When I Faced My Anxiety About Speaking Due to My Cerebral Palsy
I never thought I would be so anxious to have my voice heard.
If I could change only one thing about my cerebral palsy, it would be the affect it has on my speech. Many people find it difficult to understand what I say upon first meeting me. When I was mainstreamed as a student beginning in eighth grade, I dreaded the thought of being called on in class or having to speak to a teacher. My employment search after college was constantly thwarted by employers scared off by my speech. The possibility of meeting a woman is dampened for the same reason. Even if someone understands the initial “Hey, how are ya?” the doubts, questions, and, depending on the situation, even fears, can often be seen in their eyes. The realization that people were likely to respond to me in that manner has only made me more reluctant to speak at times, especially in uncomfortable situations when my own nervousness makes my speech worse.
My love of writing began long before I started to realize how much my speech problem — and believe me, it’s a problem — would affect my life. But the frequent frustration to express myself verbally has certainly enhanced my relationship with writing. The freedom of sitting down in front of my keyboard and expressing myself without hesitation, doubt, or anxiety, about the clarity of my words is one of the greatest joys of my life.
But writers write to be read. The irony of that reality for me is that in order to be read, we have to “spread the word” about our work. It’s a task that has been filling my days since I recently published my first novel, “The Birth of Super Crip.” And as much as I’d like to think I can accomplish my task through emails, Facebook posts, and tweets, I was recently confronted with the reality that it takes much more. For a little more irony, the realization came when one of my emails paid off.
I sent out an email with a link to an article about the novel that appeared in the local paper. Jon Marks of 97.5 FM, a sports talk station in Philadelphia, just happened to be in my contacts because every now and then I email him about sports. He replied almost instantly, offering to do a podcast with me about the book.
I’d done a few interviews in my life, but always with newspaper writers, meaning my voice wasn’t being heard as part of the interview. I had even produced a couple YouTube videos of me speaking about my first book, but at least people could see me. They had something more to go on than just my speech. Besides, I created closed captions for the videos as a safety net, and I was as relaxed as I could be knowing I could retry the video over and over to get the best version of these not-so-silky-smooth vocal tones of mine recorded.
But a podcast? With nothing but my speech to represent myself?
Every fear of speaking suddenly clashed with my need, my desire, to promote the heck out of the novel I spent about two years working on.
And I choked.
I postponed the interview.
Soon, though, I started kicking myself. Here was a guy in radio giving me a chance to get some exposure for my book, and I hesitated.
Why couldn’t I just do it? Why couldn’t I just talk? Just speak!
Then the holidays hit, other things filled Marks’ schedule, and we weren’t able to reschedule the interview right away.
So, I took a chance and created a video podcast of myself talking about the novel. It might be a little long, and it’s certainly got a homemade feel to it. But I hoped it would let more people know about the book. I knew it would put my speech front and center. I didn’t even create my own closed captions — no safety net this time.
The more I thought about having posted the video, the more I felt like it said something about my own acceptance of my speech problem. It’s not that I’ve hidden my speech in the past. But maybe it’s time to really say, this is it. This is my speech. It is what it is, as former Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manual used to say.
Even better, I eventually rescheduled the interview with Marks. Talking to Jon was very comfortable because I could tell right away that he was comfortable talking to me. And, when we were momentarily on different pages, Jon was willing to listen and truly understand both my speech and my message. I’m realizing that giving an interview is a skill all its own, and I have a lot to learn, especially about giving recorded interviews. I wish I had been more direct with some of my answers. But for a “first swing” at an audio interview, I’ll take it and be glad for Jon’s expertise as he reigned me in. The interview was a confidence-boosting experience, and I’m hoping it will be a nice lift for the book as well.
I’ll always be a writer at heart, but I have to say it was pretty cool to be heard — literally.
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