I have always been insecure about how I speak. It started when I was younger. I had a terrible stutter. I was teased, taunted, and poked fun at, like an animal behind cruel societal bars at the zoo. Kids are mean little snots. Growing up back then was hard. I couldn’t stand in front of the class to say a speech or read out loud without been laughed at. I attended speech therapy to fix my abnormality. An expensive waste of my time. I don’t think she was even licensed. She would draw a crappy illustration of a waterfall with rocks in it. Make me read from my book. Every time I stuttered or got stuck on a word she would stop me on a rock. Tell me too breathe and start again. Repeated over and over until I didn’t stutter with that one line. It didn’t make sense to me. I was only seven years old. It didn’t work.
As time went on my stutter got a little better but flared up like a bad cold sore when I was nervous, which happened to be all of the time. I tend to get nervous around people I meet for the first time. Nervous when I speak to a crowd. Nervous even when speaking to a stranger who asks for directions or when I try and tell the cashier at Mac Donald’s what kind of drink I want with my meal. My palms drip sweat. My voice becomes shaky. Words become a jumble sale where no one buys anything. Confused looks in their eyes, blank expressions on their face.
“ Uhm…What did you say?”
I always feel like I should I hide my face. There was this one time in Grade 7. I wrote a speech for the Valedictory ceremony. I have a way with words yet only when those words are etched onto the page. My speech outshone the rest by far. I remember it started of by talking about pillars laid on a solid foundation. The foundation can crumble and weather but you are the creator of that foundation and school was the laborers that helped you achieve such strength. The schools motto was ‘From Strength To Strength’ it really made sense then. So my speech was chosen with five more from other classes. The week before the ceremony the five students had to say their speeches for all the Grade 7’s to hear and vote on whose was best. I learnt mines of by heart and was feeling confident. I got up on stage. I saw the crowd. I chocked. Forgot the words. Stuttered through most of it. Everyone booed. I ran of the stage and cried in the bathroom. Lets just say that was the last try at public speaking.
Part of my fear of speaking also stems from being a timid person. I am rooted to the shadows, out of the light, locked away in a realm of voiceless loneliness. I have always been shy due to my stutter and there are times when I just want to scream at myself for being like that. I have waved opportunities by because of it. Lost out on great things because I was too scared to speak up. I am quieter then a church mouse. When I do say something it comes out like a whisper. A wimpy whisper. Or if not a whisper it came out worse. Sound effects of awkward grunts and squeals. Like a pig been roasted over the flames. Turning slowly. Dripping fat in the form of thick sweat, how pathetic!
As much as I love being around people my stutter always placed me into seclusion involuntarily. There are times when I am grateful for my space and I have become accustomed to being the lone wolf. I am independent. Fend for myself. Survive against the ferocious world. But as the ‘lone’ wolf howls out, I am very ‘a-lone’ and that cripples me into depression. Depression has been a bad neighbor of mine for many years. I have wined and dined with it. Not pleasant. It borrowed my life and never gave it back. Luckily for me I found the girl of my dreams and with her at my side was able to walk up to its door and demand my life back before moving away to a much better neighbourhood.
My stutter prevented me from doing things I wanted to do. It hindered my verbal communication skills. I can never win an argument. Nor can I really say what I mean. This makes me very terrible at job interviews. Everything will sound peachy in my head but gets muddled when I open my mouth. If I ever had an opinion on something I had to write it down. I had to make sure it was words on a page for me to read aloud to be clearly understood as to exactly what I was trying to say. This proved troubling when I was growing up because I always kept my words to myself. It happens a lot when I argue with my parents or my girlfriend. I know what I want to tell them but normally what I say comes across wrong and I end up deeper in the mess than I started of in the first place.
Being without a voice makes you reflect inwards more often than you would like. I cannot be a leader. My voice will never be heard and chaos will ascend onto the crowd I try to lead. I rather sit back and follow others. This has been demonstrated by how my family works. They decide the plans and my younger brother takes the lead. I just follow whether I like it or not. I do not speak up when my emotions are crushed under the loud voices around me. No one bothers anyways. The saying goes, ‘out of sight, out of mind’ more like ‘if we cant here you, what you think does not matter’. This is why I write. An aid to my voice that just needs an outlet, an escape from behind the bars that constrict me. I can watch the page fill up with emotions, thoughts, and my life. All the things I couldn’t spell out with my terrified and quivering lips.
Another way in which my stutter can impede my speech is when I become too excited about something and I run faster through a sentence than any Jamaican sprinter. It is weird how even when I am not nervous or terrified to speak that my mind still finds ways to play on my communication skills. It torments me. Holding a piece of candy above my head and no matter how hard I try I can never reach it. The excitement pushes me over into what I like to call ‘fast talk’. It is almost similar to my nervous stutter but instead of becoming stuck on words and sounding like a skipping record, I sound like someone holds in the fast forward button and my sentences become one long, confusing blur of words that find it hard to resonate in the ears of others.
I use to be a very angry person. Frustrated all the time that I wasn’t able to speak normally. Angry for always been misunderstood. Yet I wasn’t the only one. Those around me also found it very infuriating. My girlfriend hates it when I slip into old habits and talk too fast or mumble out a sentence over the phone. My friends always got pissed off when they couldn’t hear me and shout, scold and make me feel worse. Family members just shrugged and ask me to repeat what I said. Only my brothers were able to understand me for some reason. I guess that is family for you. Grow up with them and you are bonded in ways unimaginable. Some people just didn’t even bother anymore and agreed to what I said without even knowing what I did say. Then communication broke down. I got angry, they got angry. It just sucked to be this way. Until Grade 10…
… From Grade 10 to the start of Matric my friends at school did something for me that I would always be thankful for. Speech therapy took a whole new turn with them.
It started of playfully and jokingly at first by one of my good friends. Whenever I used to stutter he would simply give me a klap across the face. Tell me stop and say it again. It spread to rest of the buddies like wild fire. Every time I was nervous, excited and my words were not making sense I would get slapped. Some hard, others harder. For two whole years my face was a slapping bag. Every time I uttered a stutter I would find myself at the receiving end of a hot klap. Sometimes my friends would even have surprise klaps waiting.
“What was that for?”
“Just incase you!” they would joke.
“I, I, wh-wha-ttt?”
I never liked it but I must admit it helped a great deal. It changed my life. When Matric rolled around I never stuttered again.
I am proud to say that my speech abnormality has been silent for many years now. It does act up slightly when I get too nervous or excited but hardly noticeable. I am able to converse in complete freedom. Broken down the bars that once held me back and I am able to say whatever I want to say. The best thing to come from my experience with stuttering though is that I was able to hone onto my creative capabilities and find that writing is one of my greatest passions. It allowed me to bring forth my creative talents and showcase it to the world. It made me a better listener.
I am an introvert because of it all but I am proud to be one. It doesn’t mean that I am not outgoing or fun, or that I have nothing to say. It just means that I keep to myself most of the time. That I have a soft emotional core, which is fragile and unwilling to let too much in, too many in. I express myself through my words on paper. I am not loud and in your face. If I have my opinion I will let you know otherwise I keep my mouth shut. There is a time and place for everything. I am just, well, me. Still shy, less silent but happy, verbally confident and completely stutter free.