the big stuck

Updated: Jan 23, 2020

You see, the thing is, I stutter.

I’ve come a long way, that’s for sure. As a wee one, I stuttered terribly. I remember going to speech class and keeping track of every sticking point: “Ssssnow day...R-r-r-r-r-r-r-red truck.” (*I also went to speech therapy for my “r’s”, so it’s a wonder I somehow ended up at the “cool table”.) My parents have a video of me reading aloud, and it hurts to watch. The young me never shows frustration, animated and persistent through all of the verbal “disfluency”. But the current me cries as she cheers on the younger: “You got this! You’re doing great! One word at a time. Keep on truckin’...”

I hoped I would outgrow it, but I haven’t. Certain letter combinations continue to trip me up, like words that start with “mo”, as well as words that start with hard consonants like “k” – or “b” or “d”...okay, there’s a lot of those letters. “W” can be a problem – aka most question words: Why, what, and where. Social conversation can be interesting to navigate, let me tell you. “A” and “and” are a doozy. Interestingly, so is starting a sentence with the word “I”...Freud would have a field day with that one.

The stutter hits with special gusto when I’m excited about something and try to share it with those people I’m closest to, or, as D recently pointed out, when I try to interject – for example, when jumping into a conversation, or when trying to get someone’s attention quickly. It’s as if the words trip over each other. Have you ever heard the phrase word salad? It’s the “confused or unintelligible mixture of seemingly random words and phrases” used by people with, for example, advanced schizophrenia or dementia. My excited speech often becomes some sort of syllable salad.

I just made this connection, for the record: There’s something about urgency. What a terrible curse, right? Those moments when I need to get the words out as soon as possible are the moments when I can’t get them out. It’s like that dream I used to have as a kid, where I’d wake up from a nightmare in the dream and try to call out “Mom! Dad!” but no sound would come out.

Paralysis of the voice.

So what helps? I think that alcohol loosens it up a bit. Taking a deep breath and slowing down sometimes forces me to stop trying so hard and just let my mouth move, but then when I still can’t get it out, well, that’s the absolute worst: A stutterer fighting against herself has basically 0% chance of emitting entire sentences in one shot.

When I approach certain words with a feeling that I might stutter, I might change the wording. For example, adding “so” to the beginning of a sentence helps me glide into difficult words. I also sometimes move my mouth in a certain way, almost as if to wrap the word into a more aesthetically pleasing package.

These are all ways of working the system: Throwing my brain for a loop by tricking it at the last minute. D calls it “linguistic gymnastics”. For me, speaking is often technical, mostly subconsciously so, as my brain rapidly tries to pull out ways to compensate for the stuckness, or “disfluency” of speech. (I probably shouldn’t divulge all of my speaking secrets, but bah. I have no shame. Plus, as the ever-wise Ann Lamott advises: “Write toward vulnerability.” So, on we go.)

As a young ’un, my mom remembers me just stumbling through and rarely showing frustration. As she says, “It was just who you were!” With age, I grew more self-conscious of it, but I’m over it now. It is what it is. And when I tell people that I still struggle with it, 95% of respond, “Really?! I had no idea!”

No one really knows what causes stuttering. It might have a genetic component, and frustration can fuel it in kids, but neither of these really applies to me. The only potentially interesting correlation: I never crawled. That’s right: I went right from dragging my ginormous baby bod on the ground to walking around the room holding onto furniture. Crazy, right? I like to think I was just advanced, but did I just not have enough arm strength? That’s probably more like it.

While children who don’t crawl “might turn out fine”, they also might struggle with motor skills, balance, and coordination later in life. This might explain my clutziness. Crawling also helps with spatial problem-solving, vision, and depth perception – all of which I struggle with. Finally, it helps with upper body strength, and goodness knows I was always one of the weakest scorers in those darn President’s Challenges in gym class. Pull-ups? Are you kidding me?! That said, my fine motor skills are spot on, so, all in all, I think I “turned out fine”.

By the way, I just looked this up, and my brain is so full of “Aha!” moments right now.

But that’s our five minutes for today, so I’ll pick this up next time. For now, here’s a quote:

“Use the talents you possess, for the woods would be a very silent place if no birds sang except the best.” ~ Henry van Dyke (poet)

Cheers, friends ~ Until soon.

#health #stuttering

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