Anyone who knows me well enough is aware of the fact that I’m not generally a quiet person. I often go through long awkward phases when I meet new people, but once that ends, I’d say I’m pretty talkative. Sometimes it’s almost impossible to shut me up. It seems a bit weird to admit that I’m a stutterer in light of this, but it’s true.
I stutter. Just a little bit. Such a little bit that almost nobody has ever noticed it (I think? I hope?), and, with only one big exception, I’ve never admitted to it or brought it up in conversation. I’ve watched a number of videos, documentaries and movies about severe stuttering, and I’ve also met a few severe stutterers in my lifetime. I haven’t, however, met any mild stutterers like myself, and I’ve been wondering if that’s because there aren’t a lot of them or because, like me, they hide it well and, most of the time, don’t appear to be stutterers at all. I suspect it’s the latter, and that’s why I’m writing this post.
I have divided my own stuttering into two different categories. There’s the quantitatively significant but qualitatively insignificant stutter (henceforth “small stutter”), and the quantitatively insignificant, but qualitatively significant stutter (henceforth “big stutter”).
In the case of small stuttering, it’s so minor, that it barely bothers me and could easily be passed off as a little bit of regular speech disfluency. It happens a lot; I’d say at least half of the time that I talk, but it’s not a big deal. It’s just little blips in the flow of my speech that I sort of tumble over and don’t think much of. I highly doubt that anyone has ever noticed it as anything out of the ordinary and there’s no intense angst or trauma associated with it for me. It’s the big stutter that brings the angst and trauma.
For me, this “big stutter” phenomenon doesn’t happen all the time. It’s like the flu. It kind of comes and goes. The first time I remember being completely aware that there was something weird going on was in the 8th grade. It probably started earlier than this, but 8th grade was the first time I was badly troubled by it. It was one of those things I carried around with me all the time, wondering if it would ever come right.
I don’t remember much about middle school, but I can remember specific incidents in which I was afflicted by the big stutter. Especially this one incident: I was standing outside the geography classroom with the class, waiting for the teacher to let us in. I was leaning against the wall in the sun, talking to my friends. I battled through a bit of stuttering which, up until that point, I’d fooled myself into thinking that nobody ever noticed. Then one of my friend’s laughed and said something along the lines of “Why do you always do that with your face?” It was a pretty apocalyptic moment for me as a gangly, insecure thirteen-year-old with a whispy monobrow.
You see, my strategy for dealing with the big stutter at that time was to force my way through the problem sounds, and this generally involved me screwing up my face as if I was constipated. It would sound like I was over-emphasising random words for no reason and drawing out sounds that it doesn’t really make sense to draw out. And my friends had noticed. I don’t remember how I responded. Knowing myself as I was back then, I probably made some bullshit excuse and changed the topic, but it was too late. I knew that they knew, and I knew that they’d probably known for ages. Awkward. At least it was for me.
As I said earlier, the big stutter comes and goes. It’s strange. I’m pretty sure that after middle school, there was a good solid chunk of time, perhaps even as long as two years, in which I had no problem with the big stutter at all and almost completely forgot how it felt (and probably thought myself to be “over it” along with various other facets of my early-teen awkward vibes) but alas… It comes and goes, comes and goes. It’s here at the moment, in full force, and I’m starting to interrogate the situation a little more to try and understand what’s causing it to happen.
It doesn’t crop up in all conversations or situations or with all interlocutors. More and more, I’m thinking it’s a bit context dependent, although there are some contexts in which I can’t fathom why it happens. I don’t think I do the constipated face thing much anymore. I don’t really do the repetition thing much either. I basically just freeze on certain words or sounds and feel them fluttering in my throat, like bubbles that won’t pop or sneezes that won’t come. I can often anticipate what I’m going to get stuck on and then I try to think of an alternative way to say what I want to say so that it avoids the problem sounds. This doesn’t always work. If I reach a stumbling block and I haven’t planned a route around it, I sometimes panic and find myself incapable of saying just about anything, as if suddenly ALL the sounds are broken. It’s bizarre and it makes it super frustrating, awkward, and embarrassing sometimes, particularly when I’m trying to make an important point or say something humorous. >_< When I think back over a chunk of stuff I’ve just said while battling through a particularly stubborn wall of big stutter, I realise how bad it might sound to those I’m talking to. Like my vocabulary is falling apart or something. Extended, inexplicable pauses and hedges and stumbling over completely simple, straightforward words and sentence structures… Fuck. Sometimes I pretend that I’m trying to remember what I wanted to say, or that I’m pondering the right way to say it, when actually I’m just stuck on a sound and I’m acting. Sometimes this is effective, and sometimes not so much.
Anyway. For some reason, it’s always been a bit of a point of shame for me. Since I was thirteen, I’ve done my best to pretend that it isn’t a thing, and I’ve always feared that if I did admit to it, that people would start listening out for it and waiting for it to happen, which would be super weird and also not very rewarding for them, because it doesn’t happen consistently or in a way that others can predict. I’ve also become quite adept at hiding it when it’s not bad, and it’s only bad fairly rarely. I talk to my boyfriend about it (the big exception), particularly when it’s causing me distress (like the time it decided to visit me for a few months while I was a tutor at the university… not fun…), but I’ve never really talked about it with anyone else.
I guess I’m just curious to see if any other stealth-stutterers will encounter this post while trawling the Internet. If you are such a person reading this, I’d be interested to know about your experiences, what sounds you find problematic, how you deal with them, what you think triggers your periods of stuttering, if you feel like you have your own “small stutter” and “big stutter”, and all that sort of stuff. I’m not going to write about the specifics of my personal stumbling blocks because I don’t want anyone who knows me to listen out for them or realise when I’m using word-avoidance strategies, but I’d be willing to discuss these things in a more private forum. ^_^