Have you ever been ‘lost for words’?
Have you ever felt like you didn’t know what to say?
What if you couldn’t say anything? What would you do?
This was a question I once had to answer for myself.
When I was aged twenty-five, I was a passenger in a car accident. I had a fractured skull which caused pressure on the brain resulting in very bad headaches. It took three operations to finally remove the pressure.
Because of the head injury, I began suffering from Aphasia, which causes the loss or impairment of the ability to form words.
Did I know this? No.
The speech therapist came to see me while I was in the hospital, he sat and talked to me and asked me questions about my family. He taped our conversation and then he played it back to me.
I thought I was speaking clearly and correctly. The words in my head sounded normal to me when I was just making sounds.
When I listened back to the tape, it was difficult to comprehend. I had lost the ability to form words.
Just like I was two years old, I had to learn to speak again.
Over a period of weeks, I started the treatment which began a daily ritual. My first lesson was vibrations; using a blown-up balloon placing it over my mouth and cheek and making sounds.Then came simple words: yes, no, book, chair, dog, cat.
I gradually learned to say my own name and the names of members of my family.
It made me see just how frustrating and challenging it must be for young children to express themselves. They have the feelings, but not the words. I felt just like they did.
Along the way, I made many mistakes. Often the more I tried to rectify the mistakes, the more tongue-tied I became. I didn’t want to speak when I was with other people; I had lost all my confidence to communicate verbally in public.
At home, I would not go to the door if anyone knocked. I would not answer the telephone. I would tell my family to say I was out when a friend came to visit. I was so self-conscious about my inability to communicate, that I was becoming a recluse.
During one of my sessions, I shared how I felt with the speech therapist.
He listened and then said “Nancy, take a moment to reflect on how far you have come. You can’t compare yourself to others. Nobody in your life has been through this same challenge. Look to the future. Plan to one day speak to a group of people and have them listen to your every word.”
That idea became my goal; it was something to look forward to.
One day, a neighbour offered to take me to his public speaking classes; he told me that I didn’t have to speak. I could just visit, sit and listen.
Despite my fears, I agreed to go. I attended every week, and it took until the end of the term before I could stand up in front of the class and say my name.
As the weeks went on, I learned to pronounce words correctly again. And slowly my confidence returned to me. I felt more normal as I started to share my thoughts and feelings through my words.
The ability to communicate is important to all people. It is all about communicating your needs, maintaining your independence and your personality.
Being able to tell someone how you feel. Just to be able to say “I love you.”
To this day it is a gift that I truly appreciate.
Years later, I joined a Toastmasters Club. Although I was very nervous to stand up and speak, I could finally participate in the activities.
It came time to do my fourth speech and when I looked in the speaking manual the heading for the speech was ‘How to say it”.
I thought of the time many years ago when I couldn’t say anything. I remembered when I set that goal that my speech therapist had suggested to me.
‘One day I will speak to a group of people and have them listen to my every word.’
We never know the road others have traveled; we only see what is there before us. Take time to listen.
It has taken me a long time to get to this point in my life.
I may never be a great speaker. But I will always be a very grateful speaker.
It is thanks to the support of many people and to organizations like Toastmasters that I and many others can stand up and speak, knowing ‘how to say it’.