This post or at least the content and intent of this post is due for long and Thanks to a post I saw today, I decided to complete it today. Warning: might be a long post 🙂
I don’t remember much of my childhood, but I do remember events which made an impact on me. I was a slightly rebellious kid, no doubt about that, even though I was calm and quiet and all that. And I was calm and quiet and labelled a very ‘reserved child’ because I had a hard time speaking fluently. I used to stammer and stutter ‘a lot’. I cannot frame a sentence completely without stuttering at least half of it. It was such an effort to speak. So I always used to shy myself away from anything that requires me to use my voice. And hence the label of a ‘reserved child’ among the relatives. Little did they know how much of a tom boy was I at school. Sometimes, my mind used to rush with all these thoughts but I could never get it out. And when people younger to me made fun of my stutter, all I used to do was to go to my room and sit and cry and wonder why.
I always believed that there is always a balancing act in nature. And for me that came in the form of my voice (irony isn’t). I couldn’t speak fluently but I could sing. And I was pretty good at it. And to my surprise, when I sang, not even once I stuttered or stammered and words just flowed. Imagine my relief , not to mention to be good at something other’s weren’t. But again, I never sang before anyone else. At home, I used to sing loudly and love the way the words came out unhindered. But then things changed , for good. In school, they were selecting students for singing during a Christmas celebration function. And the Headmistress noticed that I sang well. And since I was already a slightly-terror kid at school, she thought that I was confident personified and put me in a skit. Imagine my horror. I could not string a single sentence for almost 5-6 rehearsals. She got really pissed off and she even caned me that I was doing it on purpose, because I had already told her that I wouldn’t be able to do it, even when she suggested it. Yeah, I was putting on a show so she would let me be. That is what she thought and the punishment was to call my parents so that she can report me. Good Luck with that, I thought 🙂 When my parents explained to her that I have a problem with speaking and I stutter naturally , she was surprised. She didn’t quite understand how I could sing well and not speak. Something even my parents weren’t sure of. I really liked that Headmistress, because she was the one who did some study on that and came back to my parents and told them about it. Seems like my brain processes at a speed which is almost twice that of which my tongue can handle and process it. No Sh**!!! And it can be rectified with Speech Therapy. Those times (early 80’s) the speech therapy weren’t that popular or cheaper. My parents were hardly making the ends meet, so there went any hope of it. That would also explain why I don’t stutter during singing, because there is a restricted and controlled flow of the words and coordination between the brain and the tongue. Well, if I cannot make the speech therapy, I can at least sing my way through, right ? Except that life is not a musical.
But the fact that I could sing without stuttering gave me a lot of hope. I started taking part in my school’s singing competitions and won. But I still could never talk to people or even take part in the regular school activities that involves speaking up. And throw the fact that not many people know about this problem into the mixture and things sometimes gets worse. Like this one time when my Headmaster (many years later) forced me to recite something during assembly and that took like ‘for-ever’. I did warn him though. Not to mention that I had to endure the snickers (not the eating kind) from the whole school. Thank you Sir. But when he realized the problem, he felt real bad about it and from then on, no assembly recitations for me , yay!!!
Everytime I changed school I had to endure this issue, because of non-awareness. I had more problem speaking in my native language (Tamil) than in English. Go figure!!! So in high school, when our teacher wanted us to read something, I would really jump from one bench to another as soon as I see that my turn is coming up. Anything to avoid it. And I always made sure that if I finally get the chance, it was always towards the end of the period so that I wouldn’t have much time to go ahead with it. Oh, the things that I had to come up with to avoid talking in front of people. But ask me to sing and I will not bat an eyelid and go ahead with it 🙂 I kept that with me and when my friends knew that I could sing, they would have requests and most of my high school and college free times were spent singing. Nothing like it to use what you have got as a confidence booster.
But when I finished my post graduation and got an offer with a MNC for a computer science engineering job, new scares were in place. Till then , my environment was controlled and less people involved, who already knew my problem and my reason I don’t talk much to people. But now I am going into a new world, away from my family and I wasn’t sure anymore about how I was going to make it. And thanks to all those friends of my parents and relatives, because they were suggesting speech therapy now (when I was in my 20’s) to enable me to be confident about facing the world ahead. I had seen the effects of it because one of the students in my Uni whose conditions were worse than mine, took a course with a professor in Speech Therapy in the Uni and I saw the effects of it and knew that it would do good to my speaking capability. Not to mention my confidence , which can do with some booster too. But I thought about it and then rejected it because I didn’t have the energy to do it , nor the money. Because I know that my parents would have to borrow more money than they have been doing, for this. Also enduring the taunts and snickers all these years, I was so used to it, I thought, if the world does have a problem with my stuttering, then so be it. I am good. So what if I cannot speak fluently. I have earned good grades, good job in spite of all this and thankfully in the Computer Science field, I don’t have to talk much with my mouth. My hands can do all the talking it wants 😀 and I ain’t no King George VI who would be required to make a speech from time to time. The world can survive without my speech therapy and even, I will.
I won’t say I did not have any problems at work, because any discussion would eventually require me to talk but people were considerate. The only thing that I couldn’t get into was any conferences or discussions that involved any customer interaction. I could talk a mile a minute to the ones closer to me. Give me a new person and I will just shut down or rather my mouth does. Even now after all these years, when my brain has slowed down a lot and I don’t have to worry about stuttering and all that stuff anymore, I still find it difficult to start a conversation. I prefer emailing someone at work rather than pick up the phone and get the work done quickly. I do not involve myself in any customer calls or anything that involves a group. I don’t even do any demos to my second level manager. Not because I am not confident of my work, but because of the fact that I have never done it and my confidence is still low without adding any pressure of performing well. I can talk to this same manager outside of the demo without any issues , may be even with very less stuttering, but put me in a group, even if virtual, and my tongue is tied. If you see me in a group, it is guaranteed that I will not open my mouth unless it is necessary, even if the stuttering has reduced much over the years.
I do stutter more if my brain is not relaxed , that is to say when I am too tired or too worked up over something or too tense. Anything that causes the brain – tongue interaction to falter, you will still see me stuttering a lot. And when I feel low about it, I go home and sing myself heartily. I am no professional in singing, even though I tried learning classical for a month (and then the teacher left that place and that got discontinued). But I can hold myself well. I never participated in any competitions other than the ones I had in school. But then I never really felt like doing that. For me singing was a therapy of it own and that is what it will always be. It makes me relaxed, it makes me joyful, it makes me see the world all ‘jazz’ed 😀 And with my nieces and nephews , I have got a new set of admirers. Singing also makes me forget my incapability to speak fluently but it also keeps me grounded to reality that I have to try and talk slowly. Every now and then my manager has to stop me and tell me that I am talking at the speed of a bullet train and that he just can’t follow me. How I do that I am not sure. But when I am relaxed and well, I don’t seem to stutter much or rather I ignore it. I also don’t stutter much with people close to me or who know my problem. And since I am not sure how the new person will react to it, I tend to stutter more at their presence…. yes, the pressure is the problem for me.
Some people might also think that my stuttering and its impact (that I slow down while I talk) is a good thing because if not they might get blood in their ears given the way I get carried over at times when I talk and I know that I am not stuttering 😉 There are lot of ways now to handle this problem through therapy. But first and foremost, acceptance is the key. It is an issue, true, but there are always ways of looking at it positively. I guess for me, if I wasn’t stuttering I would never have found out that I could sing well or would get into an industry where I don’t have to talk much with my voice. And those two are ‘huge’ things for me. Both are confidence boosters. And people who want to snicker or make fun will always find something or the other to lower our self esteem. If we keep giving them the ammunition of defeat, they will always grow stronger. And as I said, Nature always , always balances things in life. All we have to do is find the source of our balance with respect to this problem. There is bound to be one and then excel in it. Not for anyone else, but for ourselves. We have to make ourselves feel good first. Selfish – yes, but that is where it has got to start. We cannot make anyone or anything better unless we feel better ourselves. And there are lot of people who don’t even bat an eyelid when I stutter. I really thank them from the bottom of my heart. And in this age of technology, there are 1001 ways to communicate and not everything requires a voice. For me, it is a problem only when I let it be.
“Look well into thyself; there is a source of strength which will always spring up if thou wilt always look.”
― Marcus Aurelius