A Hundred Stuttering Posts!

So here we are at a hundred stuttering posts. Thanks of course to all the visitors from 66 different countries who have stopped by. I think things are still going pretty strong. It’s getting difficult to post every day (not through lack of ideas, mind you), but hey, a few times a week is still pretty decent, right?

I put this two-part story below together for Tom over at Stuttering Brain as a guest post, but he ended up being busy and didn’t put it online … so I’ll share it here instead. I think it sums up nicely where I am with my stuttering and being determined to push through it when I really want something.

Please keep on reading, commenting and sharing! I appreciate any and all feedback.

Cycling and Stuttering

I’m someone who stutters, and I’m someone who also likes to ride my road bicycle. But when I came to Saudi Arabia more than three years ago for work, I didn’t know anybody who also rode. And since I was a covert stutterer, I didn’t really ask around too much either. I would occasionally go on solo rides on the wide open roads we have in our small town, but I missed the camradarie of riding with even one other person.

One Friday morning just a few weeks ago I was coming back into the compound with my family. I saw something strange. Two guys. Road bikes. They were also heading back into the compound. Finally! Other people who rode! I was in our car, about 500 feet behind them as we went through the security checkpoints. My wife knew about my cycling angst and thought I should go up to them and find out who they were. Yes, I needed to find out.

Excuse time. Remember, I’m a covert stutterer. Pulling up to cyclists in a car would necessitate an immedate greeting and question. They probably wouldn’t stop. I’d be stuttering. It’d be horribly awkward. What to do? I was trying to figure it out as they pulled away — I had to stop for some checkpoints that they sailed through.

I was getting angry and frustrated with myself. Here it was, the perfect opportunity to go riding with some guys, and my stuttering was getting in the way. Unacceptable. We followed them into the compound, but they split up. After parking the car, I thought I saw one of them go into a nearby house, but wasn’t sure. Great. Thanks stuttering. Thanks a lot.

As we got out of the car, my wife said she thought she heard a door nearby close. Oh? I was angry enough at my stuttering that I said to her, ok, you take the kids and go to our house, and I’ll catch up. I went over to the door that she said was probably it.

I knocked. No response.

I knocked again. I had no plan on what to say. I just wanted to start doing something before my stutter protested.

No response. Oh, fine. Still angry at myself. I went back to my house and told my wife that nobody was there. She mentioned that she knew the security guards pretty well and that she could call them and find out. Really? Yes, can you please call them? I felt like a coward for not making the call myself, but I’d make up for it soon enough.

To be continued …

Summing up a Day of Stuttering

For the past three posts, I’ve outlined a hypothetical day in the life of a cover stutterer. I wanted to show how easy it can be to hide your stuttering from coworkers and friends. By “easy,” I mean doing things to minimize talking and interacting. All the mental planning to do so is certainly not easy and quite exhausting at times.

Here’s the Morning, Afternoon, and Evening.

Let’s review some of the actions from the entire day. Most of it was probably pretty obvious. For those of you who stutter or are covert, you can laugh and nod along. For your friends and family, I hope they see how sneaky we are really being. And what might seem like a “quiet” person may in fact be a covert person who stutters…

After about an hour, his buddy comes by and asks about going downstairs to the cafe for some coffee. They both go down, and when his buddy orders, he follows up with “the same.”

The nice thing about having a work buddy is familiarity. For me at least it’s easier to talk to them, and I don’t stutter as much. But then again, the pressure is also on in speaking situations to not stutter in front of them … even though they probably already know. The interesting thing about a drink order is that after a while, you’ll justify to others why you like it so much — even though several months ago you didn’t want it in the first place. It’s all you could pronounce. Small stores are also nice because you can just collect your snacks and drinks and put them on the counter, quietly giving cash or a card.

Back at his desk, he pulls out the power bill. Thankfully he sees that there’s a Web site on there.

Yeah, it’s 2014, and this is certainly possible. But not necessarily for every utility company. In the past, depending on the fee or problem, I would just let it go instead of calling to correct it. This is of course is annoying because on just about every personal finance page they talk about calling your credit cards and asking for reduced interest rates. Or calling your cable company to ask about a different package to save money.

Before going to the staff meeting, he prints out the spreadsheet that his boss will review during the meeting.

For me being prepared and comfortable with a situation reduces the stuttering possibility. I’ll know what I’m talking about. I can say, and hold up a piece of paper, yes, it’s been done. The other good thing about being organized is being able to bail out a coworker who isn’t.

He’s got a dentist appointment on Wednesday afternoon. But he’ll just send an e-mail to his boss who should be cool about this.

Yeah, because saying a “d” word during a staff meeting would have been pleasant …it’s also easier to e-mail a reason, date and time than say it.

“Can we talk about this?” The other person responds, “Eh, well, I’ve got a meeting in a few minutes, so …”

I don’t do this that often, but there’s the cousin of this action — checking a calendar, finding someone busy, and then calling them to leave a voicemail. (painful in and of itself, but maybe you just hang up and then they’ll see your number.) The evasive maneuvre above is high risk, high reward, though. The person could easily just have said, “yeah, let’s talk. I was going to go to a meeting, but they cancelled it.”

Our PWS offers up the fast food place, “I ate healthy over the weekend,” but his buddy turns it down, “I didn’t.” Ok, well then how about no. 4 — we can get sandwiches there, and it shouldn’t take too long.

Ah lunch. A special kind of social pain. Again, this is a high risk, high reward tactic. Ordering fast food is also pretty nerve wracking. So his buddy could have agreed to it. But remembering what they did last week (maybe a lot of fast food) and maybe a text or two from the weekend about his buddy’s activities, he figured it was worth a shot. The restaurants were definitely not a viable option — having to talk to people — unnecessarily. And option 4 — I’m looking at you, Wawa and Sheetz, with your glorious touch-screen sandwich-making awesomeness.

Our PWS dials the number. As it’s ringing, he swings his chair towards the side of his cubicle and begins going through some folders.

The other option of course is to let the person who you called pick up, and then not say anything. And just look at the other person in the room like, “um, if you want to start talking right now, that’d be super helpful …” The best part is they’ll often say into the phone who they are as well as who you are! One less time of having to say your own name!

Our PWS whips out his iPhone and pulls up the pizza place’s web site. He puts in an order and hits submit.

Our PWS could have pre-empted this by asking on the invite call — should I stop by somewhere and get anything? Or, can you order pizza/sandwich for me? I’ll admit that no, there aren’t too many pizza-ordering apps out there. And maybe the local place doesn’t have an app after all. What our PWS would do in this case is maybe search around online for coupons to the local pizza place (but not call). Then when the buddy comes back from his errand and asks what’s wrong, say, oh, nothing, just looking for a coupon. Or do you have any? No? Then push it onto the buddy to call because it’s his place and he knows his own phone number and address …

Our PWS quickly gets up from the couch and walks to the kitchen to talk.

He’s being polite! He doesn’t want to interrupt the tv-viewing experience of his buddy.

They do this off and on for the second half of the game.

By doing this, he’s staying connected to his family without the added stress of the telephone. And it’s become such a regular thing, that his family doesn’t make a big deal out of it.

So there you go. Day after day, week after week … and so on. Pretty soon you can avoid having to talk to people without too much effort.

An Evening without Stuttering

After work, our PWS goes back home with not much to do but watch television. He gets a call from another buddy asking if he’d like to come over to watch the Monday Night Football game. Sure thing.

He heads over, and it’s just the two of them. His buddy asks about food. “Just call and order a pizza. I gotta run next door to my neighbor’s house to pick up his keys. He’s going to be out of town for a few days.”

Alright, no problem.

Our PWS whips out his iPhone and pulls up the pizza place’s web site. He puts in an order and hits submit.

During the game, our PWS doesn’t say too much about what’s happening on the field. He’s keeping an eye on his fantasy football team on his buddy’s iPad. He remembers an article he read about one of the coaches that was very interesting. He pulls it up and hands the iPad to his buddy. “This is crazy. Check this out.” His buddy reads the article and starts commenting on it for a few minutes.

At halftime, our PWS gets a call from his dad, whose favorite team is playing that evening. Our PWS quickly gets up from the couch and walks to the kitchen to talk. “Yeah, things are good. I’m just at a friend’s house. Yeah, we’re watching… I know, right? I can’t believe it either…That guy is incredible… Uh-huh… Yeah… Ok… Yeah… No.., work’s fine… It’s fine. Alright… I’ll talk to you later.”

Since he knows his dad isn’t a big texter, he texts his younger brother who is still living with his parents. They do this off and on for the second half of the game.

After the game, our PWS says goodbye and heads home.

In the next post I’ll go through what our PWS did during the day and point out all of his covert actions.

An Afternoon without Stuttering

We continue following our person who stutters from the morning into lunch. After tomorrow (when I talk about what he does in the evening) I’ll go back and review his actions and what manner of sneakiness he showed through the day.

For those who are covert, none of this is new. But if you stutter and your friends wonder what it’s like (or don’t think you stutter) then you can show them these posts.

Just before lunch, our PWS has a list of questions about a project he’s working on. He needs to talk to someone in a different department. He opens up Outlook and checks their calendar. He sees that it’s 11:15 now, and the person has a meeting at 11:30 for an hour. He gets up with his list and walks up a floor to meet them. “Listen, I’ve got a bunch of things I wanted to know about this project,” he starts, looking at his page of questions. “Can we talk about this?” The other person responds, “Eh, well, I’ve got a meeting in a few minutes, so …”

“So maybe it’d just be better if I e-mail them to you?”

“Yeah, that’d be awesome.”

“Alright, cool.”

And that’s that.

Next up, lunch. The same coffee friend comes by and asks about lunch — where do you want to go? The options work out basically to: 1. Sit down place where the waiter takes your order. 2. Counter place where you order, 3. Fast food place and 4. Electronic ordering place.

Our PWS offers up the fast food place, “I ate healthy over the weekend,” but his buddy turns it down, “I didn’t.” Ok, well then how about no. 4 — we can get sandwiches there, and it shouldn’t take too long. “Ok, that’s good. Let’s go.”

After lunch is done, our PWS continues working quietly at his desk. He doesn’t get too many phone calls, but maybe the occasional visitor stopping by to ask something. Here comes someone now.

“Hey, how are you? Listen, for this report, it’s got this spreadsheet as backup. Where did you get these numbers from?”

Our PWS replies, “Oh, it’s from another department. Then I just check them against our information.”

“Ok, but there are a few things here that don’t add up. Can you get this resolved? I need this as soon as possible. Can you call them?”

“Yeah, sure.”

Our PWS dials the number. As it’s ringing, he swings his chair towards the side of his cubicle and begins going through some folders. “Let me see what we did last time for this.”

The phone picks up, and the person who stopped by sees that the PWS is busy rifling through folders. He begins talking to the person on the phone about the problem. Our PWS swings back and pulls up the spreadsheet on the computer and listens to the phone conversation intently. They work through the issue over the phone, and the person walks away satisfied.

Before leaving for the day, our PWS gets an e-mail from the electric company — the extra charge has been resolved and will be reimbursed.

A Morning without Stuttering

So for this thought exercise, we’ll be making a bunch of assumptions about age, career, education and so on. But you’ll see the concepts are the same — there is a possibility to avoid speaking in this day and age.

Starting with the morning, our fictional person who stutters wakes up. He gets dressed and decides to try something new for breakfast. Instead of cereal, he wants to cook some eggs. Not just regular microwave-scrambled eggs, but something with more flair on the stovetop. He had this idea last week, so this morning, he fires up his iPad and pulls up a Youtube video. He could have casually asked a coworker last week. No need. When he’s got a question or concern about how his egg is turning out based on this particular Youtube video, he searchs for another. Then finds out what he was doing wrong.

Since our person who stutters got home late last night, he didn’t notice the envelope from his power company on the floor by the front door. He picks it up and opens it. He sees that there is an extra charge on the bill. He folds it and puts it into his pocket and heads out to work.

He drives to work trying to think of what’s on the menu for today. Is there a staff meeting? I think so, it’s Monday. So that’s at 9. Once he gets to work, he smiles at a few people, saying hello. Let’s make him an engineer who works on datasheets and specifications for an engineering company. His company has an open-plan cubicle arrangement. After about an hour, his buddy comes by and asks about going downstairs to the cafe for some coffee. They both go down, and when his buddy orders, he follows up with “the same.”

Back at his desk, he pulls out the power bill. Thankfully he sees that there’s a Web site on there. He brings it up and searches for an e-mail address or help page. He finds it, enters in his information, and quickly types out his issue briefly.

Before going to the staff meeting, he prints out the spreadsheet that his boss will review during the meeting. It’s got a list of activities for the team members, and what progress is expected this week. He also looks at what was supposed to be done last week. It’s all done.

During the meeting when his boss calls on him, he quickly nods his approval “yeah” when his boss asks about last week, and then when asked about the next five days says, “no problem.” He knows that there is a problem, but it’s pretty small. He’s got a dentist appointment on Wednesday afternoon. But he’ll just send an e-mail to his boss who should be cool about this. Then just stay an extra hour or two to finish the work.

Days without Stuttering

Many years ago, after learning how to drive, I learned something else: that you have to pump and pay for gas. It’s simple, yes, but of course it’s an additional interaction that I had to deal with. More stuttering.

In those days (Let’s say the late 90s when I was leaving high school and getting into college) you’d pull up to the pump, get out, pick the gas you wanted, pump it, hang the pump back up, and then walk inside to pay. All the pumps had numbers, so you simply told them what number pump you were on.

Tell them. Numbers. Easy words. Not many words. Just one, really. Maybe a hello first.

I hated this. Some of the numbers were easier to say, sure, but you never knew how many other cars were going to be there. And you never knew how many other people would be standing in line inside, waiting to pay for sodas and Twinkies. And of course it was like, why would you hesitate on this answer? They’d ask, you’d say. How can you not know? The number is right there — it’s huge. And if there was a line, you’d feel the pressure of that as well.

Miraculously, a few years later, most of the pumps started to change. They took credit cards. I had a credit card. You swipe, pump, and go. No talking. No pointing helplessly. No anxiety. Swipe, pump, go. Swipe, pump, go. Everything should be this easy!

Over the past few years a lot of things have become this easy …

So over the next few days I wanted to write out a thought experiment of sorts — morning, noon and night as someone who stutters but has decided to not talk to anybody for anything. What would that look like?

I think it’s important to consider technology in our lives and what it can do to help those of us who stutter. If I have 30 activities in a day, I can choose a path where I don’t talk to anybody for all of them. The next day, I can challenge myself. I can talk on one of them. Then the next day, two, and three, and so on. I can slowly build confidence on my own terms.

Another way of putting this is to show people (those who don’t stutter) just how easy it can be to be a covert stutterer. (Note — I’m not talking about the emotional stuff — just the interactive stuff.)

What I’m Stuttering on These Days

Ok, so yesterday’s post finally closed out my trip to the NSA Conference, Tour de France chasing, and visit with Tom Weidig experience. Back to regular programming here … whatever that might entail.

Let me go with what I’ve been stuttering on lately since I haven’t done one in a while. Three main things come to mind, mostly news-related.

1. The whole Ray Rice incident that’s going on in the States. Since I’m in Saudi, I’m talking to non-Americans about these things. So I’d like to say the guy’s name, but of course I’m suffering on those two Rs. Then again, since I’m talking to non-Americans, I can also get away with saying “this football player.”

2. Apple announced their new iPhone as well as Apple Watch. The phone, sure, I know who’s interested in probably buying it. But when I’m talking to people, I’m wondering if they’d like to get the watch when it comes out. But boy oh boy is that a tough w word. Just this morning I spent a good 30 seconds (or so it seemed) making three attempts to get it out. Finally worked though. I’m not even sure that calling it the “iWatch” would have helped me any. I’m guess not since it’s a vowel rolling straight into that w.

3. One of the guys who used to work for me is applying for a job with a large multinational firm. I got a reference call from them today. My guy had asked me if it had happened yet (about a month ago) but I said no. Then forgot about it. Well, today when I got the call, I wasn’t really prepared and stuttered and stumbled a good bit. I did most of the talking, though. Nothing I said wasn’t true, but I felt like I was really trotting out a lot of cliches. The caller didn’t even ask anything real specific, just that they’re calling to find out about the candidate’s character. Fortunately I was able to take the call outside and be alone. I did say all the words I wanted to, and I think it was ok. I was thinking at the end of the call that I probably should have told the caller that I stuttered — maybe it seemed like I wasn’t sure or confused with all the stuttering. On the other hand, those kinds of calls are usually short. Just want to make sure there aren’t any red flags.

Lastly, a friend asked me if there were certain letters that I stuttered on more than others. I said yes, of course. I’ll make a list. It’ll have 26 items on it.

Your True Self

The third and final thing I picked up from the Stuttering Brain is this:

3. After the stutter, we feel regret or shame. We identify ourselves with the stutter, and thus become covert. This becomes who we are instead of our true selves. Thus, we lose our authenticity.

I talked about authenticity before, but I wanted to make some more points. What Tom said is that if we are interviewing with a company, and they make a big deal out of our stutter, do we really want to work for them? Is that the type of unnecessary hardship we want to put ourselves through?

On the same interview idea, they should know that we stutter. This is how it’s going to be. This is how we are going to present ourself, but we can still tell them we can maange it, and we have pushed through it before. The work should define us, not the stuttering. We need to be our true self.

One of the more tricky points though about authenticity (in my mind) is that after so many years of covert stuttering, our personalities are set. Many things are defined by the stuttering. And now, at age 35, I’m saying I’ll put all that aside and let my true self out. But what is that true self after so many years?

Is it the true self who wanted to speak up so many years ago, didn’t, but then learned from experience that being a loudmouth isn’t always desirable?

Is it the true self who wanted to ask a question in class but instead had to find answers on my own — leading to a drive to be more self reliant?

Is it the true self who wanted to participate in a group presentation but told the others I’d be happy to put more effort into the presentation — making me a valuable and reliable coworker?

I guess the main question is trying to compare our stuttering self with what we think our non-stuttering self would be like. And that’s very difficult. We’d like to think we would have done things differently, said different things, had different outcomes. We’d like to think that version is better. So if we ignore the stuttering, push through it, and educate our friends, that better version will come out.

But I think that really discounts a lot of the positive outcomes of stuttering. We sell ourselves short by doing that.

I’m not saying we should let our stutter define us. Definitely not. But at the same time, we should acknowledge that it has had a strong effect on our lives — sometimes for the better. We are probably better listeners. We don’t make silly comments all the time. We are more patient.

I’m not sure if I’ve really expressed this the way I want. I may revisit it again in a few weeks once I sort out some more feelings on it. I suppose a relevant thought exercise is this: If you woke up tomorrow morning and didn’t stutter, what would be different?

I think there’s a big difference in that answer at age 10, 20, 30, 40 and beyond.

Your Stuttering Associations

The second thing that I picked up from Tom is closely related to the first but slightly different:

2. During the stutter, we feel that if we are stuttering, it’s a negative situation. Thus, we make negative connections with situations. Then avoid them in the future. However, these connections can be broken and positive associations made.

Whereas the first thing I talked about — theories — is more of a drawn out, lots of thinking approach, this is more of a gut feel. These are the results of actually having engaged and stuttered in a situation. These are ones we don’t even bother thinking about anymore. With the theory, we talk ourself out of calling the credit card company or approaching a stranger. With these associations, we either make a quick excuse to friends first, or just change the subject or walk away.

For example, if we are listening to a radio station, and they’re asking trivia questions. And you know the answer. Eh, whatever. Not going to bother calling in. Of if the teacher is asking for volunteers for some kind of speaking role. Or if you’re in a room full of mostly strangers — you just hang on to the those who you know and talk to them.

The point of this is that these are all negative associations we have built up. But what Tom said is that they can all broken. And not only that, but they can be built again in a positive fashion.

Again I’ll reference my France trip — I went up to a stranger in a small town. Sure he was an older gentlemen, but a stranger nonetheless. I didn’t want to. I didn’t have to. But I did. I made a connection. I spoke, I stumbled, but overall it was positive. Score one for talking to strangers.

Is it a long process? Oh yes. Is it pleasant? Probably not. But can it be done? With enough work, yes. We can go from not wanting to pick up the phone to hesitating to pick up the phone to picking up the phone. These are small victories, but slowly those associations and pathways are being rewired. As I said yesterday, the world isn’t going to end.

I suppose one thing I could do to nerd this up a bit is to make it objective, put it all down on paper. I write down those situations that scare the crap out of me (still). Write down the experiences that I can remember that make now feel this way. (I bet I would struggle to do this). And then seek out opportunities to engage people and change my negative associations.

It would also then be worthwhile to write down all the positive experiences. And weigh them against the negative. I know it’d be way out of balance. I know the stuttering isn’t a big deal for the casual listener. But it’s so engrained that it’d really take a lot of practice to change my own perceptions. But I’m willing to do that.

Are you?

Your Stuttering Theories

So here’s the first part of what I got from Dr. Weidig, the Stuttering Brain

Before the stutter, we imagine what horrible things are going to happen to us if we stutter and if we are found out. But that’s just a theory. And theories should be tested.

What do we mean by this? Well, it’s rooted in fear and shame. We have fears of speaking and feeling humiliated. We are ashamed of our stutter, and how we are not perfect. So what we do is dream up scenarios (often elaborate) of why things will go south if we open our mouths:

1. If I call about reducing the APR on my credit card, they will ask for my name and date of birth. And other numbers. I don’t want to stutter through them. The APR is fine.

2. If I ask the police officer or security person for directions, he might think there’s something wrong with me. He might start asking me questions that I’ll stutter on. Better to just try to find a map and figure out where I am by myself.

3. If I ask the stranger on the subway next to me how to make a transfer, I might stutter. He’ll think I’m weird or on drugs or who knows what. I’m better off staring at the map and trying to figure it out myself.

4. If I advertise my stutter during an interview, they might not hire me. I’d better just suck it up at my current job.

5. If I speak up during a company meeting, my colleagues will think less of me. I’ll just stay quiet.

And so on.

So these are all theories. They deserve to be tested, no? Why not just speak and see what happens? Either what you think will happen will happen, or the opposite will. If it’s the opposite, then you got the information. You made a connection. You make your life easier. You conveyed information successfully. You’ve boosted your confidence. Your colleagues went up to you after the meeting and thanked you for speaking up and saying what they were all thinking.

If you stutter and crash and burn, so what? Did you die? No. (Tom made a strong point about this — it’s our caveman reaction to run from fear and avoid it. But we’re just talking. We’re asking for no whip on our venti nonfat mocha. We’re not facing down a mastodon). Did the world come to a halt? Did everybody at the Starbucks suddenly stop sipping and stare at you while you stuttered out your order in line? No, of course not.

I loved this idea because I really lived it while in France. I would go up to the bakery or whatever, roll out a “bonjour,” and then think of what I wanted and what I wanted to say. I was testing out theories. And in all cases, the world didn’t end. I didn’t get deported. My friend didn’t look at me funny. I got what I wanted when I tried to order.

Most importantly, I still want to go back and speak more.

%d bloggers like this: