Skip to Accessibility Tools Skip to Content Skip to Footer
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.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The MultipleSclerosis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • mseverchanging
    4 months ago

    Yes Matt, have to ask my partner if I have clarified what I’ve told people or Doctor’s. What’s in my notes, sometimes I have to give that to Dr, as could not explain clearly, even though all the words there in my head. I explain it five different ways, to get my thoughts to go out. But loved your anology, as could picture the scene of eating all the chocolate. Will have to try that.
    Joey
    Everchangingms.blogspot.com

  • Matt Allen G author
    4 months ago

    It’s really frustrating, like, in your head you have the word laid out but as soon as you try to say them it’s like someone switched the words with random word. Maybe, in your head, you want to say “cat”, but as soon as you try to say it, the word “Meow” comes out and you hear yourself say the wrong word but you don’t know why your brain replaced the word you wanted to say. If that makes ANY sense at all haha…

  • TheTodayMe
    4 months ago

    I believe this the hardest part of MS that I deal with. I can deal with the physical better. I’ve learned to cope with other people’s reactions to my walker and slow movements. (Some days are better than others.) I guess it’s my OWN reaction … to hearing my words and knowing that what I INTENDED to convey doesn’t match with what I actually said, that bothers me the most.

    What you shared really struck a cord with me. I get it. It makes me aware of my disabilities. I’m more content when I can focus on my abilities.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Matt Allen G author
    4 months ago

    You know, I would completely agree. Dealing with all the physical issues that MS brings me is very difficult but dealing with the cognitive and speech issues is EMOTIONALLY difficult.

  • StephanieEVC
    4 months ago

    My words to writing and grammar have always been… ‘low graded’ lol is the only word that I can think of for describing my lacking skills. I have noticed one thing. Since my word promise to myself that no matter what the weird side effects are or how much I hurt I won’t take medication that: may may, may not, and even if it does work its effects will wear out drugs to help me with my disease. I think my best way to ‘get a hold of me’ is to push past it ignore or distract myself and make it day to day.

  • Dimitri
    4 months ago

    Your analogy about the conveyor belt is perfect. That’s exactly what it feels like. I had neuropsychiatric testing done and my results should that my brain has a slow processing speed. So this makes sense that I feel like my brain and mouth are not synced up.

  • Matt Allen G author
    4 months ago

    I would like to see what one of those tests finds with me and how much it resembles the image of that chocolate factory scene in my head!

  • Mike H
    4 months ago

    Hi Matt
    Yes I’m the same with speaking. I hate it. Telephone is the same, if not worse. Like you, i find it much easier to write it all down first , do spell checks, then read it back out loud. It sucks I know. I’d rather not speak at all. So dude, you’re not alone.
    Mike

  • Mike H
    4 months ago

    ….and yes it makes me feel stupid.

  • Matt Allen G author
    4 months ago

    I tell people the same thing about how I feel and they tell me I’m not, that what I’m saying makes sense to them, but that does change how I FEEL when I’m spitting out nonsense.

  • Poll