I think I'm finally at the point in my life where the uncomfortable fog over my thoughts has lifted and I'm able to look ahead and think clearly. I have goals. I have to-do lists. I have a pro-con list as well (thanks, Rory Gilmore). I don't mind telling others exactly what I think -- for better or for worse. I enjoy having conversations with friends and acquaintances where we share our everyday struggles, our dreams, our thoughts for the future.
But sometimes in saying these thoughts out loud -- and everything else in between -- my words get stuck. The thoughts are racing around and around in my head clear as the crisp blue sky in wintry New York, but the words spoken aloud are as jumbled as the snowflakes flying around in a blizzard.
I've stuttered from elementary school onward to the present day. I've had friends, coworkers, acquaintances and family members try to help me whenever I'm struggling to get a word out. But there's a difference between helping someone when they simply don't know what they're talking about and helping someone when they're not able to get a word out because of a stutter.
When I'm with a group of friends and we're talking about a movie and I can't remember the name of the actor and ask for help, they say it, and it's greatly appreciated. If I'm trying to say what I want to order at a restaurant and can't pronounce the word and ask for help, that's fine, too. Even when I'm trying to give directions and don't remember whether the subway goes uptown or downtown, a family member jumps in and finishes the the route for me and I exhale in relief.
However, there are other times when I know exactly what I want to say but I can't say it because of my stutter. I try really hard to get through it, but sometimes other people finish my sentence for me without me asking them to do so. That's when it can become an issue.
While I appreciate the effort, sometimes it makes me feel a bit worse, which seems counterintuitive. Instead of feeling relieved that they jumped in and played superhero and saved the day, I feel a sense of unease, of discomfort. I understand that they are trying to help, but even though they think they're being supportive by finishing a sentence for me -- or for anyone else who stutters -- it doesn't help. It's just another version of interrupting someone and interjecting their thoughts with yours. It could also be the catalyst to a not-so-positive internal monologue. Like, "I can't even say a sentence without someone else having to help me. What's the point of saying anything if someone else is going to finish what I want to say?"
This might sound like an exaggeration, but it's true. Stuttering is just as much an internal dilemma as it is an external one. Friends and family members and teachers don't know the embarrassment that happens when I know what I want to say but can't say it and someone else has to say it for me. The point is that it's my point being made, not theirs. If I wanted their help when I stutter, I would ask for it. When they interrupt or just plow through the conversation, it's disheartening.
They can't see your confidence deteriorating.
There is a sense of pride that manifests when I'm are able to say exactly what I want to say without a stutter and without anyone else's help.
I had dinner at a friend's place a few weeks ago, and while there we started to talk about stuttering, since he wanted to understand it more. The topic of finishing a person's sentence came up, and he mentioned that when learning a new language it's great when people finish your sentence because you don't know the word.
I made the point that people who stutter do know the word; they just can't get it out.
The best thing to do when listening to a person who stutters is to be patient and wait for them to get the word out. I understand that everyone who finishes a sentence of a person who stutters is trying to help. They are genuine, they are friends, they are trying to be considerate.
But there is no substitute to patience. There is no shortcut. There is no rushing to the end or being able to predict what someone says. While it hurts to watch someone struggle with a word and even though you may know exactly what they are about to say, just wait. Give it a second. Give them time to say what they have to say.
When I do eventually get the word out on my own accord, on the inside, I'm thrilled. I don't feel like I'm stuck in a corner, claustrophobic and trapped by the very words I'm trying to communicate.
Instead, I feel liberated. Free.
Sometimes, having someone finish a sentence is a huge relief. They took the pressure off and now I'm able to move on to the next topic of conversation.
But most of the time, I want to make the point myself. I want to be able to contribute to a conversation completely and not need someone else to jump in at my expense.
The worst thing that happens -- depending on the situation -- is the sound of a few extra syllables in the air and another moment of silence. And then when the words are said we move on. We continue speaking.
But I think another key point to all of this is that we're living in such a rushed society. We're so intent on moving on to the next topic of conversation that we don't slow down and think about what we're actually talking about. I think as a whole, everyone needs to slow down and really take the time to take into account what is actually being said.
What's the rush?
We're only living one life. In a way, stuttering helps to reinforce my outlook. It helps me double check what I'm saying, why I'm saying it, and how it affects other people as well as myself. And if I can make that point on my own, even better.