I’m caught up with some family last night in a COVID safe way. As we had drones, I had planned this photograph from the get-go along with a few of the local landscapes from above.
In case it’s not immediately obvious, this is a photograph of my brother’s drone in flight taken by my drone … also in flight. 31.5 metres off the ground to be precise.
After completing my day job hours, I spent a small portion of the day editing audio and video for M. She is preparing an online master class on taking awesome photographs of yourself for small business people who need marketing photos.
Whilst listening back to the audio I, of course, hear myself offering suggestions and giving directions (as I was asked to do!)…
For those who don’t know me, I have a speech impediment. I stutter. I have since I was young. It’s so much a part of my life that several speech pathologists and even a hypnotist have been unable to shake it. This is not by any means a “woe is me” post. It’s more of an “If you have the slightest of interest, here’s what it’s like to live in my shoes” kind of thing.
Stuttering is not truly classed as a disability. At least it’s never been recognised as one. But to be blindly honest, it can be totally and utterly debilitating. I have lost count of the number of things I have wanted to do, the number of people I have wanted to talk to, the number of jobs I have wanted (or actually applied for and reached the interview stage only to be told I was 2nd in line for the position), the sheer amount of stuff I have wanted to say and even the food I have wanted to order … but couldn’t. All because I can’t talk like 99.9999% of the population.
Please allow me to break that last one down … You know those moments you are craving something specific to eat and nothing else will quite satisfy you? Those are the moments I can’t say what I want so I have to quickly fall back and order something else. Oh, and to add insult to injury, I have to use a different name.
Why use a different name? The most difficult thing for most people with a stutter to say is their own name. Please take a second to think about the number of times in a given year when you introduce yourself or even worse, are asked your name. A simple line “Hi, I’m [Insert person’s name], what’s your name?” causes a visceral reaction in my body that begins in my chest and radiates out to my extremities. When ordering food at a food court I am “Adam” or “Andrew”. Never Richard. And why don’t I just change my name? Because I would not be able to say whatever name it is I choose.
During my army years (where you are known by your surname) I couldn’t say my surname on demand. Now in my “civilian” life, I can’t say my first name on demand.
When I haven’t managed to avoid it and I am faced with saying it, prepare for a look of dread on my face and very uncomfortable silence. I’ll pretend I didn’t hear you the first time, thus causing the person who has asked the simplest of questions to (possibly rightly so) think I am an idiot. If that doesn’t work I will take a mental run-up by adding words in front to “surprise” my brain into saying it. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
Here’s a laugh. When naming our daughter, M prepared a shortlist of gender-neutral names and I had the honour to select the winner. Stupid me chose a name he can’t say when asked. I’ve even had to resort to spelling it. Please, I invite you to imagine for a minute how that would make you feel.
My own wife (and she has openly admitted this) thought I was a little “slow” when she first met me. And considering her level of intelligence, I probably am. Luckily for us, most of the subsequent communication that led to us realising we had feelings for each other was done via google chat whilst at our respective workplaces. I hold no ill will towards her for it as it kind of highlights my point. If only I could communicate this way with everyone, I would be much happier.
My partners have been trained into anticipating the question and leaping in and saying “Hi, I’m [Insert partner’s name] and this is my husband Richard.” I must say, M does this exceptionally well.
So what happens when I talk and how does it feel?
The actual mechanics are that my brain causes a block and I physically can not get the word out. I feel as if the word is just beyond my reach. That’s my most common affliction. It’s very hard to articulate but I can physically “feel” the block. It’s not a nice feeling. Blocks can range from a split second through to up to 20 seconds.
Now, 20 seconds does not sound like a long time but try this for me … Get a stopwatch out, say the following sentence “Hi, my name is … “, start the timer and wait for 20 seconds and then say your name. It’s a lifetime.
There are also the repeated sounds and syllables, mostly consonants and “plosives”. This is what your typical bully and the movies will mimic when faced with a stutterer. There’s no retort for it either, you just have to take it. Remember 1988 when “Stutter Rap” by Morris and the minors rocketed up the charts? I came very near to ending my life that year. It was not a good time for me. If it wasn’t for my music, bands, and the very few people I hung out with during 1988, I would not be here.
As for the severity of the stutter, it can vary from imperceptible to extremely awkward. It really depends on a number of factors. If I don’t know you, my speech will be clearer. As I get to know you, it will get worse. If you are family (not including my household M has asked me to point out), you might as well get your phone out and scroll through your Instagram or Facebook feeds (yes both, you’ll have time) whilst I try to get my sentence out. If I am tired, I might as well not bother and pretend to be as stupid as I look.
If I am with family AND tired … it’s sometimes enough to make me want to extract myself from the scene and go for a fucking long walk. Apologies for the fruity language folks, but even writing this is stirring up emotions.
I hate that I can’t even talk to my best friend clearly or to the other musicians in my band to pass on ideas. And speaking of music, I strongly dislike signing lead vocals. Like, REALLY dislike it. But I do it because it’s the one and only time I can communicate with my mouth that doesn’t involve me worrying.
Let’s put it this way, the more comfortable I am with you, the worse it can potentially get. Take it as a compliment.
Whilst talking, most of the time I have a split-second notice that a word or words will cause me to block and need to be swapped out. Sometimes this leads to complete sentences needing to be swapped out to hopefully get my point across. I wish I could say this was an uncommon occurrence, but it’s not. Please do not think for a minute any person you meet with a stutter is an idiot. Most times their brains are moving faster than yours just trying to figure out how not to sound like a person with a low IQ.
I constantly feel like I have to prove that I am truly not an idiot. There are times my brain is working so fast that I can feel slightly dizzy. I’m not making this shit up.
I hate I can see how uncomfortable people are when I (try to) talk to them.
I hate that when I have a great idea at work or something to add to a discussion with friends, most of the time you’ll never know it. It’s not worth the embarrassment. At least at work, I can send an email.
But most of all, I hate the effect it has on my self-esteem.
I don’t want to end this on a downer so I would like to highlight that even though I have this “affliction”, I still photograph clients, I can stand up in front of over one hundred wedding guests and have them laughing and engaged for the group photograph. I can still play in my band and support my band members from behind the drums.
I also want to thank the people closest to me who choose to see past the stutter and never bring it up. I wish you could feel, even for just a moment, the frustration I have talking to you as even though I know in my heart it doesn’t change your opinion of me, I still feel like an idiot.
I guess this explains why even though I’ve never aspired to be an author, I do love to write. I’ve had multiple people in the last month tell me they enjoy reading my blog and like to way I write. I guess I write in a way I would love to be able to talk.
The biggest laugh I have ever received for a joke was during an army camp. It was late at night and we were playing poker. My boss was trying to read a piece of trivia from the inside of a beer bottle cap. He’d had many a beverage and because this took so long I casually looked at him across the table and said “Come on sir, even I can finish a sentence faster than that!”. The resulting shock on their faces followed by laughter caused the game to be put on hold for a couple of minutes whilst several people, who were literally doubled over, tried to regain the ability to breathe.
On behalf of some fellow stutterers including Rowan Atkinson, Wayne Brady, Winston Churchill, Ed Sheeran, and a long list available here, I hope this brings some insight to our “affliction”.
Looking forward to much lighter posts in the near future.
That’s it for now. Thanks for reading, I really appreciate your time and interest. Talk to you soon. Stay safe.
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DJI Mavic Mini Drone @ 31.5m
1/1000 | f/2.8 | ISO 100
Tuesday October 6, 2021 @ 17:06
Frankston, Victoria, Australia
For the record, I’ve always considered you one of the most intelligent people I know and have felt intimidated by the breadth of your knowledge and your ability to communicate it with me. I forget you have the stutter until it’s pointed out.
We need to catch up again soon.
What a stunning read! The insights and the internal struggles you have endured are heartbreaking. Having said that, I believe that you are an incredible person who is far from being an idiot. When I put myself in your position, then reading the blog again, I can envision and feel how you must have and still feel. I can now see how writing allows you to express yourself with a sense of freedom, and why your writing is exceptional.
Thank you for the insights. It must have been difficult to allow yourself to feel so vulnerable.
Please believe that you are much more than your stutter and consider writing a book to assist those who go through what you have and continue to do. More power to you!
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