I am reprinting this post from this time last year.
In the 2010 Oscar-winning historical film “The King’s Speech,” King George VI (Colin Firth) reluctantly assumes the throne and must overcome his stammer in order to speak with the authority and eloquence expected of a king. He hires Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), an Australian speech therapist, and together the two are able to smooth out the rough edges of King George’s pitch and intonation in order to deliver a lucid and effective speech to the nation the day that Britain goes to war with Germany at the beginning of World War II.
I laughed and cried through the entire film because I felt so many of the same emotions as “Bertie,” second son of King George V, while preparing to give the commencement address this last pay May to Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana. I have never been so nervous about anything in my entire life.
I don’t stammer, thank God. But I am on Lithium, which causes me to tremor and feels much like a stammer. When I’m nervous, the Lithium makes me shake even more. In fact, on my first day at the consulting job – where I was somewhat concerned about someone finding out that I was a religion major and didn’t know what change-management was — I was shaking so much that the guy in back of me asked if I was a diabetic in need of insulin and handed me a cup of orange juice. I chugged it and told him I felt much better, thanks so much.
Like many things, public speaking and media appearances never bothered me before my colossal breakdown of 2005 and 2006. Even duking it out with Bill Maher on the ABC show “Politically Incorrect” didn’t interrupt my sleep or appetite. However, my self-confidence—both publically and privately–crumbled to microscopic pieces the months before my hospitalizations. When I emerged, I was a mere shell of my former self.
I had to learn how to do everything all over.
Somewhat like the ice-skater Alexis (Lynn-Holly Johnson) in the 1978 American romantic drama, “Ice Castles.” Because of her extraordinary skill and aptitude (so that part’s different), the young talent becomes a star practically overnight. One night she escapes from a party and skates in her dress clothes. Coming down from a dangerous jump combination, she trips on a set of tables and chairs, hits her head, and is blinded.
She has to learn to skate all over again.
I watched that movie when I was seven years old, and it must have made a strong impact me because I can still recall the last scene. A nervous Alexis enters a beginner’s competition and does well, despite her blindness. When her fans throw roses unto the ice-rink, she begins to trip over them and smiles with an unmistakable expression of victory.
Those two plots—the prince who learned how to fill the role of a king and overcome his speech impediment, and a blind skater who continues to compete despite her considerable disability–tell the story of all of us who have battled the demons of severe depression or anxiety. The self-doubt and emotional stammering have us frozen at the podium or ice-rink, or office desk. Countless times we have to ignore or drown out the voice within that whispers, “I can’t do this, I can’t do this.” We forge on, pretending as though we weren’t handicapped, either mentally or physically.
In this way, each and every one of us embody courage in the way Mary Anne Radmacher defines it: “Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’” And eventually, like King George VI, there comes that moment when we will walk away from the microphone proud of what we have accomplished by applying courage to our life everyday, and by rejecting the impulse to retreat in fear. By inching forward, despite our stammering or blindness, we stumble upon peace and self-confidence.
Photo courtesy of The Weinstein Company.