Saturday, December 22, 2012


Tongue Tied Me

Most people who know me today would have a hard time believing it, but when I was a child, I had a very noticeable speech impediment,

It didn't start when I first learned to speak---or even at age 5 or 6, which is most typical. I was a bit older, and, it is clear now, it was a stress reaction. That makes sense when you realize that very young children are not self-aware enough to express strong emotions in the same ways adults do.

I didn't have the stereotypical stutter you sometimes see portrayed in the media. I would start sentences and simply freeze partway through. It felt like my heart was going to burst through my chest, and my brain was racing ahead, but no sound came out of my mouth. Today I know that this is not unlike the experience of some stroke victims-- you know what you want to say, but your brain will not let your lips say the words. It can be infuriating- and, in one of those world-class gotcha's- the more upset you get, the worse it gets. When stressed, I would find it almost impossible to string together enough words to make a coherent sentence.

Because I could not express myself aloud, I learned to write. As a coping mechanism, I learned that if I wrote down what I wanted to say, I could read it aloud. I could also recite memorized passages, sing lyrics, and fall back on rote responses. By the time I was 10, I could fake out most people. But god help me if I was called on in class to work a problem at the board in real time and explain how I got the answer, I have very clear memories of dissolving into tears in such situations.

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