I’ve been writing a lot about different coping mechanisms I use for my stutter and different mental approaches that I take. But for this post I would like get back to talking about my actual stutter and would like to talk about a phenomenon that I can’t really explain myself but I thought I would give you an inside look on – talking to myself.
Talking to yourself seems like a pretty simple thing, and we all do it from time-to-time. The biggest difference between when you – a fluent speaker – talks to yourself, versus when I – a stutterer – talks to myself, is that there is a rather strange thing that happens, I am completely fluent. No stutter whatsoever. So let’s talk about this a little, shall we?
I have been asked in the past if I stutter when I think. The first time I was asked this I was rather taken back, “Do I stutter when I think?! Of course not! How would that even happen?”. But then I started thinking more about it (fluently, might I add), and I started to pay more attention to that little voice in my head, the one that we use to voice our own thoughts in our heads. I began to notice how it sounded, I began to notice the tone it used, I began to notice how fluent it was. I’ll be honest with you, this began to be a significant point of frustration. Why would the voice in my head, the same voice that seemingly comes out of my mouth when I talk, be so incredibly different from the voice that actually physically comes out of my mouth? So I started to examine it more, I looked into myself and did some of my own research on my own fluency, and came to a very simple conclusion: the audience (or lack thereof) was only me.
Some of my past posts have talked about how sometimes you can be your own worst enemy, but in this case it seems that having me be the sole audience member for my voice makes me my best friend. When I speak to other people there are so many things that go through my head as I am talking: does this person know I stutter, are they hearing me stutter, am I going to stutter on any upcoming words, how can I change the word/sentence so that I won’t stutter, plus an abundance of other mental processes. In contrast, when I am talking to myself aloud there is nobody around to do those things for. I don’t have to try and read the other person’s face, I don’t have to worry about if they hear me stutter, I don’t have to choose certain words or change the sentence format, my brain is literally just thinking thoughts and my mouth is just spitting out these thoughts. I am essentially cutting out the “middle-man”.
So yes, when I am talking to myself aloud I am 100% fluent 100% of the time. I was pretty happy to have been able to figure it out and understand, potentially, why this happens. My satisfaction was quickly followed by a massive “Umm…what the hell brain?!”
Let’s look at this as something most can relate to: driving. Step one: imagine driving. You get in the car, turn it on, do up your seat belt, check the mirrors, etc, etc, etc. You put the car in gear, and you are off. Smooth sailing from here on out. If you want to drive 200 KM/H and take a hairpin turn at 150 you can, flawlessly, no consequences, this is Pretend-Land remember, and the laws of physics rarely apply. Now let’s put this dream into reality (kind of). You start off the same, you get into your real car, follow all the real safety protocols, and you are really off. But wait a second, there is nobody else on the roads. In fact, there is nothing else out there except you, your car, and the roads. You can go as fast as you want, you can go through a red light (if there were any), you can drive in whatever lane you want and can do almost anything that the laws of physics will let you do without totaling your car. *So far so good eh? Driving is a cinch, no rules, no hiccups, just smooth sailing* Now, let’s throw some more things into the driving scenario here: some street signs, a couple of traffic lights, some other cars or course, okay maybe a lot of other cars, some pedestrians, let’s add some rain too while we’re at it, and the pièce de résistance: a careless truck driver cutting you off, causing you to spin out and end up sideways in a ditch. Driving seemed so easy when it was in your head. It seemed just as easy when it was just you, the car, and the open road. But once we add the countless other distractions, rules, and unexpected changes to the situation, driving is vastly different from the “Pretend-Land” drive you were first on. This is what it can be like for me.
I struggle, almost everyday, to understand this. I wish that I could speak to others the way I speak to myself. I sound so different when I talk to myself (or so it seems to me). There is an inner struggle: why is something so perfect in one situation yet so incredibly imperfect in another. The source is the same, the producer is the same, the manner is the same. Why can I not just trick my brain into thinking that talking to other people is the same as talking to myself. Wouldn’t all my problems be solved then? If only it were that simple. So it seems that for now I am going to keep talking to myself in a perfectly fluent speaking voice and you will all have to just settle for my wonderfully imperfect one.