I was at the market today, doing the weekly shop as I usually do on a Sunday. The store opens before it’s legally allowed to sell things so you really have to time it right to shop at the optimal time; just early enough to avoid the crowds but late enough to prevent standing idle at the checkout while everyone watched the clock with a rapture similar to Pavlov’s pets.
Being so prompt meant that the bakery section was looking a little thin, my best reason being they hadn’t had the time to fire up the oven yet, and the bagels I wanted weren’t out at all. So I went and asked the man being the counter if he had any. He did, and he said it would take 5 minutes to thaw them out (so much for “cooked fresh on the premises”). So I wandered away, looked at trash mags for a while, bought nothing and wandered back. And voila! Fresh (reheated) bagels.
And the point to all of this?
The man had a noticeable dysfluency. Or stammer/stutter to use the traditionally socially recognised label.
I have dysfluency. I like that label better because it’s mine. And if I’m going to be slapped with a tag then better it be a tag of my own choosing rather than society. A uniform group whose historical track-record for labelling people is spotty at best (and downright genocidal at worst).
I’ve been dysfluent since I was little. At age six the mail gave me not candy or valentine’s cards but agonising blocks and repeats to the extent that I would often burst into tears for no other reason than not being able to speak. Often with an audience who would just stare uncomfortably, clearly embarrassed, but also being six there was very little they could do to comfort me.
All through school and college it was present, and it was only in my late twenties did I start doing something to correct it. Several courses of speech therapy followed, all NHS funded, all now discontinued due to the ConDem elimination of services deemed unnecessary to the local population. Now I still stammer. But I control it, I can function, unless you were around me for a long period of time would you notice I sometimes freeze mid-sentence. I can function in society, though there are a list of things I find hard. Telling jokes, reading aloud from a piece of writing (partially my own writing in class), speaking in loud places (clubs, crowds). The latter has something to do with how my brain responds to pitch. Which also means that instruments associated with pitch are virtually impossible for me to play, things like piano and violin, it’s best if I stick to the rhythm section, but I digress.
Wandering away from him I wondered if he ever wanted to be a baker in a market? I’ve seen people on television who have dysfluency who’ve had to find any job they could. Some dug ditches; others worked cleaning floors or nannying. These were smart, passionate people, people who had the one flaw of not being able to communicate with strangers to a degree which was, in their own eyes, acceptable. Not to be narcissistic here but many stammerers see themselves through the eyes of others, consequently the self-esteem is predictably low. But this man didn’t shy away from when I asked him about my bagels, and predictably I was so fluent that any attempt at congratulating him for the courage to talk to me would only have come across as condescension. But I was so proud of him for doing it. There were others behind the counter, he could have passed my enquiry off to a colleague and he wouldn’t have had to talk at all.
I would have done that. Wouldn’t I?
Maybe. I don’t know.
I think that’s what a lot of people think when they see someone in the same boat as them doing well. They’re living life. I couldn’t see if he wore a wedding band, though he might have had to remove it on account of the hand-hygiene rules. Maybe he has children too. They wouldn’t care if he was dsyfluent.
I thought for a long time (years) that my dsyfluency was something that made me less. Not as popular, or confident, or social. But now I recognise that my dsyfluency made me unique, it made me more adaptable. I’ve surrounded myself with a select group of friends from coast to coast, in a variety of fields. I don’t talk a lot in social gatherings but I can still slay a room with a well-timed quip. And I developed a brand of humour, self-deprecating at times but never at my own expense, that I can take comfort in. I am different, but so is everybody. I think sometimes if society, with all its smartphones, and Wi-Fi and speed of light communication would notice more of the people who were different, for reasons other than their obvious difference, then the world might be a more accepting and less intolerant place.
But that’s only one dysfluent’s opinion.