Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Stuttering Stanley!

So, I have this annoying stuttering problem that I've had since I was...oh, born, I think. My grandmother tells me that I stopped talking around 4 years old for about 3 months and when I began again...I had a really severe stutter. They took me to a child psychologist who, apparently, couldn't "fix" me and then to a number of other doctors and specialists to find out if it would remain. Most said it could simply be a childhood phase, as some stuttering is...others said that it might remain for my whole life. I'm in my 30's now, so I'm voting for the latter.

As I got older, my stutter became a big problem for me in school, making friends and being social. I could barely say two words in a row and could never respond if called upon by a teacher. My entire throat would simply lock up and no sound would come out no matter how much I tried to force it to. Some kids, inevitably, made fun of me and mocked me on the playground...and I even had a teacher or two take a jab at me in front of other kids in the classroom if I didn't answer fast enough or stumbled over my words.

I started in speech therapy in first grade and it was an abysmal failure, though I loved my young and beautiful speech therapist. I got to leave my normal classroom 3 times a week and go off to a room in the library and do various speech exercises like "sing-song talking" or talking to the beat of a metronome. Those exercises worked beautifully to help me be fluent. I never did stutter once while singing or while talking with the metronome. The only problem is...you can't carry a metronome around with you wherever you go and you certainly can't navigate life talking to the beat of one without the risk of losing every friend you have.

(Side note: before you decide to leave a note or comment of advice to me: you can't cure stuttering by "calming down" or "talking slower" or any method amounting to the armchair advice I've been given over the years. Trust me...I've heard it all. If the PhD's haven't figured it out...it's likely you haven't either. On the other hand..if you are a former stutter who has found a wonderful new cure...please share. :)

Back to the story: So, as I grew up, I began to learn various tricks and methods to hide my stutter. They mostly worked, but usually only with people who didn't know me well or didn't spend great amounts of time with me. One such trick is the "word substitution" trick. With this one, if you find you are coming to a word you have a hard time with...you simply switch it for another. For example, if you have trouble saying words that begin with "W"...and you want to say, "I need to go to Walmart"...you can simply say instead, "I need to go to the store." This is a very good trick and it works most of the time. But not all the time. It won't work, for example, if you are about to pledge your undying devotion to your girlfriend or boyfriend. If you want to say, "Darling, I love you," but find you are unable to say the "L" word (for stuttering reasons...not for "problems with committment" reasons)...you can't substitute that word with, "Darling, I have very strong feelings for you that go well beyond friendship."

Sorry. It won't work.

So, today I was heading out to lunch and a lady in the office down from me asked if I would stop by the deli and pick up her salad which she had called in. No problem. "Just tell her you're picking up an order for Linda."


I cringe at words that begin with "L"...especially if they are first names. (There is a lady in my office named Linda Levuano...I avoid her like the plague...and I'd never buy a home on a street that begins with "L"...or date anyone with a name beginning with "L".) I reluctantly told her I'd be glad to...then left. On my way back from where I got my food, I sat in the car in the parking lot of the deli. There was a crowd of people inside. Yikes. I pictured exactly how the scene would play out.

Cashier: Sir, can I help you?

Me: Uh, yeah...um, I need to pick up an order.

Cashier: What's the name?

Me: *panicking* Oh, I forget...um....it's for a sandwich...

Cashier: They're all for sandwiches (people begin to stare)

Me: *panicking more* Yeah, okay, it's for...um....oh, it's, um....er, I think...

At that point, I'd probably force myself to try to sneak up on the name "Linda" and just say it before my brain had a chance to stutter on the word. It's worked before. But, not usually. Likely, I'd begin the "L" sound and then everything would lock up...my face would probably turn red from the pressure and the embarrassment...and I'd wind up either abandoning the rest of the word at that point and looking very foolish (at least in my mind) or simply persist in forcing the name out and having it result in a very long and drawn out L sound followed eventually by the rest of the name and my utter and total embarrassment...at which point, I'd pray the earth would open up beneath me and swallow me whole.

So...there I sat in the parking lot, playing with the idea of simply telling Linda I forgot to pick up her order. No. I didn't want to look like an inconsiderate flake. So, I did what I've done on other occasions. I simply wrote her name on a piece of paper and when the cashier said, "Can I help you?" I simply replied, "Pick up, " and handed her the small piece of paper. Problem solved.

That time.

My mother wants to know why I want to be a laywer if I have this stutter. Well...I love to talk. I love to give speeches. In fact, I never stutter in front of crowds of people when I'm talking. I excelled in public speaking in undergrad. In other classes, people used to rave about my presentations. I am eloquent, articulate and quick when I have the microphone. But...if I am sitting in my seat, amongst everyone else...and someone calls on me to answer a question...I lock up like Granny's back on a bad mattress.

So, back to my tricks. One is to simply blow all the air out of my lungs and push up my diaphragm until I only have just enough air to force out a difficult word. This works wonders. I can surpass entire stuttering episodes with this one and most people have no idea that I'm doing it...though, it does make your stomach tired if you do it a lot in one conversation. Another trick is to blow a tiny, weak stream of air between your teeth (so nobody notices) right before you start talking. I read this one from a book. Somehow, your brain is tricked and the speech mechanism doesn't lock up.

Another trick that works well most of the time is the "feigning thought" trick. You simply pretend you can't think of the word. I used this one the other day when I was talking to a friend and I was trying to say the name of the band REO Speedwagon. Of course I know the name...they are one of my favorites bands of all time. But, I could not say it to save my life. So, I just said, "Oh, what's their name....ah, geez....oh, it's on the tip of my tongue....come on...oh, it's right there, right there!" Eventually, after doing that long enough...I found I could finally say it, and blurted, "Ah, REO Speedwagon! Man, that would have bugged me all night!"

It's silly to have to go through that, isn't it? If I were more comfortable with myself, I'd have simply said, "You know what? I know the name, but my stutter is preventing me from saying it. Here, I'll spell the first word, maybe that will help me break through."

So...that's why I'm here. To talk about stuttering. To tell my stuttering story. And to maybe meet a few others who are so afflicted. I started this blog because this is a topic about which I have a lot to say. Maybe you can relate. (oh...and my name isn't really Stanley. :)

1 comment:

Jason said...

You think thats bad... my name is actually jason stanley... notice my surname!