Throwback Thursday – Primary School Sports Day & Christmas Nativity

My Primary school years as a young boy were joyous and I looked forward to attending school every day. I thoroughly enjoyed my time and considered myself to be popular amongst my year group. I was also fortunate enough to go to secondary school with the majority of friends that I had already made.

Looking back now, I realise that young people are much more accepting of the person you are. They won’t pre-judge or discriminate against your character, but will simply accept the person you are.

From my primary school days, I am able to retain most memories.

I particularly remember Sports Days. I recall getting worked up and upset before the day of the event at the thought of having to take part in all of the different races in front of all the other children and parents watching.

Every year, I was given the choice whether or not I wanted to take part, and despite the nerves, I always said yes. I believe you should never let your disability get the better of yourself and I believe I still don’t today. I knew I would stand out as being different, but that didn’t matter because I had all of my friends behind me, supporting me. I was told, all I had to do was try my best (despite always coming last)… and for those that know me now, I HATE LOSING!

I remember hearing my friends chant my name, which really spurred me on through the races, despite my struggles. When I crossed the finish line, I would feel an immediate sense of pride and achievement, knowing that I had finished the race, not just from me but from everybody else watching too.

In my opinion, my disability would have been obvious in the way that I held myself. When running, I would clasp my left hand into my right for support, which I believe takes my mind away from what’s physically happening with my leg.

sports-day.jpg

This technique is one I still use today, on a day-to-day basis, as I believe it helps improve my walking. (Pictured below are two examples).

                                       

 

The same scenario of pride and achievement is also relevant at Christmas with the annual school nativity. I remember my year 1 and year 2 teachers, Mrs. Eaton and Mrs. Lester were extremely good at making me feel relaxed with the part that I had to play.

I remember one year, I had one small line to say and I would worry about it for days-on-end. Most years, I would be cast as either a reindeer, one of the three wise men or as a shepherd. I never played a pivotal role and definitely didn’t want too!

nativity.jpg                            nativity1.jpg

I have always been scared of what people think about me from a young age. I know at times, individuals will pre-judge if they see me walking on a bad day or they over-hear me stuttering in conversation. At the moment, this knocks my confidence and bothers me. However, in the future, I hope this will disappear.

I strongly think that people do not feel sorry for you, but they will feel a sense of pride for you if you are seen to be trying your best. Hearing my friends supporting me through thick and thin has helped strengthen me to be the person I am today. Therefore, the lesson that should be learned is to try, as hard as it may be, to be proud of yourself and the person you are.

Strategies & Techniques I use for​ coping with a stutter & how I feel when it happens

In this article, I will briefly explain the different techniques that I have incorporated into my everyday speech, why I want to get help with my fluency as well as discussing how it feels when I stutter.

At present, I am receiving weekly speech therapy from both the NHS and privately. At the moment, my mindset on my speech is negative. I would much rather not say anything at all, rather than attempting to say a word that I know I might stammer on.

Therefore, it is my therapist’s task to help change my mindset and to get me thinking more positively. I believe they can really help me build my confidence back up, as well as improving my fluency techniques.cant

The reason I have taken on regular speech therapy is primarily because I want to improve my confidence. Communication plays an important role in virtually every job. I need to improve my confidence when speaking, as I am enrolling in September on an MA Sports Journalism course at Salford.

In terms of fluency, I have always struggled to pronounce plosive sounds, particularly when starting a sentence. Also, I predominantly struggle with the bilabial plosive sounds, which are words that begin with /b/ and /p/.

english-mystery-2-22-728

I also particularly struggle with the bilabial nasal sound /m/ and the voiced labio-velar sound /w/.

Below are the techniques that I use when coping with my stutter.

Note: The techniques that I use are primarily bad habits and wouldn’t necessarily be recommended by a speech therapist. The techniques that I refer to are also not the scientific terms that a speech therapist would use:

  1. Adding extra words into a sentence in order to get round the word that I think I may stutter on in order to gain fluency.
  2. Avoidance/changing words in a sentence that I know I will be unable to say.
  3. Lying. Sometimes it is just easier to tell a little white lie.
  4. Pausing. This is the main technique that my speech therapists are trying to encourage.  When I stutter, I must stop immediately and not carry on trying to push the word out. When I stop, I must take a breath and try saying the word again.
  5. ‘Running up’. This is the technique that I use the most. I will use a sentence starter in order to get the fluency to say the word that I can’t.
  6. Talking faster. I have a tendency to rush my words in order to get them out when I think that I have fluency in spoken discourse.

Recently, I have turned down work experience opportunities to work at the Blackpool Gazette, as well as having opportunities at other regional newspapers, because I didn’t feel like I had the confidence to take part in spoken communication.

Every time that I stutter, my confidence drops just that little bit more.  This, especially happens when I have to talk in a situation with individuals who I don’t know. This could be, for example in an interview scenario, ordering food at a restaurant, or even just talking with friends. When someone is unable to decipher what I am trying to say, my confidence drops dramatically.

My confidence is currently at an all time low. However, I am hopeful that – with the help of my speech therapists and encouragement from friends and family – I can turn this around and in the long term boost my confidence back up to where it needs to be!

 

 

 

The worry that something might happen again

In this article, I will explain the thoughts that go through my head whenever I feel slightly poorly.

For most people, I would have thought they would accept that sometimes your body can pick up viruses or you can generally just feel unwell for a variety of different reasons. But, whenever I’m ill, have a headache, feel sick or have any other kind of ailment, I always assume the worse. I automatically panic and begin wondering if it could be something more serious and hence be related to me having another stroke.

However hard, I try to tell myself that it was over 18 years ago that I had my stroke. Although, there is always that niggling feeling in the back of my mind that any illness could be the start of something serious.

I could be watching TV, I could be out with friends or I could be driving somewhere, but whenever I feel that slightest thing wrong with me, I panic!

I resort to checking whether I can move my face to both sides, whether I can speak clearly without it being slurred or whether I can raise my arms. I go through the symptoms which you should do if you are having a stroke:FAST

I think to myself, is something really happening again?

This is why my friends and family call me a hypochondriac. If I have a cold, headache or temperature I always assume the worst, I think I’m dying! It’s now a standard joke I have between my girlfriend, Emily and Mum, Sheena.

Realistically, of course, I’m sure that I will be fine. I take precautionary medication every day in the form of 75MG of Clopidogrel in order to thin my blood and keep me from the risk of having another stroke. I’m now just as likely to have a stroke as anybody else in the world, right?! Try telling my brain that!

I believe this will always be the case. Of course, I’m going to worry and everybody tells me that it is completely normal.

My strength of character helps me through this process, even though deep inside I am continually worrying. I hope, I come across as a determined and positive person to all that know me, and that my stroke will NEVER define the person that I am.

I have been in hospital fairly frequently over the past 2-3 years. Granted, this has sometimes been my fault. Whether it’s been for undercooking beef burgers in my first year at university and ending up with severe food poisoning, or whether it’s going in, on the precaution of having stomach pain and then resulting to having my appendix removed.

I believe I have been desperately unlucky with my health and the number of experiences I’ve had to go through in hospital. I now get totally paranoid about being in a hospital and worry greatly. I even work myself up to feeling physically sick at the thought of having to enter a hospital.

This, I acknowledge is ridiculous as I have nothing but admiration and gratitude for how the staff in hospitals work and care for their patients.

 

 

A week in the life of Alec Whitaker 12/02/18 – 18/02/18 – London trip

This week has been pretty eventful.

Mum decided a few weeks ago that it would do us good to have a break away, visiting family near London. I agreed at the time but had temporarily forgotten about Valentines Day! Of course it was only fair that I took Emily out for a Valentines meal beforehand.

It was actually nice to do something with her on a different date, as the 14th February is not a good date for me to remember. It was on this day that I had my stroke 18 years ago. I splashed out the cash and took her to Rio Ferdinand’s Italian Restaurant – Rosso’s and then on to The Alchemist for cocktails afterwards.

rosso

My disability came into play, which of course it inevitably does on numerous occassions  when we were in London. Mum and I decided to have a day out in the city and decided to eat at a desserts restaurant in Soho called Amorino.  (We didn’t intend on going into Soho on purpose.. we just came across it)!

amorino

I ordered a waffle with vanilla ice-cream and Mum ordered a crepe with mango ice-cream. I found it rather difficult cutting my waffle as we were only supplied with plastic knives and forks and as a result I dropped my waffle from the plastic plate onto the floor.. what a waste!

I have always been uncomfortable when eating around other people and I know I come across as a fussy eater! The majority of the time, this is not actually the case. I have to choose food that I know I can eat with just my right hand as I struggle to hold both a knife and fork.

Over the years I have been supplied with numerous adapted utensils but I haven’t felt comfortable enough using these in a public environment.

** On a side-note many are not aware and do not realise that for some your taste buds change when you have a stroke **

Mum tells me how I was always a fantastic eater before my stroke and I can remember loving my food and meal times.

In London, my stammer was a problem when we went to the cinema. We took my cousins to see Coco – the new Disney film, which I think the children were looking forward to more than us!

I was mortified at the time and am now quite angry when I look back at what took place. When I was asked if I would like anything to eat/drink my words got stuck. I had it pre-planned in my head what I wanted to say – “A large sweet popcorn and Coke please” although this did not come. I got myself all flustered and worked up and heavily stuttered on the word ‘sweet’.

To my surprise, the woman behind the counter started to mimic my speech. I didn’t know what to do, so I continued trying to push the word out as my Mum was unsure on what I wanted to say. In hindsight we should have made a complaint and we will possibly still do so.

Overall, my break away in London did me the world of good. It was lovely spending time with relatives and I felt that I was able to relax and unwind. Nevertheless, I acknowledge that I am still a little withdrawn at the moment and would like to apologise to cousin Ben for not being very sociable when we saw you.

Furthermore, although my confidence is currently at rock bottom, I feel more positive within myself especially, when I took the lead of navigating the London transport system, with Mum following in my footsteps. I felt totally in control which in turn boosted my confidence and morale.

Of course it goes without saying that a bit of therapeutic retail shopping on Oxford Street was involved, which certainly boosted my spirits!

Family traumas which have recently affected me and my disability

Sadly, on the 15th December 2017 my Dad, Ray Whitaker aged 63 passed away.

dad 4

My Dad, similarly to me had a stroke four years ago, which paralysed his left side. Sadly, he was not able to make any sort of recovery and was left wheel chair bound.

As a result of being in hospital the doctors discovered from X-Rays that Dad had developed lung cancer. Dad battled his cancer and had regular chemo and radiotherapy.

In September 2017 we got the news that his cancer had spread and was terminal. Dad insisted he wanted to continue having regular therapy in order to try & fight the illness, but sadly this was not successful.

Dad eventually lost his fight to cancer on the 15th December, and was cremated at Carleton Crematorium on the 29th December.

I have so many fond memories of my Dad. I think its fair to say that I am still grieving and will be for a long time to come.

7 weeks later we got the news that my Dad’s Mum, Bessie Whitaker had sadly passed away at the age of 94. She had also suffered from having a stroke and had, had dementia for many years.

It is my Nanna’s funeral on the 23rd February 2018 where she will be laid to rest with her husband (who was also called Alec) and now son, Ray. I know attending the funeral will bring back all of the emotion I suffered on the 29th December. This will be another extremely challenging and upsetting time.

I have lost a part of me with losing my Dad. I’m sure I am not the person I was before and I believe that my personality is certainly not the same.

At present, I seem to be grieving not only emotionally but also physically with the trauma of losing my Dad and then Nanna.

The loss of these family members has significantly affected my fluency of speech and confidence. Recently, I have struggled sleeping and fatigue has always been a factor of my disability. I’m finding that this in particular has affected my disability even more with the way I walk.

Alec Whitaker – My life story

This is a brief introduction into my life’s background.

I was born in Blackpool Victoria Hospital on the night of the 30th October 1995 around 23:45PM.. (yes I was almost a Halloween baby)!

me - baby

I led a similar life to that of many of my peers in my first few years as a young child. I was, and still am a part of a close knit family. I attended pre-school, kicked a football around, rode my red fireman Sam bike and went to my friend’s birthday parties. I guess you could have described me as a typical little boy.

fireman-sam.jpg

This was until the 14th Feb 2000 when my life changed completely. At first, my Mum, Sheena was concerned that I seemed unwell when I was unable to keep up with the pace on a family walk. Mum explains now that I had complained about having had a poorly head on the walk. That night I was sick in my bedroom, so Mum put me in the bath to help clean me up. Whilst she was bathing me, she noticed that my face appeared to droop to one side and when trying to get me out of the bath, my legs subsequently had turned to jelly. It was only then, that everybody realised that something was not quite right.

My family took me to the local drop-in centre in Blackpool as it was around 20:00pm. Here the staff were immediately concerned, so my family were told to rush me straight to the Blackpool Victoria Hospital.

It was here, that a specialist was called out from their own home to use the scanning  machines. Around 2.00am I was transferred by ambulance to the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital. I have absolutely no recollection of any of this happening. My family still remember it all vividly and describe it as a horrific nightmare.

blog 3                                 blog 2

After numerous tests and scans I was diagnosed with having had a severe stroke resulting in a left sided hemiplegia as well as a speech impediment.

In the proceeding weeks I underwent rehabilitation via many different avenues. I had educational psychology, occupational therapy, physiotherapy and speech therapy where the staff helped me to walk and to use my left hand again. This was particularly challenging as I was born left handed!

After around a month of intense therapy I was allowed to go home. My family were told the same amount of therapy should continue at Blackpool. This evidently did not happen. The doctors indicated that I would not need as much therapy due to my young age. They explained how I would automatically learn how to use different muscles when going through the growth process. Due to my left sided weakness my body struggled and I therefore would have benefited from more therapy. With this in mind, I was unable to make the recovery that everybody had hoped for.

18 years later, I can proudly say through many ups and downs that I have achieved a great deal. Academically I gained 10 A*-C GCSE’s; an A in ICT and two B’s in Classical Civilization and English Language at A-Level as well as recently graduating with a 2:1 in English Language from Edge Hill University having spent 3 years living independently away from home.

alec

Without the support from my family and friends, I would not have been able to achieve what I have today. In addition, I am also really fortunate to have such a caring and loving girlfriend who has always been there for me.

Growing up from the young age of 4 suffering from a stroke has certainly been challenging. Throw into the mix a temperamental speech stammer and things can get rather difficult. Every one has choices, and looking back my choice was and still is at the age of 22 to not let a disability define the person I am today.

 

 

 

 

My Blog Objectives

Hi, I’m Alec and I’m 22. I had a stroke at the age of 4, which has left me with a left-sided hemiplegia and stutter.

Throughout this blog, I will share my life experiences in relation to coping with a disability. My primary target is to share my thoughts and emotions, in the hope that other’s with similar difficulties will feel that they are NOT alone.

In addition, I hope this blog will make people without a disability realise the consequences of how their hurtful comments, impatience and stares can have such a negative and significant impact on the morale of someone with a disability.