24th March 2021
Carolyn Evans talks about her life with a stammer, from struggling at boarding school to changing careers, going into local politics and growing in confidence with the help of friends and family.
I starting stammering when I was 8 years old, which was around the time when my mother was dying. I was teased badly and bullied by my father, who could not handle the situation.
I was later sent to boarding school where I found it so hard. It got to the stage where I would cry if I had to read out in class. I could not speak on the phone either. My grandmother paid for me to have hypnosis, which did help and made me relax more. When I went back home for the holidays my new family were having babies. I must have felt so insecure.
When I grew up and got married, I slowly began to gain confidence in myself thanks to the support from my husband and the birth of my two children. My husband and I went into business together. I had to handle negotiations, which forced me to speak out. I always chose my words carefully and changed them to ones that were easier to say.
I slowly began to gain confidence in myself thanks to the support from my husband and the birth of my two children.
One of my other first big steps was to speak on a tannoy at a rugby match to announce the team when they came out onto the pitch. I managed it very well although one or two people mentioned that the microphone had a crackle in it (another tip is to take advantage of this).
Sadly my husband became ill with cancer and when he died I decided to do something I had always really wanted to do, which was to become a tour manager. So I changed career and worked for Saga and several other companies, and I travelled to Australia and New Zealand and intensively in Europe.
I then went into local politics in 2009, winning a County Council seat. I knew speaking out at meetings would be an issue at first. However I became good at the smaller meetings where there were fewer people and I felt more in control. The leader, knowing that I stammered, made me Champion for the Disabled for Lancashire, and I served in that role for four years. I have still never spoken in a large Council meeting, though, as it is all premeditated and I can't cope with the wait-your-turn situation. This is my last year in the role and I still have an issue when waiting to say 'AGAINST' in a meeting.
I find people are far kinder and far more understanding now.
Today, in my seventies, I look back on my journey in which I sometimes felt humiliated, frustrated and crushed. Having a stammer was often to other people a reason not to ask you a question, to keep you in the background and to be the butt of a joke on stage. But now the world has changed. I find people are far kinder and far more understanding now and that was the key for me as I relaxed with my friends. My stammer was not mentioned by them, so I grew in confidence. I realised it wasn't the most important thing in my life anymore, and things began to get easier.
I have many tips I still use and I still change my words sometimes. When someone asks my name I can't just say 'Carolyn' but I can say "MY name is Carolyn", putting other words in front of it. I do still find having to do a planned speech sends those tremors of fear through me and in my mind I scramble the sentences to get the first words out. But I find my sense of humour helps and I can tease myself. Don't take yourself so seriously and laugh with yourself.