A stuttering outlook

I suppose this will be a larger, more philosophical discussion at some point, but what I want to know is, if you’ve set up your life to not stutter, are you still someone who stutters?

For example, if you’ve got a job with a minimal amount of talking — and you’ve mastered the things you need to say with confidence, gusto and fluency, and your home life isn’t too complicated — not a lot of dinner parties (if at all) social gatherings, etc., and maybe you don’t have children to stutter to, does this mean you’re fluent?

Or maybe that you’re just really good at being covert?

This all may seem like a strange premise, but here’s my point — it matters when it comes to things like career advice. If I give (biased) career advice and say, “you should be an engineer. You’ll be able to get by with a minimal amount of talking, probably not have to do any presentations, and the pay isn’t half-bad either,” am I really just advocating that someone who stutters continues to be covert and hide?

Or even with regards to family life — I could say, “you should date or marry someone who isn’t as social — it’ll just make you tired,” am I really just saying that someone with a large family who’s very sociable will put too much pressure on your speech?

I’ve been thinking about these things since subscribing to a number of facebook groups and e-mail lists. I’m 35 now, and I’ve been stuttering for nearly 30 years. There are a lot of young people out there looking for advice, and I think there’s a balance to strike here.

On the one hand, you can push someone really hard — tell them, you know what, screw your stuttering — do whatever you want! If a listener doesn’t like it, they can piss off.

On the other extreme, there’s saying nothing. There’s perfecting your covert behavior.

What’s in the middle? To still acknowledge the fact that you’re going to get frustrated once in a while? That you’re going to have a bad day? How do you explain to someone that they can overcome this, but then turn around and say, well, some battles aren’t worth fighting?

I suppose one thing to do is say to a younger person, “alright, well, you have to choose. Either embrace this and say, “yes, I’m someone who stutters,” or keep on doing what you’re doing and being covert. But remember that if you embrace this, there’s always a chance that you’re going to have 99 bad days out of a hundred. I mean, how honest do we have to be here? Can I throw in that well, 99 out of a hundred interactions aren’t going to mean anything anyway, so if you stutter, who cares? It won’t kill you.

What would you say to a young person who stutters?

By the way, I stutter

A few days ago I had an all-day off site workshop with three other people. Two Americans, and one Saudi.

I mostly listened while they talked through a project we’re working on. I added a few comments here and there, stuttered, pushed through, and I said what I wanted to say. I didn’t think too much of the stuttering since things were pretty informal, and the guys were all very casual and open about things.

At the end of the day, one of the American guys, who had been calling me ‘ray-han’ asked me if it was ‘ray-han or ‘re-han.’

I should probably explain something now that I’ve not talked about yet.

I’ll discuss this in detail more, but my name is an Arabic word. It means something like “sweet smelling flower” or “nice fragrance.” The way that I grew up saying it in America is “ree-han.” With a long e. But the Arabic pronunciation is different. It’s a “ray” instead.

Amazingly, I can introduce myself most of the time with the Arabic pronunciation. And since I’m here, people are used to the pronunciation. However, it’s not a sound that a Western tongue is used to.

Hence, my colleague asked me about it.

I told him that here in Saudi, I pronounce it differently. And because I stutter, it’s hard for me to say it the way I grew up saying it. He said, “wait, because you stutter, you can’t say your own name?” I said yeah, most people who stutter can’t. But for whatever reason I can say it a different way.

But of course there were some other distractions going on at this point – the other getting packed up, a phone call coming in, etc., so I didn’t have time to explain it all at book-length. You all know how this is – you find a warm welcome to explain things, and suddenly the door closes, and you think, well, that’s done yet, I won’t get another chance without being awkward about it. And I suppose they know enough, and it’s not making a big difference to what I need to work on … so … I’ll be happy with the small victory.

I’m pretty sure that advertising your stutter is supposed to be a “pre-“ activity and not a “post-“ one. But I’ll take it.

Waiting to Stutter

I’m writing this while I sit and wait at the local telecom office here in Saudi. It’s after work hours, and I need to sign up for internet service in our new town. This involves getting a 4G modem/router thingy that you put in your house, and the internet magically comes through and then goes all over the house via Wifi.

Or does it?

I’m assuming the product that I’m going to ask for has Wifi. But I really don’t know. There’s a brochure for it here in the office, of course, but it’s all in Arabic. And besides, when I read about it online, it didn’t say anything (in English) about being Wifi capable.

But it has to be, right? I mean, the last few boxes I had had it, so surely this one must.

And why am I wondering about this? Well, duh, it’s “wifi,” and it’s a “w,” and I know I’m going to stutter on it.

Yes, I’m getting better and just stuttering and just eventually saying what I want to say, but I still don’t want to go through the process. The person who I am going to talk to is a Saudi who speaks English as a second language. I know I’m not supposed to care about him smiling or laughing at me, but it’s hard to rewire those fears.

And the worst part about this? Well, I got here after work, so at 6 p.m. There are a lot of people in front of me, and they’ve closed for prayer time as well. So maybe I’ll get to talk to the guy at 8 p.m. So I’ve had two good hours of internally freaking out about saying a single word. This is the stuttering life.

Follow up: Alright, so I sat down with the guy (after 2.5 hours of waiting) and made the simple transaction. And since I thought about the word “Wifi” so much and stuttering on it, I had a go. And stuttered on it. Pretty bad. Bad enough that Saudi kind of put up his hands (like, three times, since I stopped and started three times) and said “What? what?”

But hey, I didn’t die, I found out what information I wanted to know, and most importantly, I grew a slightly thicker skin (and didn’t end up in jail for punching him in the face.)

Stuttering and Searching Part 2

I talked a few weeks back about the search for a compound here in Al Khobar.

I was thinking back through the move and wanted to go through its parts and talk about how the stuttering may have affected it. I can say that overall, I don’t think it hurt the moving process at all. Let’s go through it bit by bit:

1. Getting the call about leaving the project – I was in the States, and my boss asked me what my number was. He called around midnight. I had 30 days from then to stay on the project. No stuttering.

2. Sending out an e-mail to some folks I already talked to about another job within the company. No stuttering, of course. But the person who I was slated to talk to (interview with) wouldn’t be available for a few more weeks.

3. Interviewing for a new position. I had actually interviewed for this position previously. I may go into detail about this in a few months, but basically I got the job I wanted. It took a few more days to set up another phone call with someone else to finalize details, but that was also not stuttering related.

4. Getting my household goods packed up. No stuttering really. I sent out some e-mails to our logistics coordinator for boxes, and made some phone calls to him regarding what the movers would actually do.

5. Finding a compound. This one was a little tough. But I think the delays were not on me, they were on others. If I needed to make a phone call or send an e-mail, I did it the same moment. If I needed to see someone, I went and talked to them. Did I stutter while visiting some of the compounds? Definitely. But did it make a difference at the end of the day? No. I was actually not afraid to pick up the phone and call places. I had to, so I just sucked it up.

6. Getting the company to pay for the compound. There was a small technical/financial issue with this that I won’t get into, but I did just go see the person in HR. We talked face-to-face and were able to sort things out. I stuttered, but was also sitting calmly, so I slowly let the message out.

7. Getting my son into a school here. No delays. The schools were closed until this week anyway. I sent some e-mails, and I also phoned them to ask what the policy was. My wife also called and made a trip to the school for the testing. I made a visit to the school and talked to some people in person. I picked up the registration papers and sent them back the same day. The school was good about follow-up, so there wasn’t a need for any more phone calls.

8. Getting into the new job. I’ve been to some meetings, and I’ve been stuttering. But I’ve also been able to talk to my new colleagues without any issues about business and personal matters.

So what’s the bottom line here? Well, the important takeaway for me is that looking back on what’s a large change in my life, stuttering (although it’s been present) has not had a negative impact. I’ve acknowledged it, but I haven’t let it make decisions or cause any delays. This is a huge win, and a good confidence boost going into more meetings and introductions at work.

I also still have to meet a lot of neighbors. I haven’t really had a lot of time for that, but the weekend is coming up …

Some 2014 Stuttering Thoughts

(Note: I’ve finished my move from Yanbu to Al Khobar here in Saudi. It involved a lot of talking, and quite a bit of stuttering, too. I started the new job (which I’m not going to really talk about that much … only indirectly) and so far things are going well. I did have a chance to advertise in a meeting with a bunch of people … but chose not to. Let me get to the post I wanted to write at the beginning of 2015 first, and then I’ll talk more about the move and what happened later on this week.)

I’ve never thought of any of the years of my life with regards to stuttering. As in, “that was the year I started stuttering,” or, “that was the worst stuttering year of my life,” and so on.

But 2014 was definitely different. I started it out with a lot of nervousness. I had made the decision to finally (finally!) start a blog on stuttering. All the notes, the scribbles to those notes, the typed thoughts … all of it was going to go public.

I started the blog in April/May, and was amazed how easy it was to write … a lot … about stuttering. There’s a lot of bottled-up feelings! Lots to that iceberg, really.

July was definitely the best — I went to the NSA Conference for the first time. Now that I think about it, that was a pretty big deal. I mean, I dedicated an entire vacation to the conference. And traveled from Saudi to do it. I definitely jumped into the deep end, and it was absolutely worth it. Incidentally, I just booked the hotel for the Chicago conference this year. I haven’t even registered or told my boss about this vacation, or bought air tickets, or thought about what else I’ll do on the vacation. But I know I’m going!

I’d say the biggest change that came out of 2014 was that my stuttering didn’t bother me anymore. I mean, yes, it “bothers” me in the sense that I can’t always communicate something, but what I’m talking about is the bigger sense — that I’m someone who stutters. So what?

But how did I get to that point?

Well, in 2014 I learned some really valuable things:

1. There are other people — who I am now friends with — who stutter. I’m not alone.
2. If I stutter on something, I won’t die.
3. I don’t know how someone will react to my stutter. But more than likely, it’s going to be with patience, not some hateful comment.
4. As part of that, educated people will focus on the message and respect your physical shortcomings.

Those major themes finally entered my life, and I feel much better for it.

In 2014 I would say, based on casual observance, that I’ve been stuttering … more.

A lot more.

And why is that? Because I’m not using those avoidance techniques. I’m not substituting words as much. I’m saying what I want to say, stutter-be-damned.

Alright, so here we go — new year, new city, new neighborhood, new friends, new colleagues, new neighbors, new clients, new office, new job.

Let’s keep calm and stutter on.

What I’m Stuttering on Lately

I suppose I’ll do a longer year-end roundup, but until then, here’s what I’m stuttering on lately. It’s based mostly on having to search around for new housing and the new job.

“Contract.” I can get through the first syllable just fine, but then that tr- gets me stuck all the time. And it’s something I’m having to say a lot over the phone — the contract for my new job, the contract for my new compound house, working with contractors.

“Villa.” I mentioned this before. They’re not called houses here, but villas. The v just doesn’t come out at all. And then there’s that l- that I’m apparently happy to drag out as well.

In general, cold calling people and asking them about compound availability. For some stupid reason, I kept on making these calls, but I never rehearsed what I was going to say. And so it was like a little train wreck every time as I laid down a bunch of words that may or may not have been in a sensical order.

After coming back from the house-hunting trip, I went to Subway to get my usual sandwich — that I don’t really have to tell them about any more because I go there so often — and I got stuck on the w- in ‘wheat.’ The “whole” came out just fine, but I didn’t expect getting stuck on “wheat” at all. Then I tried to think — do I say whole wheat to them all the time, or do I ask them for “brown” bread? Ugh.

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