We welcome guest blogger, Veronique Theberge, from Weird And Wonderful Brain.
One of the biggest impairments that remains for me 4 years following encephalitis and its token brain injury is my speech issues. For me, aphasia means that my speech delivery is often extremely slow, slurred, and connecting the dots between a thought and actually verbalizing it simply takes SOOO MUUUCH TIIIME. It’s as if my mind runs 100 km/hour but my mouth only runs 40 km/hour. Speaking requires so much brain power and is without any doubt the most draining activity that I undertake during the day. In spite of me trying my absolute best to keep on pace and speed up my speech delivery, it is simply always an EFFORTFUL exercise...no wonder I often walk around with a dull headache from overworking this part of my weird wonderful brain.
What does it feel like?
Unless you have some sort of speech impairment yourself, I don’t think one can truly imagine and appreciate how much of an impairment it is to not be able to communicate freely, without worries, without being so self-conscious, without having to work so hard to put words together and without experiencing that dreadful feeling of being judged on the way that you manage to articulate what you want to say. That in itself is draining and I haven’t started speaking yet! Then physically, it feels as if my jaw gets put in a vice restricting any movement and making it even harder to speak.
I’ve always been an outgoing, confident person, so the shift between being a talkative person that loves to be part of group conversations to being the quiet one in the room, self-conscious about every discussion that I try to engage in, has been and still is very hard to process. One of those personas I’ve been familiar with for the biggest part of my life and is still very much anchored inside of me, and the other persona feels like a complete stranger yet one that I need to learn to accept in order to cope on a daily basis. I still love to share my opinion but I’m very aware and at times embarrassed by my aphasia so sometimes it’s easier to just keep things to myself.
Another massive impact that my speech impairment has had on me is that I now dread meeting new or unfamiliar people as much as you’d dread walking straight into a burning fire. See new people don’t know the old me, they don’t know the story behind my speech impairment, they probably don’t realize how much of a struggle speaking is for me, they wouldn’t understand how small it makes me feel and in a weird way, that adds an extreme amount of pressure for me to try to perform. I know it may sound silly, but we all want to put our best foot forward and it’s not any different for me. So I’ll try my hardest to keep on pace, to speak normally, and sometimes I can manage to do that for a short amount of time. So here I go putting all my eggs in the speaking basket. But once I’m done, that small basket often gets accidentally dropped on the ground leaving a heck of a mess to clean up. Putting the eggs into one basket means that for a given amount of time I’ve tried to make my brain work in ways that it can no longer operate. This often results in draining my brain energy really quickly leaving me with very little to operate the most basic functions later on. That’s when a crash occurs and the only way to bounce back will be to get some good rest and sleep. So consequently, I tend to avoid putting myself in situations where I know new or unfamiliar people will be. It avoids me having to deal with the ugly aftermath.
Something to think about - “Never assume that a person who has difficulty communicating has nothing to say.”
Lastly, for those who still remain and support me in my Weird Wonderful journey, I realize that my speech impairment and newly acquired brain also have a huge impact on the people that I engage in conversation with. It often means they too have to slow their own pace right down in order for me to have a fighting chance to keep on pace. They’ll have to allow for breaks in conversation so they can allow me to part take. They’ll have to turn the music off or right down to limit the amount of input that my brain has to process. They’ll have to chase any additional stimuli/distractions away (sorry kids, that often means sending you outside), it means choosing the right setting for a catch-up to occur and they’ll have to limit the amount of people in a room or else the brain gets overloaded and things start shutting down one by one (speech always being the first thing that my Weird Wonderful brain robs from me).
In short, I’m really aware of how it affects the whole room dynamic. I’m very self-conscious about all of those aspects and aphasia adds another layer of frustrations and sadness for me. I’m realistic enough to accept that I can’t expect people to always cater to my brain condition so I’ll pop around for an hour or will not attend some events altogether, both isolating me further, unfortunately. I don’t expect people to change their ways as life, as usual, prevails for them, but as I mentioned earlier the sociable/outgoing person is still anchored inside me, so when people are being extra mindful of some of my brain needs, it is greatly appreciated! After all, socializing is often a difficult but very important part of brain injury recovery.
Where does my speech impairment leave me?
My newfound speech impairment pretty much leaves me sitting on the fence. I’m feeling stuck between having to choose to be that confident/outgoing person which will often lead to a crash and that less natural side of me, the quiet/introverted one, which allows me to cope with my current speech limitations. I feel socially awkward, I feel torn and I feel stuck between a rock and a hard place. How do you choose which persona to bring out on any given day? It’s unfortunately not always a win-win situation. I’m getting better at missing out, I’m slowly getting better at brushing off aphasia and I’m getting braver at letting the world see some of the residual effects of encephalitis. On other days, I’m falling short on all of these accounts…and it’s ok too.
It’s taken me over a week to write this blog, to find the right words, and to think of the best way to portray my speech impairment. As you can imagine, the effects of this impairment are far-reaching for me. Being prepared to show yourself when you are the most vulnerable takes a lot of courage. Since I initially wrote this blog, I finally found the courage to do a few videos of my speech when aphasia takes over in the hope that others can relate to some of my issues. Imperfections are what make us human. Until then, thanks for reading and sharing.