When does a secret become a secret? Is it when someone whispers into another person’s ear and begs them not to tell? Or maybe it happens more gradually, merely a result of choosing not to talk about an aspect of your life.
I did not intend for my stutter to become a secret. But nonetheless, it seems like it did.
Most often, stuttering starts between the ages of two and six, when children go through a growth of language acquisition. In seventy five percent of these cases, the stutter resolves itself fairly quickly, in about a year. But for the remainder of those children, it is a lifelong struggle. Of those children affected, boys are more likely than girls to have this chronic speech disorder, and that is also compounded by a genetic predisposition.
When I was two, my parents noticed disfluency in my speech and asked me if I wanted to go to speech therapy. I agreed. There is a history of stuttering in my family, so they knew to seek outside help. Throughout my childhood, I had many talented speech pathologists. Fast forward ten years, and I was still stuttering, but decided to withdraw from therapy. Despite my best efforts, I still had to work against my vocal cords and force sounds out of my throat. But along the way, I learned how to make adjustments in my everyday life to help ease my case.
Before a single word comes out of my mouth, I run through a litany of synonyms rehearsing the sounds in my mind to give myself the best chance for fluency. For me, consonants are easier sounds to make, they have clear touch points in the mouth, whereas vowels do not. But sometimes I cannot come up with a synonym fast enough, or my speech is particularly bumpy that day, and nothing will help. If I’m talking with friends, it is easy enough to take the back seat in a conversation. In a class, I can say I do not know an answer, rather than stutter through it. But, if this happens when I am in an interview or while I am giving a presentation, I have to fight my way through the sounds.
Everyone presents differently when they stutter. Some repeat syllables or interject superfluous ums or uhs in the effort to break the stutter. For me, I most often block. In other words, the sound is literally stuck in my throat, there is a pause, where I rip it out of my vocal cords. While this is happening, my jaw is locked open as I fight with myself to get the sounds out. Eventually, if I block enough, the muscles in my jaw rebel, and it starts to throb.
The fear of my stutter has, on more than one occasion, been so stifling that I have removed myself from a situation before it even happens. During those times, it is preferable to cocoon into myself, rather than have someone laugh at the garbled sounds that happen when I block.
I told you this preamble of sorts for a specific reason, not so you would pity or laugh at me. Trust me, I have received enough pitying eye-aversions and endured the brunt of enough ignorant laughter to last a lifetime. But my speech is also not as bleak as you might think; most people do not know I have a stutter.
I explained my stutter so you would understand how much I crave fluency. It is my eternal ambition that seems to be continually just out of reach.
But I found an exception, a way to achieve my lofty goal. When I write, my readers’ eyes glide smoothly across the page; never faltering or halting. Through writing, I found my fluency.
Working for this newspaper throughout college gave me an avenue to explore new things and express my opinions in a smooth and fluent way. Book reviews, interviews with singers, political opinion pieces, discussions with upper-level administration: these were all opportunities that were granted to me during my tenure.
When I write, I do not have to run through the thesaurus of adjectives in my head and use the word I think will come out smoothly. Instead, I can use whatever word I want, regardless of its sound. When I write, I do not have to cut myself off in the middle of a sentence, because I can sense a block coming on. I can compose a complete thought that is fluent from start to finish.
For these reasons, and innumerable others, I want to say thank you. Thank you to all the readers who read my words, who saw my fluency on the page.