My name is Alexis Connolly. I am 56 years and I’ve had a stammer since I was about 3 or 4. My mum has a stammer and my late sister Andrea had one too. We were such a support to each other. Growing up as a child and young adult was very difficult. My stammer made me very shy & embarrassed. I wasn’t very chatty in the outside world. I had years of speech therapy but nothing helped me. I gained more confidence with age. My stammer got much better when I came into my 40’s. I don’t really know what changed. I’m in a happy place in my life, it’s been a struggle but I made it. Life is good.
My story begins in 1967 when I was 4, and it was my first day at school. I couldn’t say my name, and I spent play times crying in the outside toilets, prefab buildings which were built after the war. I missed my mum so much. I had been pried from her arms that morning. This was my school for the next 7 years. I did settle down and make friends, and I was happy there. It was a small school, and I was the only child with a stammer, but it was ok. I didn’t feel different and was happy. I loved to roller skate, and I did a presentation to my classmates when I was 10 years old. I took in my roller skates and my awards, and my classmates clapped and cheered after I had finished. Happy Days.
When I was 11, I went to secondary school, which is from the ages of 11 to 16 years. The transition from a small infant/junior school to a school with 2000 pupils was such a massive wrench for me. I was split up from all my friends I had known since the age of 4. We were all put into different “houses.” Mine was “Rockingham House,” and here I stayed for the next 5 years. My first memory was again having to say my name in front of the whole classroom, who were also complete strangers to me. I could hear the sniggers all around me. I did make friends, but my biggest passion was athletics and netball. I was on both the athletics team and the “A” netball ball team, and I remember winning the 400 metres relay with my other 3 teammates. I won the javelin throw. I was very sporty, good at sports, and loved it. I wasn’t very academic, but I always tried hard and got “A’s” for effort and hated having to read aloud in my English class. I loved history, English language, and English literature, and I achieved “O” level in these subjects. I couldn’t wait to leave school and left in 1980.
I quite liked the idea of being a cook in the army and went for an interview, but I was refused entry because of my stammer, which was so bad. Throughout my secondary school years, I did attend speech therapy, but it really was quite archaic. I would be made to speak like a robot, which did make me fluent, but I couldn’t keep it up in the outside world. My mum took me to a hypnotherapist and elocution lessons for years, but nothing really helped. I went for an interview to work in an office, but I had no type writing skills. My stepfather knew a man who owned a garage and he gave me a job in the parts department. I stayed there for 10 miserable years, too scared to leave or change in any way, and I just coped with my stammer as best as I could. I can honestly say that was my worst decade.
Moving forward to 1991, I got married and had 2 children, a boy and a girl. My biggest fear was that they would stammer, too. They both started to stammer, but both grew out of it by the age of 4. To make ends meet, after leaving the garage, I used to clean people’s houses and do their ironing, any job where I didn’t have to speak to anyone. When my children started school, I got a job as a cleaner in a hospital. This job I got through someone I knew. Again, a job where I didn’t have to speak to anyone suited me just fine. I stayed as a cleaner for a year when I saw an advert in the hospital for a radiology assistant. I applied, not holding out much hope, but I knew that I wanted to do something different. I went for the interview and walked in and recognised the lady sitting there as a friend of my mum’s. I was very nervous and really struggled with my speech, and I felt quite upset and down when I walked out. My phone rang a few days later, and it was the lady who interviewed me, and she had rung to say that I had got the job. I was thrilled. I knew I had been offered the job because of my mum, and I now had to prove how worthy I was of it. As it turned out, she had changed my life forever. I owe her everything just because she believed in me. She was to leave the next year to work in oncology and we had a new manager.
I loved my new job and made friends. I was a radiology assistant for 10 years. I was interested in another area in the hospital called fluoroscopy, which was part of radiology. I began to work in that area, too. One day, I asked my new manger if I could train to assist the doctors in theatres. I was fascinated by their job. They were so clever, and it was such interesting work. There was no job as an assistant, but they thought it was a good idea, so I was sent on training courses and trained in theatres, and after 2 years, I qualified as an “Assistant Practitioner” in Radiology, where I am to this day and I love it. I am so grateful for all the people on my journey for putting their faith and trust in me.
Moving on a few years, my children are both grown up. I got divorced and bought a house and decided I wanted to meet someone. My speech improved over time. I never had any more speech therapy. I just think with age, I cared less what people thought, and with my job, my confidence soared because of what I had achieved. I think I’ve had to work hard and be good at my job and prove that I was worth the risk. I met a man called Sean on the internet. We met up, and I was so nervous. I thought I had told him that I had a stammer, but he said that I didn’t. After our introductions, Sean said, “Do you always talk like this?” I said, “Yes” and thought that was the end of that, because with my insecurities he wouldn’t be interested, which wasn’t the case when he asked me to marry him 3 weeks later.
I had never heard of the British Stammering Association and came upon it quite by chance. Wow, lots of people who spoke like me. I was thrilled and so excited and joined. We had set the wedding date for 31st March 2018 and I was getting so nervous about saying my vows that I posted in the BSA face book page and got loads of responses. One which stood out was a lady named Phyllis Edwards from New Zealand. I was amazed that the BSA face book page could be seen across the world. Phyllis was so encouraging to me. Her reply was from her heart and was so lovely. We became friends from the first day. We messaged each other and told each other about our lives and stammering journey. It was the same year, 2018, that The BSA was going to hold a stammering conference in Cardiff, Wales. I wanted to go so badly to meet other PWS. Phyllis told me that she and her husband, Don, wanted to attend the conference and were trying to work out how this could be possible for them. I was so excited that I was going to meet Phyllis. I just couldn’t believe that they were going to fly half round the world. We made arrangements together and stayed in the same hotel. Perfect. When we met, we were just so thrilled to see each other. We were like kindred spirits who had been walking parallel paths that had joined. We just clicked. The 4 of us, Phyllis, Don, Sean, and I had a meal together and just chatted and chatted like we had known each other for years. I knew from then that I had found a lifelong friend and my Kiwi sister.
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