“I have a problem. It’s not the worst thing in the world. I’m fine. I’m not on fire. I know that other people in the world have far worse things to deal with, but for me, language and music are inextricably linked through this one thing.” ~ Megan Washington
Megan Washington, an Australian singer who stutters, gave a very brave TED Talk. Her talk hit home in a myriad of ways, but the pièce de résistance?: “It’s impossible to stutter when you sing.”
Yes, it’s true. Somehow, like British accents, stuttering disappears when you sing.
As a young adult, I periodically stumbled upon ads for some kind of “Stutterers Anonymous” type support group, but the idea of joining just made me sad. I was better than those people. I’d get over it.
Because, for some reason, my stutter completely disappeared in front of a crowd. It was as if I inhabited an alternate body with an alien mouth that moved freely.
As a kid, I felt most at home on stage, which began with one-woman shows for my parents. Though shy as a wee one, I bit the bullet and tried out for plays in middle school, and, as a high school senior, I sang onstage at Rochester, NY’s Auditorium Theatre, the venue for traveling Broadway productions. Not quite Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center, but, relatively speaking, it was leaps and bounds from self-produced backyard plays. Theatre improved my stuttering, as well as my confidence.
It still works to this day: If I’m singing, or speaking in front of an audience, it’s an almost out-of-body, smooth sailing experience. If I imagine myself "on" – as in “on stage” – the words come more easily. Riddle me that: What terrifies most people sees me through.
I agree with my mom: Perhaps because the words are memorized, I don’t have to spend precious brain cells organizing thoughts. Therefore, all energy can go toward speech.
However, there’s also some kind of performance component...Case in point: If I read something aloud to D, I might stutter. But reading this blog post for a podcast? Zilch.
In her TED Talk, Megan Washington talks about the special smooth speech voice that she uses in interviews, on panels, and whenever time is of the essence. Using this voice, with a slightly different lilt than her own, helps her a lot...But it’s not her voice.
I get that. I have used that voice often. I sometimes have to adopt a slight cadence to get through“tough words, almost as if I'm embodying a persona...But it’s not my true “Jamie voice”.
I don’t really mind. I’m so used to it that, until I started to really think about all of this stuttering business a few months ago, it was just part of speaking.
At the end of the day, whatever the cognitive mechanism or developmental reasoning behind it, and even if I have to shift my voice a little in order to find my “flow”, singing and performance literally helped me find and use my voice.
But last year, I lost it.
Last June, I started feeling chest tightness and shortness of breath for the first time in my life. I knew that my stiff neck muscles could contribute to those symptoms, but the effect terrified me. I stopped seeing the chiropractor who was trying to help me with my neck, as my neck symptoms started to worsen. I went to Urgent Care for a chest x-ray. I had a pulmonary function test (just "slight constriction"). I saw a muscle doctor, who prescribed muscle relaxers and anti-inflammatories, and I started physical therapy.
Two weeks before my wedding, I spent way too much money on two bodywork magicians, who did their best on short notice, and I followed their prescriptions for golden milk, neck wrapping, and a full-blown anti-inflammatory diet. Two days before the wedding, a good friend worked her soulful massage and Reiki magic, which got me through the wedding, praise be to her.
Though we laughed that all would heal post-wedding-mayhem, it returned full-force. Some days, my stiff neck left me lightheaded. Other days the tightness shifted to my chest, leaving me heaving at the top of a flight of stairs. I tried acupuncture and Chinese herbs,\ and light YouTube-style yoga.
Anxiety often stems from fear of the unknown, and this pretty much summed it up. My mind and my body were frozen, and I moved like a robot: Fear imprisoned me.
Two weeks later, I walked to Riverside Park with my new husband to lie in the sun and ended up in the ER. I had to take a cab three blocks to the nearest hospital, and, within five minutes, my body shut down. My hands froze into full-on claw hands. My head went numb, and I warned my brand spanking new husband that I might pass out.
Poor guy. Welcome to your new wife! He held my hand and did exactly what I needed him to do. He remained calm, he soothed me, and, within 20 minutes, the numbness passed. So, yes, D: You essentially brought me back to life.
I previously wrote about how yoga helped me learn to be human again. Here’s one of my favorite yoga quotes, by Sue Falsone
“Yoga is great for when I want to re-establish psycho-motor control of the body. Yoga is great when I want to re-establish somatosensory control of the body. And yoga is great for fundamental performance.”
Now, I’m pretty sure Sue, a former MLB trainer, meant athletic performance. However, yoga goes hand in hand with verbal performance for me: Performance helped me unstick the stutter, and yoga helped me unstick the body. But unsticking the mind – the biggest stuck, and, 99% of the time the root of all other stucks? That was the most powerful unsticking of all.
Cheers, friends ~ Until soon.