I had a serious handicap when I was young. I had foot-in-mouth disorder. I couldn't talk straight. People knew I was weird (rather than suspect it.)
I never got any verbal criticism. I just got some puzzled looks. Facial expressions that expressed, "UH...what?"
I'm sure people did not appreciate what I had to say. They kept me around because they loved me. Or got stuck with me like college roommates.
I'm also sure they talked about me behind my back. I didn't care. I simply wished there was a hole under me I could fall into when I said something stupid.
The strange thing, well one of them, was that I could think perfectly good ideas and communications. There was just some twist between my brains and my mouth. I didn't speak gibberish. I was terribly inept at being a person. I presume.
What I said often sounded perfectly understandable to me. But others seemed not to get it. (It is a shame, too, that I blamed myself all these years when I could have decided that they were stupid conversationalists.)
An example would be my terror at calling people on the phone. Not only didn't I know what to say, I frequently couldn't say a word. Thank goodness there was no caller ID in those days. Actually I didn't hang up anonymously. I just never made phone calls until I was into my 40 and beyond. And then rarely.
Oh, teenage years don't count. I could talk to my friends and even boys on the phone back then. But teenaged girls are silly and I was cute so boys didn't care what I said. They called me. I wasn't allowed to call boys back in those days. (And we only had ONE phone per household. What could we have been thinking?)
I think part of the telephobia (is that a word?) stemmed from the first time I was forced to answer the phone. I can't remember how young I was but my parents thought it was high time I learned how to answer the phone. They told me, "Find out who it is and what they want."
Just then the phone rang and they said, "Now's your chance." They just as well could have been teaching me to fly in an airplane by pushing me out the door with no parachute.
I reluctantly crept over to the phone and said, "Hello. Who is this and what do you want?" Amen. I was a little girl for godsakes.
The caller hung up and a couple of seconds later the nextdoor neighbor came running over to tell us that our backyard was on fire.
It all went downhill from there. One of my worst other memories is when I called my cousin who was living at my grandma's. She said, "Hello." I said, "Is John there?" She said, "No. This is his grandmother, can I help you?" I said, "This is his cousin." There was a long pause and my Grandma said, "Sandy?"
That's bad enough but she told my mother and my mom told me my grandma got a weird call from me. I thought it was perfectly understandable. (It's my sense of humor, I guess. Stupid people still don't get my humor.)
I've gained enough self-confidence now to suppose that someone else might be to blame.
So, partly I learned to take part in a conversation by observing people for about 40 years.
That and learning to write I don't mean A B C D. I mean put my ideas, thoughts, feelings and poetry down on paper. I learned to converse with writing. Later I published a book for short short stories (humorous flash fiction) and a book of poetry.)
I turned to journals as my confidants and BFFs. I have 120 full journals and counting. (Someday I will sit outside with a nice bonfire, read each one and toss it into the flames..)
I turned to writing fiction too but didn't have as much luck as I had hoped.
I preferred writing because I could say important things on paper, and most importantly, I could cross out and correct what I'd written so I'd be pleased with what I'd said. And nobody would read it (besides me and I never did anyway. That's why I'll read them before I burn them. I'm curious.)
Oh, wait a minute. I did read the end of one journal one time. Ten years later I realized I was still ranting about the same things.
So I got a divorce.
I still write and do editing as I go along--cross out things and keep going. (And rewrite endlessly. Somebody stop me before I get hurt!)
But now I can talk.
Now I'm learning how to shut up.
And get over my phobia of listening.