'My Journey, My Voice' exhibition

Christine Birney | 06.11.2015

Christine Birney from Fermanagh 'represented' stammering in an RCSLT exhibition on communication disabilities in the Northern Ireland parliament buildings, in November 2015.

Did I ever think that I'd be in Parliament Buildings, Stormont, Belfast? Not a hope, but I was!

On Monday 2nd November, with Eleanor who is the minister of my church, I made the trip from Fermanagh at 6:30am to Stormont Estate in Belfast for the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) exhibition entitled 'My Journey, My Voice'. The exhibition featured stories and portraits of people with different types of communication disabilities in Northern Ireland, not just a stammer.

The event started at 10am but we arrived at around 9:15 to find the location of the gallery and to miss the crowds gathering up.

When I saw my portrait hanging, my heart skipped a beat (or two). It was absolutely massive!

When I arrived at the long gallery and saw my portrait hanging, my heart skipped a beat (or two). It was absolutely massive! But then when I saw the other eight portraits, mine didn't seem as bad!

In the morning I got a chance to listen to all the stories in the exhibition, except my own. I tried three times before lunch to listen to it, but the sound of my own voice put a lump in my throat and sent my emotions flying. But I managed to listen to it after lunch when I had 'an overload of caffeine' to settle the nerves!

When I did hear it, a sense of pride was felt, and I was a bit less tense and anxious.

There was also an opportunity to meet the other eight inspirational participants - two of whom I'm going to keep in touch with. I chatted too with MLA's (Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly) and councillors.

I had the chance to speak to speech and language therapy therapists and SLT students - which was amazing. I also spoke to the CEO of the RCSLT.

There was an opportunity for lots of photos to make memories of the exciting day.

Many people told me what an inspiration I am, when I managed to give a 'small' thank you talk when I was presented with a thank you gift.

If I have learnt just one thing from the past few days - that is 'to be yourself'. Not anyone else. I'm looking forward to that moment when I'm talking in work about my trip and experiences on Monday to Stormont!

Thankfully Mary, my speech and language therapist, was there for me, to help me when I most needed it. I didn't need to be 'rescued' too much but I'm still glad she was there for support. I'm also glad and proud that Mary put me forward for nomination for the exhibition. She wouldn't have done it if she didn't think I was capable of taking part. I proved to her, myself and my friends and family that she did the right thing.

We arrived back home at around 6pm, tired but full of chat about the day.

A huge thank you to Mary for the nomination, and to the RCSLT NI for choosing me to be a participant - it was a huge honour.

Yes I still stammered quite a bit on Monday but if I didn't it would have looked stupid because that's where I was expected to display my communication difficulty.

Did it hold me back or stop me? Most definitely NOT.

My journey

My stammer has had a knock-on effect on my ability to communicate at various different levels. Making friends at school, was one of the first barriers that I encountered, and a difficult one. Also, as a result I was a victim of bullying throughout my 12 years at school.  However, a handful of people through those years saw past my struggle and stammer. Now my best friends, have stood by me, stood up for me and stayed with me through each battle and every victory. Nevertheless, I have now came to realise that through the journey of 'growing up', there is nothing as cruel as school children, and it is something that was highlighted from having a stammer.

I feel that those difficulties have enabled me to overcome communication barriers, and strengthened me as a person

Nevertheless, as the years have gone on, I have come to realise that 'my journey' and 'my voice' have been unique. This unique journey, has given me many key qualities in life, one of which is confidence. Although every day is a different one, and each day brings different challenges, I feel that those difficulties have enabled me to overcome communication barriers, and strengthened me as a person. These challenges have allowed me to embark on a journey, that is both difficult and rewarding. For instance, since starting speech and language therapy in February 2013, I have 'found' my voice.

Furthermore, I am not the only person who can see the changes in how I approach challenges, and how I let these barriers impact my life. Family and friends, have both commented on the stronger and more confident person that 'my journey' has made me. By no means is my stammer gone, but it is nothing that cannot be challenged through a slow, relaxed, and gentle approach to words.

'The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step'.

'Life is a river, I'll go with the flow and where it will take me, The Lord only knows'.

My stammer does not define who I am, in fact it has made me the person I am today.