Stuttering away for a week

Alright, so the family and I will be off to Dubai for a week of vacation. The Eid holidays are happening here in Saudi (end of Ramadan) so we get a few days off. There’s a lot more for the kids to do in Dubai than here, so we figured why not.

I will certainly try to post this week if/when I can, but otherwise will be trying to speak and say whatever I want instead of whatever I can.

I’m still working on going through each of the workshops that I attended at the annual NSA conference, so there’s a lot more goodness there. Plus my French-speaking adventures in France chasing the Tour for two days and then meeting with Tom Weidig from The Stuttering Brain.

There’s also a steady stream of stuttering posts and information showing up on Twitter these days, so plenty of chances for commentary there as well.

As always, feel free to rifle through the archives and shoot me an e-mail or post a comment!

Stuttering at the open mic

The second workshop on the second day was Open Mic.

It’s a simple premise, really. There’s the microphone, a room full of conference-goers, and that’s it. So you suck it up, take the mic, and start talking. To a bunch of strangers. About whatever you want.

Deep breath. I’m doing this, I’m doing this, I’m doing this.

I walked in there with someone who I met the first day. After the host explained the deal, my friend stood up and took the mic. Just like that. He didn’t even think about it, he just did it. Again, seriously? This is how people are rolling here?

After he was done, another hand went up, another person got up to speak. Everybody stuttered. Everybody in the audience listened attentively. I sat there in awe. Yes, I had just been to a few workshops where people made comments and stuttered. Or the presenters stuttered. But here are a bunch of people just getting up and putting themselves out there. Strangers to strangers.

About half an hour in, I looked around the room and started doing the math. There were way more people in here than time allowed. There was another open mic event later in the conference, though. I started making excuses in my head. The covert in me made an appearance and started making really persuasive suggestions.

No.

I came here to listen, yes, but I also came here to talk.

I put my hand up after someone finished. Don’t think about it. Just stand up and get up there. Start talking. Stop thinking so much.

I had been doing some thinking while in my seat. What would I say? I would talk about how I told my friends I would be attending a stuttering conference. And how all of them said the same thing — that they knew I stuttered, but it didn’t seem like a big deal to them (or me). But of course it was.

So I got up there. And tried to introduce myself. And stuttered. And then I started in on this little reflection. And stuttered some more. And more. But again, nobody reacted negatively. They just sat there and listened. I kept things short, and then sat back down. That was it. I felt good. I had faced the stuttering head on, and it didn’t do anything to me. I lived through it.

What was becoming a little alarming to me was how badly I was stuttering during the conference. This public speaking attempt really highlighted it. But then I thought, well, I’m definitely out of my comfort zone, I didn’t prepare anything, and I barely do any public speaking to strangers anyway. And oh yeah, you do stutter, and that’s not going to just go away because you think it should.

All in all it ended up being a pretty taxing speaking morning. First making a comment at the bilingual workshop and now this. Between all the introductions from the day before, I had spoken more to a room full of strangers in the past two days than in the past year.

And through it all, nothing negative was happening.

Bilingual Stuttering Workshop

The first workshop that I attended on Day 2 of the NSA Annual Stuttering Conference was Bilingual Stuttering.

Again, I didn’t really know what to expect, and again, I was really impressed with the discussion and comments people made.

For me, I grew up in a bilingual household — my parents spoke Urdu as well as English. But I only picked up on the Urdu as far as some understanding. I rarely, if ever, spoke Urdu growing up. This was because others would usually laugh at what I was trying to say. So coupled with my self conciousness as someone who stutters, it was a receipe for never bothering to learn. And what was the point? Everything in the States is in English anyway.

In junior high and high school I took French. Again, I did pretty good “on paper” but rarely spoke because I was self-concious about how I sounded.

And now, here in Saudi, I’m surrounded by Arabic-speakers. I can read Arabic, but can’t speak or understand it.

So what did I take away from this workshop? The first thing that blew me away was that one of the presenters (a native English speaker who stutters) speaks a foreign language. At work. As part of her job. So, in front of clients, on the phone, the whole thing. I sat there in awe. Seriously? And here I am, afraid of practicing a few Arabic words at the office with friendly company?

Some said they stuttered while speaking another language, others said they didn’t. Some stuttered more because they couldn’t be covert — they couldn’t use another word to substitute because well, they didn’t know many vocab words.

I was sitting there getting a little nervous, though. I had a comment! And damned if I was going to come all this way and not say what I wanted to say. I was remembering the goals that I had set before the conference. Ok! So here we go.

Sutter, stutter, stutter, point sort of being made, stutter a lot more, nobody’s laughing, stutter, stutter, everybody’s just patiently waiting, stutter, stutter, make comment, ok, done.

Alrighty then.

What I managed to say is that I am afraid to speak in a foreign language because I know it won’t be perfect. And I want it to be perfect. I don’t want the listener to grab onto how I’m saying something instead of what the message is. This of course is a direct tie with stuttering — the person who stutters is afraid of how the message is perceived instead of what the message is actually saying.

I said that I needed to be more rational about this — it didn’t have to be perfect. Case in point, I’ve got a bunch of non-native English speaking engineers who report to me. Their English isn’t perfect. But they carry on anyway, not really caring. And I don’t care about how they’ve said something — and I can usually decipher the message.

Another important point they made is that we deserve to speak a foreign language. We don’t have to let our stutter get in the way of that, either.

Yes. I do deserve to speak the French that I learned. And Urdu. And Arabic. Need to get that into my head.

Another workshop done and another really great perspective on something that I had thought wasn’t going to change. I got a lot of encouragement and inspiration from those around me who were stuttering but still speaking foreign languages without any hangups.

This definitely had an impact on the trip to France that I took a few days after my Stateside vacation. But we’ll get to that in a few days.

First day wrap-up and some goals

I’ve been summarizing my time at the NSA Conference that took place over the July Fourth weekend in DC.

Here are links to the three workshops that I attended on the first day at the Annual NSA Conference:

https://helloistutter.com/2014/07/14/first-timers-workshop/

https://helloistutter.com/2014/07/15/stuttering-your-way-to-financial-ruin-and-social-ridicule/

https://helloistutter.com/2014/07/17/this-is-stuttering/

And these are the things I said I’d do at the conference. Let’s see how I did on them:

1. Go up to some hotel staff member and ask them where the bathroom/conference room/gym/elevators are, even if I already know. They’ll probably be hearing a lot of stuttering, so hey, might as well get my own practice in.

Well, I did ask someone where the ATM is. He led me right to it. Of course it was just a few steps away. I hadn’t noticed it there. I didn’t stutter when I asked him.

2. Go up to small groups of people and barge on in. Why not, right?

This is pretty much what the First Timer’s Workshop was all about. I also ended up approaching groups that had one person who I knew in them. Then introduced myself to the others.

3. Call down to the front desk, tell them my name, room number and then ask what time checkout is. And maybe if I’m feeling up for it, what the hours are for the gym.

This didn’t happen. The old covert me hung on to something.

4. Introduce myself to as many strangers as possible.

I probably could have introduced myself to more people, but really, as my first conference, I was really pleased with how many people I did meet.

5. I got invited to a panel discussion on online stuttering communities. So, no prepared talking points. No rehearsing what I want to say.

Well, I did sit up there somewhat nervously while the others were talking, trying to figure out what I wanted to say. And in my mind, it was all going to go very, very smoothly. I was rehearsing! In my head! Yeah, not so much. I stuttered. A lot. But hey, that’s alright. I got the message across about the site and what it’s all about. So a win there.

6. Ask any questions or make any comments during seminars that I might have. Right then and there. Not after the seminar or after a few days when I see the host again. Don’t rely on e-mail.

Yes, I did do this. On the first day I didn’t have any comments or questions because my head was still reeling from the speakers who were stuttering (or not) and how friendly/easy everything was. But it was in the back of my mind for the rest of the conference, and I’ll talk about that later.

7. Above all else — listen. To the new people who I meet, and to the speakers at the conference. I’ve lived in a silo regarding my stuttering since I was 7, so it’s time to get some perspective on it.

Yes, definitely. It was great talking to people, laughing with them, hearing them share similar experiences (especially with the phone). It’s been a while since I’ve laughed that hard, and it felt great. Definitely the right place for me.

This Is Stuttering

The third workshop that I went to was a movie, thisisstuttering.

It was made by Morgan Lott.

Now, remembering that I’m a covert stutterer who doesn’t like to talk about stuttering, I had never seen his movie. Or even heard of it. I only found out about it while reading the description in the NSA program.

So I didn’t know what to expect.

I hadn’t even read this which is on his site:

Morgan is a filmmaker from Simi Valley, CA. During the summer of 2012, he began another round of speech therapy with a new speech therapist, Mrs. Alyssa Lukiewski. Upon her asking Morgan to film all of the sessions and weekly vlogs, simply for her own usage in studying her client, Morgan realized he was filming a fascinating documentary on accident. thisisstuttering has already drastically changed his life and he hopes the story will encourage and motivate others not only with stutters, but in any difficulty life decides to through our way.

This isn’t going to be a review of the movie. It’s more of my feelings during the viewing. That being said, the movie is basically about Morgan and some “confessionals” during his time in speech therapy. There are also numerous shots of him stuttering — out in public, on the phone, etc.,

My thoughts? Wow. Just, holy crap. He is out there, he is on video, and it’s forever! I really, really hate hearing myself on tape (or mp3, I guess) and seeing myself on video. (That’s why I haven’t done a YouTube channel or Podcast) I’ll leave the room if a video of me comes on (even if I’m not stuttering in it). When I’m making videos of the kids, I don’t even like to talk. If I do, it’s slow and very deliberate. And I make sure I won’t stutter. If I stutter badly enough. I’ll delete the video. That’s right. My stuttering supersedes childhood memories that will never happen again. That being said, I’m getting better — if it’s a little stutter, I’ll let it go. I suppose my kids may appreciate a nasty stutter when they’re older though. That’s how dad is.

Back to Morgan’s movie.

I’m watching this movie, and all I can think of is, well, that’s my life right there. He’s on the phone, stuttering to say a word. He hangs up, turns to the camera and says the word without stuttering at all. Over and over again. And just shakes his head about it.

What was amazing is hearing what he said about the movie afterward. Particularly that these snippets were all never to be seen by anybody else. And yet he had the strength to put them together into a really powerful movie. He also talked about how vulnerable he’s felt since making the movie and being out there. That’s an insane amount of courage. I mean, I’m only writing a little blog — put to make a movie and put it forth for festival consideration — chapeau.

(When Morgan stood in front of us after the movie was over to talk, I had the same thoughts that I did about the previous presenter — he’s hardly stuttering! But then he talked about how he’s been doing these presentations for a few months now. So again, confident and familiar.)

For someone who stutters, there’s nothing new or earth-shattering here regarding treatment or putting yourself out there. But I think if you’re fluent and want to know what stuttering is like, this is a perfect place to start. If you don’t stutter but know someone who does, you might hear a few minutes of their stutter here and there. Maybe every day, maybe only once or twice a week. And not think it’s a big deal. (And if your stuttering friend is trying to be covert, they’ll likely stutter even less). But thisisstuttering strings it all together and shows just how emotionally taxing stuttering is.

Stuttering your way to financial ruin and social ridicule

The second workshop that I attended had the subject title and was done by Steve Brown.

For the record, here are all of the descriptions for these workshops — so you can read the description on there of who Steve is and what this was going to be all about.

Alright, so I had just come from the First Timer’s Workshop and was feeling good. I was feeling good about jumping into the deep end and actually going to this conference. But I was mentally taxed a good bit already — I usually have to stutter our my name once a month (or even less) — and I had just done a year’s worth of really rough introductions in less than an hour. Thankfully everybody had name tags, so even if I forgot someone’s name, they happily pointed to it. They also had our hometown on there. Mine was listed as Lancaster. That’s true, but I’m living in Saudi now … I can’t remember if the registration form had that space on there or if they just used the billing address for our credit card. Anyway, at first during the first timer’s I wasn’t saying much about my hometown. But by the end of the conference, people were pretty surprised that I was living and working in Saudi.

I walked from the first workshop to the second — and had to go past hundreds of other conference-goers to do so. Should I have been jumping in again and introducing myself? Yeah, probably. But the old me was still leading the charge. You’ve just stuttered your head off! Look at these people! You stutter still! Avoid at all costs! Go put on more deodorant, too!

Ok, ok. Fine, but we’re going to meet some new people eventually, dammit.

I went into the next workshop room and assessed the situation. Smaller room. The speaker would be standing up front, so he might call on me if I sat in front. Unacceptable. But I can’t sit in the back! No! I didn’t come all the way here to hide in the back. I’ll sit in the middle. Should I slide in next to someone who I know? I don’t know anybody. What about a stranger? I could meet someone here, right? You will! No, let’s just sit down and see what this is all about.

Let me just summarize what Steve ended up talking about — his stutter, how he overcame it through really hard work, and how some of those techniques to avoid and use other ways to communicate made him stand out from his peers. He also talked about the importance of body language and setting ourselves up for success before our mouths are even open — don’t slouch! He told us to focus on the message, not the stutter.

Body language is something I really need to read up on. I find myself slouching or tightening up my shoulders all the time. I’ve been trying to practice more eye contact as well.

I liked Steve’s talk. It was funny, it was upbeat, and I could definitely relate.

But as a first timer, there was something off (for me). Something didn’t add up.

I mean, I’m sitting there, someone who stutters, and this guy says he does too. Yet he’s fluently telling us about his past and present. He’s easily walking back and forth on stage, making eye contact, telling jokes, waving his hands here and there.

But then that was the point.

I started thinking about it more — he’s done this before. He’s told these stories before. He’s confident with his material and being in front of people. That was inspirational for me. That could be me. I want to be up there telling my story some day.

So what did I take away from this? Well, that your stuttering really doesn’t have to stop you from your goals. That you can either stutter openly and fight through it, use alternate communication methods or a combination of the two.

(Also, looking back on it, I should have taken more detailed notes — but hey, I’m learning for next year.)

Just for reference, on the first day of the Conference there were 17 workshops across three timeslots. This is a lot of the reason why I want to go next year (and forever after) — I saw a bunch of stuff on the program that looked/sounded interesting that I wasn’t able to attend.

First Timer’s Workshop

Alright, so I’m finally back home after the visit Stateside and French-countryside. I was trying to think about how to recap all of this, and I think I’ll just do it in chronological order. So, the first workshop that I attended was the First Timer’s workshop.

Just to set the scene — there’s me, the covert stutterer who doesn’t like meeting people (well, having to introduce myself at least). I don’t like conferences because I had what was probably my most embarrassing moment at one (so those chairs, lighting, carpet, large numbers of people sort of make me nervous) and I was still thinking I could just walk out on the whole deal.

Anyway, I slowly made my way into the conference room, and there weren’t a lot of people there. I saw a younger guy sitting down near the door, so I went right up to him (into the deep end!). I said hello, and he introduced himself.

He stuttered.

Since leaving high school, I have never talked to anybody in person who stuttered. Never even met anybody else who stuttered. 17 years.

Alright, so now it’s my turn. I stutter out my own introduction. I then sit down next to this guy, Mark, and we talk. We’re both stuttering. So this is what I sound like to others.

After a few minutes, more people walk in. They fill in the seats. Then I see Pam from Stuttering Rockstar and a few others get up in front of us. Pam talk to us. The others also speak. They’re all stuttering. They don’t seem to mind at all.

They tell us that the point is not for them to talk to us — we’re all here to talk to each other!

Do what now?

Maybe we could go up in front and have them read our name to the crowd? Then I don’t have to? Maybe?

No.

Ok, now they’re done talking, and we’re all standing up, and I’m looking around nervously.

I flew all the way from Saudi for this so … I’m stuttering and introducing myself. I’m forcing myself to make some small talk. I’m trying to remember who I meet. I’m looking and staring at name tags after they introduce themselves.

I’m not going to lie — I’m targeting people who seem to be about my age. I’m interested in talking to them after this and over the next few days. Also, I’m trying to figure out how long to talk to people. I try to make some small talk and then break away to search for others. Oh, social situations. Should I just bust into a group and introduce myself? Look for others who are wandering like me? I slowly move about, bumping into people, introducing myself, saying hello, exchanging where we’re from and what we do.

I’m stuttering a lot, and it’s bothering me somewhat. I know I don’t stutter all that much, but that might be because I’m so comfortable with my current batch of friends/colleagues. But here at the conference I’m really struggling. Maybe it’s because I’m not used to making this kind of small talk? It’s been a while since I’ve answered these kinds of questions. On the one hand, I want to talk and practice, but on the other, I want to listen and find out where other people are from.

Before I know it, this very first workshop is over. What? Already? There are so many people here who I haven’t met!

I really wished it had gone on for maybe another half hour or even hour.

Now that that was done, I was feeling a little better. The uncertainty was gone. I belonged here, and these are my people! I was excited for what the remainder of the conference. And it was easy to meet people. Everybody was patient. Everybody was welcoming.

Stuttering through Europe

Quick update from here in Luxembourg. I’ve spend the last day and a half in France chasing the Tour de France and in Luxembourg meeting Tom from The Stuttering Brain.

Obviously there are plenty of stories to tell including how I successfully (and without too much hesitation) busted out the high school French to ask a police officer what time the peloton was going to come by.

I’m flying back to Saudi on Saturday night, so by Sunday night or Monday I should be back to normal and posting on a daily basis again.

Tom especially brought up some very interesting points that I’ve got to consider and will share soon.

All in all, it’s been a great stuttering holiday as well as a chance to see Le Tour in person for the first time ever.

When are these stuttering conferences?

Obviously last week was the 31st Annual National Stuttering Association conference. And you know what I thought about it — and will keep on thinking about it. But what about everybody who couldn’t make it? What other options are there to meet other people who stutter and talk about stuttering for a few days? (and of course, be able to stutter all day and all night without any inhibition).

Well during the conference, the NSA mentioned they’d do an “annual conference lite” in early October. Now that information is available on their site.

And of course the NSA lists a bunch of Family Fun Days on their Calendar page.

And what else is there? Why, plenty of course. Also at the NSA Conference, I learned about TISA – The Indian Stammering Association. They are planning their annual conference in early October as well.

The British Stammering Association has their annual conference coming up — it’s in Glasgow. I think next year I may try the NSA-BSA double.

I don’t see anything on the Canadian Stuttering Association’s page, but they have posted about a new meet up group for those who stutter. Looks like it’s just started.

The American Institute for Stuttering has an annual gala. A summary of 2014’s event can be found here.

Looks like the Irish Stammering Association doesn’t have an annual conference, but they have got a summer camp for teens.

On a somewhat related note, ASHA (American Speech-Lanugage-Hearing Association) also has an annual convention. I suppose if you stuttered, you could go crash it …

For Australia, I was able to find something that might help from the Speak Easy Association.

Lastly, I don’t know anything about the International Fluency Association, but they’ve got an event coming up in 2015.

Link Roundup – Last fortnight or so

Alright, so now a more traditional link roundup.

We’ll start with Pam at Make Room for the Stuttering. She’s put together some nice thoughts on the NSA Conference.

Also, I met Sam at NSA, and he’s posted his highlights from the conference.

He says:

I led a workshop on the struggles PWS often face on the phone and how we can master it instead of avoid it. After the workshop, a woman in the audience even approached me to tell me I inspired her to overcome her fear of the phone. I was so happy to help!

There were so many great workshops at the conference — I was sad that I had to miss some. Then again, that’s just motivation to go next year — fill in the gaps. And continue meeting amazing people.

The nice folks at Stutter Talk posted several talks during the conference. I should have hunted them down …

I know this is from early June, but I’m finding out about it now. It’s a review of ‘Out With It,’ by Katherine Preston on the Canadian Stuttering Association’s page.

The convoluted interaction between stutterer and unsuspecting listener is depicted, with neither knowing quite how to react, the results varying from traumatic to humourous. She employs various tricks to bypass her stuttering, such as avoidance, developing a huge vocabulary to navigate around difficult words, and choosing a small circle of empathetic friends.

Not sure about the circle of empathetic friends — I think since I never talked to my friends about it, I’ll never know, but everything else is pretty much spot on with regards to how I dealt with my stutter.

And something that’s awesome and horrible at the same time — McDonald’s is testing a new ordering app for your phone.

I say it’s awesome because obviously it saves me the trouble of stuttering out my order — and any changes I want to it — but it’s horrible because, well, I shouldn’t be afraid of stuttering in front of others. On the other hand, I’m not sure what the big deal about this is — at Wawa here in PA they have wonderful touch-screen ordering machines. You can build whatever kind of sandwich you want — and never have to talk to anybody! They’ve been around for years as well. Obviously as a former covert stutterer, the Wawa experience was absolutely magnificent.

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