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On talking fast and talking less

/ 06:30 AM July 29, 2022
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My anxiety shoots up whenever I am speaking — not because I am unsure of what I would say, but because I am secretly afraid of how people would react whenever I talk fast, mispronounce words, and sometimes, stutter. Despite having no tongue defects, I’ve been wondering why I speak this way.

For instance, during my editorship in senior high school, when I was in front of several applicants, orienting them about the history of Ateneo de Naga University’s student publication, I was in the middle of discussing when I noticed that some were trying to hold their laughter. I knew it was about the way I spoke, but I still tried to speak with authority, although I was actually slowly losing my confidence.

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The irony is, I came from a household of loud communicators. Of my four siblings, I am the youngest. My mother was already in her 40s when she gave birth to me; hence, the age gaps between my siblings and myself were wide enough for me not to fit in their conversations. I grew up being told not to talk over elders, or as we phrase it, “Huwag sabat nang sabat sa mga matatanda.”

It felt as if I was never part of any conversation because of the age gaps. As the youngest at home, I could not relate to what they were talking about. I would just listen, and sometimes, attempt to get their attention. But if I could relate, the only way for me to be heard was to interrupt them and speak out loud. But of course, this was also disrespectful, so I would just wait for the right time to intervene. Only when there was a sudden pause or a brief silence could I speak — and as fast as I can, otherwise, I might lose the chance to do so. I, then, learned to talk as if I was always under time pressure.

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Time passed by and my siblings started to work abroad. It was also at that time when my sister’s children came. Since she’s an OFW and had to be away, my parents raised my niece and nephew. I was still young at that time, still desiring to be heard. But I ended up competing with the new kids for attention. From that day forward, I learned to suppress jealousy and keep my stories untold. I started to talk less.

Since childhood, I have been subconsciously conditioned to think that my thoughts might not matter. Hence, I do not share any personal concerns to anyone, not even to my family — like the time I got repeatedly bullied during my elementary years, the frustrations I have for myself along with the grudges, the last time I cried, and other personal stories I wish to keep confidential. This is not a conscious decision, however. Sharing personal concerns seems so unnecessary and makes me feel so vulnerable, and this is already embedded in my subconscious.

I in fact could not recall any moment where I had any intimate conversation with my family. Everything was just superficial, purely small talk. Consequently, I grew up envying those whose parents seem to value the stories of their children. The envy was much worse when I was younger, when my gestures could probably be mistaken for being inconsiderate and ungrateful. But as I grew up, empathy made me realize that the situation in our home was also the reflection of my parents’ upbringing. It was all almost like a domino effect, with what they experienced being passed on to us and to me.

But while speaking, in my case, makes me anxious, it ties me back to my childhood. From it, I understand my need to be part of the conversation, and my need to talk fast before it’s too late. Or better yet, to talk less and listen instead, both stemming from the fear of invalidation, the fear that what I would say might go unheard or just dismissed. But I can say that I have been molded to become a good listener, someone who values turn-takings and acknowledges other people’s stories.

Perhaps, for some, my story is an insignificant matter. But sometimes, we have to travel back in time so we could find clarity. Our childhood usually has the answers to the questions we have in the present, because whatever happened in our past will always say something about our future.

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Peter Dominique I. Panga is currently taking up Bachelor of Secondary Education, Major in English, at Ateneo de Naga University. He lives in Iriga City, Camarines Sur.

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