The Plight of Stuttering and the Wonder of Language

So I've been stuttering a great deal for the pass couple months. My stuttering has its phases though, sometimes I can speak well for a couple of months and then the next few months I struggle getting anything out. I've been quite frustrated lately and haven't been able to talk about it for obvious reasons. So I thought I'd write a note and get everything I need to out. This is probably more for me than anyone else really but maybe some people might find this interesting and learn about something they might not ever think about.

Most people who know I stutter say, "I really don't notice you stuttering when you speak too often," and that may be true, but this is how it feels when I speak and what takes place when I say any simple sentence. Even if I am not stuttering, that doesn't mean my stuttering isn't affecting me or what I'm saying. If I'm not stuttering it's because I'm constantly focusing on my words, saying them using fluency techniques such as saying "um" before and flowing into the words rather than just blurting it out. I also focus on proper breathing techniques so that I can use the right muscles while speaking. All of this goes into me just saying a simple sentence or response. Now of course I forget to do these techniques because it's only natural to try to say what you want to say and how you want to say it.

Another thing I'll do is literally change the words I want to say. "I just went to Winn-Dixie," becomes "I just came from the store." (screw you W's!). Or when I really, really want a Route 44 real fruit slush at Sonic happy hour and I can't say it, I'll just get a large cherry limeade. 🙁 (damn you R!) So yeah, I'm not stuttering but that doesn't mean it isn't affecting my speech.

I really think people take for granted how amazing it is to be able to say exactly what you want to say and how you want to say it. Stop and just think about it if you are someone who is able to speak fluently without ever realizing the marvel of it. Language in and of itself is amazing. Our brain can abstract some universal, unimaginable concept like love, grasp what it is, remember an arbitrary sound that we as a culture use to convey the idea of this concept, send a signal from our brain to our mouth that moves or tongue, lips, and jaw to say, with what seems like utter simplicity, "love."

Love written by light trail at night Love written by light trail at night

Language presumes the existence of another by its very being. Its purpose is for the other and calls you to go outside yourself. Specifically, hearing another speak can uplift the heart and arise emotions in the soul. It can inspire people in a very unique way. I doubt the words of Christ at the Sermon on the Mount would have cut to the heart of the people there if Christ had been using sign language. With sign language you can turn away or close your eyes and it would be as if nothing is really happening. But with audible language the words literally penetrate your person. The voice of the one speaking is unique, personal, and unrepeatable. It calls you to recognize the other and make a decision. You can close your eyes and cover your ears, but you can still hear the muffled sound of what you are rejecting. I think of Christ on the cross and the pain it was for him to utter simple words as he raised himself up to gasp for air, even to breath properly as the fluid was building up in his lungs. How am I ever justified in being frustrated that I struggle to speak? I think God has been trying to tell my entire life, "Jesse, just shut-up and listen!" He's teaching me humility and the value of sitting in silence with your own thoughts and contemplating life.

And even though I have this struggle, I am a very lucky person and am extremely blessed for everything I have. There are so many people in this world that have much more serious problems than me. But for anyone who took the time to read this, think of how truly blessed you are in so many ways and the simple things you take for granted. We are surrounded every second of every day by what should inspire us to wonder in the mystery of existence.

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More about Jesse

Louisiana guy, Theology Teacher, Godfather (paran), Armchair theologian, wannabe Thomistic Philosopher, Totally Catholic

5 Comments

    1. You just left the room so its weird to comment on this here, but perhaps this makes it more real. My experience of you is that your stammer has faded into the background as I have gotten to know you. What I hear now is a highly intelligent, articulate young man with whom I am proud to work. As someone who has experienced stuttering myself though, I realize that much of the struggle is below the surface. You have a voice and point of view that needs to be heard; you are making a difference.

    1. Jesse, I just ran across your blog tonight for the first time, as your “Catholic Dating” post was linked on New Advent (helpful post, too, by the way! Definitely got some conversations started around this frustrating topic!)

      I’m a religious seminarian now, but as a late vocation, I spent the previous 11 years as an academic linguist and Spanish language professor, so language fluency and language acquisition are truly fascinating to me. As someone who speaks a number of languages quite fluently, I’ve always taken the “fluency” aspect of that gift of God somewhat for granted. Now the Lord has seen fit to humble me with a chronic illness that strongly affects my brain, primarily the short-term memory and word/name retrieval functions. Now I feel at times like I struggle just to speak simple English, let alone other languages. But word retrieval is very much a memory problem for me–it’s not a physical stutter in any way.

      It could be really interesting (at least for me) if you could describe your experience of what actually happens when you stutter. Is it a literal feeling of being tongue-tied? Do you suddenly fear having to pronounce a difficult letter, which then almost guarantees that you’ll stutter when you do say it? Would really be interested in your thoughts on this, if you’re willing to write more about it (or feel free to send me a private e-mail.)

      1. I definitely will write more about this. This blog here is actually 7 years old and needs to be updated. As a teacher, to speak in class I have to stand so I can properly use my diaphragm to help me push out the word. I would describe it as feeling like you a pushing a word up the proverbial hill and you can’t get it over the top until you finally do and it comes out. I will write a lot more about this though. I appreciate your interest.

    1. hey, stumbled across this. Im 22 yrs old and have had a stutter since before i can really remember, im currently serving my second year with NET Ministries of Ireland. I am a Team Leader and I MC a lot of retreats and give talks on our faith and shoot video where i talk about our faith. I dont say this to inflate my ego, but to say, I can relate to where you are coming from on this and I haven’t read any article about Stuttering that hit the nail on the head like this. Thanks for writing this!
      God Bless.

      1. Thanks. I appreciate it. This was actually an older post from 2009. I plan on writing more and update it. Feel free to shoot me an email and we can talk more if you’d be interested. I see that struggle as instrumental in my life of faith. That’s great that you’re doing NET! That’s great work!

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