Your voice is something you probably take for granted. You use it from the moment to wake up until the moment to go to sleep. You use it to communicate. To convey your emotions, get your point across and get what you want. You may not necessarily like the sound of your voice, but it serves its purpose. It’s yours. For me and 70,000,000 people worldwide it’s a little different. As one of the 1% of the world’s population who stutters, I can tell you that it can rule your life if you let it.
I can practically remember the exact day I became one of those 70 million. Rewind to 2nd grade, 1974. I am in class, sitting at my desk waiting for my turn to read aloud. The teacher calls my name and I begin reading from the text. Something very strange and confusing starts happening. My voice is locking up every third or fourth word. I CAN’T GET THE WORDS OUT!
The following 10 years were a blur of speech therapy both in and out of school. God bless my mother. She championed the cause to get me better. When I was 9 years old she learned a fluency technique from a Mid-Town Manhattan speech therapist we had visited. For one year, 7 days a week, 2 hours a night she would work with me. Sessions were recorded and tapes were mailed weekly to the therapist. In return, he would mail the tape back with his critique and advice on the next week of sessions. When the year was up I was pretty much fried; however notable progress was made. Inevitably though I reverted back to my former stuttering self.
Every stutter is unique. Some are practically undetectable and some are downright debilitating. I’ve always fallen somewhere in the middle. My stutter doesn’t manifest itself in the stereotypical “Porky Pig” form. My speech is choppy with several seconds of silence and/or breathlessness in between every 4th or 5th word. Stress and anxiety only exacerbate the problem. The more relaxed I am, the more fluent I speak. Reading or speaking in front of a crowd has always been my albatross. In fact, the most difficult thing I have ever done was giving the Best Man toast at two weddings.
Ironically both marriages ended in divorce. Word to the wise; think twice before having a stutterer toast your marriage! (just kidding)
You definitely need to have a sense of humor when you’re a stutterer. Sometimes you just have to laugh at the irony and absurdity of it all. For example, I can read an entire passage from a text to my wife and daughter with complete fluency. If I read the same passage with two or three additional people in the room, I become exponentially less fluent. If 5-10 more people enter the room, sweat rolls down my back, my heart races and my ears ring. At that point, my reading becomes more disjointed and choppier than the Atlantic Ocean during a nasty Nor’easter. That’s where the chicken-or-the-egg question comes into play. Does my anxiety cause my stuttering, or does my stuttering cause anxiety? Ponder that for half a century and you’ll understand why having a sense of humor is critical for your own mental well being.
Here is a few things or instances every stutterer can both relate to:
* Telephones are evil. Thank God for the internet age of emails, texts, and online food ordering!
* We hate Fast Food Drive-Thrus!
* At Starbucks, order WHAT YOU CAN SAY. A “Grande Half Calf Double Salted Caramel Mocha Latte” is a no-no!
* We hate phone answering machines. Nothing says pressure more than hearing that “BEEEEEEP”
* The words “Uhhhhh” and “Ummmm” are our best friends.
* Completing our sentences for us should be legal grounds for a punch to the nose. LET US FINISH!
* You want us to read aloud in front of the group? Why not ask someone with Acrophobia to tightrope across the Grand Canyon?
* The awkwardness of not being able to introduce yourself because you get stuck on YOUR OWN NAME.
* Seeing that quizzical look on a person’s face when you contort your face struggling to get the words out.
Not having the confidence enough to vocally express yourself effectively is frustrating. Actually, sorry…”frustrating” doesn’t cut it. “Frustrating” is when I can’t find my car keys or my when my 11-year-old takes too long to get ready for school. It is more like a feeling of utter powerlessness. I lived an extremely self-conscious existence with overwhelming feelings of inferiority. As a result, I became extremely quiet and kept to myself. The result in that is that many people mistook me as antisocial, aloof and arrogant. If they only knew.
But enough with all the gloom and doom. Somebody once said that any task, activity or event which is painful, humiliating, upsetting, violent or distressing to a person, will, in turn, build character. I can check those boxes, with the exception of “violent”. No one has ever physically assaulted me for stuttering. But there is always tomorrow! Haaa!
I’ve come to the realization that at this stage in my life nothing will cure my stuttering, and maybe that’s alright. Maybe God intended me to be that way. After all, If I wasn’t who I am, my life would have taken an entirely different path. I would have never met the incredible woman who is my wife, nor would we have had the incredible child that is our daughter. They understand me and challenges me more than any other person ever has. I could not comprehend a life without them.
So, to all you fluent speakers out there I say “LOVE YOUR VOICE”. I wake up every morning fighting mine. It’s a little difficult to love something you’ve been in a UFC style brawl with for almost half a century. But I am working on it.
Rob was born in Harrison, NY in 1966. The third of four children he is a graduate of Harrison high school and Iona College. He is a Perfumer and has worked in the fragrance industry for almost thirty years. He resides in northern New Jersey with his wife, 11-year-old daughter and their maniacal Jack Russel Terrier. When not working or spending time with his family, he loves playing guitar, working out and rooting on the Yankees and Giants.