10/05/2022 EDIT – Added National Stuttering Awareness Week 2022 Video
Writing as a daily practice has been amazing for me over the past few weeks. On reflection, I’ve always had a love of the written word and this new outlet for creativity has been a breath of fresh air.
In my business life, I’m very focused, direct and extremely careful with the language I use to communicate. I like to think I have some of the best ’email skills’ as I’m always aware how language can be misinterpreted across written word and I try to account for this. So, why am I so focused on good written communication? I have a stutter and sometimes it sucks.
Life is very different for someone with a stutter. Imagine not being able to say the words you want. Let that sink in.
Imagine not always being able to articulate yourself to friends and loved ones. Not being able to communicate with colleagues, waiting staff and what about when you need to ask for help? This is the harsh reality for many and I thought I’d share my experience in this blog along with some funny anecdotes. I’ve found a way to live and I’m happy, but the support available for adults is very thin. Often after a certain age, we’re just left to get on with it.
So what is stuttering? Speech IRL has a nice definition:
“Stuttering, in its simplest form, is any disruption to fluency. This could be repetitions, prolongations, or blocks and may occur anywhere in the word or phrase. As a way to get through these stuttering moments, one may use fillers, revise their thought, or simply change the word.“
Most of my network are blissfully unaware that I suffer with a stutter. This is a manipulation by me and the careful execution of many mechanisms i’ve developed to hide it. I don’t speak about it, I don’t advertise it. Although I have a very high proficiency of speech, it plagues almost every interaction. I always laugh that I can present to a room but I can’t order a pizza…
Although I have a very high proficiency of speech, it plagues almost every interaction.
People will attempt to cope in different ways – for me I swap words in and out to feind fluency. As I speak, I plan my words ahead and constantly adapt my output throughout the conversation. I will direct people off a topic if there are words I can’t say and i’ll also direct them into something that’s easier to articulate. If that sounds exhausting, it is.
As a result of this, my vocabulary is extensive and I put immense value on the significance of every word. Perhaps this explains the presentation : pizza conundrum. Meticulous practice for a presentation or speech puts my mind at ease and I will test every combination of words beforehand to ensure a smooth delivery. For example, if i’m having a rough day, it’s easy for me to swap the word direction, with route or path. If i’m ordering a pizza (or any food for that matter) and I want mushrooms BUT I can’t say it – i’ll order something else! This might sound crazy to some of you but it’s a reality for myself and many others. I have this problem asking for ‘water’ ALL the time.
The challenges of stuttering
So asides from ordering what I can say rather than what I want – what other odd experiences can I have throughout the day? Well, I’m glad you asked:
If I block, I will pretend I’ve forgotten the word instead. A quick ‘ah what’s it called?’ is often enough time to think of another or get assistance from your conversation partner. It’s weird, but for me, just hearing someone else say a word instantly allows me to say it. It’s almost as if my brain can no longer formulate the sounds without imitation.
I like to think of myself as an intelligent person so I don’t always appreciate having to do this. When you know the answer but have to pretend you don’t to emulate fluency, it can be a little disheartening. Humour is also something I love. This often requires quick reflexes and perfect timing. Having a stutter can limit the amount of punchlines I can deliver publically, but I’ll often have a little giggle to myself instead.
My closest friends and family will always help me if I’m struggling with a word. This is a very personal thing, but for me it’s a relief if someone I know steps in to ‘ease the pain’. Don’t just do this though. Make sure the person is comfortable first.
Calligraphy is a new hobby of mine. A way to make written words even more beautiful.
If I meet someone that loves to speak, I’ll let them. I’m unequivocally fascinated by people that can effortlessly portray the inner workings of their mind. This is a dream. Many of my closest friends are highly articulate people. I surround myself with them and it’s great inspiration/ research for me. Research might sound like an odd word here, but I try to emulate the good qualities I see in others in myself. Great communication is one of those skills.
I’m unequivocally fascinated by people that can effortlessly portray the inner workings of their mind.
It no longer bothers me, but it certainly affects my life. Any stutterer wonders what their life would/ could be like if they could just talk. Extroversion and precise communication is heavily rewarded in current society and it’s easy to feel ostracised when even a ‘simple’ conversation drains so much energy.
Learning a new language
This is a crazy one and something I think about a lot. After years of fine tuning my coping mechanisms and ‘perfecting’ my style of speech, I quickly realised it only worked in English. My spanish journey started five years ago, but after I moved to Spain in 2019 I increased my lessons to have a greater quality of life. Also, if you’re going to live in a foreign country, the least you can do is learn some of the language…
Anyway, speaking a new language is like learning to talk all over again. You have to learn new sounds, phrases, grammar and pronunciation. This becomes very problematic as you start to formulate sentences and only know a limited selection of words. If you don’t know enough vocabulary, you can’t swap words. For me, that’s a serious problem.
I have persisted but it’s definitely not easy. It’s like another layer on top of an already complex process. If I can’t say ‘difícil’ I can say ‘no es fácil’ and vice versa – but it’s a lot to manage when there is already a lot to think about. Asking for a ‘bolsa’ (a bag) in the supermarket is hell…
In researching this, I found a great article by Sojourner White on just this topic. She said:
“Then I began stuttering over Spanish words, both old and new. I remember stuttering for a solid minute over the words tarjeta de crédito, which is Spanish for “credit card,” when I wanted to pay for my gelato in Granada. I remember the auras of impatience I received from waiters when I couldn’t order tapas without stuttering from a menu. The social anxiety and uncomfortableness I felt as a kid returned, but the reactions as a young adult with a stutter were a lot less forgiving.“
This is true as i’ve found often adults don’t quite know how to react. Many times it’s just laughter due to lack of understanding. Either way it certainly can be uncomfortable.
One plus side is I’m very specific with my communication and I listen intensely throughout every conversation. I often want to say the least so anything I do say is relevant and objective. This has been invaluable in making friends and forming lasting relationships. I’ve learnt a lot about people as they feel comfortable opening up and sharing their life with me. Listening truly is a great skill.
Alongside this, my love of writing has always been prevalent in my life. I might not be able to articulate myself verbally, but with written words it’s almost fun. One day I will write a book but for now I’m happy with my blog.
Thanks for reading.