My Name... My Name... My Name is Don McLean

Don McLean
older man, white, red shirt, grey sweater

My Name... My Name is Don McLean. My Name... is Don McLean.

For me, these are the scariest words in the English language. And they still are, even though I now think I have not stuttered in saying them for almost 52 years. Since December 1971. That is not to say, for a moment, that it never will happen again. On the contrary. Writing these few words scares the bejesus out of me. I would prefer to let well enough alone. That’s how I have handled it over all these years. And doing so has worked out beyond my wildest expectations. Until now. Until, thanks to CSA National Coordinator Eeva Stierwalt, I found myself feeling a public duty to share with others, my history of stuttering, before it’s too late for anyone to hear about it. I have a sense if I just keep my mouth shut and plod along that in the few years remaining to me, I will never again have a problem saying my name. 52 years of history gives me a certain amount of confidence to say that. Yet... what does it really matter if I screw up and start stuttering again now at my age 82 soon to be 83? Being retired, I no longer have to report to anyone. I don’t have to impress anyone. Except my remarkable wife Anne of course who will let me know forthwith, if I am not pleasing her. And who loves me no matter what.

Reaching Out, Supporting Others

Don McLean Grad Picture
   Don's Grad Picture

But I can’t. I can’t just sit back and say nothing about this. And so for any of you who have difficulty in identifying yourself, I would like to offer you a few words of support. During each of these 52 years, when it has come time to identify myself, I find myself feeling a protective preternatural (unusual, extraordinary) calm which led the spoken words “Don”, and “McLean” in particular, to flow freely. I hesitate to use this phrase ‘preternatural calm’, because my sense is only someone, who now feels virtually completely comfortable with speaking to others, but who once felt the exact opposite due to stuttering, would really understand me. I hesitate, as I personally don’t know anyone like that. But not to speak of this would be even worse, as it would prevent me from sharing my complete experience, in teaching myself how to better speak with
and to others.

Early Years of Struggle and Shame

For the first 80 years of my life, I thought I was the only person in the entire world who used to feel horribly humiliated in identifying myself. Until Anne got me to watch the Australian “Stutter School” TV program on TVO in 2021. And this topic came up again after watching the DVD “When I Stutter” which Daniele Rossi sent to me.

My personal history with stuttering began, around the age of 13 or 14, with a well meaning male teacher, whose name I have long forgotten, who got the idea it might be good for the students in an all boys school to get up and read something to the class, as training for learning how to speak in public. When I went to the podium, I was shocked to find that virtually no words would come out of my mouth. Or at least, that’s how I felt. Had this unintentional public humiliation not happened, I might possibly never have started stuttering. That’s a possibility. Though my sense is it is not a probable result. As some other similar experience, resulting in some other type of public humiliation, could have just as easily led to the same result.

Not long after this high school reading incident, I had my first experience of stuttering, when identifying myself on the telephone. My problem never was with the word ‘Don’. It was with the word ‘McLean’. This new experience too came as a complete shock. I was overwhelmed by feelings of ‘shame’. And then it happened again. And then again. After only a very small number of such humiliations, I became deathly afraid that I would not be able to stem the downward spiral. And in fact this turned out to be a self fulfilling prophecy. And so, off and on, for many years, I was plagued with this problem. Most of the time it was confined to identifying myself on the telephone — not so much face to face.

Overcoming Fear and Self-doubt

Don and wife
An early picture of Don and his Wife, Ann

But then in two short months, in November and December 1971, at the age of 30, this downward spiral righted itself, and basically this problem too went away. But the fear of its resurfacing has never completely disappeared. I have described in other places my experience of stuttering, as disappearing due to luck. That is true. But its disappearance was also due to 3 conscious decisions I made. First and foremost I decided I needed to learn how to listen to myself. To do so, I regularly sit down and ask myself a simple question: How am I presently feeling? I quite unexpectedly and surprisingly soon found that I felt ‘I hate myself’. Second I decided to see if this feeling would surface when I stuttered. That happened. Third, I decided to see if I also felt the exact opposite hypothetical feeling ‘I love myself’, while I was stuttering. That too happened. These were the 3 conscious decisions which changed everything for me. Because when I then made contact, however faint, with my ‘I love myself’ feeling, while I embraced my stuttering
while reading in public, much to my total shock, the words of the text started flowing freely from within me. And when I successfully repeated this exercise enough times to become confident that this was going to work every... single... time, the biggest explosion of euphoria and jubilation in my entire life erupted from within, because in one single electric moment, I realized my stuttering problems were now at an end. And they were. And they have been. And I have never once stuttered thereafter, when identifying myself. Up until now that is. No promises going forward. Who knows what will happen when I keep poking this sleeping dog? Instead of just keeping my mouth shut.

Finding Calmness and Peace

It was only this year 2023, on August 14, that it hit me that this ‘preternatural feeling of calmness’, arose from my automatically doing this very same exercise, whenever it was time to identify myself. That is, I was automatically making some form of contact with my ‘I love myself’ feeling, just before saying the word ‘McLean’.

For those of you who are having difficulty identifying yourself, I invite you to try “Stuttering Exercises”. A world of wonder may possibly await you if you do. You are likely to learn something new about yourself which you never knew before.

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