Her throat started drying, sight became fuzzy and head exploded like a volcano, with overflowing thoughts. She wasn’t able say the word ‘Bug’. She just couldn’t, and had no idea why. Everybody was looking at her. She could feel all the eyes. Gathering courage, she tried again and could only manage with, “Llladddy bahh…” There was a pause again. Her lips stayed pursed. This time, those eyes almost pierced through her, making her feel naked and vulnerable, as if she was at mercy of others. It was scary!
She was six-year-old then, and thought it best to close her eyes and ears as the only way to stop the torture. Little did she know, it was only the beginning.
It was me, and that six-year-old version stayed forever without realizing when it became an integral part of me. I started believing that closing my eyes and ears is the only solution, and all else was too terrifying. As time passed, varied thoughts kept racing in my mind and pessimism started manifesting itself to such an extent that I loathed my younger self for being so weak.
I met several eyes with sympathy and pity, which was even worse. All kind of suggestions floated around. “Apply honey and table-salt on your tongue.” “Keep a stone on your tongue and talk in front of a mirror.” “Calm down. Don’t try to talk so fast. Think before you speak.”
People gave such suggestions with good intent, thinking they will work, but they never did. It crushed me every single time but somehow, I made peace with it thinking they’re only trying to help. I often recall this conversation with a friend when long back, in a classroom, I was picked out to answer a question and even though, I had fumbled while speaking, I was able to give a convincing answer to the professor. After the class, I expressed my anger and disappointment about not being able to communicate fluently, to which my friend said, “Because of this, at least you actually get to implement what they say – think before you speak!”
As appalling as it may sound, I started enjoying the benefit of doubt that I received from people waiting and watching until I finish. Sometimes, in excitement, I’d keep on talking until a moment of realization that would reinforce the fact that “You are not like them.” Whenever I saw other people finding it difficult to express, or rather hesitant to speak, I would get annoyed thinking that in spite of not having any speech problem, they are not making the most of this beautiful gift they’ve got, to speak fluently without appearing awful.
It took a while but slowly things started unfolding on to a different trajectory. I began to notice that I wasn’t always at fault, and these situations may not even be in my control but there must be something I could do about it. Out of obligation, I attended a session to treat speech inconsistencies. For some weird reason, I was a misfit there as well, because I spoke fluently like a melting butter, as compared to other participants. This was equally frustrating. Why couldn’t I just be like somebody else, for once?
Years went by, but the frustration and self-loathing never ceased. However, one day a harbinger of hope and optimism gave me a mantra to help ward off all the pessimism. It took a while to work but it did.
In case you are wondering if I stopped stuttering with the mantra, NO I did not. I just learnt to make peace with it. You know how they say, keep your friends close and enemies closer, so that you are aware of the strategies of your enemies. Juxtaposing this strategy here, not only I accepted my stuttering but also tried to win it over, making it acceptable for others too. As twisted as it may be, at least now I knew that I could hope it to be considerate towards me, and may even leave me for good.
If anything, it was liberating. I was not scared anymore. The vulnerable six-year-old was finally redeemed and gathered courage to open her eyes and ears. There was no stopping or looking back after this.
Talking in front of a big crowd, interacting with new people, re-approaching the ones I knew before, talking to myself – I found a new sense of freedom in all these, and realized that I had never been happier. The journey still continues and the mantra is working magically. Hopefully a day will come when I would bid it Goodbye.
Until then, I walk away telling myself, “I love, accept, respect and forgive myself deeply and completely and so does everybody with whom I come in contact with”