person I am today. But I couldn't tell him about my stammer. Deep down I was still ashamed, plus I was hiding it so well and he never brought it up. My inner voice would tell me on repeat that he loved me because he didn't know about the stammer; telling him would ruin everything we had. But it started to eat me alive. I had to come clean. A year into our relationship we took an all-inclusive holiday to the Caribbean. I knew it was time. As we sat in one of the many restaurants on the resort, I told him I had something to tell him.
My inner voice would tell me on repeat that he loved me because he didn't know about the stammer; telling him would ruin everything we had.
He knew. He had known from the moment we met. My mind was blown as reality as I knew it collapsed spectacularly around me. I had so many questions, so much confusion. I was adamant it wasn't obvious, that I only stammered the more you got to know me. I had been in a deep dark denial, and whilst this denial might have had its advantages, I was now forced to bring the truth to the surface. And I will be forever pleased that I did.
It was spoken about openly. It was a topic of conversation. It was endearingly mocked. I began to grow true confidence to match my fake persona. From having a person to talk about it with, I felt that heavy burden begin to lighten. I could be me.
We moved across the country. My career excelled and I became a project manager. Me. Who would have thought the shy stuttering girl would be managing global projects for a health insurance company? I still had bad days. Usually tired, anxious days, where the stammer would emerge. I would attend calls with executives which made my palms sweat and my mouth dry. I had to work really hard to play pretend on those days. There were days where I was fighting back the tears. Days where I came off a call and cried. Cried by myself. Cried on the shoulders of my husband. The feeling never truly goes away.
I always wondered whether I would feel this way if I didn't have a stammer.
That feeling of not feeling good enough. Of feeling like my stammer made me incompetent. The feeling of being judged because of the way I speak. The feeling of caring too much about what people thought about me because of the way I speak. I had a real issue with not wanting people to feel sorry for me. I didn't want to be pitied, the thought making my skin crawl. I always wondered whether I would feel this way if I didn't have a stammer. Would I be a different person without it? Would I be a better person, a more accomplished person?
I know now that I wouldn't be a better person. I am who I am and I am pretty okay as I am. It took me a long time to realise that. And a long time to realise that nobody actually gives a fuck. People have their own issues. Their own lives to deal with. Their own demons.
I began to tell people at work. I spoke to family members. I asked questions. I started to come to terms with my stammer. I continued to grow true confidence, reducing the fake. I started to care less about what people thought. I started to care less if people felt sorry for me or pitied me. I stammer in front of people now and I don't care. Me. The shy girl who would avoid a conversation. My husband jokingly says that he thought marrying a girl with a stammer would give him a quiet life. He couldn't have been more wrong.
So, to the girl with the stammer, you will make it. You will excel at life. And that life might not be the life you thought it would be. You were a career woman once but you are now living your dreams in a different way. Travelling Europe in a campervan with your husband and your beloved lurcher. And although you don't know where the journey is going to take you, you will make it work. In your own way. You and your stammer.
Lyndsay has created her own site Moments with Lyndsay where you can read her regular blog posts.