Today’s post was inspired by a thought I had last night when I was having a very difficult time with my speech. I found myself thinking how much I hated language and words. That made me stop because I had to be more specific within my own heart. I don’t hate words, I love words. I love the power of them, the passion that they can incite. I love the written word. The problem I have is with the spoken word. I have stuttered since I was 5 years old. Forty years of blocks and repetition of sounds. Struggling and strangling to make myself heard. My parents sent me to all kinds of speech therapists during my grade school and high school years with various results. One therapist in particular, thought that pinching me each time I stuttered was the way to “cure” me. Another therapist I saw while I was in college told me that as long I as stuttered the best job I could hope to get was in a warehouse where I wouldn’t have to speak to anyone. Don’t get me wrong I had some very competent therapists with lots of different techniques I could use to try to gain control and fluency over my speech. I think my problem now has become that all those tactics have cluttered my efforts to such an extent that unconsciously I try several at the same time with very little success. For me the spoken word has been a lifelong battle. If you want to have some idea of how it feels for me to get stuck on a word, place your fingers under a table and lift up. That tightness and pressure in your chest and throat is only a fraction of what I feel when I get really stuck on a word. For me though, it’s not just words I get stuck on but individual sounds as well. At the moment, it is vowel sounds that lock up my throat tighter than Fort Knox.
What makes it more difficult is the fact that I have, what one therapist called, “developmental stuttering” where sometimes I can talk fluently and clearly and other times it is like sinking in quicksand, the more I struggle the deeper I get stuck in what I’m trying to say. So that’s where I was last night when that sentiment happened. I have had this happen before where I contemplate whether or not to just stop speaking altogether, how much easier my life would be if I didn’t have to deal with my stuttering at all. I never follow through with that line of thinking though, I’m too stubborn, and I can’t let this condition “win.” As much as I hate being a stutterer, as much frustration and sadness it has brought into my life, it has made me who I am. Dealing with the way others react to my speech in a negative way and being able to explain to those who are curious enough to ask me about it. Not that I don’t have my snarky moments in the face of some encounters. For example, one day I went into a store and was looking around. The owner was talking to me in a normal speaking voice and then I responded to something she said. All of a sudden the way she spoke to me dramatically shifted. She sounded like characters I’ve seen in television shows or in movies who are speaking to others they think are slow or don’t speak the same language. She was speaking in a slow overly exaggerated way. I listened to her and then I replied to her, “Ma’am, I speak slowly. I don’t hear slowly.” and I walked out of the store leaving her jaw hanging slack. Moments like that show me the inner strength my stuttering has given me and when I get right down to it, as much as I hate my stuttering at times, it’s made me who I am today and, for the most part, I like who she is. I’m not just my stuttering. I’m a daughter, an aunt, a granddaughter, musician, singer, writer, and so many other things. Stuttering does not define who I am, it has shaped who I am.