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Reflections on a 40 year affair

Jackie Turnbull | 01.12.2009

Jackie Turnbull, who retired as a speech and language therapist in June 2009, looks back at a career in stammering.

Jackie Turnbull

People ask me when the affair started. I'm not really sure. I guess the seeds were sown at college when Miss Savage (no first names then) delivered her thought provoking stammering lectures. In those days, behaviourism was in its heyday and we learned about negative practice (similar to voluntary stammering but used to break a 'bad habit' rather than for desensitisation), syllable timed speech and even the use of electric shocks. Stammering was seen as a bad thing which should be punished.

There was not much else in those days to deepen the romance - in fact I saw no one who stammered until the very end of my final placement. He failed to turn up for my practical exam which decidedly quenched my ardour.

I remember nothing of the relationship in my first jobs, working in community clinics in Kent, though I guess there may have been some missed opportunities which I failed to develop.

By then I had two children and was ready for some extra marital excitement. I found my lover's tryst at St James's Hospital 

It was moving to Leeds which changed everything. By then I had two children and was ready for some extra marital excitement. I found my lover's tryst at St James's Hospital where I started to do regular Saturday morning therapy sessions and stammering entered my life. As my husband looked after our children, little did he know that behind his back, his wife was starting to fall in love. My fascination with the object of my affections grew and grew; in fact some might call it an obsession. I just wanted to know more and more about it and what made it tick.

The time came of course when what I was doing just wasn't enough. I needed more. The liaison started to take up more and more of my time. I thought about it at home as well as at work. I read about it and wrote about it. I sought out others like me with similar passions who helped me learn more and develop my techniques. The relationship has grown and developed over the years. It's had its ups and downs but ending it was never a possibility. It brought me too much satisfaction.

The affair could not last forever of course. I am getting too old to carry on in this way. It's time for me to hand the mantle on and to sit back and enjoy my memories. It's not that my ardour has dimmed but that it's time to let someone else see where this relationship takes them.

What have I learned about the object of my affections? I have learned so much and yet so little. I know it is likely to be a genetic affair, rooted in the brain's processing. I know it is easier to be its friend when it is developing and that it is harder to make a positive relationship with it once it is fully matured. I know too that denying it is happening, hiding it away or feeling ashamed of it is not the answer. It needs to be in the open, accepted and embraced.

I know too that I will really miss my relationship of so many years. It has been fascinating, stimulating and satisfying. It will be over but certainly not forgotten.

From the Winter 2009 edition of Speaking Out, page 18.