At 17, I was months away from starting college, I had applied for courses based on my ability to communicate during them, i.e. I hadn’t applied for primary school teaching due to my stammer I believed no-one would want a stammerer teaching their children.
My speech defined who I was and the path I was choosing to take. The day I got my leaving cert results was the day I joined the McGuire Programme.
On that 1st night when a McGuire graduate asked me “if speech was no longer an issue for u what would like to achieve” I couldn’t answer this question because speech not being an issue for me was so far beyond the realm of reality for me, it was something I rarely dared to think about….. My life changed 3 days later.
I began my BA degree in Galway and qualified with a degree in psychological studies and sociology with politics. During my 3 years I achieved those things that were unimaginable to me.
I began by being able to answer my dad’s office phone. Make my own phone calls and order my own dinners… My dad no longer had to do all this for me… Not to mention being able to introduce myself whenever I was asked my name.
Tutorials in college were an opportunity to speak and put forward my opinions…. something I have a lot of but rarely put across because that would mean stammering and thus the credibility of my argument being doubted.
I gave my final year presentation without a second thought… presentations to speech and language classes (I utterly hated speech therapists until I joined the programme) on how it feels to have a stammer and some of the issues that go on in our heads that influence our ability to take on what speech therapists advise.
I had changed my direction to psychology and needed to complete another years study to have my degree in psychology.
I went to Cardiff for this year’s study, making this decision would have been torturous with my stammer being out of control, leaving the protection of all those who knew they had to make the calls and order my food.
My speech didn’t enter the equation at this point in my life. My speech was no longer an issue for me and… well… my life had suddenly so many potential avenues to explore that were once the unthinkable!!!!
I began to dream about being a primary school teacher again - I went and volunteered in a school for a year a teacher’s assistant while in Cardiff and when I returned home my goal of training for teaching was more real than ever.
I went for the interviews, my 1st interview was heartbreaking because all the years work I had put into my speech crashed for those 20 minutes, the fear I had felt about being rejected as a teacher because of my speech got the better of me and my speech suffered.
Following this I spent the next 3 weeks talking to people I knew in the education system and I realised a lot about what is important as a teacher, by the time I went for my 2nd interview my only goal was to show them that I would be a fantastic teacher and nothing else mattered.
I got that interview! I’m now 9 months through my 18 months course, and please God this time next year I will be applying for jobs as a primary school teacher.
I went on to give a talk/interview at my local church during mission week. They asked for the young people to get involved in 1 mass, so I went to the introduction meeting and they asked for 2 people to be interviewed by the mission priest in front of the parish.
I was the oldest youth there at 21 and so they nominated me themselves! I was nervous because it was in front of several hundred people and everyone from my local community. I spoke about my life growing up with a stammer, I spoke about the things I began to achieve following the McGuire programme and I spoke about life in general.
The response I received was unbelievable, people continued to approach me and congratulate me for months after, because it was something they all said they wouldn’t do themselves…
But I had begun to dream the unthinkable… And perhaps one of the biggest of all achievements for me was a childhood dream, a dream before I realised what having a stammer would mean for me…
I entered into the Rose of Tralee at my county stages - this involved 3 interviews, one on my own and one group interview, followed by an interview on stage with the host for the night.
This was in front of a large audience of people including my family my friends and a lot of people from my county.
I also read a poem in Irish on the night, the significance of this for me was that during my 1st interview for teaching my speech caved on me when I was speaking Irish, this was a big cancellation for me and a chance to prove to myself I can achieve those once dared to dream ambitions and my speech will no longer decide for me what I can and can’t do!
The McGuire Programme gave me the confidence to dream and then the support to achieve.
I have been on the programme for many years now and I am privileged to be in a position to give back to the programme in helping all the people who join the programme and put their faith and trust in us.
As a coach and an instructor I enjoy the challenge of helping other people with their stammer - tackling their fears and their speech and helping to begin to dream about the things they would love to achieve “if speech was no longer an issue” for them.