Never Give Up: My Life Living with a Stammer – Alexis Connolly

About the Author: 

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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Comments

Never Give Up: My Life Living with a Stammer – Alexis Connolly — 21 Comments

  1. Thank you for this post and appreciate you sharing. Does it bother you that you didn’t want your children to stutter because if they did stutter wouldn’t you have then struggled to accept them?

    Also love to hear more about what growing up with a family of stutterers is like. My first impression is that it would make the stuttering experience easier because your whole family experiences and feels what you feel. But looks like that wasn’t the case? Love to hear your thoughts on this!

    • Hi Kunal, thank you for taking the time to read & respond to my story. There is so much more to share about the mental state of me with my stammer. My stammer had total & utter control of my life, the shame & embarrassment I felt was overwhelming. I once as a teenager took a couple of valium I got hold of & took them thinking if I was relaxed I wouldn’t stammer but it didn’t work. I didn’t want my children to suffer as I did, at that time I couldn’t think of anything worse than having a stammer of course looking back that was silly to think but my stammer consumed my every waking thought. I now support the charity for children who stammer, the support & encouragement children have today is fantastic (of course I would have accepted my children if they had a stammer and would have done anything to help & support them) There was nothing for my generation growing up. I have met a lot of fellow stammerers now & just love being in their company,we meet ever so often & have walk & talks & go for meals together, its wonderful. My mum has been my rock all my life, she has a very mild stammer and it was never as bad as mine but we have always been there to support each other. I met Phyllis Edwards through having a stammer who has been so supportive of me and now a kindred spirit & lifelong friend. Best wishes to you. Xx

  2. Hello Alexis I am so proud of you and thank yuo again for doing this as a sister with me. I am sure you will love and grow from this experience.The comments you receive are so interesting and positive. xxx

    • Hi Phyllis, thank you for encouraging me to do this paper. If I can help one person to believe in themselves I will be happy.Thank you my kiwi sister for your love & support over the years. Xxx

  3. Hi Alexis — your story is so inspiring! You made my heart sing. I’m Mom to a 24 year old who stutters and is doing well(meaning he still stutters but is living life to the fullest). I love your message, “I cared less what people thought, and with my job, my confidence soared because of what I had achieved.” I’m also an author (Voice Unearthed) and parent advocate for families with kids who stutter. We continually encourage this message – rather than focusing on fixing our kids, we need to help them to develop resilience and engage in the world around them with passion. In fact, focusing on fixing comes with risks, as we learned. Thank you for sharing your story!

    • Hi Dori, thank you for your reply, I have read your wonderful book, it was such a wonderful breath of fresh air to read, your advocate of encouraging & accepting of a stammer is so the way forward with children who stammer. I have been all my life trying to be fixed to speak “normally m” the pressure to speak “fluently” overwhelmed me and was in my every thought every day. I tried so hard to speak & the more I tried the worse my stammer got, it was like being in a vicious circle & I couldnt get out of. The tears I shed over the years was awful, that sad beautiful little girl trying her best to speak. My Dad hated my stammer and tried to smack it out of me which made me too scared to speak to him or anyone. My heart goes out to children & young people who stammer and I support Action for stammering children. I’m a friend of Arthur Young and I know he holds you in high regard. Your son will be ok with a mum like you who has got it so right in supporting & encouraging him & his stammer. My thoughts are that the world needs to accept people who are different and who communicate in a different way. We stammer that’s all. Best wishes to you & your family. Xx

  4. Alexis, you have come some way…I have just loved your ‘get up and go’ attitude and have met you on a few of the StammaStriders events and we have had great chats. You and Sean are just a great couple and you should be very proud of all that you have achieved.

    Funny that part about the lady who gave you the job as the Radiology assistant, everything happens for a reason, good people are out there and I think that is an important thing to remember. The world is not always horrid and scary, there are good people and great things can happen. I have met my fair share and they open the doors that you must walk through and then hold open for others….

    And you most certainly do.

    Hope to see you again one day soon.

    Mandy

    • Hi Mandy, it’s so lovely to hear from you, yes, the lady who offered me the job changed my life forever for the best. I was able to buy my own house with the change in job. I have been following you on fb and glad you & your family are going well. Thank you for your lovely comments. I loved meeting you & chatting on our Stamma Striders get togethers you are such a lovely happy bubbly person and have achieved so much yourself. I look forward to getting together again. Keep safe & well and hopefully we’ll meet again soon. Xxx

  5. Hi Alexis, you might remember me from the “From Stuttering to Confidence ” FB group! My speech therapist recommended this site to me, and I just found your entry…and I was like, “hey I know her!” 🙂
    Thank you so much for sharing! I enjoyed hearing your whole story. You are inspirational to me! Blessings to you!

    • Hi Christa, its so lovely to hear from you. Thank you for your kind comments. I hope you are keeping well. I would love you to pm me and tell me how you are doing. Take care xx

  6. Hi Christa, its so lovely to hear from you. Thank you for your kind comments. I hope you are keeping well. I would love you to pm me and tell me how you are doing. Take care xx

  7. Hi Alexis

    We share so much! I too had a tough youth. I too got my first job thanks to my father. I too went from a job I wasn’t happy with, but was hired for a job I never thought I’d like, teaching, and even got to teach all teachers in my village in IT! My life changed after meeting others who stutter. I too met a man with who I just clicked right away, and I moved in with him after just having met him in person for about 14 days (we talked over a longer period though). And I too met your dear friend Phyllis on her road trip to the world congress in Iceland and we felt as it we’ve been friends forever. 🙂

    Life has long and winding roads, but it leads us to places and people we would never have found if we wouldn’t stutter. So happy for sharing your story. I love it.

    Stay safe and keep sharing

    Anita

    • Hi Anita, thank you so much for your kind words & support. I have enjoyed sharing my story. I hope it helps just one person to believe in themselves. Meeting fellow PWS has been wonderful, sharing our stories which all have a similar thread running through. Only a person with a stammer can really empathise and understand what it is like to live with a stammer. Best wishes Xx

  8. Hi Alexis!

    I am a speech-language pathology student and I loved hearing your story, thank you for sharing! I really love to learn different peoples experiences so that I can try and empathize with future clients. Your story helped me learn some things. Thank you!

    • Hello, thank you for taking the time to read my story. If my story helps just one person to believe in themselves that would be wonderful. Even I look back at my life and cant believe how far I have come from the painfully shy girl who could hardly put 2 words together to being on call for emergencies. I owe my life now to so many people who put their faith in me and encouraged me and told me that I could do it. Best wishes & Good luck.Xx

  9. I loved reading this and seeing how much more confident you got speaking! I’m currently getting my masters in speech pathology and have a 3rd grade student on my caseload who is a PWS. In undergrad, they teach us that working on techniques with our clients is the best option; but after hearing your experience, I don’t want to take that approach with him. So far, we have been working on his confidence and making him comfortable talking in front of people. Thank you so much for sharing!

    • Hello, thank you so much for your reply. I agree with you that working on a PWS confidence is paramount, of course there are techniques too but I believe a PWS can be a good & effective communicator. I know an officer James Lang in the British Army & he has a stammer & I went to hear him speak at a conference & the experience made me cry because he didnt care about his stammer and he was a fantastic communicator. People had been trying to “fix” me all my life and I never felt good enough. But my mind set is “I stammer that’s all” Good luck & best wishes to you.

  10. Dear Alexis

    Thank you for sharing your story, and being an encouraging role model.

    Hanan

    • Thank you Hanan for your reply. It means a lot to me, if my story helps and encourages one person, that’s wonderful. Best wishes

  11. Hi Alexis,

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I am an SLP grad student and I have enjoyed reading and learning about your story and your feelings about your stammer. I am glad you got more confidence as you grew older to not care what others thought and embrace yourself fully. Keep sharing your story!

    • Hi Elizabeth, thank you for your reply & kind comments. I’m at peace now with my stammer, I still struggle on little on the phone. I dont think the sick feeling I feel when I hear any phone will will ever go away. I made a phone call today and I am always pleased with my self when the calls ends. I spent so many years avoiding the phone and asking family members to make calls for me. I look back on my life & I amaze myself at how far I have come on in my stammering journey. The insecurities I feel I think will be with me always but I get by & take one day at a time. The world is a more tolerant place for “different” people & having a stammer is just a different form of communication and my hope is that PWS will just be accepted. “We stammer that’s all” Best wishes to you Xx