This post has been coming for quite some time now. An encounter with an incredibly rude and impatient stranger a couple days ago left me with such a feeling of embarrassment, bitterness, and anger that I feel a need to write about a disability (and I HATE calling it that) which I have dealt with since I was a toddler.
I STUTTER. And there's more than a likely chance my children will too.
Stuttering is a speech disorder in which the flow of speech is disrupted by involuntary repetitions and prolongations of sounds, syllables, words or phrases, and involuntary silent pauses or blocks in which the stutterer is unable to produce sounds. While my speech does include regular repetitions, "blocking" entirely, where I find myself unable to utter more than an awkward grunting sound, is what causes the most grief for me.
My earliest childhood memories do not include stuttering. I'm told I began a noticeable stutter, though not severe, as a toddler. My parents sent me, beginning in early grade school, to a variety of speech therapists. At one point, I even saw a hypnotist, all in an effort to speak with better fluency. However as a child, my stutter seemed to come and go in waves. Weeks would go by where no one would possibly guess I struggled with speech. Then, wham! For what seemed like an eternity, I could barely utter a full sentence without difficulty. In hindsight I almost wish my stutter had been more constant in those years. Maybe I might have accepted the need for early speech therapy more.
It wasn't until later in grade school that the teasing from classmates began. No, nothing worse than I imagine many children experience in school...for any number of reasons. I guess I felt, and still do, the teasing I experienced was slightly different in that it stemmed from something beyond my control. I feared any form of public speaking, shied from participating in school plays, and generally steered clear of any situation where I felt my speech might end up the butt of someone's joke. Not that many of my friends and classmates seemed to notice. Like many who stutter, I can often anticipate which sounds/words will give me grief and, to the extent possible, switch out words for "easier" ones.
Just about every embarrassing situation you can imagine, I experienced. During more than one class speech, I stood at the front of the room desperately trying to get a sound, any sound, out. I repeatedly hung up on a certain high school boyfriend's mother when she answered the phone instead of him. The thought of her listening to me take upwards of 30 seconds just to say, "is JT/Trent there?" was completely unbearable. Saying my own name became a challenge. To this day, I still dread introducing myself to a stranger. I cannot tell you the number of times I have faked my name, with one that is easier to say.
It wasn't until college that I lucked out and met Dr. Roger Ingham. I was aware that UCSB had a Speech and Hearing Department; what I was not aware of was its world famous department head. After a particularly bad week, I literally stumbled into his office, unannounced, confessing my entire life story of stuttering (in between sobs) to a complete stranger. Dr. Ingham turned out to be a godsend. For the better part of 2 years, I spent (on average) 3 days a week in his office, receiving intensive speech therapy. I know that, without a doubt, I would not have achieved half of what I have in my life had it not been for him.
Wikipedia provides some fantastic background on stuttering, including current theories on its physiopathology. Current evidence from neuroimaging techniques has supported the theory that the right-hemisphere of stutterers interferes of left-hemisphere speech production. Males stutter two to five times more often than females. Research has also indicated that stuttering is hereditary. My father stutters. And while I am fully aware that stuttering among toddlers is incredibly common, I would be lying if I didn't say my heart drops every time I hear Timmy (who is 3.5 now) block on a sound or tell me "Mommy, I can't say that word". I burst into tears the first time I heard him stutter.
When The King's Speech came out, many of my friends asked me whether I had seen the movie. My answer to that is, no. Jim and I did Netflix it a while back. However, the subject just hits too close to home and I was unable to watch more than 30 minutes.
As bizarre as it might sound, at my lowest points, I've wished any number of "disabilities" over the one I struggle with, most often deafness (so then I might not be required to ever speak). In my years in public accounting, I agonized over whether clients thought me incompetent as my speech was so clearly sub par, in comparison with my peers in our firm. Joseph Sheehan's Message to a Stutterer, is spot on. I know I am not alone among others who stutter with feelings of embarrassment, frustration, fear, and anger.
So to the jerkoff who laughed to my face asking, "what? Forgot your own name?" Yes, dumbass. I forgot my name. I wish I had the guts to just punch you in the face.