Stories untold

I think if you asked people who knew me very well, they’d say I was pretty outgoing. That I talked as much as anybody else, and am always up for a good time.

I think if you asked people who didn’t know me as well, they’d probably say I was pretty quiet and didn’t say much.

It’s that cliche of, if you get to know me, I’ll open up a lot more. And obviously that’s got everything to do with stuttering. I’m uncomfortable at first (and for a while, really) but once the initial hesitations are done, the stories will flow.

But not always.

I find myself [trying] to tell stories to friends. And I’m stuttering a bunch on them. Not just the introduction or a name here and there. Like every part of the plot. Names, places, times, relevant jokes. I’m bumbling around so much, that I think it’s not worth it. I’ll push on ahead, finish the story, and then store it away forever.

I think that there’s no way I can get through it again without stuttering, so I’m not going to bother trying with anybody else. It’s a once-told story. Then that same attitude goes toward a bunch of untold stories as well. I think about what I have to say, compare it to a mental list of Words I Hate, and well, nobody hears that story either.

On a related note, I suppose none of my friends really thought I stuttered much because often (in a group of friends) they’d defer to me to “tell the story.” Then it’s me on the spot. I have to get through it quickly and smoothly. Everybody is looking at me, expecting, smiling, wanting to laugh. Talk about pressure.

My stuttering for the week

I haven’t done one of these posts in a while, so I thought I should summarize what I’ve been stuttering on in the past few days.

1. As a cycling fan, I’m excited for this year’s Vuelta a Espana — the tour of Spain. The problem is the word “vuelta.” That v going right into a w. Oh man. I drag out the v a bunch, and then run into a block on the “w” sound. And it confuses the listener when you say it’s the Tour of Spain. It’s La Vuelta — so let’s just call it that!

2. The usual “w” sound on what. It feels like these days I’m asking a lot of questions, and I’m always getting stuck on the “what” part. Everything after that is usually fine, though.

3. One of the Saudis who I talk to regularly here refers to his “family” all the time. But it’s just him and his wife. I thought that was interesting. So he’ll say that he and his family went here, or went there. I’m always stuttering on “wife,” so maybe I should just refer to her as my “family” as well … at least I’d be including the kids, too.

4. We stayed in a hotel a few weekends ago, and for the first time ever, we were in Room 101. The room number (in most countries) is usually trivial, but the big thing here in Saudi are the included breakfasts. So you go down to the restaurant in the morning, and — you guessed it — tell the guy your room number. More w sounds! Awesome! I decided I didn’t care about my stutter and stuttered it out for both days — “one oh one.” It was rough. And he just stared and waited. A little smile came out. I could have very easily said “a hundred and one” which would have been faster. But that would be doing the covert thing which I’m trying to avoid little by little.

(Note: what I’ve done in the past if I get a really hard room number is just hand them the little card-holder thingy that the guy at reception wrote my room number on. If you’re not someone who stutters, and you saw this gesture, you’d think nothing of it. But it’s an old covert trick …)

5. I spoke up at a meeting the other day without stumbling and stuttering too much. I knew exactly what I wanted to say, and I had a good command of the room — there were only a half dozen people in there. I had met them all before. The thing about being a consultant is that you’re expected to talk and lead. So just sitting there isn’t doing anybody any good. I knew they were looking to our team for an answer, and being the manager, it was up to me to take charge and let them know exactly what we were going to do, and when it was going to be done. They had a concern which I also addressed, and the meeting was over in less than 15 minutes. I wasn’t thinking about the stuttering that much. I was focused on the message, and it really helped me drive through the stutter.

Stuttering in children’s books

Piglet

So what am I supposed to do with this? What do you do with this? This is from a Winnie-the-Pooh story. In this same book are stories about Mickey and Minnie, so we’ve only really read those. But I was flipping through to try to change things up, and I started reading this. I did a little bumble here and there, and then decided that my kid wasn’t paying attention so … let’s read something else.

As I’ve said before, I don’t stutter at all while reading children’s books to the kids. It’s pretty nice. I speak slower, pace myself, and breathe better. I guess I’m supposed to do the act and say the words that are printed? Does Piglet have to talk like that? I know he’s scared, but seriously, are the kids going to pick up on the difference?

So far this is the only time I’ve seen “stuttering” in a children’s book. But given how popular Pooh is, I’m sure it’s in every one of his books.

Stuttering and Exercising

I got up today and yesterday at about 5 a.m. to head out for an early bike ride with one of the guys here on the compound. I really enjoy going out for a ride.

However, it’s been really, really hot here. About 100F early in the morning, and 110F or more by mid-afternoon.

I’ve been exercising inside (in the evening) for the past few days because I knew this ride was coming up.

Here’s the thing — I could have made excuses on Friday about not being fit enough to go out. Or being too tired. Or lied about having a mechanical issue with my bike. Or expressed concerns about the heat. My friend would have forgiven me and gotten on his way, doing the ride alone. No hard feelings.

But Friday morning I got up. And within the first five minutes, I was so happy I did. This kind of thing always happens. I dread having to wake up and get ready. But when I’m out on the road in the silent morning, I’m glad I did.

Friday ended up being a little rough for me, but I got through. I could have made excuses for Saturday. But I sucked it up and headed out.

What’s the point? Well, I was thinking about how this is like stuttering — you can easily avoid a situation. You can easily make excuses, and you can easily walk away usually. You don’t have to talk. You can send that e-mail or text. You can drive by a business (or look it up on the Internet) instead of calling it for opening hours.

For me at least getting past that first painful stutter is always the hardest part. After that it doesn’t get “easier,” but it gets better. I take a breath. I slow down. I smooth things out. And then I’m glad I went through the pain of that engagement. I’m glad I picked up the phone. I’m glad I introduced myself.

Stuttering Fear, Feelings and Fluency

Alright, so this is it. The last review of the last workshop from the NSA Annual Conference.

The last workshop was called Fear, Feelings and Fluency.

So first the bit about fear. And what, did they say is fear? FEAR — False Evidence Appearing Real. False evidence like how people are going to react to your stutter. We have a fear of rejection and criticism. And we’ve been through these occasionally with our stutters. So we assume that all future situations will be like this. So the walls go up …

People who stutter often engage in a lot of self-talk that sabotages the self. We talk up how things are going to turn out when people hear out stutter. So the best protection is to be covert.

On feelings — talking about acceptance — there’s no cure. We should accept ourselves and have no guilt and no shame about the stuttering. That we don’t have to meet your expectations, we have to meet our own. For me, at a fundamental level, I get this mixed up all the time. It fuels the lousy feelings I have about my stuttering. It’s important not to get down on yourself with stuttering. It’s an individual journey, and, as the saying goes, “results may vary.”

On fluency — they talked about focusing on communication, not fluency. Are you getting your message across? Great. Are you stuttering while doing it? That’s fine. If your fear of not being fluent is hampering your ability to clearly articulate your message, then the stuttering has won.

I’ll talk more about these concepts when I talk about my visit with Tom Weidig from Stuttering Brain. He brought up these points as well as some on being authentic.

Next task for me is to make a separate page with all of the links from the conference as well as some parting thoughts. Then it’ll be on to talking about my trip to France that I took on the way back to Saudi after the conference. After that, back to posting on what’s happening around the Internet and other stuttering snippets that I’ve written down over the years.

Lastly, this is the three-month anniversary (or pretty close to it) for the blog. 80 posts, and people from 52 countries have stopped by to take a look. Please feel free to comment or shoot me an e-mail.

Authenticity in Stuttering

Onto the penultimate workshop from the NSA Annual Conference.

I attended Authenticity: Stuttering’s Greatest Gift.

What I got from this workshop was that we need to stay true to ourselves even if that means stuttering and not being as covert as we would like. If we’re covert, if we’re hiding, if we’re avoiding, then that’s not really who we are. We aren’t saying what we want to say. We’re not engaging with who we want to talk to. We’re not standing up for ourselves in our times of need.

Obviously being 100% authentic as someone who is covert and who wants to be overt isn’t going to happen overnight. They talked about weighing the costs of being authentic. How important is this issue that you need to speak and struggle?

Emma made a comment to the group that I thought was very interesting, and I’ll use my own name — “Rehan who stutters is not the same as Rehan who has a stutter.”

My understanding of this point (and what they said at the workshop) is like this — we attach a lot of labels to ourselves: Engineer, father, husband, American, photographer, etc., But we also add “stutterer.” And what happens is that instead of seeing all of those labels and those traits, we only shine the light on the stuttering. But it should be only a part of who we are. What I started thinking is that as someone who stutters, other people are only ever shining the light on the stuttering. And that bothers me.

But it turns out that no, I’m the one shining that light on my own stuttering. It’s me who has issues with stuttering, not anybody else. They have their own problems!

It almost seems like the stuttering permeates every other trait. I want to be a better photographer, but I’m afraid to engage with experienced photographers to get better. I am a father, but I change words when talking to my kids. I am a husband, but I don’t always communicate clearly and concisely with my wife.

The key I think is to isolate the stuttering and kick it out of everything else. Deal with it on its own. But obviously that’s pretty tough to do.

Online Stuttering Workshop

Next workshop that I attended at the NSA Annual Conference was a panel discussion — on online communities. And I was a panelist …

Katie Gore, MA, CCC-SLP, put the panel together. The point was to talk about what types of online stuttering communities there are, how they came to be, what their purpose is, and how they carry out their mission. There were very diverse representatives — a stuttering blog/podcast, a video blog, a podcast, a Google Hangout, and me with my blog.

Katie actually approached me through Reddit. She is active on there, and the stuttering discussion is growing.

She’s got a practice in Chicago:

Speech IRL was founded in the spring of 2013. I had spent the past few years working individually with adult clients, and realized that students and professionals have communication demands that go far beyond the usual scenarios targeted in a traditional speech therapy clinic setting. At the same time, I realized that most of the practices in Chicago were structured around a pediatric or hospital-associated rehabilitative model. My goal in forming speech IRL was to create a practice that could provide flexible, intensive speech therapy that simulates real-life challenges as much as possible. This allows us to do whatever it takes to achieve your goals– the city of Chicago is our clinic!

Daniele Rossi & Samuel Dunsiger were on the panel to talk about Stutter Social, which is a Google Hangout for people who stutter to meet up online and talk.

What is Stutter Social?

Stutter Social is an organization that connects people who stutter (PWS) through Google+ Hangouts. Participating in a Hangout is a fun, free, and safe way to connect with other PWS. Discussion often revolves around stuttering-related issues, but sometimes we just chat about our day or a good movie. We are a very welcoming and friendly bunch so don’t be shy and come join us whenever is convenient for you. We have a Hangout Calendar that lists all the different Hangouts occurring each week.

I also had a chance to buy Daniele’s book. I read through it almost non-stop when I got back to Saudi. I’ll post a review in a few days.

Daniele also talked about his podcast.

And you can participate:

Record an mp3 of yourself speaking and e-mail it to me. Talk about whatever you like! Your positive and negative experiences with stuttering, any tips you have, how your day went, what you day job is, your favourite colour, whatever you like. Send me your audio as often as you wish. You can even sing if you want to. You don’t even have to reveal you’re name. Then I’ll play your submitted audio on my podcast.

Pamela A. Mertz was also on the panel from Make Room for the Stuttering. Not only does she have a long-running blog, but also a long-running podcast, the Women Who Stutter Podcast:

Make Room For The Stuttering was created by me, Pamela A Mertz (initials: pam) after realizing that I have a story to tell. I was a covert stutterer for many years, and was afraid to stutter publicly. Life circumstances and maturity have helped me realize that I wasted a lot of time, and that I much prefer the authentic me. My defining moment was getting fired from a job that I loved and had held for more than 20 years, because I had stuttered publicly.

The final person on the panel was Jacquelyn Revere, who’s been blogging and video blogging about stuttering. Jacquelyn is very active on twitter and has a youtube channel as well.

As I’ve said before, I’m blown away by people who stutter who just put themselves out there. I do it, sure, but on my own terms and certainly not on video. But … it’s something I need to work up to. Maybe a podcast episode first …

I need to update the links and resources on this site based on the above. I’ve noticed there are a lot of people active on Twitter with great links and resources. Most of the Sunday link roundup information comes from Twitter. Speaking of which … I think I may move that to Friday once and for all.

So how did I do talking about this blog? Well, like I said before the conference, I was going to wing it instead of preparing a bunch of talking points. Not exactly wing it, I suppose. I thought about some main points pretty thoroughly before the panel as well as while sitting up there nervously. I really thought that I would be confident with this — it’s my own blog, I know why I want to do it, I had been stuttering and talking a bunch at the conference a lot already. Maybe this could be a nice smooth delivery?

Not so much. I stutter, so I stuttered. But anyway, I got my point across — that another voice in the stuttering blogosphere is good for everybody — and that’s what’s important.

Stuttering Speed Talking

The next workshop I went to after lunch on the third day was Speed Talking. The premise was like open mic, but everybody was guaranteed to get involved. Two rows of chairs were set up facing each other. One row would stay in place, and the other would move to the next seat every 3 minutes. Like speed dating, but with stuttering. The idea was just to … talk.

Since one of my personal themes was “talk as much as you can” during the conference, I was interested to see how this would go. There were about 40 people total, so it would take up about an hour.

There are a lot of interesting dynamics when it comes to speed talking as someone who stutters. Here are my observations:

1. We had to introduce ourselves. For me this meant stuttering out my name. I was doing horribly at this, so about 30-45 seconds (or so it seemed to me) was chewed up by this. Any negative reactions by the person who I was talking to? Of course not! Stutter on!
2. Anything you want to try to ask starts with a “w.” Where are you from? What do you do? When did you start going to these conferences?
3. I decided not to substitute or avoid any words. Which made me stutter more.
4. I wanted to talk, I wanted to meet people! So I was pushing out questions really hard and interested in keeping conversations going.
5. Just like with any meeting of strangers, some people were better at making random small talk than others.
6. I was using some “canned” material, so I didn’t stutter as much on that. But I did get some random questions which took a while to answer.
7. As for “small talk” overall, it’s been a while since I’ve had to do it — not a lot of meeting new people here. So at times it was difficult to articulate what I was doing for a living and where I lived and the whole situation.
8. Maybe I should have talked to each person about the blog, but for whatever reason I didn’t. I don’t know — it didn’t seem like the right venue.
9. Three minutes goes by pretty quick when you’re stuttering (although it seems like forever at the time)
10. There were a lot of people talking in close proximity. So I had to raise my voice quite a bit and really focus on speaking. It was sort of like being at a noisy bar, really.
11. I did talk to some really interesting people, but I was lousy about following up with anybody after the workshop. I mean, I didn’t do any follow up. Need to do a lot better on that next year in Chicago.

So all in all, it was another great chance to … talk. And introduce myself. And stutter. A lot. And be put on the spot. And not to be judged. So that was awesome.

But it was absolutely exhausting.

Covert stuttering workshop

Covert stuttering exposed! Second workshop, third day. I wrote my thoughts on covert stuttering before.

This particular workshop was a panel of people who were formerly covert. They basically stood up and told their stories. Which were … amazingly like mine. They talked about avoiding situations, substituting words, not participating in activities, the whole bit. Indeed, I was not alone in my stuttering silo!

Just as in previous workshops, I was amazed at how these people just got up in front of a large group and stuttered away, not bothered at all.

They mentioned that there’s not a lot of research out there on covert stuttering. Well … of course. We don’t like to talk. About anything. Or want to associate ourselves with stuttering. So while I didn’t seek out research studies on this kind of stuff, I probably would have considered answering some questions if I ran into a study — say at my doctor’s office or something. But that rarely happens.

Also, there are varying degrees of success when it comes to covert stuttering. I thought this was interesting because it really sums up my life a lot. I have basically a “positive feedback loop” on being covert. What I was doing — avoiding, being silent, etc., was working. My life wasn’t getting any worse, and career-wise, things were continuing to improve. So there wasn’t any motivation in not being covert.

And what is it about being covert that’s so necessary? Well, aside from the usual shame/fear bit, it’s that society really places an emphasis on fluency. Like, perfection. Turn on the tv. Watch any show. Any of them. Nobody stutters. Ever. They’re all reading their lines perfectly. Even on the nightly news if they’re talking to a correspondant and not using the prompter, their words are succint and perfect. Radio personalities are perfect. Books on tape are perfect. Youtube video presenters are perfect. So where does this leave me? Well, I want to be perfect. If I can’t, then well, I’m just not going to open my mouth.

Avoid avoiding

Back to talking about the NSA Annual Conference.

I’m only up to Day 3 — July Fourth from our nation’s capital.

The day started off with You Make the Difference: Avoid Avoiding.

I managed to only write down a few things. The first is, “the environment of strangers has a lot of negative connotations.”

And of course this is why we avoid speaking or even trying to speak. Better to just shut it all down than to be embarassed (again). I do this kind of thing all the time. Why mingle at a wedding when I can just hang out with the few people I know at my table? Why linger at a company function after dinner when it’s just easier to eat and leave? Why try to navigate the drive through and having to speak through a speaker when I can just go inside and point to what I want?

“What have we done to avoid avoiding?”

This is about challenging ourselves to not be as covert, and to be out there with our speaking. We don’t have to be afraid all the time. Sure, sometimes we get a negative reaction, but the percetages are really, really low. It’s just that those instances really stick in our minds. We need to remember the positive and forget the negatives.

One thing she mentioned was stuttering on our voicemail message. So there, you got a call from a stranger, and they heard your stutter. They know you stutter. What are you afraid of now? That they’ll make a comment about it? Ok, so? Then what? Can you move on to talking about work or whatever? Isn’t a few seconds of discomfort better than hours or days of avoidance and having to resort to other means of communication?

(Quick aside — here in the Kingdom, I actually don’t have voicemail. Not on my cell phone, and not on my work phone. At work it just shows a log of missed calls. So if you see that someone called, then you just call back. Same for the mobile — or they could just text me. Does this mean that I may stutter on my voicemail when I get back to the States? Well … maybe.)

One note I wrote down to myself during this workshop was “Avoiding — now I have children.”

This means, quite simply, that we need to be able to speak for our children. Full stop, no excuses. You take your two-year-old to the doctor, and they’re sick, and they’ve been coughing or sneezing and whatever else, so all of that needs to be told to the doctor. What are you going to do, write it all down? Then what happens when the doctor asks you what they’ve been eating or where they’ve been playing? Didn’t think of that, did you? And you have to make sure to give exact answers. This is your kid’s health!

I think in broader terms maybe this is what’s really pushing me to lose the covert and be more overt. My kids. They can’t speak for themselves all the time. They can’t see that something’s not fair. I need to be able to stand up for them. I need to be able to ask about after-school programs, or where to get academic help, or what they’ve been up to in class when it comes to a parent-teacher conference.

As I’ve said many times before though, I’m not perfect, and I didn’t just go to the conference and come back with some sort of fearless streak. I came back with way more confidence and a different attitude, sure, but it still has to be executed on a daily basis. And some days are better than others.

Programming note … I think I may just go to a M-F publishing schedule. It seems most of the readers are visiting during the traditional work week anyway. I think I’m trying to do too much without considering the time it’s all going to take. Better to ease back a little and publish slightly less but with better quality and consistency.

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