“You Should Stop Mumbling and Enunciate More” - Life with a Speech Impediment
“Can you please repeat that?” “Enunciate!” “Stop Mumbling.” These are some of the reoccurring insensitive statements I’ve heard throughout my life and are now becoming more prevalent from the podcast I started. My voice has been called “atrocious” and horrible, with one listener claimed he is helping me by ordering me to enunciate. It is incredibly saddening, shameful and embarrassing to be criticized for something I had to deal with every day. But, do I blame someone who doesn’t know that I’ve had a speech impediment for all of my life?
I have no idea what causes it. I’ve read some recent articles stating that a speech impediment may be neurological. It could be from lack of self-confidence or issues from a traumatic event; good chance it's being caused by my overbite. No matter the cause, it affects me every day of my life. I was even held back a year in Kindergarten because of my speech impediment. How’s that for embarrassment? All of your friends move on without you because nobody can understand you. Throughout my schooling, I had to see multiple Speech Therapists help me to learn to pronounce my words, enunciate and not to mumble.
“She sells seashells down by the seashore,” had become my catchphrase from the number of times I have had to say it with the numerous therapist I’ve seen. I had to learn how to manipulate my tongue when I say SH, TH or CH words. I was taught mouth stretching exercises to loosen my jaw, which I still do today. But, no matter how frustrated and embarrassed I got from seeing a Speech Therapist, never did they make me feel like I was disabled or useless. All of them were kind, patient and sympathetic as I struggled to pronounce simple words and enunciate sentences so I can finally be understood.
But their warm kindness couldn’t fix the pain I felt as I was made fun of as a child. Children can be cruel when they hear the boy with the mumble and lisp. It was so sorry that even today I still feel the stress and insecurity when I hold a simple conversation with somebody. I always have to ask myself if they understood me or they’re just nodding their head out of pity. There was a long time where I was afraid to speak to people because of the fear of being judged.
But, I wanted more out of myself. I wanted to tell jokes, hold long conversations and unapologetically flirt with cute girls. Thank God for college. Once I was on my own, I was able to embrace my disadvantage by not letting it hinder me. I joined a fraternity, I was a vocal member of the Student Government, I gave great speeches for class presentations, and I had become a decent flirt.
In later years I had become a cop and had to use my voice to interview suspects, give testimony in court and threaten violent criminals when it was appropriate. But, my speech impediment never went away. I would stutter and mumble when I was nervous, which some criminals wrongly assumed as a sign of weakness. I had to repeat myself over the radio countless times, especially when my adrenaline was surging through my body.
After being a cop, I had worked in a supervisory position for Disney Cruise Lines, where I worked with an international crew who all spoke better English than me. They thought they couldn’t understand me because of my accent, which I let them believe because I was ashamed of admitting that I have a speech impediment. It’s funny how a group of Scot’s can tell me that they can’t understand me with their thick ass accent (if you don’t know what I just wrote then listen to Scottish men talk on YouTube). No offense to the Scot’s, I’ll choose you guys over the English any day of the week.
Last year, I decided to go after an idea I had for years. I would interview interesting people and show the world that we all have stories to tell. That we all have so much in common and maybe we should listen to each other stories instead of quickly dismissing people because of their differences. I was quite nervous to engage in a medium which will showcase my flawed speech, and I rightly expected to get some lousy criticism for it. But no matter how much Stoicism I practice, it still hurts reading comments on how my voice sucks. That despite my best efforts, people see the flaws and not the whole picture.
But, a random email of kindness from my first fan made the negative comments worthwhile. She loved the podcasts and the blog, which made me smile beyond my cheeks. I even printed the email and hung it up to remind myself that if I was able to reach one person with my voice, then that is worth all of the criticism in the world.
Despite my insecurities over my voice and constant fear of being misunderstood, I choose to go on. I choose to keep speaking. I choose to keep interviewing and singing horrible karaoke. I choose to because what other options do I have? Do I give in to the critics, both internal and external or do I continue to do something I believe in? We all have something that keeps us from the grade but isn’t that what glory requires? Becoming something more despite your flaws, your circumstances or the people who hurt you. I choose to be understood.
And for all those who ever mocked a person with a speech impediment, what are you using your voice for?