As a child, I was always pretty quiet. I preferred the back of the room and not being the centre of attention. One of my strongest memories as a kid occurred during the grade three school year. Ms. Hiscock was my teacher back then, and Heavens, she scared me so much. She was a very well spoken lady who expected the best from and for her kids, but not to me….
It all started with times tables. Back then, you were expected to memorize the tables; one times one is one, two times two is four, four times four is sixteen. Every week, Ms. Hiscock made us stand up in class and recite the tables for that week. We started off with the ones the first week, then the twos and so on. I would quake in my boots as my turn approached, not because I didn’t know the times tables, but because I was terrified of speaking in front of the class..
I was a stutterer…I stutter still. It has kept me from speaking in front of crowds big and small since I was a small girl. I remember when I was little, how mortified I would be when my words got s-s-s-sstuck. My face would get red hot, I would get super embarrassed and felt like I just wanted to sink down through the floor and disappear.
I couldn’t control it, it happened at home, where my big brothers (total meanies at the time) would tease and torment me. It would happen at school, when I was trying to fit in and ended up feeling like I’d made a fool of myself. It would happen when I was playing with my friends, where their reaction was just to look away and pretend I wasn’t talking at all.
So I learned to be quiet. I learned not to say much. When I did have to talk, I blurted my words out as fast as I could, to hopefully get my words out before the stutter hit…..but that backfired on me, the faster I talked, the more I stammered over my words.
Instead, I learned how to blend into the room and not be seen. When I was in school and the teacher was about to ask a question, I would sink down into my chair and pray to our maker that she/he didn’t choose me. From grade three onward, I was at the back of the group, hiding away from whatever verbal dangers might be hiding out there in the world of front and center.
My next big memory takes me to early teenage years, I was in my usual place, at the rear of the pack and invisible. One of my brothers friends happened to casually mention about how I was ‘stuck up’, and I thought I was too good to talk to other people. I was thrown for a loop altogether…. This approach clearly wasn’t working for me. That was when I began to realize that this fear of stuttering was keeping my happy and personable self a prisoner.
Often, people are unsure about how to respond when talking to people who stutter. This uncertainty can cause listeners to do things like look away during moments of stuttering, interrupt the person, fill in words, or simply not talk to people who stutter. None of these reactions is particularly helpful, though. People who stutter want to be treated just like anybody else. They are very aware that their speech is different and that it takes them longer to say things. Listeners who appear impatient or annoyed may actually make it harder for people who stutter to speak.
When talking with people who stutter, the best thing to do is give them the time they need to say what they want to say. Try not to finish sentences or fill in words for them. Doing so only increases the person’s sense of time/pressure. Also, suggestions like “slow down,” “relax,” or “take a deep breath” can make the person feel even more uncomfortable because these comments suggest that stuttering should be simple to overcome, but it’s not!
Instead, ask the person what would be the most helpful way to respond to his or her stuttering. You might say something like, “I noticed that you stutter. Can you tell me how you prefer for people to respond when you stutter?”
Over time, I’ve learned to slow down my words. They still get s-s-stuck sometimes, but these days, I just know to take a deep breath and try again..slowly but surely. I’m still uncomfortable when I have to take the center of the room. This world of art has taken me out of my comfort zone many, many times; in front of TV cameras, radio mics and on stages in front of hundreds of people.
As much as I’ve grown into a confident, outspoken and well spoken lady artist..the countdown/moments before I have to step onto a stage, finds me scared like a school yard kid…..even if I’m not expected to speak that day. Sometimes I take a big breath, take the mic and I just get through it; with words and vision partially blurring. Just the need to finish and escape the situation on my mind. Other times, I shy away from the task and beg forgiveness, or ask my wonderful hubby Geoff to be my voice.
I’ve also learned that Ms. Hiscock is a sweet lady. Back in grade three, I cried at night, because I was afraid to get up in front of my class. My Mom would dry my tears and tell me not to worry. She would take care of that ole Ms. Hiscock for me and I’d march off to school thinking my Mom was super woman and she had my back.
Little did I know, they were great friends at the time and they probably shared a glass of wine while talking about the worries of grade three me. Between Ms. Hiscock, Mom and I, we made it past the dreaded times tables. Ms. Hiscock, if you’re reading this, Thanks for being kind and for understanding the needs of a small girl. Thanks for nudging me past those horrid times tables and helping to turn me into the person I am today.
That’s it for this time, if you have any questions, or comments, I’d love to hear them. If you’re really enjoying the BPA blogging adventures and don’t want to miss out, click ‘follow me’ and your name/email will be added to our growing list of blog subscribers. We’ll email you when a new blog post happens, then you can read them all at your own leisure…..and remember, I’m no expert, I’m just a painter gal with some thoughts to share.
Do YOU have a fear that you would like to conquer? Are you a stutterer? Can you relate this this post?