“Do you understand the words that are coming out my mouth?”
Ever since Chris Tucker uttered that famous quote in Rush Hour, I realized that I’ve always found humor in the way we use speech.
Lately, I’ve been asking about what happens when we’re so anxious and self-conscious about the words “comin’ out our mouth” that we psyche ourselves out of proper annunciation. I reflected. I realized I’ve been a victim of that manifestation of anxiety. It’s called dysarthria.
If you’re just learning about the term (as I am), you should know that the proper definition of dysarthria, according to Mayo Clinic, is “a condition in which the muscles you use for speech are weak or you have difficulty controlling them. Dysarthria often is characterized by slurred or slow speech that can be difficult to understand.” Anxiety can indeed cause and exasperate this.
I haven’t been fully diagnosed with dysarthria as an official symptom of my anxiety, but I can’t lie to myself and say I haven’t been affected by it (or slurred/awkward speech) in recent years. It always happened during the most stressful times in my life. I just put two and two together there.
In 2015 (and into 2016), I slurred my radio stations’ name for about six months because I was so self-conscious about how I was saying it on the air. I wanted it to be perfect. There was a lot of pressure on me, and other hosts, to make sure we were saying Q Hit Music as clearly as possible. We were full blown critiqued on that very nuance during every “aircheck” (review of our show) because radio listeners “need to know very obviously who they’re listening to” for ratings. For some reason, “music” just didn’t want to come out of my mouth right away. I was terrified that I wouldn’t say it the “right” way and be fired. Instead of getting help for this, I got monitored weekly. More pressure. Not good.
Eventually, they brought a speech therapist in at my suggestion because I didn’t know what else to do. She met with me twice, and flat out told me I spoke wonderfully – I just had an “emotional component” going on that once cleared would have me “back to normal”. I laughed at that and said, “Great! Can you tell me boss that so they’ll leave me alone?”
The exact same thing happened to me in Rochester for a few random weeks at a time when I tried saying Quick Country 96.5. Again, it was as though I was afraid to finish the “96.5” part because I was afraid I’d be judged again. I slurred it. Am I going to be fired if I didn’t get the station name “right”?
The worst was when a boss would ask, “are you aware that you’re slurring your words?” Of course, I was. I was embarrassed about it. However, I had no control over it.
I answer phones at my current place of employment, and I still catch myself getting anxious and not speaking normally because, again, we’re critiqued.
I haven’t come up with a solution to preventing this at all because it seems to come randomly for me when I am most stressed. The worst part is that when I notice it happening I’m even harder on myself and more self-conscious, thus making the problem worse.
Maybe the first step is admitting that there’s a problem? Have you gone through this before?