This post is difficult for me to write. I am not a person who puts himself out there often nor do I like leaving my comfort zone. But the point of this podcast is to do something that new, difficult, and sincere. I only have the courage to talk about my speech impediment after receiving a response for my intervewee Aubrey Watt. An hour after i posted our interview, I received a message from her via Reddit. It simply read: ” Woot, I am famous 😀 Also, high-five, speech impediment buddy! I had to do speech therapy for 8 years and I still have a bit of a lisp left. I hate my voice but am slowly overcoming it..” One reason I created this podcast was to overcome my disability, but I struggled with how to approach this subject without seeming like I was trying to garner sympathy or pity. I purposely hide this tid-bit of information because it seemed like more of a personal goal of mine. Aubrey’s comment inspired me to be more open and talk about my past struggles. This is my story.
People who stutter will do anything to avoid attention. I’ve never put myself out there before this podcast because I’ve always rather be avoided than draw attention to my stutter. I am what is known as a “covert stutter.” Covert stutters are people who seemingly speak normal, but put loads of pressure on themselves to conceal their stutter by using various techniques. Typically covert stutters like myself steer clear of certain words that we know will give us trouble. For me, words that begin with the letter “s” give me trouble and I mask them with secondary behaviors like yawns, coughs, and throat clearings. I have developed avoidance behaviors where I use my intuition to anticipate where a conversation is going and then substitute a word or phrase before I begin to speak, but normally I don’t talk. I’d rather seem introverted and shy. Covert stutterers like myself live in shame of emotional embarrassment, fearful always that we might flub a word and everybody will point it out. Of course when I do stutter in public no one is ever as harsh as I expect them to be in my head. I guess I’ve accepted my stutter as part of my life and embraced the motto “once a stutterer, always a stutterer.” The Neophyte Podcast is then my attempt to disavow this aphorism and overcome my fear of embarrassment.
Five percent of children under the age of five develop a speech impediment. From personal experience, children are remarkably resourceful when it comes to identifying someone’s weaknesses and I practically gave them ammunition with my persistent stutter. Few people can relate to the nervous feeling in the pit of your stomach when a class is going around the room taking turns reading. When it came time for me to read aloud, I read slower and quieter than everyone else. Consequently, in my teenage years, I started to become scared of speaking. I would spend most of my time in high school carrying on entire conversations in my head and gravitated towards simple one-word answers to avoid talking as much as possible.
I began speech therapy when I was 8 years old. Being pulled out of class twice a week for a speech therapy session was almost as embarassing as messing up a word itself. Everyone knew where I was going and why, but were civil enough to not ask questions. We would meet is small groups of four to five students according to our age and severity of impediment. I was only in the twice a week group, meant for children with minor stutters. We usually spent most of the class doing communication activities like singing or playing games. One of the games we played was called “Radio.” For this game, our teacher used a tape recorder and told us to make up a story as we spoke into the recorder. My stories always followed the same archetype: eight year old boy drafted into the NBA where he beats his idols Kobe Bryant in the final seconds of the NBA finals (I was eight, give me a break). When I listened back to recording, I realized the strength of audio is in its intimacy. Even though it was my voice and I stutter over a few words, there was something captivating about hearing a story being told to me rather than reading it in a newspaper or book. I think this is what lead to my infatuation with radio.
The Neophyte Podcast is basically a therapeutic experiment to become comfortable with my stutter and speaking with people while pursing my dream of becoming a broadcast journalist. I intend to become more of a personality in my future podcasts so people can relate to my story better and connect. This won’t be easy, but that’s the point.