Thursday 27 October 2016

The doctor who overcame a stammer: 'Don't go through such great lengths to hide it from everyone'

Hospital doctor Constantin Manole developed a stammer when he moved to Ireland as a child, but with the help of a new programme, he has learned to view it from a new perspective

Published 21/07/2015 | 02:30

Dr Constanin Manole advises people with a stammer to tackle their feared speaking situations. Photo: Arthur Carron.
Dr Constanin Manole advises people with a stammer to tackle their feared speaking situations. Photo: Arthur Carron.

The story of how my stammer began is not a typical one, because it started relatively late and there was a definite trigger that set it off.

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Constantin Manole is my name. I am 22 years old and originally from Romania. I have recently begun working as a hospital doctor - a role that has been challenged in many ways by my stammer.

As you can imagine, mine might be a daunting profession for a person with a speech difficulty as it involves a huge amount of verbal communication. That is certainly how I felt until a short time ago.

Until the age of 10, I never had any issues or difficulties with my speech. Then, I moved to Ireland from Romania, and within about a year, I began to experience infrequent blocks on certain words. Looking back, I think the cause was definitely the transition to speaking in English. I would often rush and not give myself time to speak and to think, and tried to keep up with the fast native English speakers.

I used to worry a lot about what my English sounded like and how easily other people would understand me. At the time, I was not really bothered by a stammer. For example, I had no problem reading aloud fluently in class. It's only when I entered my last years of secondary school, around age 17 or 18, that I became more self-conscious, and realised that something was not quite right with my speech.

The pressure suddenly intensified when I entered medical school. I was confronted with a lot of new situations, such as having to speak in front of groups and making reports and phone calls to doctors on the wards. I firmly believed that if people noticed I did not speak confidently, or even "blocked" on words, I would be seen as less competent than my colleagues.

This led to me holding back from speaking in a lot of situations, and frequently using tricks, such as word substitution and avoidance of phone calls or group discussions.

I managed to cope with this situation, but I knew it was causing me a lot of stress, and was preventing me from enjoying my time in college as much as I should, and more importantly might affect my job later on.

I did not know how to describe the difficulties I was having with my speech, as I thought they were due to things like shyness or lack of confidence.It was only after watching The King's Speech that I realised this was a problem other people had as well. I told my parents about my difficulties for the first time. I even visited my GP and told him about the problem. He put me in touch with a speech therapist called Jonathan Linklater and I arranged a consultation.

The experience for me was groundbreaking. As soon as I walked in, I instantly felt like all the fear was gone and I could speak freely. While there I talked for over an hour, without experiencing a single block. It was then that I realised the problem was mainly psychological.

I learned about the concept of having a stammer, which was something I would definitely not classified myself as having. I always believed that a stammer meant having visible difficulty saying a word, whereas in my case, the word would simply not come out so I would use another instead, and I would always sound fluent to a listener. I certainly never knew about the psychological side of it.

I began to do my own research, and eventually learned about the McGuire Programme.

After watching a documentary on YouTube and buying Dave McGuire's book, I applied to a course in the summer of 2013. The course essentially focuses on two things: teaching a way to control your speech using breathing and pauses, and working through the psychological side of having a stammer.

It is entirely run and organised by people who themselves have had problems with stammering, but have now controlled it and become incredibly eloquent speakers.

After the very first day, I could see the difference having a good physical technique made to my speech. On the course, for the first time in over a decade, I felt like I could truly express myself confidently, and realised how much stress I was putting myself through by trying to hide my stammer. I even met other doctors who had a stammer and excelled in their careers.

I have since been to many more of the courses, and having been helped so much by the excellent support network. I recently became certified as a coach myself.

During my last college year, I gave many presentations to my class, some of which I volunteered for. I underwent my final clinical exams in medicine, and for the first time, I felt like I spoke confidently and was on my way to sounding like a professional.

The one piece of advice I would give to a person challenged by a stammer is to tackle their feared speaking situations. This is something the McGuire Programme encourages. Our stammer, no matter how mild or severe, will only hold us back as much as we allow it. Being a good communicator doesn't mean being completely fluent, or speaking like everyone else.

We should always push our boundaries. The worst that can happen is, we'll feel very uncomfortable for a little while. No matter the outcome, it lets us take charge, and we'll become stronger because of it.

Finally, the most important thing of all, is to accept yourself as a person who stammers. Don't go through such great lengths to hide it from everyone. We always expect people to react negatively, but this is almost never the case. Stammering is very common, and many people know at least one person who is affected.

Doing something as simple as telling your classmates or your employer about it can take a lot of pressure and fear away from it.

We don't necessarily fear a situation where we have to speak, but we fear the possibility of stammering.

Being honest about it will take away a lot of that fear, and also make us more satisfied because we're truly being honest with ourselves.

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