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The Terror Stuck in My Throat Won’t Let My Words Out

Author’s Note: This post was written in anger. Anger and frustration. Not at anything or anyone, just at life and the world. My intent was to vomit all those raw, painful emotions and get them out of me as fast as possible, then come back later and polish it up and make it into a pretty post. But now I don’t want to. There was nothing pretty or polished about that moment, so why should I try to represent it as otherwise? It’s not my best writing ever; shit it’s not even good writing. But at that moment, it wasn’t about good writing. It was getting it out of my chest and into the universe where it could distribute itself evenly among the world as untied shoes and misplaced keys instead of concentrated anger bottled up inside me. And that’s still what it’s about. So I apologize for the poor sentence structure, the wild ramblings, and my inability to appropriately express myself; I won’t like, this is going to be a tough one to get through. But I won’t apologize for what I felt then. 


I’m 26 years old, and I can’t make phone calls.

I mean, I can in that I know how to work a phone. But when I make a phone call, I can’t talk.

See, I have a stutter. A mild one, in the world of stutters; I’m in the 40th percentile. Most people who know me as casual acquaintances don’t even realize that I have it because over the years I’ve gotten really fucking good at hiding it. They just think that I’m a little awkward, maybe nervous around people. That I forget things easily or don’t have a great vocabulary because they assume that the reason I pause in my sentence is because I don’t know the word to use, not because the word got stuck in the back of my throat and I can’t get it out. I sometimes phrase things a little funny because I’m feeling a block on a word coming and I try to get around it by rearranging the words in a way that they come out easier; nothing that screams “SPEECH IMPEDIMENT!” but something that might stick in a person’s brain and make them think, “That was weird,” before moving on. Shit, Kyle and I were dating for several months before he knew about it. Even then, when I get close enough to a person to divulge this information, it’s rarely an issue. I may stumble on my words from time to time, and a few friends have gotten close enough to me that I feel comfortable letting them fill in my blocked words for me, but it certainly doesn’t keep me from having meaningful friendships. And at work, I lead and manage crews with confidence and authority without a blink.

For the most part, my stutter is a mere annoyance. It means that sometimes I’m a bad joke teller if I get stuck on the punchline. It means that sometimes I will let people rudely talk over me without standing up for myself because I was having trouble getting my words out anyway. It means that I have to resist the urge to punch people in the face when I do have a block and I hear the ever-popular, “Come on, spit it out!” Because that totally makes my stutter go away, thanks doc. The worst is sometimes my name can be a trigger word, which means that introductions come out as, “Hi, my name is…um…um…um…Stephanie.” Which is inevitably followed by, “What, you forget your own name?” Which makes me feel just great.

A little side rant for a moment. Sometimes I wish my stutter was worse. Debilitatingly bad. Because right now, it’s not bad enough that people hear it and recognize it as a speech impediment, which gives them the freedom to make fun of me. Which is the worst feeling in the world. Because behind this stutter, I’m actually a very eloquent speaker, and pretty fucking intelligent.  But because I have a bit of a stutter, instead I have to field insults for being an idiot because people are too fucking stupid and too big of an asshole to recognize that no, I did not forget my own name, I have a stutter. Who forgets their own name? No one. So maybe there’s another goddamn reason that I can’t say it, maybe one you shouldn’t be giving me shit for. I mean, when did that become okay? There’s something about watching a person who looks and sounds otherwise normal struggle with their speech the way I do that is incredibly uncomfortable and painful for people, and they can’t handle that discomfort. A lot of people just look at me with pity and quickly try to pretend it never happened, but I think a lot of people try to deal with the discomfort by turning it into a joke, and that’s when they can be the meanest. Oh, and not to be sexist or anything, but just pointing out that I’ve never once been made fun of by a woman. So whatever that’s worth.

Anyway. The point I was getting at is that for the most part, my stutter doesn’t hold me back. Sure, it’s annoying as fuck, but it doesn’t stop me from doing what I want to in life. But there are two situations when my stutter becomes debilitating. One is when I’m ordering in a restaurant. I can’t do it. That one moment when all eyes are on me and the sentence I’m supposed to say is expected and I have to say the exact words of my choice without the ability to substitute easier words…I block every fucking time. Everyone’s sitting there, staring at me, waiting to say it, and no one can move on until I have spoken this sentence. It’s painful for the waitress, who just wants to get my order so she can leave. It’s painful for my fellow diners, who if they didn’t know about my stutter they fucking do now. And it’s traumatizing for me to be reduced to such embarrassment and degradation.  For normal people, it takes less thought than the proper procedure for blowing your nose but for me it’s nearly impossible. So a lot of times I’ll have Kyle place my order for me. Except that then people think that I’m a stupid subservient woman who lets her husband decide what she’s going to eat for her, which is still less painful than having to deal with the trauma that comes from stuttering through my order. It’s not the best solution, but it gets me through.

The other situation when I stutter the most, however, doesn’t have such an easy answer. That’s when I’m making a phone call. I’m fine if someone calls me; I may have my usual trip ups here and there, but I don’t crash and burn. But if I have to place the call, especially if I have to leave a voice mail, I am a fucking mess. I will stutter through my name. I will stutter through my message. I will talk too fast in an attempt to keep the words flowing and get though it quickly and if I do stumble I will say stupid fucking things like, “Whoops, my morning coffee must not have kicked in yet!” I sound like a goddamn idiot and it’s horrible to have to listen to on the other end. The woman who works the call center at my dentist (they have two offices and calls get funneled through an outside office before getting connection to my chosen office) has gotten so pissed off at having to talk to me that she finally broke the rules and gave me the direct line to my dentist so that she doesn’t have to talk to me anymore. When I worked retail and we had to cold call customers for whatever reason, I was banned from this task because on several occasions I had to have my manager call a customer back and explain that this was not a prank call.

But the one time when I’m just…trapped, is when I have to make work phone calls. Because I can’t just make Kyle make all my work phone calls for me. I try to avoid them at all costs. I will go to ridiculous lengths to do all of my communications through email. But sometimes I’m forced to make phone calls and the results are disastrous.  Just now I made a phone call to the director of a space I’ll be taking a show into and got his voice mail. All I had to say was, “Hi So-and-So, I’m Stephanie Van Sandt with Such-and-Such company. I had some questions about your space and I was wondering if you could give me a call so that we could discuss your setup and what I can expect. My number is this, and I look forward to hearing from you.” Instead what followed was a five minute recording full of ums and awkward silences and sentences spit out with a hint of desperation. I said stupid things and phrased things poorly and talked too long and said none of the things I needed to. When I hung up I went into the bedroom and asked Kyle if he’d heard that. The look on his face told me that he had, and he was hurting for me. “If you received that voice mail you’d think I was an incompetent idiot, wouldn’t you?” I asked. So now I’m entering a working relationship with this guy thinking that I’m a fucking idiot, all because I have a stutter. My inability to call and order a pizza is one thing. It’s okay if the woman at the insurance company things I’m stupid. But making phone calls like the one I just did is going to hurt my career, and that’s the most frustrating and depressing thought in the world. I feel scared. Scared by the phone calls themselves; every time I have to make a work call my whole body seizes up and I’m terrified. But I’m also scared that these fucking phone calls and voice mails where I’m calling and representing myself as a fucking incompetent idiot are going to hurt me and my career, and keep me from becoming what I want.

But what scares me the most is that there’s not a motherfucking thing that I can do about it.

{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Karen Kelley October 20, 2012, 9:16 am

    Steph, this is a VERY eloquent explanation that most of the world should read. Thank you for sharing it. I hope that a lot of people wh DON’T normally read your blog stumble on this in some ways.

  • Kate October 20, 2012, 1:14 pm

    Oh. That fucking sucks.
    When I started reading this post, I thought it would be like my sister who is just horribly awkward and not present during phone conversations; or maybe like my friend who gets so incredibly nervous about making even the most basic phone calls (ordering dinner, making doctor’s appointment, etc.) that she usually writes out a small script she can follow–but this? That blows. If only because there is absolutely nothing you can do about it.
    I was born with a slight speech impediment that forced me to take specific private lessons for six years of my life; I couldn’t pronounce any “s” sounds without a very prominent lisp, I couldn’t use “r” at all, and I had a lot of difficulty with “l” and a few other letters. But I took lessons and pay attention to my speech and it is barely noticeable now unless I’m very sleepy or a bit un-sober (with the added benefit of losing a lot of the “hickishness” from my Appalachian-born tongue).
    I don’t know of any proper things to say or add, just a virtual hug with the sentiment of suckage for you.

    • Monster October 20, 2012, 9:52 pm

      I wish to god that this were the type of thing that I could write myself a script to read to get through it, or that I could practice and get better. For a while, Kyle was encouraging me to make all the phone calls I could in the hopes that practice would help me get more comfortable and that it would get easier with time. That came to an end when I tried to call in the food order for myself and my co-workers and the guy taking my order laughed at me and then messed up the order because I couldn’t get it out right. Kyle’s intentions were good and sweet, but it just doesn’t work like that.

      That being said, I have an appointment with what will be my seventh speech therapist next week. I’m determined, come hell or high water or 5th Twilight book, to get myself to a place of being able to make work-related phone calls and not making a complete ass of myself. Hopefully I have even a little of your success!

      (And the hugs are always appreciated.)

  • allison October 20, 2012, 7:08 pm

    That sucks, but way to go writing about it so wonderfully! Hell, ‘fessing up about it at all! I really admire how you can write so honestly about your “flaws” online – I’m still too scared/sensitive to admit I have tons. But here’s one – I’m deathly afraid of phone calls even though I don’t have a speech impediment. I only agreed to take my current job if they promised I *wouldn’t* have an office phone. And before, the only calls I’d get in my cubicle were wrong numbers… but I still had minor heart attacks each time it rang.

    Anyway, GO GIRL. Own it and don’t let anyone (any male, apparently…) laugh at you.

    • Monster October 20, 2012, 9:43 pm

      I was afraid to. At first it was because I was worried that someone who currently works with me and/or wishes to work with me in the future would stumble upon this and think that I wouldn’t be able to do my job because of my stutter. And then because it would mean opening myself up in such a one-sided way such as this made me feel very vulnerable. But eventually I chose to because I felt like I needed to. I do not make me feel bad for having a stutter. (Except when I’m making work phone calls.) It’s something I’ve dealt with for as long as I can remember, it’s not my fault, and none of the six speech therapists I’ve seen since kindergarten can figure out why I do it or how to treat it. I don’t make me feel bad. Other people make me feel bad. Other people call attention to it and make jokes about it and make me feel weak and powerless and stupid. So I guess, in a way, this was my attempt at refusing to let other people make me feel bad about my stutter. It’s not some horrible dirty secret that I desperately try to hide, it’s a part of me that (for the foreseeable future) will never change. Accept it or piss off, is what I guess I’m trying to say.

      (Not you personally. You know what I’m trying to say, awesome person who would never make me feel bad about anything.)

  • Jenbug October 22, 2012, 6:48 pm

    Oh, Stephanie, that sucks. I’m sorry that you have to go through that and even sorrier that some people make fun of you because of it. I just wish there was something I could do to help you. Just know that I’ve got your back and if you need me to kick some ass, I’ll ask you to hold mah earrings!

  • Charm City Kim October 25, 2012, 10:05 am

    I have a weird phone thing as well but not due to a speech impediment. Reading this breaks my heart because you seriously kick ass. I LOVE reading your blog (and your blog comments). You always come across as intelligent and witty. I can’t imagine the frustrations you must feel when people are rude (the “just spit it out!” made my mouth drop open in astonishment. People are assholes.)

    • Monster October 27, 2012, 9:36 am

      I never realized until I wrote this post how many other people are also uncomfortable talking on the phone. It makes me feel a little less alone.

      And you would be amazing how quick people are to say things like that. I think because they don’t recognize it as an impediment they think that…I honestly don’t know what they think. They think that somehow making a joke about it will return my speech to normal and alleviate the discomfort that they feel in the situation. But all it does is make me feel like shit.

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