In 2012, I shared my deepest, darkest phobias about my speech in a post titled “May I Have A Glass Of Water.” Notwithstanding 4+ years pounding out my anxieties on this site and finally conquering my self-consciousness over my gait – ironically at a time when my involuntary movements are fading away – I continue to entertain a disgruntling hyperawareness of every word I utter.
During conversation, I find myself a decidedly un-detached observer, appalled at the sounds that just emerged from my mouth despite my earnest efforts to enunciate. I’ll practice a word in isolation again and again only to mutilate it during conversational speech. Too many words continue to evade me and I’m starkly aware of the abundance of sounds I misform.
Since DBS, I’ve been operating on speed dial, sentences tumbling out faster than I can articulate them. In an effort to climb out of my ditch, I resort to conversational CPR, searching my inner thesaurus for synonyms to toss out to my confounded listener…or literally spelling out words l-e-t-t-e-r b-y l-e-t-t-e-r. Conversation presents a bout of oral gymnastics that leaves me exhausted.
Recently, I stood on line at Starbucks on a Saturday morning, all set to tackle a monumental challenge: ordering a Grande Decaf Soy Latte. The barista stared at me in confusion, then slipped a blank piece of paper and pen across the counter. Gulping down my pride, I dutifully wrote out an order I knew I’d never properly execute orally. Perhaps next time, I’ll opt for tea!
A dashing speech therapist broke my heart. No, it wasn’t a torrid romance ending in tragedy but his sage words of advice: conversational speech is the last dam to break. Worse still, the coveted prize we were chasing was “communication” not “perfection.”
I’m a self-admitted practicing perfectionist. “Good enough” is never good enough when my life’s work is a perpetual pursuit of Eden. I aim to scale mountains and then chastise myself for the slightest blunder. So, surprise, surprise, I embarked on speech therapy with abundant determination to nail that bull’s-eye. In my estimation, I’d practice, practice, practice until my speech issued perfect, perfect perfect. While I might not scale tall buildings in a single bound, I’d surely conquer them with a rigorous daily regimen. Then reality hit. Those darn “Ks” and “Gs” continued to pose a battle, median “Ds” and “Ts” relentlessly evaded me…and shall we discuss my lip sounds? Further, if I reduced my life to working on my speech when would I actually use it? I needed to modify the recipe.
Most people coast through sentences blissfully unaware of the verbal gymnastics they perform with every word. The tongue effortlessly careens from venue to venue in fluid motion while the lips execute deceptively simple maneuvers. The veritable clockwork programmed by our brains and slickly engineered by our orofacial muscles enables us to focus on the dynamics of conversation rather than the specifics of location. As if on autopilot, we register our speed, then sit back and relax as the flight conveniently navigates itself.
Until I began speech therapy, I pounded out my speech in appalled ignorance of the mechanisms of my physiological inefficiencies. I’d no idea of the muscular precision required to orchestrate individual sounds and master conversational flow. Further, little did I know co-articulation demands we pronounce our sounds in units – in other words, our forward-thinking brains work a step ahead of us – granting undue influence to the banes of my existence. Certain sounds manageable in isolation “malform” when coupled with anticipated sounds looming in my future.
Focusing on my wealth of articulatory challenges simultaneously – a feat of multi-tasking – poses overwhelming, particularly if I seek to partake in productive listening. Adjusting my lofty aspirations, I slow the party down and divert due attention to the dynamics of the discussion. After all, the turtle bested the hare with a slow and steady pace.
Posted in Life
Tagged Anxiety, Aphasia, Dysarthria, Dyskinesia, Dystonia, Involuntary movement, Language, Neurological disorder, Speech impairment, Speech impediment, Speech therapy
I can’t think of a more distasteful task than listening to my answering machine message. There’s the shock of an alien voice even I strain to understand, followed by the dawning realization this is how I sound to friend and foe. Thankfully, this chore is only required when I tape a new message or forget my phone number and conduct reconnaissance in the form of a confirmatory call.
Recording my message is a disheartening comedy of errors. Accessing my inner thesaurus, I play out a maddening search for “perfect” words that don’t exist in a limited field of vocalization, discarding phrases faster that you can enunciate Jiminy Cricket…all the while stubbing my finger on the re-record button as I keep giving it “one more try.” By the time my word elimination game concludes, my message is reduced to the barest of bones and I can only hope callers will exercise their logical reasoning.
However, I staunchly refrain from resorting to a pre-recording, refusing to tender my surrender to the “luxury” of digitized speech!
One of the most annoying phenomena on our planet is the automated phone system. Everyone knows the technological turbulence inherent in speech recognition technology. Try navigating voice user interface with a speech issue, where the error rate increases with frustration. CLARITY?…puh-leeze!
Here’s the deal: speech recognition software operates on units called phonemes, the basic audibles of a spoken language…only I tug and gnaw at words that seamlessly flow off most tongues, concocting my own unique sounds that become hopelessly lost in mathematical modeling. Communication deteriorates into a comedic exercise of “stabs in the dark,” muse confounding machine. I never understand how my bank’s system confuses “Agent” with “Balance” though they do share the same number of syllables. To be honest, the person who programmed the system probably wouldn’t understand me let alone a computer-generated interface trying to reconcile its algorithms with my zany sound waves.
Pure speech recognition is the ultimate nightmare as I repeatedly press “0” in stubborn defiance of the lack of a human option. Worse, it deprives me of the opportunity to escalate the call to a “Supervisor” lounging in a remote call center. By this point, I require one seriously advanced piece of intelligence – artificial or real – to decipher my garbled rantings.
As for hands-free computing, my arms may desperately yearn for a rest but I envision Sir iMac erasing the hard drive when I command him to open Microsoft Word!
I wish I could take you to the horror center in my brain when I speak: that voice can’t be me, perhaps I’ve been invaded by body snatchers using an intergalactic language. Bungee jumping holds greater appeal than articulating certain words! Case in point: I’m in a restaurant and notice my empty water glass, triggering anticipatory anxiety. If feeling venturesome, I ask for a glass of water but this harmless little phrase doesn’t glide off my tongue as pristinely as it appears in writing. The greater my effort, the more tongue-tied I become until I’m reduced to a single word “wa-ter” or pointing at my empty glass while attempting telepathic communication. Amid this flood of frustration, remaining parched emerges as an attractive alternative.
My verbal penalties often boot me into the land of chronic misunderstanding and compel adjustments in my oration. Oppressed from expressing my inner eloquence, I abdicate the richness and grandeur of the English language in favor of a vastly abridged dictionary that requires massive downgrades in my self-expectations. I’m all too aware of my listener’s level of understanding by facial expression. I read utter lack of comprehension accompanied by resolute refusal to ask me to repeat myself, resulting in a curiously one-sided conversation that ostensibly involves two people. Even proactively restating my words doesn’t always accomplish a meeting of the minds. Anyone care for a game of charades?