Saturday, 13 February 2016

Pppphhhhillllooosssssopppphy....me 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.