What does growth through speaking up mean to me? – Phyllis Edwards

About the Author: Hello, my name is Phyllis Edwards I have had a stammer for over 61 years and it is only over the past 18 months as I have come to know what a stammering community is and met some really neat people who really got me. I have recently realized that having a stammer isn’t all bad, and I would not be who I am or have the relationships I have today without having gone through life with a stammer. I feel like having the opportunity, encouragement and mentorship to speak up as I have found my voice. I want to continue to speak up and share with others in the hope that they will be able to discover much earlier in life than me that, although they have a stammer, they can still follow their dreams and have really neat relationships.

Aged nearly 4, I remember feeling sad, when I was trying so hard to speak up, to get words out of my mouth and ask questions, while everybody was telling me to hurry up, but no one had time to listen. The more mum screamed at me “hurry up and talk, you stupid girl, I haven’t got all day”, the more my Tongue monster wouldn’t let me talk at all. The question I was trying hard to ask was “when is my dad coming home?”. But the answer was “he is not coming home until you learn to speak properly”.

When I was 16, I became a caregiver for my mother. I said to my family, “Oh I wanted to be a teacher, as that’s my dream, maybe I can do both”. “No,” said my family, “you can’t do that, as nobody will want you because you can’t talk properly. You are lucky to have a mum to look after”. So I became a caregiver, but still, that little seed was in my heart.

I found writing things down helped a little bit. It led me to want to share, to see who else out there has a stammer. I got a couple of things published in magazines which gave me the confidence to want to reach out to others and give and get support. I felt encouraged when the local paper rang and offered to help, but mum didn’t think it was a good idea so she pruned that idea.

After many years of being a caregiver, circumstances changed and so it was my time to follow that dream. That little seed in my heart whispered… it is your time to speak up and follow your dreams. I spoke to one of my only friends at the time, I said “I wish I could work in early childhood’’. ‘’Why can’t you”, Dianna said”. “Well, I stammer’’ I said. “So what,” said the caring Dianna. That’s when the seed was fertilised, supported, nourished, empowered, and grew.

This branch didn’t know there was more blossoming to come, branch by branch, blossoms of feelings from the pride of gaining a degree in early childhood. Increased self-esteem, love, empathy. Acceptance from parents, colleagues, children, and that yucky tongue was now well root-bound.

Another little branch that started as a seed and created lots of blossom on those branches, was my discovery of Alexis Parker, (we are now sisters from different countries brought together by God and being strong women who stutter). When Alexis was brave enough to speak up and share on the British stammering page, that she was worrying about stuttering when taking her wedding vows, I messaged back. I said I understood just where she was coming from, but don’t worry, love conquers all, and it did. This resulted in me going to the British Stammering Association national conference in Cardiff, Wales, where Alexis and I were able to meet.

I also had a seed of an idea that I hoped would turn into a branch to blossom, as I had written a poem that I was going to share on the open mic. But I pruned this branch myself by chickening out and came back feeling a bit yuk. Although I hadn’t been brave enough at the time, the seed was still there. Coming home I was lucky enough to be able to discover Anita Blom with all her experience and wise scary words that “maybe it was my time to pay it forward”. Empowerment again and the realisation that she had walked in my shoes and understood, showing me that empathy helped heaps.

How I wondered. Then I asked Laura, another wise women and Speech and Language Therapist, if she knew who I could help. Laura put me in touch with the organisation ‘Start’ and Janelle let me become affiliated with them. I was so grateful and excited.

My supportive husband added to the mortgage so I could attend the International Stuttering Association world congress in Iceland. We both knew I had unfinished business. Although I was petrified, this time I was able to speak up. I am so grateful for this humbling, amazing, liberating experience of my life which I couldn’t have done without feeling both the support in the room and the support I could also feel from friends and family. That’s you too Alexis. Thank you all of you xx

Now my barren root-bound tree has turned to full blossom because I have learned what “growing through speaking out” means to me. It is not until we do just that, that we can grow, and when we speak words, they actually come to life… Boy does that tree blossom. My barron tree would never have blossomed without the encouragement, love and support of those I met on the way and those who encouraged me to speak out.  So thanks to all of you. Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

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What does growth through speaking up mean to me? – Phyllis Edwards — 15 Comments

  1. Great story, Phyllis! I really like the phrase “seed in my heart” and I’m glad you were able to reach all your goals. It was a pleasure meeting you in Iceland, too!

  2. Hello Daniele sorry if you got this twice but I not sure I did it right the other day. I wanted to say Thankyou so much for your comments and I really enjoyed and gained lots from your cartoon workshop. I took it back and I have been using the concept at my work for anecdotal learning stories.xx

  3. Hi Phyllis – this essay with such authenticity and feeling, really touched me. I too long felt that I had “unfinished business” – stuff that I ignored or stayed away from because I believed the voice in my head, that sprung from words my father yelled at me, that I wasn’t good enough, because I stutter.
    I allowed myself to believe for years that I was OK with that – when I never was but I felt so trapped by the very fortress I had built around me to keep me sheltered and from being hurt.

    I too wanted to teach but deeply believed that I would be better off in a career that wouldn’t require as much talking as teaching. I also believed that future students would be better off not having to be subjected to me. So I chose Social Work thinking I wouldn’t have to talk much. Well, that was a mistake. Of course, social work and counseling would require speaking, all the time and a lot.

    I found my voice 12 years ago and often have asked “what took so long?” As you said so eloquently, we bury our true self thinking that is better than claiming our voice and space. When I found my voice, I too wanted to “give back” and help others somehow. I started a podcast called “Women Who Stutter: Our Stories” to give voice and life to the stories we women have held in our hearts and away from others. I had never met another person, or woman, who stutters until my big “coming out party.” I now take pride in how much I have grown through the very thing I feared for so long: speaking.

    Your account is lovely and honest and poignant and so needed to be heard. I was planning to go to the ISA World Congress in Iceland this past June, but a series of unavoidable happenings and poor health kept me away. I was delighted to read here that you went and felt so empowered. And for your desire to want tp help others. I loved that you thanked some of the women who helped you and now you are paying it forward. Bravo.

    Sometime, if you would like, perhaps you’d like to add your voice to the wonderful treasure trove of women’s voices that are reflected and that shine in the podcast. (www.stutterrockstar.com)

    I am so happy to have read this. I raised a toast to you as I read.


  4. Hello Pamela Thank you so much for your kinds words when I read them I just sat here and cryed as it is so humbling when you realise that some other strong women with a stammer has walked in your shoes and they really understand you.I am paying it forward because Anita Blom has mentored me and Alexis parker and I met on line first then we met in Cardiff and we feel like sisters brought together by God and a having a stammer. I would be really honoured to share my story on your page .I hope we can stay in touch .xxxxxxxThank You so much .

  5. This piece was beautifully written. I really loved how you didn’t give up on your dreams despite what other people said. It makes me sad to read that people put the idea into your head that you couldn’t follow your dreams. What angered me the most was how you wrote that people called you a “stupid girl”. No one should ever be called that, especially for something that you can not help. Those negative comments will only plant a seed in your mind that is not true. You are an inspiration and showed me that no matter what people say, follow your dreams.

  6. Thank you so much for kind thoughts and it really moved me as you seemed to understand the experiences I talked of. I was fortunate I had people who have given me time understanding and encouragement, and the discovery of stammering communities and the people in them are such an inspiration and so encouraging. And the children parents and colleagues who accepted me for who I am.

  7. Thank you for sharing your story and experience with stammering. I am currently a Speech Language Pathologist graduate student and I appreciate reading these stories in order to learn and help educate others about stammering. From your story, I will help future clients with a fluency disorder by giving them encouragement, love, and support.

    • Hello rebefost Thank you for your kind comments I really appreciate them. Encouragement, love, support and little steps to building up self empowerment which helps us all.

  8. Phyllis,

    I love that you characterize “speaking up” as a life-long journey. In my past ignorance, I’ve thought of stuttering as something you can emotionally overcome earlier in life. I’ve met older adults who are still on their journey; it’s clearly not about “getting over it”. Thank you for sharing your experiences of growth. I imagine that each small win adds fuel to a person’s confidence. In your way of putting it, a seed that has blossomed. In my future practice with people who stutter, one of my main goals is to help parents understand the stuttering experience so that they can create a positive communication environment with their children. Children remember all the hurtful things said to them, as you can attest, and it’s a totally preventative issue with the right education.


  9. Hello mandypandy thank you for your kind comments it was good to hear. I loved your empathy and understanding of your goal ”is to help parents understand the stuttering experience so that they can create a positive communication environment with their children.” I loved this statement because it is close to my heart due to my personal experience. I was really moved when I late in life had access to stuttering communities and I realised my experience of my child hood and how my stuttering was dealt with wasn’t at all uncommon. This really helped me heal move on and the amazing Anita Blom’s wise words that now it was ”my turn to pay if forward ‘I also loved what you said about it being a totally preventive issue with the right education. If you have any further questions or I can be of any other help feel free to just let me know .

  10. Hi Phyllis,
    I really enjoyed your article and unique story of developing your voice! Your story is truly an inspiration for individuals who stutter to not focus on becoming more fluent. Instead, they should focus on finding their voice and chasing their dreams. As a student, I feel more confident in advocating and supporting my future clients who stutter. Do you feel like the advancement of technology is beneficial in helping individuals who stutter connect with other people who stutter? I hope your story speaks to the seeds of others and help them to branch out!


  11. Keyra, thank you for your comments, I felt you really understood my story, and I loved your question, it struck a chord with me, it made me think and realise yes that is what has freed me up and brought such healing to me. The advancement of technology has been very beneficial to me in helping me to connect with other people who stammer. I have learnt so much from these inspiring people. I live in New Zealand and although I have very limited technical skills on the computer. With out the skills I do have I would never have discovered amazing stuff such as Stammering communities, conferences for people with a stutter and all the inspirational people I met at these conferences. The face book pages to support people who stutter. All this led me to get to know People who have helped changed my life such as Alexis Parker who is now my sister from another country, God, and having grown up with a stutter and we just got each other. Christine Simpson, and the opportunity to have the mentoring and wisdom of Anita Blom. When at the Iceland conference all the workshops I attended were amazing and inspiring. But one that may also help answer your question was run by a man called Erik Raj. Eric uses technology when he works with his young clients. Thanks again your thought provoking question.

  12. Phyllis- I greatly enjoyed reading your paper. Your likening of your hopes and dreams to a seed created a clear image in my mind, and Dianna’s ability to help nurture your seed to fruition was beautiful. It inspired me to fulfill that role in someone else’s life. I am glad that you emphasized the importance of social support and was impressed that you sought that out through publication in magazines. Access to support groups, organizations, and information regarding stuttering has become quite accessible through internet and social media today. Have you seen changes in how stuttering is viewed by the general population and how individuals who stutter cope through access to these resources? While I am glad that you have found joy and fulfillment through your trials and triumphs, it was disheartening to read about your experiences as a child. How would you recommend educating a parent who does not understand stuttering or how to respond to their child when they stutter? Thank you for sharing!

  13. Katie-Thank you for your comments you are right access to support groups really led my journey. I had never heard of a stuttering community or about conferences. You get to meet and be inspired by brave people, you also realise in my case for the first time that I was by no means alone in what I experienced as a child .In answer to your question I think todays parent has better understanding and support. by what you wrote I think you have the empathy and compassion to inspire others.

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