Paul O'Meara talks about the inspiration behind his new book 'Let me finish', an insight into living with a stammer.
It was endearing, I think, and will always be a resounding memory from my youth: ‘P-p-p-p-p-p-Paul, c-c-c-c-c-could you c-c-c-come to my office p-p-p-p-lease.’
My lower school. My childhood. My head teacher, Bob. And he would mimic me. What chance do you stand if your first head teacher played by their rules? His tactics were to join their ranks, but with age comes perspective and perhaps this helped me learn how to weather such storms. As I say though, Bob’s playful banter was strangely endearing and in the 80s this sort of behaviour was somehow acceptable. It is amazing how times change. He meant no harm, and we actually formed a close relationship through my early education years. I soon realised his playful mocking was nothing more than that; playful. And it merely offers up another anecdote for a stammerer’s diary. Get five to ten stammerers in a room, and you could scribe enough short stories to make a film trilogy.
The nature of the beast
It can genuinely be a slog though, having a stammer. But you will have heard that before. There are times when it feels like the slog has eased and then the pesky impediment catches you off guard and you revert to another bout of struggle. I think that’s what you call the nature of the beast. Maybe I am lucky, but I have tried to never let it get me down, even when it was at its most volatile; and like most others, this was during my school years. I struggled to string three words together. If I was lucky and the required words were from my throat rather than my lips, or the front of my mouth, I could just about blag a sentence. But the mental strain you expend thinking of how to deliver a combination of words is tiresome. It can be intoxicating or claustrophobic – the walls begin to close in.
I find myself now not getting mentally overpowered by my stammer – sure, it is still troublesome – but I am happy to talk about it.
Many friends say I exude confidence, but I think you also have to generate your own. From what I hear, other stammerers do let their impediment get them down and I believe, this, again, relates to confidence – or a lack of it. With personal growth came experience, which ultimately bred perspective. With perspective, for me, came a change of stance.
Words being the focal point
One way or another, words have been the focal point of my life. But my interest is in writing them, not speaking them. As a keen writer I often think my love for it grew from my verbal deficiency. In the last few years I sought a new project, but I wanted to write something more substantial. Complementing this recreational urge also came a desire to shed more light on stammering. I was ready to talk about it, so it seemed a perfect marriage. Through research I found many evidence-based books, written by therapists, but few from the first person’s view. And that was my eureka moment.
Many communication problems are invisible, and I think this limits people’s understanding of them. When faced with someone who stammers, other people can be caught off guard and their sometimes negative reaction can be born from instinct rather than contemplation. But it is not their fault; again it is the nature of the beast. This was another reason for writing my book ‘Let me finish’: to offer insights into how people can help. But I did not want to write a sob story or announce a plea for sympathy – the stories are often self-deprecating and humorous. I find myself now not getting mentally overpowered by my stammer – sure, it is still troublesome – but I am happy to talk about, and if talking or writing about it can raise awareness then sign me up.
My determination has grown throughout my life and I have tried to not let my stammer dictate it.
Through promoting my book I connected with Gareth Cowlin on Twitter who draws a comic strip series for this site, 'Talking together' (see left). They essentially bring to life the problems that stammerers face, and I approached Gareth to illustrate one of my anecdotes in my book. And again, if it helps raise more awareness, all the better.
My determination has grown throughout my life and I have tried to not let my stammer dictate it. Let me finish details how I always try to attack challenges by using a cocktail of methods to hopefully succeed. My speech therapy was limited as a child so my methods are sometimes fuddled, but it is all about navigating the day-to-day. I went to university, went travelling and have twice embraced a best man’s speech. Most reflected a military operation but attacking such challenges bred confidence. Personally, dealing with a stammer represents a journey, not a destination. You can either lie down and let it beat you, or you can fight back – I chose the latter.
You can read more about Paul and buy his book 'Let me finish' on his website here.
(Main photo courtesy of Loftworks)