Tuesday, 5 June 2018

My Skern Lodge Experience

To most people, speech and conversation is a basic way of life and it’s the same with me, the only difference is speech and conversation are a lot more difficult for me and others like me. Having a stammer is like having a bird inside your throat; it flutters your words and breaks down your sentence.

I’m at home with my parents because, for some reason, knowing someone your entire life makes it easier to speak. I guess if you know they’re not going to judge you then you’re less afraid to speak in front of and to them. Then there are the ‘other’ people; people from outside your family who you can never be sure will or will not comment or insult your stammer. The real problem for me was that I would rush my sentences; I would try to get each sentence out as quickly as possible so as to avoid prolonging the thing that made me nervous.

I first started stammering at quite a young age. It was frustrating, nothing else but purely frustrating. My family and I finally decided to do something about it, we went to see someone. I don’t remember her name but I remember what it was like. Instead of having someone saying “stop stammering” or “slowdown” she simply said nothing about my stammer that she didn’t need to and she listened like I was giving a perfectly normal sentence. In fact the only time the word stammer even came up was in questions like “how do you feel about your stammer” and “on a scale of one to ten, how bad do you think your stammer is”. Then the proposition for a week away at a stammering course came up. Now of course I wanted to cut my stammer out completely which is one reason I immediately signed up. However, there was another, quite concrete reason for my wanting to go; it looked absolutely amazing fun.
The first time I met other people like me was at Swindon. There was myself, Edward, Ellie, Ben, Kieran, Lewis, Patrick, Rachael and Seb. We were the older pupils, everyone older than the blockbuster (the younger ones basically). The two other members of our group were Claire and Lowri, Claire was our speech therapist and Lowri I believe was there to observe us. 

The bus ride was long, quite long, but it gave us all a chance to get to know each other. It was refreshing to talk someone who had more or less the same trouble as me and could sympathise with me. Many people make the mistake of saying “its ok, lots of people have stammers worse than you” what they don’t realize is that often people don’t care about other people problems, they only care about absolving their problems. I was glad to see this was not the case in Skern lodge. 

There were two parts to the course, the mental analysis of stammering or group time which looked at the issues and mental blocks tied with stammering, and then we had the outdoor activities. Now I’m guessing that most speech and language therapists focus mainly on the psychological basis of stammering, however, at Skern lodge things were done differently. It’s only now that I realize why we did what we did. It’s best if I explain more thoroughly. One of the activities we had to complete was an obstacle course, but we had to complete each part as a team. Now teamwork requires communication and communication requires confidence. Can you see where I’m going with this? Maybe another example; the most important obstacle for me was the climbing wall. I don’t remember the exact size of the wall but it was big, very big, definitely bigger than a house and possibly bigger than a small hill. If I’m being hyperbolic, there is a very good reason for this; I am terrified of heights, so climbing up this wooden mountain was not exactly my idea of a fun hobby. Still, I did it, I climbed the wall and it literally felt I was defying gravity.

The Fluency Trust’s idea was to have the candidates overcome their fears in the physical world so as to make it easier to overcome their fears on the mental plane. It worked to great effectiveness; everything did, the outdoor activities, the group time and the free time. I was once asked if my expectations of this course were fulfilled, my response was no, my expectations were to cut my stammer out of me completely but what instead happened was something much better; I learnt how to accept and work with my stammer. A few weeks after I left Skern I was invited by Lowrto give an interview presentation and I loved it. I felt like Ghandi or Martin Luther King Jr, it may be a slight exaggeration but my point still stands.

To find out more about The Fluency Trust’s residential courses please visit www.thefluencytrust.org.uk 

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