Posted by Amruta
“L…la…lady…”. Pause. Her throat started drying, sight became fuzzy and head exploded like a volcano with overflowing thoughts. She wasn’t able say the word ‘bug’. She just couldn’t and had no idea why. Everybody was looking at her. She could feel their eyes. Gathering courage, she tried again and could only manage, “Llladddy bahh…” There was a long pause again. Her lips stayed pursed. This time, all those scary eyes almost pierced through her, making her feel naked and vulnerable, as if she was at mercy of others. It was terrifying!
She was a six-year-old then and thought it best to close her eyes and ears as the only way to stop the torture. Little did she know, it was only the beginning of her stuttering saga.
That was me, and that six-year-old girl in me has stayed forever. I started believing that closing my eyes and ears was the only solution to get away from terrifying situations and people. As time passed, pessimism started manifesting itself to such an extent that I loathed my younger self for being so weak.
For years, I met several eyes full of sympathy and pity, which was even worse. Numerous suggestions to curb my stuttering were helpfully offered. “Apply honey and table-salt on your tongue.” “Keep a stone on your tongue and talk in front of a mirror.” “Calm down. Don’t try to talk so fast. Think before you speak.”
People gave these suggestions with good intentions, thinking they would work, but they never did. It crushed me every single time, but somehow, I made peace with it, thinking that they were only trying to help. Long back, in a classroom, I was picked out to answer a question. Even though I had fumbled while speaking, I was able to give a convincing answer to the professor. After the class, I expressed my anger and disappointment about not being able to communicate fluently due to my stuttering, to which my friend said, “Because of this, at least you actually get to implement what they say – think before you speak!”
As appalling as it may sound, I started enjoying the benefit of doubt that I received from people waiting until I finished. Sometimes, in excitement, I’d keep on talking until a moment of realization that would reinforce the fact that, “You are not like them.” Whenever I saw other people finding it difficult to express, or rather hesitant to speak, I would get annoyed thinking that in spite of having fluent speech, they are not making the most of this beautiful gift they’ve got.
I started enjoying the benefit of doubt that I received from people waiting until I finished.
It took a while but slowly things started unfolding on to a different trajectory. I began noticing that I wasn’t always at fault, and these situations may not even be in my control. But there had to be something I could do about it. Out of obligation, I attended a session to treat speech inconsistencies. For some weird reason, I was a misfit there as well, because I spoke as fluently as melting butter, as compared to other participants. This was equally frustrating. Why couldn’t I just be like somebody else, for once?
Years went by, but the frustration and self-loathing never ceased. However, one day a harbinger of hope and optimism gave me a mantra (chant) to help ward off all the pessimism. It took a while to work but it did.
In case you are wondering if I stopped stuttering with that mantra – no, I did not. I just learnt to make peace with it. You know the saying – keep your friends close and enemies closer so that you are aware of the strategies of your enemies. Not only did I accept my stuttering, I also tried to win it over, making it acceptable for others to stutter too. As twisted as it may be, now that I knew this, I could hope that my stuttering would be considerate towards me and might even leave me for good.
If anything, it was liberating. I was not scared anymore. The vulnerable six-year-old was finally redeemed and gathered courage to open her eyes and ears. There was no stopping or looking back after this. Talking in front of a big crowd, interacting with new people, re-approaching the ones I knew before, talking to myself – I found a new sense of freedom in all these, and realized that I had never been more content. The journey continues, and the mantra is working magically. Hopefully a day will come when I would bid it Goodbye.
Until then, I walk away telling myself, “I love, accept, respect and forgive myself deeply and completely and so does everybody with whom I come in contact with.”
This post was originally published on India Fellow and republished with permission. India Fellow is a 13-month Social Leadership Program for Young Indians who, during this journey, work full-time with a grassroots organization on a social issue. Along with that, they receive training from the fellowship, an opportunity of peer-sharing with other Fellows and Alumni, mentor-ship from sector leaders and experienced professionals. Know more on their Website or check out some of the videos on YouTube. They are financially supported by Tata Trusts.