A side by side comparison of a person speaking to a crowd versus in front a computer writing.

Speech Problems: What am I Trying to Say?

If your boss or your teacher told you that in one week you would have to give a speech, would you panic? Would you fill with dread at the very thought of having to stand in front of a room full of people and speak? For most of my life, I was like anyone else; I always tried to avoid being called on to talk about something in front of others, but I’m not entirely sure why because it’s not like I had trouble with it. I didn’t stutter, and my legs didn’t become weak as I felt everyone’s gaze focus on me, nor was I self-conscious about the sound of my voice.

Opportunities to speak about my experiences

I guess having to speak in front of a class full of my peers was basically just another part of school that I didn’t want to do. After I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), I was presented with several opportunities to speak to students at a medical university about my experience with my illness. I’ll admit, I was a little intimidated by this in the weeks leading up to it, but once I was actually there talking to everyone? I realized that I actually enjoyed speaking, but that would soon change.

My brain hits the “scramble” button

In recent years, MS did something to my brain that now makes it very difficult for me to formulate my thoughts into words when speaking. I’m not talking about some sort of physical issue related to my ability to properly articulate what I’m trying to say (though, like many others with MS, slurred speech is something I’m all too familiar with). I literally mean I’ll have an idea that I want to communicate to someone, but when I open my mouth to speak what’s on my mind, the words that come out don’t really reflect what I’m thinking. It’s like somewhere between the part of my brain that had a thought and the part of my brain that turns that thought into audible speech, the words describing that thought got jumbled up. Not only did my brain hit the scramble button, but some words got deleted and others got thrown in, and the ultimate result is my original idea getting totally lost in a flurry of words. I feel like my brain is full of static! The worst part is, while I am listening to myself try to say what’s on my mind, I am fully aware that I’m not making any sense, and it’s incredibly frustrating.

My mouth just can’t keep up with my brain

When this first started to be a real issue for me, I tried to find some sort of solution in medication like Nuvigil or Ritalin which tend to offer me a little relief from fatigue and cog fog/brain fog. Unfortunately, this sort of made the problem worse… sort of. You see, while I can definitely think more clearly when I’m on this stuff, it seems to further exaggerate the disconnect between what I’m thinking and what I’m saying. It’s like my thoughts are racing around my brain at a thousand miles per hour, and my mouth just can’t keep up. When this happens, I can only think of that famous chocolate factory scene from the show “I Love Lucy” where their job is to wrap pieces of chocolate with little squares of paper while they are traveling down a conveyer belt before those pieces of chocolate left to the next room. As the speed of the conveyer belt increases, they become unable to keep up, and so they panic and start to just eat all the chocolate. When I’m on medication like Ritalin, I feel like my brain is simply dispensing words faster than I can physically speak them, causing me to fumble instead of delivering neatly wrapped sentences to whoever I’m talking to.

The frustration of trying to speak

Whether I am speaking to a large room full of people or having a conversation with just one person, the problem is just the same. I can’t speak the way I used to, and the resulting frustration makes me not want to open my mouth to talk at all. I would much rather sit down and write my thoughts out because when I do, I have the ability to really take a moment to think about every single word I type and whether it actually reflects what I’m thinking. If it doesn’t? I can just press “backspace” and carefully choose another. I can do this over and over until I am satisfied that whatever I’m writing does a decent job of communicating what I’m thinking. I still hope that I will eventually find my way back to being able to speak to people in a way that doesn’t make me feel like I am tripping over my words as they roll out of my mouth but for now? I’ll just stick to writing because I really can’t stand listening to myself try to speak.

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