Taking a speech disorder along to work–at least for the first few weeks–is a little bit like those really annoying Orbit commercials.
You know the ones, where the guy is sitting on the plane next to the giant-sized salisbury steak he just ate. Or the guy watching some sporting event I can’t keep straight (Is it football? Tennis? Who cares?) sitting beside the pile of nachos he just ate.
Mind you, I wouldn’t begrudge a giant pile of cheesy nachos, if it just wanted to show up for eating purposes.
However, I think we all get the point. Orbit wants you to know that–until you chew their delicious and refreshing sweet mint gum (my favorite)–your bad breath will serve as a constant reminder of the food you just ate.
Yeah, so, a speech disorder is sort of like having that giant pile of nachos following you around, minus the easy solution of chewing a wad of gum: annoying and always there, though at least it’s not smelly.
But look, I couldn’t sit around at home forever. Sure, I could have stayed home and in my comfort zone. Going to work was scary, plain and simple – especially since two months ago, I had no idea whether I’d be able to.
I felt like I was just starting to sound pretty good. I was a big fish…in my house. Going back to work made me suddenly feel like a very small fish–let’s say a guppy–in an ocean.
Why? It’s not because my coworkers weren’t understanding, because they have been.
But, when you have a speech disorder, you tend to feel really confident and on top of the world when your speech is going well. You feel like you can almost fake it: “Look at me! I’m TOTALLY normal!”
On the other hand, when your speech becomes unclear and you “mess up”…watch out. Hello confidence, meet floor.
I found myself immersed back in my job, saying words I didn’t have to say at all for three months. No matter how hard I worked and practiced, I couldn’t account for every single thing I’d be faced with.
However, in a way, it’s a good thing.
Is it better to stay home and be comfortable (and let’s not forget, broke)? Or is it better to push yourself? To keep trying to expand your horizons and take a giant leap forward in the healing process? I think the answer is clear here.
So, in the past two weeks of being back at work, I’ve learned this –
It’s hard. It’s really, really hard. But I have to do it. All I’ve wanted this whole time is to talk faster and to sound like myself. However, when spending sometimes several hours on the phone, slowing down is the key to maintaining clarity.
My biggest fear was that people at work would think I wasn’t capable of doing something I used to. That my speech would trick them into thinking my intellect or capability was also impaired. But that’s just not the case.
Frequently, people with speech disorders COULD have other impairments due to whatever caused the disorder in the first place. But a speech disorder alone doesn’t mean someone isn’t smart or able.
The first thing I did was send a short email, including a link to information about verbal apraxia. Owning up to having a speech disorder clears the elephant from the room, so to speak. Sort of like saying someone is an alcoholic.
Just own it.
And if you’re like me, you’ll still have a hard time slowing down and realizing every five seconds that you can’t speak like you used (for NOW). So:
I put this tortoise on my desktop to remind myself to slow down. (But most of the time, I catch a glimpse of it and think, “Wow, he’s really cute. I should name him.”)
The last thing I did was make a list of “trouble” words that lives on my desk. Yep, I’m not ashamed.
I used phonetic spelling for some of the words – you see, the brain is a cagey thing, and so is apraxia. Sometimes, just seeing the word in print spelled out phonetically or broken up (you can see some in the picture) can trick your brain into saying it correctly. Anytime I come across a new word, I write it down. This list is sure to change every couple of weeks.
You see, apraxia can’t just be cured. It’s all coordination. Coordination you’ve had since you first learned how to speak–that’s suddenly gone. It just takes time. And practice. And more time and practice.
And pushing out of your comfort zone.
So I’m trying.