Through online stammering communities I found freedom

The article's author, Phyllis Donald

Phyllis Edwards thought she'd have to go through life being the only person she knew who stammered. That was until she came across our Facebook support group. Here Phyllis writes about her journey to self-acceptance since that day, a journey which has taken her thousands and thousands of miles from home.

My name is Phyllis, I’m from New Zealand and I work in a job I love as an early childhood teacher. I enjoy being part of a teaching team and working alongside families and children, making a difference where I can.

Despite feeling happy and accepted, I use to wish I could talk with other people who stammered. But I thought it was my lot in life to just get on with it on my own.

Two years ago I was trying to surprise my ever-supportive husband by booking a romantic holiday online, when out the corner of my eye I saw a post on Facebook from someone called Alexis, who mentioned she was getting married but was worried about speaking her vows. My instant message back was "Don’t worry, love conquers all, you will be fine." 

Wow, I thought, how did that get here? On closer inspection, I saw it was a post in the British Stammering Association’s Facebook support group.

My perception of being a woman with a stammer changed. I found freedom, understanding, empathy, enlightenment. 

It was then I realised there was a stammering community out there; never having heard of stammering communities, I was greatly relieved to find them. Finding it was, for me, like water to a thirsty person; my perception of being a woman with a stammer changed. I found freedom, understanding, empathy, enlightenment. 

I noticed the BSA was holding a conference, something else I had never heard of, in Cardiff that year. So after bombarding the organising committee with questions, off to Wales I flew. What a heartwarming and affirming experience it was. One of the goals I had for this trip was to meet up with Alexis from the Facebook group. At that conference I met lots of brave, amazing people like her who embraced their stammer.

Paying it forward

Returning home, however, I couldn't stop feeling disappointed in myself that I had made excuses and hadn’t achieved my second goal, which was to read my poem at the open mic. It was about the ‘tongue monster’ I thought I had in my mouth as a four-year-old.

Then I thought about another Facebook stammering group called 'Women who Stammer'. I contacted one of its members, Anita Blom, who’s involved with the European League of Stuttering Associations. Her posts in the group always make me think about things. I shared with her how I was feeling and she took the time to mentor me, suggesting I should think about 'paying it forward'.

With this in mind, I tentatively asked a mum and speech and language therapist at the centre where I work, Laura, if she knew anyone I might be of some use to. Laura gave me an email address for the Stuttering Treatment and Research Trust (START) here in NZ. So, more emailing practice led to me becoming involved with them. Janelle the manager there was very supportive and encouraging.

Embracing my stammer

On my first day back at work after the Cardiff conference, I was greeted by Joe, aged 4, holding a book and pointing to the couch. We sat and read his favourite book called 'There's a hole in my bucket'. Later that morning as I was pushing Joe on the swing I thought I would try and embrace my stammer more at work. So I said, "Joe, we do have fun reading stories together, even if it takes me longer to get the words out." Still swinging, Joe said, "I love you, Phyllis. Even if there is a hole in your bucket." "Thank you, Joe," was my reply, not knowing if I wanted to laugh or cry. It reminded me I shouldn't worry; children accept you for how you relate to them, not how fluently you read.

It reminded me I shouldn't worry; children accept you for how you relate to them, not how fluently you read.

I have noticed that when I am reading a story the children don’t seem bothered if I stammer, because they know the story will have a twist and they are busy listening to see how you will incorporate their name into it and what hero they will be today.

Then there is Ariki, who taught me that having a story read by a teacher with a stammer didn’t matter to him. He didn’t notice the gaps, but he soon noticed if you didn’t or couldn't keep your promise to read the story in the first place.

To finish, it has helped me to survive by knowing that I’ve been blessed with both a stammer and a brain that wants to help others. I give thanks for stammering communities as they all bring challenges and warm fuzzies. Last year, with support and encouragement from these groups, I achieved what I hadn’t the year before. I flew out to the World Congress for Stuttering in Iceland with my supportive husband. He added to our mortgage for us to go because he said he knew I had unfinished business and because he believed in me. On the last day there I was able to stand up at the open mic and share my story. This was another cleansing time for me. 

You can read my poem below.

The Bossy Tongue Monster

When I was 4 my greatest wish was to be free from what I called the bossy tongue monster that lived in my mouth.

As I grew up, the bossy tongue monster got smaller. Love, confidence and better self-worth chased that bossy tongue monster away. Having a career in early childhood was a blessing.

Now, at 65, I know that when people see my coming, they won't say, "Here comes the old lady with a stammer." Instead they will say, "I wonder what fun she is planning now."

If you'd like to see what stammering groups there are, see the list on our Online page. For local groups, see our Local Groups page.

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