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