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. That 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 or be in my dream job of working in early childhood with having had gone through life with a stammer. I feel like having had the opportunity, encouragement and mentoring to speak up, 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.
As soon as I saw the topic for the upcoming online conference for stammering awareness week ‘A Journey of Words, Resilience and Bouncing Back,’ I was bursting to get started. I was grateful and excited to have the opportunity to share how I as a woman with a stutter has survived, cried, laughed, despaired, found love, joy, nearly given up countless times but bounced back, fighting at 100 miles an hour.
It all began when, with my eager but limited computer skill, I was trying to find a romantic getaway for my ever-supportive husband. While I was searching for this holiday, up popped a comment from ‘Alexis Parker Connolly’ stating she was getting married and she was worried about saying her vows. I had no idea what web page I was on, but knew just what she meant. I responded to Alexis post with “don’t worry, love conquers all.” This became the beginning of a sister-ship we both feel was brought together by God, combined with our experiences of how we survived growing up with a stutter, and how we’ve been able to build careers and good relationships.
I messaged Alexis and asked her what she thought about us ‘sisters’ writing a paper together. Alexis responded yes, she would be happy to do that. I too was so happy that Alexis was willing to share yet another positive experience with me, as I had seen and been so proud of the challenges Alexis had set herself and how far she had come. I also knew she would gain even more healing and confidence from it. I had been fortunate to have a paper accepted last year, gaining so much healing and confidence from the positive feedback I had received. I feel this experience of writing the paper gave me the encouragement and strength to push a little further to help others.
I wanted others who may have a stutter to realize at an earlier age than me, that having a stutter can enhance your life and doesn’t limit you following your dreams.
I excitedly messaged Anita Blom, to tell her who I had adopted as a mentor on returning from the London conference, disappointed in myself that I hadn’t taken the opportunity to use the open mic. Anita had been kind and amazing and had challenged me to ‘pay it to forward,’ encouraging and inspiring me while giving her time to mentor me. I valued the fact that she understood the path I was walking. Anita replied and commented on what a good fit this topic would be for us so I felt it reaffirmed that I was on the right track.
I began to realize if I wanted to have a good life, friends, and follow my dreams, then I needed to find ways to cope with stuttering and become more resilient.
For me, I need to be honest and say when situations occur for the first time, although in my experience I do bounce back, depending on the situation sometimes instantly, other times it takes a bit longer. After I have stopped wailing, ranting, crying, putting myself down or being cross, then my problem-solving skills take over and I do develop strategies for next time. For example, introducing myself in a group situation was a nightmare. I always wondered why I couldn’t remember people’s names after they had introduced themselves. I eventually worked out it wasn’t my memory, it was the fact that I wasn’t listening. I was too busy sitting there hoping that I could get the words out when my turn came and that the dreaded moment wouldn’t go on for too long, praying in my head that God would help me be fluent. After all, it was only five words I had to say. “Hello my name is Phyllis.” So I thought easy, I just won’t go to group meetings.
The need to find a solution became crucial when I began my studies to become a qualified early childhood teacher. I was required to attend meetings and seminars. I knew I needed to find a way to help myself because the pain of having to introduce myself was becoming such a burden. I must admit I was tempted to quit but I knew deep down I would never give up on my dream to be a teacher and let myself down or disappoint the people who had encouraged and believed in me and taken the time to care and listen to me. Together they had planted that little seed of self-esteem in me, so their support and belief in me meant so much because I can’t remember receiving much positive affirmation growing up. I resolved to think of a way, to find strategies that were best and honest for me.
The first strategy I thought of was if I managed to get in first by putting my hand up and getting it over with I might just be able to say my name. I was sure this would be a fail-safe strategy but it didn’t work. I couldn’t get the words out and a kind lady rushed up and got me a drink of water as she thought I was choking.
The next strategy I tried was to write the words down and learn them by heart. The phrase I came up with was ‘’hello, nice to meet you all, I am not apologizing for it but I just want you guys to know I have a speech stammer and by the way, my name is Phyllis.” This strategy seemed to work so I continued to put myself in situations where I had to introduce myself. The more I did it the easier it became and the more my confidence and self-worth grew. From the moment I first started using this strategy I knew I needed this safety net as a lifeline but I didn’t want it to be seen as though I was apologizing for having a stutter. I just wanted to explain and then introduce myself. I have never had a negative reaction and often the group leader will come up privately and thank me for sharing, quite frequently. I have also had group members thank me.
In time I came to see that I also felt I was contributing to the group well-being because often at meetings and training seminars there is interactive work where you get to be with one or two people. I put myself in the other person’s shoes. What would it feel like for the people I was partnered with if when it came to my turn, I opened my mouth to speak and it looked to my partner that I might be about to cry or choke. If it wasn’t mentioned in the introduction round, it could distract from the task we had been given. So although I do admit that although this strategy was a lifeline for me, I also used it because I wanted to show respect to others in these group situations.
I was thrilled to get my first job in an early childhood centre. I knew I could show empathy, understanding and be comfortable being part of a collaborative team to work with children and their families. There had always been this niggling worry about taking a mat time. That first time I was so nervous, wondering what would happen if I didn’t get the words out; but I looked at all these happy expectant trusting little faces sitting on the mat, looking up at their new teacher. I had prepared my mat time, but I still wondered when I did stutter, would they laugh or get a fright and cry. I used some props and created an interactive mat time which went well.
The following week I was asked to read an impromptu story at lunchtime. Although I felt pleased and accepted by the team, I had known this situation would arise. I had worried about it, trying to think of ways to cope. I picked up the first book I could find, smiled and said: “I am going to read you a story, if you listen carefully as I am reading you might hear your name and I wonder what exciting things you might get to do.” I began tentatively, also wondering at the same time if the noise my pounding heart was making would drown out the words I was trying to say. I soon realized these children didn’t even notice any pauses, they were far too interested in listening for their name, the name of their friends, what hero they may be or if there would be a surprise in the story.
Children are great teachers with their honesty and accepting nature. For example, Ariki was the first to teach me that being read a story by a teacher with a stutter didn’t matter to him. The lesson I soon learned was it doesn’t matter how long it takes you to read the book, even with long pauses, if you promise to read a book then you must carry through on your word and read it.
Another example that warmed my heart and made me wonder why I ever worried about all this was a young man named Joe, who after I returned from the London conference, was waiting for me with his favorite book, “There’s a hole in my bucket.” Joe pointed to the couch where we had enjoyed many stories. Having been inspired at the conference in Wales where I had heard so many amazing people living their dreams, I was trying to find ways where I could further embrace my stammer at work. After our story as I was pushing Joe on the swing, I plucked up the courage to say “Joe, we have fun, I like reading your books even if takes me a while to get the words out.” Joe didn’t stop swinging, he turned his head and said:
“Phyllis I love you even if you have got a hole in your bucket.”
Whilst embracing my stammer at work, I asked my supervisors and Castle Kids management if I could introduce ‘Dillis Duck’ as an activity at the Centre. They said yes and were very supportive of this idea.
Dillis is a duck that can’t quack like her siblings, but has a squeak that’s helped her help others.
‘Dillis Duck’ began to make regular appearances at Castle Kids Ruru Centre and came along with me to make a guest appearance for the ‘international stammerers’ awareness day to share yet another of her exciting adventures. Dillis never worried about the fact that she couldn’t quack like her brothers and sisters. She was too busy helping people with her kind heart and amazing squeak. When Dillis arrived, four older girls, Eden, Charlotte, Lulu and Lucy greeted Dillis like an old friend. These girls were the first to put their hands up when I asked for some helpers. They said ‘’Phyllis we will help.” They got down on the floor, then the magic moment happened. They each picked up a puppet and then these delightful amazing accepting girls told the story just how I had imagined when writing it. Dillis again emerged the heroine, lots of happy squeaking kind words could be heard. I felt humbled watching the girls and could see the acceptance of me as a teacher. Thank you, girls, for your love and acceptance. I always feel I forget someone but thank you for your part in my journey. Now I feel I can encourage other women that having a stammer doesn’t stop you from following your dreams.
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