Stuttering

So this is a quite personal blog post.

I have a stutter. It’s not too bad, it’s not always obvious, and I mostly don’t pay any attention to it these days. But is has had a significant impact on my life. I can’t always tell what is my choice, and what is due to my years of not wanting to end up in public speaking roles.

I wanted to recount some observations, comments, and experiences. This will be a rambling, heartfelt post.

During school, both primary and secondary, I dreaded public speaking. Even to a class of people I knew well. From finding out about an assignment requiring a presentation, to the sometimes obsessive preparation, to my sweaty palms, thumping heart, and shaking legs as I stood up to speak. It was not fun. Stumbling over every few words, occasionally pausing to take a deep breath, try to steady myself. Feeling like time was going so slowly. Looking from person to person in the audience, gauging their reactions to my torture. The relief I felt when I finally finished, and could hide away back into the audience. Telling myself it wasn’t so bad. So glad to be finished.

There were quite a few goes at speech therapy. Some of it helped a little. Much of it felt hopeless, like I was being shown something that was easy, and why couldn’t I get it? I remember being told a few times that I would grow out of it. It’s just a temporary thing. Well, unfortunately no. It’s still there, hanging out for when I’m nervous, scared, tired, angry. Whenever expressing myself is important.

I’m glad I can write about this now. I’m not looking for pity. This post is mostly for myself. And, maybe, to help other people who stutter.

I have some regular, usually annoying, experiences thanks to my stutter.

  • A common one is people thinking I’m scared or nervous or even drunk when I’m not. I just having to talk to someone I don’t know, or I’m tired and talking without stuttering is more effort than I can or want to expend.
  • Occasionally I’ll meet another person who stutters. I’ve probably only met a handful. A couple of times, we both thought the other person was making fun of our stutter. Then we realised. I don’t know how common this experience is.
  • While any of the 26 letters can trip me up, but some are more likely to hook me than others. S and T are usually the worst. Then there’s getting stuck on a sound that leaves me with my mouth open looking like a stunned fish.
  • There are some tricks I use to make things easier. I don’t do it as often now, but I used to regularly swap out words I knew I would get stuck on for words that might be a little easier. This could be either early on, before I started talking, or while writing a script. It might be just as I was about to say the word - a quick change, feeling like I was tricking my brain into continuing just that little bit smoother.
  • Then there are people’s names. No swapping those out for other words. There are some names that I just cannot say without stuttering at least a little. Justine, Kristen, Steven. This may be a small part of the reason I have to concentrate and pay attention to people’s names when I first meet them. I don’t know.
  • Smooth speech might be useful for some people, but I always felt silly doing it. No amount of “no one will notice” could remove the feeling that I was putting on an act, and if people found out, they’d be even more annoyed than if I just stuttered through.
  • Sometimes I used to economise what I wanted to say. I’d stop before I’d said everything I wanted. I’d let someone else talk over me and not try to cut back in. I still do this sometimes. It’s just easier to be quite than put in the effort it takes to speak.
  • People love to assume I need help to speak. Finishing my sentences or just cutting in to answer. Nine times out of ten, they guess incorrectly, or answer the wrong question. Which means that I have to start all over again.
  • Then there are the twitches or mouth shapes that go along with being stuck or involuntary repetitions. I am glad I cannot see my face at those times.
  • I hate hearing recordings of my voice. I sound so hesitate, worried, uncertain. I feel like the way my voice sounds often has no relation to how I feel.

And now some of the more intriguing and wonderful aspects of my stutter.

  • If I say the same thing as someone else, at the same time, I do not stutter. It’s a curiously intimate thing to do. Where the only time that would occur usually is by accident, doing it on purpose is an unusual experience. If there’s the context, I’ll sometimes mention this whenever a person calls “Jinx!” to someone else saying the same thing at the same time.
  • I don’t stutter when I sing. I can’t sing very well - it’s certainly not in tune - but it is wonderful. Almost effortless, a feeling of flow, unbroken waves, cruising. I really enjoy singing to music when I’m by myself. More than enjoying the music or lyrics. It’s fluency. Knowing that what I’m saying is what I intended to say.
  • Although I don’t ask for it, I do appreciate it when a friend or partner shuts down people poking fun at the way I speak.

Finally, I am so glad The King’s Speech exists. I don’t know if it’s a good movie or not, but it reflects feelings I’ve had about the way I sometime speak so damn well.

This review of the movie as it relates to stuttering is quite good:

The film portrays stammering with sympathy and accuracy (as expected given the writer David Seidler stammered) and will no doubt do much for stuttering awareness.

However the film’s strength is that the true nature of stuttering as a disability is obvious for all to see. Apart from the physical difficulty of speaking, stuttering was clearly impacting on George’s emotional health and on his relationships.

This film gives the stuttering community a wonderful opportunity to discuss and develop their public awareness message. In this way a disorder which until now has led sufferers to bear the brunt of ridicule and discrimination might be more sympathetically and more accurately regarded. “The King’s Speech” has the potential to join the classics of cinema by being emotionally engaging, historically interesting and socially relevant.

I’m also grateful to Megan Washington for being brave enough to put her stuttering on display through a TEDxSydney talk and Australian Story interview.

I cried through most of this talk the first time I watched it.