Stuttering Selfies

I’m putting together a longer link roundup for the next day or so, but for now all I have to say is that I’d like to think the person who invented the selfie was a covert stutterer.

I mean, c’mon, think about it. It’s the perfect avoidance tactic.

Like, he was on vacation in Venice, walking around enjoying the sights. Then thought he should have a photo of himself and the beautiful surroundings.

“I could go up to this nice person over there and ask them to take a photo of me while I stand in front of these gondolas. But they look pretty Italian. I bet they don’t speak English. Maybe the guy — the gondola guy? What do I call him? Anyway, maybe he’s used to this sort of thing. I could ask him. Or wait a minute. What if I just … if I just pointed the camera at myself and then … click. Yeah, that should work.”

Stuttering and Not Stuttering

It’s been a while, so here again is a quick post on what I’ve been stuttering on lately. But this time with a little twist at the end.

I got a bike fitting, and so I had to tell people about the fitting … except I really dragged out that f. Forever. It’s even more annoying when you’re dragging out a letter while riding a bike and trying to talk to others. Traffic rolls by, makes noise, makes it hard for people to hear you when something does come out, etc., ugh.

For whatever reason, I was talking about May, and so well, dragging that m out quite a bit. There’s work related stuff happening in May, but also my birthday is in May. Usually on the phone (with the electric company or whatever) having to say my birthday is a true pain.

Those are the two big ones that I can remember lately. I’ve also noticed that I’ve been avoiding and substituting here and there which is still frustrating. I try not to, but sometimes I just get tired of it, and I don’t think it’ll make a difference for the listener. But sometimes I really get out of hand with substituting, and all of a sudden I don’t even make sense to myself anymore. Good times.

Ok, what I wanted to add to this today is something a little different. People who stutter often spend a lot of time obsessing over the words we do get stuck on. We see them from afar, start thinking, start switching stuff out, start changing the subject, whatever it takes.

But what about what we don’t stutter on? I know stuttering is random and can strike any word at any time. But I’ve noticed that well, there are some words that are mostly immune. Sure I get stuck on them once in a great while, but basically I know I can roll on through them usually.

For example, I went to school in Pittsburgh. When people ask, I can say “Pittsburgh” without stuttering at all. “Pennsylvania” is also pretty easy (where I grew up). There are also certain greetings — I noticed in France I never really stuttered on “bonjour.” I can say at least one (of three) of my kids’ names without any problems as well. (When I’m talking to others about them. When I’m just calling the children, there’s no stuttering.)

I could probably make a longer list — certain months, certain countries, cities, etc., But you get the idea. The point is that while we usually fear certain words and situations, we can still be fluent (reliably) in others. And that should help our confidence out.

Stuttering Collaboration

I read this article about how millennials aren’t buying as many cars and houses. Down toward the end of the article, they had this interesting bit:

“Our wealth, after all, is determined not only by our own skills and talents, but by our ability to access the ideas of those around us; there’s a lot to be gained by increasing the odds that smart people might bump against each other.”

This sounded familiar… oh, right. I had read something like this before about Pixar:

The biography adds that Jobs believed that, “If a building doesn’t encourage [collaboration], you’ll lose a lot of innovation and the magic that’s sparked by serendipity. So we designed the building to make people get out of their offices and mingle in the central atrium with people they might not otherwise see.”

Well, well, well. Collaboration! Through random meetings and bumping into people. Networking at your own company, so to speak. Now thinking about this as someone who stutters, I think, well, that ain’t gonna work for me! For all the jobs I’ve had so far, they’ve been in more “traditional” offices. Cubicles, closed offices, no centralized meeting space. For any office meetings, they’d been with people I had been introduced to. I worked at one client site that had several buildings connected together through large hallways, but I never bothered introducing myself to people I ran into.

So would an open office work for me? If I worked in one, what would I do? Would I just “bump into people” and introduce myself or start talking to them? How terrifying is that?

I think at first I … wouldn’t. I’d just keep my head down and keep walking. I’d have to make a lot of repeated eye contact or share a hello or see them doing something that I could talk to them about (maybe comment on their bicycle or car if saw them come in).

Then I might try to tag along with someone else who’s more social. I know I’ve said I’d try to be more open about my stuttering, but jumping into a large non-stuttering crowd (unlike the NSA Conference, say) is pretty scary.

The more I think about it, it seems that what might happen is … a quick conversation. Just as desired. But it’d move along quickly. And no introductions would happen. Then a few days later, something would be added. And then the stress would continue to mount. Because short conversations probably equal little to no stuttering, but as they continue, the desire to introduce myself would get stronger — and the inevitable question from them.

See how this stuttering works? Elaborate scenarios! Then just shutting it all down.

Stuttering and the Therapist

I had such a positive experience at the NSA Conference this past July that something occurred to me — I should try to be an SLP. The joke of course is, “when I grow up [and have life figured out].” Obviously it’s hard to make a wholesale career change after working for 15-20 years. But if I save up enough here in the Kingdom, I could conceivably pull it off when I return Stateside. (And no, I don’t know exactly when that’ll be … it’s … complicated. Anyway). Reading this post on Reddit also made me think about it pretty hard.

So what would it end up looking like — three years of going back to school? A year for some prerequisites and then two years of a master’s program? Let’s assume I can even get in someplace to begin with.

Here’s where being someone who stutters comes in to ruin the decision-making process: I often think about jobs that other people have and think, “there’s no way I could do that.” Which seems absurd in light of being an SLP.

(Note: if you’re fluent and think about jobs for yourself, what do you feel the limitations are? I have a feeling it’s more like, “I don’t think I’d like that.” But you know you could physically do it. That’s the difference. If you stutter, you start imagining all sorts of speaking scenarios…)

It’s not that absurd especially considering that there were a handful of SLPs at the NSA Conference who also stuttered. But my thing is — what about parents bringing in their children and seeing that me, the professional who knows about this stuff and who’s supposed to help, can’t even speak fluently? What about telling the patient that they’ve got to get out in public and interact with total strangers, stuttering-be-damned? Would I even be willing and able to do that? What if I have a bad stuttering day? Will that affect the patient? What if I have a bad stuttering day during a first-time meeting with a patient? Or a parent?

Is all this just in my head?

Yep.

Is it all hooey?

Yep.

Can I overcome all of this?

Yep.

But you see what being covert for so long does. What stuttering does. It gets into everything.

Aside: I’m not sure if it was a workshop or not, but I’d like to sit in on a discussion between SLPs who stutter and people who stutter who are considering it as a career. I know that the number would be really small, but hey, it’s worth a shot.

The thing is, outside of high school therapy, I didn’t go to any kind of therapy. So I’m just guessing on a lot of stuff. What I really need to do is reach out to some SLPs and find out what their educational experiences were like. And for those who stutter, how they told parents and patients about stuttering, its lack of cure and ways to see and/or measure improvement.

Advertising your Stuttering

Since stuttering got a lot of attention over the past few days thanks to International Stuttering Awareness Day, I thought I’d talk about … advertising.

Advertising your stutter, of course. When I went to the NSA Conference, this came up a lot. That we should advertise our stutter to listeners before we get rolling. It’ll take the edge off. It’ll inform them. It’ll make us more comfortable and maybe we’ll stutter less.

I’ve never advertised. I was really trying hard to think back and … no. I never prefaced a single conversation with this. That’s of course thanks to being covert for such a long time. However, now that I’m out about it a little more, I’m still not sure if advertising is something I’ll do. And why not? Well, easy — I know I’ll stutter on the word “stutter.” Yep. Fear of stuttering … when advertising … stuttering. I know it’s maybe the point — if a listener hears you stutter on “stutter,” then they might make the connection rather quickly. Right?

So how do people do this? When is it really worth it? I don’t remember hearing too many examples (if at all) during the conference of how people do this. Isn’t the question or conversation that you would like to ask/have going to be your basis for advertising? That is, if you have a quick question, are you going to preface it with a long, stuttering introduction of yourself?

(Stuttering) “Hi, I wanted to let you know that I stutter. But I don’t want it stop me from talking to people. Do you mind if I ask you for directions?”
Them: Yeah, sure.
(Stuttering) “Ok, well, can you please let me know where the Starbucks is around here? I’m supposed to meeting a friend.”
Them: It’s the next store over.
Me, not stuttering: Oh.

And with people at work, isn’t there a window of opportunity for this? I mean, if you don’t do it your first few days there, can you really pull it off two years later?

My inclination would be to advertise after I’m having a hard time speaking, not before. Like, I’d be in a work meeting with some new people and during the presentation, I’d have a really bad stutter. Then, what, make some off-handed remark about how I stutter and “sometimes it’s a little bad. But we’ll get through this.”

When I’ve been meeting people here in the Kingdom, I certainly haven’t told them that I stutter. My thinking is that they’re adults, and they’ll figure it out. And they won’t judge. None of them have. Am I just lucky with the people around me? Is my stutter not that bad anyway after I get my introduction out (or try to get it out?)

I’m just not sure about this advertising because of my recent decision to try to … say what I want more. I stutter more, yes, but I’m saying what I want. And just carrying on. And forcing people to sit and listen. The stuttering is advertising itself, right?

I think one of the shortcomings of just stuttering on through is that my listeners are still uneducated. I still get the occasional person trying to finish my words, people talking over me because they think I’m done … but then again, maybe some of this is just my own perception of things.

Anyway, sorry for the somewhat rambling post. I think the point of all this is that I’m not sure how to advertise, and I need to connect with people who are good at doing this. Either online over the next few months, or try to make a point of it during the NSA Conference next year in Chicago.

If you advertise your stutter regularly to listeners, I’d love to hear in the comments how you do it. If you can give actual conversational examples, that’d be awesome!

International Stuttering Awareness Day today

Hello and welcome! It’s International Stuttering Awareness Day today. You can find the background on this event here at the ISAD page. I posted this before, but it’s worth repeating — here’s a link to all the older ISAD online conferences.

What I wanted to do for today is round up a few articles and stories regarding stuttering. This will be a bit more than I usually do for a link roundup.

First with some blogs:

Pam at Make Room for the Stuttering is still busy doing interviews and podcasts. Here is her submission for the International Stuttering Awareness Day Online Conference.

Here’s a new blog from someone who stutters, Mark Nolan. He’s posted quite the story about getting stuck on a word.

Second with some conferences:

Outside the US, there were some Stuttering-related events that recently took place. One was the National Stammering Awareness Day 2014 (Ireland). There’s a fantastic write up on the event here.

The next speaker was Conor Tiernan who has recently shaken off his covert cloak to embrace his stammer. I enjoyed Conor’s speech more than any other because his story was my story. His story was our story. His story was honest and raw and it came from his heart. Every single listener sunk into his or her seat as Conor explained his journey from never wanting to accept his stammer to finally admitting that his stammer would be with him forever.

The Indian Stammering Association had their Annual Conference earlier this month, and here’s a detailed summary of the events.

Here’s their blog post from today that really makes me think about what I’m doing with the fluent words in my speech:

When I analysed my recorded conversations, I found that at non problematic words I was unable to pronounce words as it should be, let alone the stuttered words, so it further complicates the already fractured speech to the listener.

Thirdly, the organizations:

The British Stammering Association has a lengthy page regarding today.

I’m still learning a lot about the Stuttering community, and so I should probably get a green wristband at some point — from the BSA’s page:

Why sea green for stammering awareness? Michael Sugarman who founded ISAD writes:
“The color ‘blue’ has traditionally been associated with calm while ‘green’ represents liberty, freedom and justice. The combination of these colors for People who Stutter shows the bond between ‘peace’ and ‘liberation’ when finding support and community with other people who understand and share their experiences.

A few articles about the day:

From the Poconos, here’s a story about a young man helping to raise awareness.

“When I was in high school I was very covert about my stuttering. Actually, even up until a few years ago I used to pretty much hide it and I was very good about hiding it,” said Stavros Ladeas, a 1999 graduate of Stroudsburg High School who’s now a web developer in New York and the chapter leader of the Midtown Manhattan National Stuttering Association.

Here’s a story that came out about a week ago regarding a Kiwi who used to stutter. He’s apparently worked through it and has done very well.

“I have a huge amount of empathy for other people who stutter. I look forward to sharing my experiences with people and telling them how I got through this,” he says, adding that he hopes to inspire others to believe “you too can go on to do great things”.

Also from Australia, teachers are being informed of possible stuttering in students.

“This is maybe the fourth time we’ve held this forum and the idea is to alert student teachers to the fact that they might have children in their class who stutter and they are just not aware of it. Treating school-aged children requires special sensitivity, so it’s critical to regularly host events like this to build awareness and help ensure the next generation of teachers knows where to turn for help.”

(I find this rather fascinating, actually. I am curious what is done in the States for this if anything. I think when I was growing up, it was like, well, one teacher would identify a specific student, they’d get help, but then the others would only hear it through talk in the teacher’s lounge. Or maybe the guidance counselor made a special visit to say, my French teacher?)

The Canadian Stuttering Association is having a conference this month as well. Here’s what they had to say about surviving it …

Imagine you walk into a big conference room full of people. You suddenly start feeling anxious, excited, and a tiny bit scared all at the same time. You start contemplating turning around on your heels and heading back home, when all of a sudden you hear someone experiencing a block. But now what do you do as you stand there listening to everyone else’s conversations? Do you go up and talk to someone, or randomly join a group of people already chatting? What if you stutter on your name or experience an awfully long block?

That pretty much sums up my experience at the NSA Conference! Scared and anxious at first, but now I’m already planning for the next one (Chicago … July 4th weekend).

Alright, so that’s quite a few links from a lot of different places. There’s of course twitter, which has even more links and information. I’ll be going through that over the next few days for even more ideas. I think for now I’ll retweet a few things.

Stuttering with the Doctor

One of the things I’d like to do with this blog is to educate fluent people what specific interactions are like for those of us who stutter. I’ve outlined a few of these already when I talk about what I’ve been stuttering on. So here’s another one — related to the doctor’s office.

I read this article regarding doctors and the current state of health care here in the US. I just want to focus on the bits relevant to stuttering.

I think most of us know that a visit to the doctor’s office is full of a lot of waiting punctuated by a quick conversation with the doctor. I’m not even sure you can call it a conversation at times. More like an interrogation, a pause, and then a diagnosis followed up quickly by a good bye and then wondering how to get through the maze of offices back out to the reception area.

The demoralized insiders-turned-authors are blunt about their daily reality. The biggest problem is time: the system ensures that doctors don’t have enough of it. To rein in costs, insurance companies have set fees lower and lower. And because doctors tend to get reimbursed at higher rates when they are in a network (hospitals and large physician groups have more leverage with insurance companies), many work for groups that require them to cram in a set number of patients a day. Hence the eight-minute appointments we’re all familiar with.

Ah yes, the quick appointments. They are intimidating to me as well. I feel like if I start asking the doctor about some other types of medications, other problems I’m having or whatever-else, it’s wasting their time. So I don’t. I also give quick, short answers because I don’t want to stutter. I think in some cases it’s all on the doctor how I’m going to talk … or not. They can easily come off as being rushed, being more important, or being distracted. All of this adds up to a less-than-optimal visit.

I guess my problem is that because of technology, I don’t see the point (and thus justify) in asking the doctor a lot of questions about whatever ailment I have. I can just go home and look it up.

So what can I do? I want to be able to talk, to engage. To get my eight minutes’ worth!

Here’s what I’m thinking. What about advertising my stutter to the nurse who takes my vitals and asks me what’s wrong in the first place? They might put it on the chart for the doctor to read. I’m usually more relaxed for the nurse anyway — more time, less tension … they wear bright happy, colors. I don’t know. It’s just easier to talk to them.

Yes, I could certainly just advertise to the doctor anyway, but that might not go well considering the aforementionned intimidation and perceived time constraints. At least this way if the doctor reads it, he might even ask about it. Or understand that it’s hard for me to talk — so no, I don’t need pills for anxiety or anything like that.

Maybe what else I can do is prepare a short list of questions so I don’t forget to ask something.

This of course is all for back home in the States. Here in Saudi it’s a whole other ball of stress because of the language. None of the doctors at our local hospita/clinic are native English speakers. And they’re not used to any kind of stuttering anyway. I’m not even sure advertising would do me any good. I also don’t have a doctor who I see all time because I go so infrequently.

Stuttering around the kids

I talked a little about stuttering and children’s books. I’m happy to say that I’m still doing pretty good (read: perfect) on reading children’s books to my kids. And it’s not just the simple stuff like Dr. Suess. It’s longer stuff with a page full of words and a single picture. Got through Rapunzel today without a single stutter which I was pretty happy about.

But overall I’ve noticed that I’ve been stuttering more around the kids in just talking to them. And this is somewhat upsetting. I’m not sure what the cause of this is really. When our first son was born, I never stuttered around him. Not until about a year or two ago (when he was 6/7) did I stumble here and there. Maybe because he’s getting physically bigger? Seeming more like an adult? Does that even make sense? Maybe because he’s passing judgement on some of his classmates or what people out at the mall (or wherever we go) are doing? What, am I afraid he’s going to pass judgement on me? That’s he’s already thinking negative things about me?

All of that being given … isn’t it my job to educate him on this? We’ve never talked really about stuttering — he’s 8 now. I said in passing once, “you know how sometimes it’s hard for me to say stuff …” but I still get “private” when it comes to editing this blog or looking up stuttering articles when he’s around.

There’s a lot online about how a fluent parent can talk to their stuttering children. I need to see if there’s anything that’s the other way round. Is he going to make a reference to Porky Pig that’s going to get me emotionally? Maybe I’m afraid that if we start talking about it, he’ll try to emulate me? He’ll think about it more and that’ll cause problems? That’s totally irrational though.

Last year during our parent-teacher conference, his teacher mentioned how often my son talks about me during class. I think this is true of any parent — they’re the center of their child’s world. I think for fluent people this isn’t a big deal — they understand their role and will just continue doing what they’re doing. As someone who stutters, I’m so hyper-aware of how I’m coming across — to everybody, including my son — that it only makes me more nervous and puts on more pressure to keep up that perfection.

Maybe that’s what’s bothering me as he’s getting older.

Stuttering and traveling

This is going to be a sort of “what I’ve been stuttering on lately” post that focuses on my recent trip to England. The thing about my trip is that other than the thought of stuttering with the bike fitter, I wasn’t sure what else to worry about. I didn’t spend any time getting worked up or worried. That’s how my stuttering usually goes — the fear and worry only manifests itself minutes before the event. Unless of course there’s a meeting that I’ve known about.

That being said, here we go —

I flew from Saudi to Istanbul to Manchester. So in Istanbul, I stopped at the Starbucks. I didn’t have to, but I wanted to. (We don’t have one in our small town in Saudi — so it’s a treat). As I was standing in line, I was slowly starting to sweat over my impending stuttering. I knew I would. The distance between me and the person behind the counter was pretty great, there were people in front of me in line, there were a lot of people in the airport in general, it was noisy … but nobody behind me … well, for a few minutes anyway. I did stutter on “mocha” as I usually do. Also, I’d rather not have cream which always end up as, “oh, and no … cr-….” Cream? Yeah. “cream.” There’s a certain point when you’re standing in line and freaking out that you think, you know what, I actually could just walk away…

Getting into Manchester, I was a little nervous at the passport control. She asked where I had flown in from, and I dragged out the sssss for Saudi Arabia. Then some mundane stuff — what do you, how long will you be here. She saw that I was from the States, so asked where. I replied with a smile, “Pennsylvania.” She seemed happy with that and made a comment about how nice it was. It left a positive taste in my mouth at least.

Right after that, I was walking out — no checked bags — and a customs person asked where I had flown in from. I told him Ssssaudi as well. He said, “through …?” Oh, Istanbul. “Ok, you’re fine then.” And off I went.

During the few days I was there, my buddy would usually do the food ordering. He didn’t do this because he was considering my stuttering — he did this because that’s just how he is. He’s got three kids, so he goes around, gets their orders, considers it as the whole, then figures out what’ll work out best. So I just add in my needs. For the drinks though, I was usually on my own. I had some relative success saying “diet coke” for the four days.

When I checked into the bicycle fit, I didn’t actually tell them my name. Just that I had a 1 p.m. appointment for a fitting. They already knew what was up. I had considered advertising to the fitter that I stuttered, but then thought, no, there’s really no point, is there? And would I advertise to the person who checked me in — eh, no. Here, just fill out this form, have a seat there, he’ll be right with you.

Lastly from what I can remember at the moment was ordering pizza at the Istanbul airport on the way back home. Sbarro. A counter. A man behind the counter. So I just held up two fingers, and I pointed to the two types I wanted. I suppose I could have said “that one,” and “that one,” but there was really no need. He knew what I was pointing to. See, it’s things like this that make me wonder — am I justifying my silence or avoidance, or just being practical? I think it’s a fine line at times. I mean, if I didn’t stutter, wouldn’t I do it the same way? The guy in front of me basically did the same thing.

I stuttered pretty fiercely on that particular diet coke at Sbarro which was annoying because there were people standing around. Then I didn’t even check to see that he filled it up with the right stuff. It tasted a little off …

After the Bike Fitting

Well, I’m back from a few quick days in England, and so I thought I’d first start with how the bike fitting went. Then I’ll get into other stuttering aspects of the trip later this week.

To summarize — the bike fitting went really well and exceeded all my expectations. I didn’t think I’d worry too much about stuttering during the process, and that’s how it turned out.

My work colleague joined me for the adventure — since he drove me there — so I was at ease a little bit already. The studio wasn’t that big and had two offices that were separated by glass. There were people in them working. I didn’t think about how they couldn’t hear me. I don’t think I would have been too bothered even if they could — the whole studio gave off a strong air of professionalism.

The first part of the fitting process was just a quick conversation — what kind of riding I do, how often, what the problems are. I was obviously pretty familiar with all of these, and also filled out part of it on a form anyway. Then we got into a physical assessment — not much talking — just standing, sitting, stretching (or not) to see what my joints and muscles were capable of. I suppose during this time I could have asked what each assessment was going to help determine further down the line as far as the fit — but it didn’t occur to me to do so.

After that, he checked my feet to see what size they were. And then quickly sorted out why my foot was going numb — I had placed the cleat in a horrible position, so my foot was compensating … a lot. My feet are the same size as well. So the shoes are fine. Again, not much talking other than answering what part of the foot goes numb, and when.

A good thing to point out now is how quiet and relaxed the whole setup was. I don’t remember seeing a clock. I wasn’t in a hurry. I never felt rushed. My fitter seemed to have a set path to follow and did so confidently — which made me feel better, too. There was no uncertainty about any concern or problem I had — he heard the issue, considered it, then gave his assessment. Then fixed it, then asked for feedback.

Once that was all done, it was time to get on the fit bike and started turning the pedals. After putting on sensors on various joints, he monitored me and the various angles that my joints were making. He’d come up to the fit bike, made a change, and then see how that would affect the angle. It wasn’t a process of “is this better? Or this?” as I thought it might be. It was getting the angles within a specified range (based on years and years of collected data, I’m sure) and then going back to see what might be fine-tuned.

I won’t get into too many more of the fit details (you can e-mail me separately if you want them) but as for the stuttering, I managed to ask just a few things that were bothering me at the time — my hands were really hurting, my butt started to hurt after a while (he changed the saddle which took care of that issue quickly), where is my butt actually supposed to be on this saddle, and I asked for a fan to be placed back near my face since I was warming up. But that was really it. During the fit he gave some commentary on what was going on and how changes would impact my riding. Very informative.

I can happily say that the stuttering didn’t affect the fitting process at all. Win.

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