What my mother never told me…
THERE IS AN UNRELENTING pressure behind my sternum and my face is hot and tight. My raggedy fingernails dent my palms as, filled with shame, embarrassment and rage, I am struck mute. My teacher has asked me to read aloud from The Getting Of Wisdom and I can’t do it.
I flee the classroom, take a train into the city and wander around the botanical gardens until I know the school bell has rung and I can go home. I get ‘As’ in every subject, but don’t ask me to speak. My name is Vee and I am a stutterer.
Every sour has its sweet
This misfortune has shaped my experience of myself and the world. The self-consciousness of being unable to express myself as my brain dictates – agilely and confidently, with a witty introduction and a sterling sign-off – caused me to rebel in the wildest way and put paid to my girlish dream of being an actor. It ended my flirtation with high-profile jobs that might have involved making presentations. It also made me care about the pain of others who felt muzzled, overlooked and misunderstood.
I do not tell you this so you can feel sorry for me, I tell you this because I want you to know that the trait I hated most about myself was always working with me to develop my compassion, creativity, resilience and resourcefulness – and I would not trade it for all the elegant glibness in the world. While my teenage mind was railing against my unfair disadvantage, my vocabulary grew as I learned alternative words that were easier to say.
My vulnerability sprouted determination and drive. I became introspective and more sensitive, and I fell in love with reading and writing – letters, essays, articles, features, columns, meandering chapters over and over of my first draft.
“Alongside inner turmoil, my emotional intelligence and courage blossomed”
My greatest flaw gave rise to my passion. I say my own words, I don’t recite another’s script. I would never have discovered my authentic self had I been able to communicate verbally without painstaking, mind-expanding thought. Alongside inner turmoil, my emotional intelligence and courage blossomed.
I had to find different ways to do the things that came easily to others. I left school in a last-straw act of exhaustion that was labelled disobedience. ‘We would have expelled you anyway!’ the head teacher declared. My parents threatened reformatory, but I finished my education through correspondence. I found another way.
At the age of 18, I wrote my way into my first job as a reporter by sending poems to the editor of the local paper. ‘You really want to write,’ he said, wide-eyed. Those words I could not say began to flow onto any page that would host them.
My stutter turned me into a writer and an empath. That ball and chain was liberation. That weakness I despised strengthened my character and gave rise to my power.
Follow Vee on Instagram @VeeJaneSey
Image – Getty images