When your mouth locks up:
Yes, we are all certain that if we could just figure ourselves out the stuttering would be solved. Well, until then, take a breath.
Ever so often, in my lifetime of stuttering, a person here and there has told me as I struggle to push out a word, "Take a breath." I thought they meant relax, but, no, they recognized what I did not, that I was out of air.
I just came to this realization recently while reading to my children. Usually, I don't stutter when reading to them, especially when I am very dramatic, but it does come and go. I realized I was a little dizzy and (lightbulb!) realized I was needing air. I started taking a breath on every period, and though short sentences made me dizzy with hyperventilation, I stopped stuttering. It has helped in the real world, especially if I remember to take the breath before talking. Usually, I only realize I'm stuttering in the middle of a sentence and then I have to take a less than graceful gulp of air to continue, but taking a sudden breath has to look less dorky than grimacing to force words out.
I began to take notice and discovered that EVERY time I was stuttering I could stop and take a deep breath -- my lungs were empty. Every time. See if this is true with you.
Talking is air passing over vocal cords. When I stutter my stomach is very tight and I always thought it was stress, uptightness. Looking for a psychological explanation blinded me to the simple physical explanation. My stomach was trying to squeeze out a little more air to form the words. For some reason in me, when I run out of air while talking, I panic but without the instinctual reaction of taking a breath. I just get more panicky and try harder to push the air out. I mistake the panic of needing oxygen for panic of speaking. Taking a breath ends the panic. Another oddity about this is that I keep repeating the start of a word when I am out of air. For some reason I have enough air to say, "For for for for for" when the same amount of air would get me a few words on. Only with a full breath will I go on to the next word. ???? Makes no sense to me.
Breathing and talking don't work together well with me (except of course when I'm mad or acting -- that must use another part of my brain, perhaps a more primitive part) and this I re-discovered when counting outloud for hide-and-seek the other day. Just counting outloud I realized I didn't know when to breath and I started feeling dizzy. I took a deliberate breath or two but it just didn't satisfy, it was either too much or too little, it was like I wasn't absorbing the oxygen. I felt like I didn't know how to breathe -- and this was standing in a corner counting, not face to face with listeners. Only when I got dramatic and showing off with the counting did my breathing become instinctual, and I just naturally knew when to alter my rhythm and style, going from a NASA countdown to an auctioneer to sing-song to impending doom with perfect speaking and breathing ability.
Don't believe those videos that say stuttering is minor mistakes in timing or delivery. Every idiot has an opinion and a mouth and libraries buy whatever self-help videos are politically correct. I don't know why people stutter or why I stutter, or why a stroke can suddenly cause or cure it, or whether I inherited it from my stuttering father or just learned it from him. But I do know that I don't have low self esteem or low accomplishments or much to be ashamed of and I love an audience. There is no reason in the psychology department why I should stutter. I think my brain has a wiring problem, and when I want to talk I lose my instincts for breathing. I wonder if crib death babies would have become stutterers.
The other thing that works with me is to be emotionally sincere. If I am nervous, I should not act cool. If I want to impress someone, I should not--I should just present myself as I am. If someone has a flaw that I am ashamed to be aware of (say they are obese, or disabled), I should not try to behave as if I don't recognize it. I don't have to be blatant, in your face with the unpleasant truths, but I don't let myself be false. When I need to impress or convince, such as in a job interview or in an argument, I must prepare myself so I am not faking my presentation or my confidence. When I am emotionally sincere, it takes the stress off, I don't have the background panicky thoughts and I can relax and actually stay interested and responsive to what is going on. I forget about stuttering and, as you know, then I don't. Sometimes I have to pause when the stuttering overtakes me and reassess what I sincerely think of this person I am talking to. Usually, I'll realize I don't have such a high opinion of them that I need to impress them.
This isn't to say a stutterer can never lie. Lying for a good cause, or when you feel justified is being emotionally sincere. I doubt if a stutterer can violate their conscience, but this is not to say a stuttering witness is lying, he or she might just want to be believed, or feel bad about being involved.
Another thing that works with me is to become sincerely interested in the person I'm talking to. Whether you admire them or find them flawed, let your wonder wander as you observe them. Asking them sincere questions will relax the conversation while taking the focus off you.
Most stutterers don't stutter when acting. This means real acting where you throw yourself into a part and express emotion. Breathing also is more forceful and similar to singing (where stuttering stops also). So put more emotion and drama into your normal speech. Have fun with talking! Focus on the meaning of your words and disregard how your audience is receiving it. This works like night and day for me when reading aloud. When I get interested in the story and am visually imagining it, I don't stutter. If I am trying to speak, especially if I am trying to influence the listeners, I stutter. Stuttering is merely telling us to enjoy life and forget impressing others.
But at times nervousness is unavoidable. At these times, take a deep breath. Express yourself sincerely and with a little drama. Maybe hum to get a sentence started. Please let me know if this works for you, or if you have other solutions.
--Jeannette Jaquish Email me at funantics123(at)yahoo-dot-com)
This site created 15 Oct 2002.
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