Sunday 21 February 2016


On the way to Shul yesterday, I felt a twinge of confidence in my voice. A twinge that I'd felt before, but I was determined it would have a different outcome this time. I was greeted by a friend and my first words, stuttered but words nonetheless, in almost two weeks were "I can speak". Hardly profound but the genuine unbridled joy on this person's face is something that will stay with me. It grew from there and 30 minutes later only the required silence between the washing of hands and hearing Hamotzi could stop me. 

People were surprised, sure, but they were delighted too, which meant and means so much to me. The chaplains' kid turned to his dad and announced I could talk, he asked me 30 minutes later if I could still talk and smiled when I replied that I could. He has also confirmed that I can come visit him in Israel, which made me very happy too. Friends smiled and proclaimed how happy they were to hear my voice. A group of us had a LeChaim. I felt amazing, I still feel amazing, those moments after regaining speech are ones I will treasure as is the rest of the day spent in Shul. I had a a whole post planned about the answer to a question people asked, which was how it felt. I'm not going to bother. I'd be delighted to tell you how it felt, honestly, but this is a happy post and I intend to keep it happy. 

So, in that vein, a thank you, a comment about Jewishness and small quip:

To anyone who has sat with me, listened to me stutter or tried to interpret my gestures when I couldn't talk. To anyone who had the patience to try and communicate with me. To those who went above and beyond to look after me. To anyone who sent me a message checking up on me or letting me know they hoped I would speak soon. To the many people who did so much for me this week. To everyone who seemed so genuinely happy to hear me speak. 

Honestly, it meant the absolute world to me and I know I'd still be ordering Starbucks via note and needing to explain to the barista that I don't have a sore throat and don't need chai tea. You helped me through it, got me through it and I am and will be eternally grateful. 

I phoned my parents after Shabbat to let them know. My Dad, though obviously delighted, was very interested in the mechanics of how it came back and kept proclaiming how weird the brain was. My Mum was swept up in raw emotion. Speaking to her (ironically I couldn't get a word in edgeways) has become one of the best moments of my life, hearing the relief and joy in her voice is something I will treasure. She told me that I didn't know how many Shul's in Israel were praying for me after she told my uncle and it made me realise how important this small Jewish community is. The one I'm part of at university, at home, the ones where its members know you personally and the wider Jewish community that prays for a complete stranger because he's the nephew of your friend or friend's friend or whatever.

And, if nothing else, that application form question, "What's been your greatest achievement/challenge outside of academia" practically writes itself now.

Shavua Tov. 

Monday 15 February 2016

Me and my stutter: Part two

I saw a GP on Friday. She was fairly useless, aside from the fact it seemed like I was wasting her time, she seemed to think that I should just sit tight and wait. She might be right; eventually I may just start speaking again, it may just come back as quickly and as suddenly as it went. She may also be wrong, a possibility that is as terrifying as it is growing increasingly likely.

It's hard to explain what it feels like to be entirely trapped inside one's own mind, unable to bridge the gap between what I am thinking and the operation of my vocal cords. There are plenty of people far wiser than me who have said something about feeling lonely, even in the presence of others. I guess that is what comes closest to describing it. People can talk at me and try and work out my response from my facial expressions. They can wait as I type out a response to read what I write and the patience required to do so is immense. They can sit in silence with me, smile every so often and venture a guess as to what I might be thinking. Many have. But I still cannot quite explain it. Sometimes to be with others, despite a complete inability to engage meaningfully is all I crave. Other times I crave a solitude that I cannot escape. Most of the time it's a mix between the two; having someone there should I want to type anything or need to see a smile and feel the assurance that it is going to be okay, even though no one can guarantee that, but being under no obligation to endure the frustration of talking to them via message even though they are sat or stood right in front of me.

Few things keep me going. I await the delicious irony of being phoned by the mental health service I have apparently been referred to in order to talk about what is wrong. The prospect of having profound "first" words is quite attractive though, in truth, the only thing I try and say at the moment is, "Just want to be able to speak." Hardly inspired.

Saturday 13 February 2016 and my stutter

When I applied to study a Masters in Philosophy, I considered there to be many positives that I shan't bore you with here. I never considered the positive that it would be especially difficult to say with a stutter, allowing me to make the joke (albeit with poor comic timing and with great difficulty) that I should have picked a subject that would have been easier to say should I ever develop a stutter. When I did, in America, after a panic attack that saw me visit A&E in America more times than I had in the UK, it was reassuring to those I was with that I was still making jokes. Or at least trying to. I hope that remains the case.

I never thought that I would be in the situation again. You see, I am genuinely not an especially anxious person. In fact, I can be annoyingly relaxed about exams or essay deadlines and I get the feeling the majority of my friends would put anxious as one of the characteristics they least expected me to possess. Indeed, I would consider them correct. Having said that, after a panic attack on Monday, I began to stutter again. I made the Philosophy joke and got, perhaps sarcastically, perhaps with a tinge of sympathy, called a comedian. I thought that was the end of it. I didn't expect it to come back. I didn't expect, after waking up on Tuesday speaking as normal, that by noon my speech would begin to deteriorate again. I didn't expect that by Tuesday evening I would be in tears on the phone unable to say words at all. And I certainly did not expect that by Friday, after a visit to A&E on Thursday, that I would be unable to make even a sound and would be reduced to ordering my tea by writing out a note on my phone and handing it to a bemused looking barista and communicated via typed messages, even when in the presence of those I was communicating with.

I can form sentences in my head. I can sing (badly). I can say a pre-agreed phrase at the same time as someone else. I can even speak absolutely normally when on my own. But left to my own devices, when forced to try and link the thoughts in my head to speech coming out of my mouth, I can barely get out air and just struggle until I need to take a breath. I have never been more frustrated in my entire life. It is not that I have anything important to say. When you cannot speak, you realise how little of what you say actually adds to the conversation or is worth saying. I am perfectly content, for now, to sit in silence and let the conversation pass me by, as lonely as that feels. Of course, I miss opportunities to make comments I thought were funny. Of course, I cannot thank people and on Shabbat require someone to explain the situation so people do not think I am being rude. Of course, I cannot engage in conversation full stop. All of that is true. The frustrating thing is, though, that I get false hope. Every so often I feel words bubbling near the surface. I phone my Dad with great hope. I open my mouth to start a sentence in the presence of friends with great hope. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. And it is soul destroying to think you are so close to having speech back and for it to be cruelly taken away from you. I've broken down crying a couple of times because of it. The struggle to get words out. The feeling of utter aloneness one gets from not being able to respond or partake in a conversation. The look of pity some people give you in stores when all you want is a cup of tea. It's a struggle. Apparently it will go as suddenly as it came, but for now, I am literally speechless. And it kills.

It would be a far cry to say my blog is infamous in J-Soc. It's been mentioned a few times, usually with a derogatory comment. People often go out of their way to tell me they saw it but haven't read it, usually with a degree of humour but still. But it is certainly somewhat known. I go on about it enough. Sure this is a blog about the fact that I cannot talk. It is also a thank you. I do not tend to name people on my blog and I shan't change that policy now. If you feel like you are owed a thank you, then this blog is for you. I am genuinely grateful to anyone and everyone who has helped me; spoken at me; tried to interpret what I am trying to say; explained the situation to others; sat with me and put up with me; gone to the Doctor or A&E with me; and, in general, to everyone for making me feel so welcome as a Masters student. It's the reason I was desperate to stay and the reason I remain wishful some stroke of luck will mean I can.

Update: Apparently I am terrible at charades. Thanks Dad. Thanks a bunch.