What I’m Stuttering on Lately

I had a chance last week to travel around the Kingdom a bit. I took my 8-year-old son.

When we got out of the airport in Medina, I needed to get us a taxi to the hotel. I knew what I wanted to pay, and the first cabbie quoted me a price that was way too high. I waved him off. I strode out to another few taxis and asked their price. Too high again. I said no. I started to walk off. He lowered. I said no again. We eventually agreed on a price (that was still too high, but whatever). I was just happy that I bargained a little bit and saved $13. I hate bargaining, and I’m usually the kind of person who just settles for whatever someone says. But I was feeling a lot more confident, and I had options, and I wanted to show my son how things are done.

I was staying with family at the hotel, so I didn’t have to check in. And when my son got hungry (and he’s particular about his food) family ordered room service, not me.

I stuttered off and on with my family members who I hadn’t seen in a while. Streaks of fluency punctuated by long agonizing moments of silence or a consonant being dragged out. I had a lot of catching up to do, and most of the stories I hadn’t told anybody else. So I was feeling my way around their adjectives, trying not to avoid.

I suppose I should mention the “standard” stuttering at the Starbucks at the Riyadh airport as well as on “diet coke” in the airplane. Some things I can always count on. But I didn’t go uncaffeinated!

Again with my son, and again with ordering food — we were at the food court, and he wanted a chicken sandwich at Burger King. I was tasked with getting some Pizza Hut. I didn’t want to (try) to say “crispy chicken.” So I told my son, look, here’s the money, order what you want (cleared it with me first) and I’m going to go order the pizza so we can get back to the room faster. We ended up doing that twice.

Yes, I avoided. But see, it’s complicated, right? I mean, he’s 8, and he’s gotta learn this stuff. How to order what he wants, how to deal with some money, and how to stand in line and collect the same food with a receipt. Right? Right? Lessons on growing up disguised as avoidance techniques. I guess covert behavior can be enabled by children.

Flying back home, I got into a conversation with a stranger while standing idly at a phone charging stand. He just began asking things, where we were going, where we were from. And it wasn’t too bad talking. Just an easy, slow-paced conversation without too much stress. And it annoyed me only because it made me wonder how many other casual conversations (you never know who you’re going to meet!) I’ve avoided because of stuttering.

Stuttering Cousins

I had been told this before, but had completely forgotten — I’m not the only one in my family who stutters. My cousin on my dad’s side stutters, and well, he just so happens to live an hour away from us here in Kingdom. I’m pretty bad (horrible) with keeping up with my cousins (they’re all over the place, and I’ve got a lot of them!)

Anyway, this cousin of mine came to visit us the other day. (I only found out that he’s here in Kingdom this past week) I’m sure I’d met him before, but had never talked to him before. We had other family over, so the issue of stuttering never came up. So this brings up a point I made a few days ago about calling people out. And I realized how complicated stuttering really is and the feelings associated with it. He could probably quickly tell that I stuttered. I did it openly. But I never asked him about his, or being covert, or how things are with speaking at work.

This cousin is slightly older than me, and I could see what he was doing/saying/not saying. Covert! So sneaky. He didn’t “stutter” in the more “well-known” public sense. And of course I didn’t know if he was avoiding (he probably was). I could see the pauses, the starts/stops. He did repeat a few words here and there as well.

It made me think back to how my life used to be. Before the NSA Conference, before this blog, before making the transition (partially) from covert to overt. All the tricks, the quiet, the easier words.

I think I really need to make a goal of talking more to this cousin in depth about his stuttering. I’m curious how things were back in Pakistan before he moved to the Kingdom, and how the people at work see him or talk to him. And how they react to the stuttering (if he ever breaks out of his covert shell). He’s also bilingual.

Before that I need to sit down and think of some decent questions. Questions that I wouldn’t mind answering myself. And at least get back into that old frame of mind. Obviously I know how personal this is, so I need to tread carefully.

Getting the name out

Aside: This evening a neighbor stopped by to drop some food off. I had talked to her on the phone before, but never met in person. As she stood at the door, she paused, trying to think of my name. I could feel that I wouldn’t stutter on my name, so, out it came! I felt slightly bad because I know she wanted to remember it, but hey, it’s a victory, right?

Stuttering Experimentation

So I posted a few days ago: How much do you consciously experiment with your stutter and speech? Do you do funny voices while alone? Speed things up? Slow things down? Does any of it help?

For me? I don’t do the funny voices or accents, but I do slow things down. This is very different than people simply saying, “you should slow down.” We get that crap all the time. This is a very conscious effort — monitoring your breathing, relaxing the shoulders, maintaining eye contact, stuttering but moving on, and controlling the pace.

I’ve found some success with this, but it’s difficult to remember all the time. Too often we jump into a conversation and are pinned to its pace. But why? Why not just take a breath?

I was in a meeting the other day and had to present some information. I was under the impression (thanks, fast-paced world!) that I needed to get it out as quickly as possible. So I did. And I stuttered. I wasn’t too fazed, but it was still annoying. Then what happened? Well, someone else had to give some information. And you know what? They’re fluent. And they took their sweet time. Why didn’t I just do that? Because I thought me, the most junior person there should hurry? That the meeting was already going long enough? That speaking slowly would somehow mean that I wasn’t sure of the information I’m presenting? Lesson learned.

I think I need to think of some kind of clever mnemonic before speaking. I’m sure there’s something out there already.

And what about talking faster? I tend to speak faster in the late evening after having a lot of diet coke (usually while at dinner with friends). And I do pretty well, fluency-wise. But I’m not sure if it’s the tired mixed with the caffeine, or being with friends, or the louder music, or what. During the day, it’s not something I’m convinced would work.

Listening to my Stutter

What would make all the feelings go away — fear, loathing, shame, embarrassment — if the stuttering never goes away? A perfect listener? What would I want?

The important thing to remember is that it’d have to be a blanket deal. I mean, everybody at once would have to do this, and I’d have to know that everybody is on board. So what would I want?

Patience. Don’t finish my sentence, no matter who you are. Don’t look at the person standing in line behind me. Don’t look away like I don’t know what I’m talking about. Don’t start on some weirdo-smile and try to stifle laughter. Don’t sigh heavily and look down at the ground.

Like I said yesterday, I know, deep down, that this isn’t “special treatment.” Because it’s how I treat everybody who I talk with. So I’d just want the same thing.

If I know that people are never going to react negatively to my stutter, then I create a positive feedback loop. The stuttering happens, I don’t feel bad, they don’t say anything, and I get my message across. That will give me the comfort and confidence to engage people in the future on speaking occasions.

Will we ever spend interaction after interaction with our perfect listener? Nope. If you can string two in a row, that’s quite an achievement. So we’re left with educating. Advertising. Sending links.

A few months ago the ice bucket challenge was going around. It was to raise awareness for ALS. Did you know anything about ALS before the ice bucket challenge? I didn’t know a thing. A cycling buddy explained it all to me on a ride during the height of the challenge. Do we need to do something similar with stuttering? Maybe. Maybe not. The King’s Speech certainly helped when it came out, but we have to keep on reminding people. Because we have to keep on talking. Every day.

Even though the world won’t wake up tomorrow and become perfect listeners, we can work toward surrounding ourselves with them. We can slowly make inroads to our family, friends, and coworkers. Our instances of embarrassment and fear will lessen. We can come out more if we’ve been covert. We can brush off a stumble here and there.

Finishing my Stuttering

I’ve been wanting to comment on this HuffPo article that’s been out for a while on why you shouldn’t finish the sentence of a person who stutters.

I wholeheartedly agree with everything that’s said, particularly this part:

While I appreciate the effort, sometimes it makes me feel a bit worse, which seems counterintuitive. Instead of feeling relieved that they jumped in and played superhero and saved the day, I feel a sense of unease, of discomfort. I understand that they are trying to help, but even though they think they’re being supportive by finishing a sentence for me — or for anyone else who stutters — it doesn’t help.

I think though that it’s really audience-dependant. On the one hand, no, I don’t want you finishing my sentences. On the other, if you’re a senior person at my company, and you decide to finish a word of mine here and there, I’m not going to jump down your throat about it. That’s somewhat career-limiting. I’ve been humiliated by my stuttering before, so I know the drill.

(Aside: I stuttered really hard this morning with a very senior guy at work. He finished a word or two. I stuttered through a whole conversation with him — that I had initiated. That I could have just summarized in an e-mail. I felt rushed, I felt foolish at times, I felt myself covered in sweat. But … I did dive in on my own. So despite the heavy stuttering and the occasional finished word, I’d call it a win.)

It’s also interesting here in Saudi where English isn’t everybody’s native language. So occasionally I’ll be in a meeting, and one non-native English speaker will finish another’s sentence (both are fluent). The idea is that they might just need a little nudge with the words, and they just want to get on with it. I suppose there’s a chance that (based on my appearance) I might not be a non-native English speaker as well.

On another practical note, when you finish my sentence, it also disrupts the general flow. I was about to say the word (no, really) and then was going to pause, take a breath, and … but you finished. So now there’s this gap, and I’m not ready for it. So I try to say a word, but I’ve forgotten to take a breath. So I’m stuck, there’s an awkward silence, you’re not focusing on me, I’m losing the other person listening, I’m fumbling for another word, you’re back to this guessing game, I’m getting dismayed, and …

The other question is — am I allowed to finish a word or sentence of someone who’s fluent? Does that set a precedence? Do people even notice those things? Should I just not do that at all and be patient instead? It’s a tricky game.

I think this article is great in that it presents this idea to people who know nothing about it. So if they hear someone stuttering, they’ll say, ok, I’ll just wait and listen. What I’d like to know though is really, how would you even broach the subject? Like at work? Do you tell your whole department? A few people here and there when it comes up? What do you say?

You know what stuttering does to your head? It makes you think things like: “If I send them this article, I almost feel like I’m asking for special treatment.”

Look, I know fundamentally that I’m not asking for special treatment. I’m only asking for patience and understanding. But sometimes that covert me manages to pop his head up and take over a few relationships. Changing that will take time.

Smoothing out the posting schedule

In an effort to smooth things out a bit here, I think I ought to tell you what’s on the docket for this week. That’ll keep me honest with regards to posting.

1. That Huffington Post article about not finishing sentences. I wonder if those of us who stutter finish the sentences of fluent people? And what about when English isn’t the first language?

2. What does your perfect listener do? We all dread opening our mouths when it comes to talking to strangers, so what would you really like? Do you just want them to be patient, or do you want them to know more about stuttering itself?

3. How much do you consciously experiment with your stutter and speech? Do you do funny voices while alone? Speed things up? Slow things down? Does any of it help?

4. What I’m stuttering on lately

5. Link roundup! I’m getting way behind on this …

Getting older and stuttering

What I’ve been seeing a lot on Facebook lately is a lot of younger people who stutter worrying a lot about their future.

For the record, I was too naive to realize that stuttering would be a lifelong problem. Being covert for such a long time, I figured I could just keep on doing it, and everything would be fine.

What I’d say to a younger person who stutters is that it can get better with the right attitude change. That’s what takes a long time.

The basis for the change is simple and can be spelled out in three aspects:

1. The people who matter don’t care that you stutter
2. The only way to know if something horrid is going to happen is to open your mouth
3. The horrid consequences that you foresee happening when you stutter don’t happen

I’ve mentioned these things before.

What happens as you age is that you simply have more data. You talk more. You see what happens when you stutter. You see how people react. Over months and months and years and years, you see that at the end of the day, it’s us who need to open our mouths again and again and not be afraid of what happens.

We also get more patient as we age. We listen more. We consider our words carefully, and find out if we stutter on one or two (instead of avoiding them) our message becomes more clear. Our listener becomes better engaged and informed. A trust develops amongst our friends.

Is it an overnight process? Heavens no. Does it require work? Yes. Does that mean sitting in your room by yourself for hours on end reading out loud? Maybe. Does it mean not hesitating to open your mouth when you want to say something? Definitely.

Your Stuttering first impression

We all grow up hearing these two things:

“You only get one chance to make a first impression.”

and

“You can’t judge a book by its cover.”

Let’s talk about how these two contradict each other. It’s ridiculous, really. I think this idea of a first impression being so important is a bunch of crap. Try this out — what do you remember about the first time you met your best friend? You know, the one who you’ve been friends with since you were like, 12? The one you met in English class who you still talk to every day? The one who doesn’t care what you look like because they can just as easily open up the high school yearbook for a few laughs?

Do you remember that first encounter? No? I didn’t think so.

Oh, you do? And was it good? Ok, fine. Was it bad? Really? But you’re still friends, right?

Exactly.

Think about work. You had an interview. You worried, prepared, stuttered. You got the job, you joined the team. You messed up a little on your first assignment. People grumbled. But ultimately, did they care? No. They hired you for a reason. They needed your help. Your talent. They gave you a little slack on that first task, and you learned something to improve on for the next go-around.

And what about being on the other side? The one giving the interview? A candidate comes in, no resume in hand, coffee-stained shirt, 15 minutes late, cell phone ringing. Are you not going to hire this person based on that? You’re not going to ask them to talk about themselves, talk about their experience, and what they can do to help you? You’re not going to find out they know a lot more than what you remembered from looking at their resume for five seconds?

The point is that we should try to focus on the message, not the delivery. We shouldn’t worry about the delivery. If the person is worth talking to, then they won’t care how you deliver. They want to engage with you, want to listen to you. And like your best friend, they’ll still be listening 23 years later.

Getting called out

Have you ever gotten called out for your stutter? I mean in a sympathetic way? By someone who understands what stuttering is?

I’m not sure getting laughed at or cut off or ignored is really being called out. That’s just the other person displaying bad or ignorant behavior.

I was asked by someone just two years ago. It was a senior person at my company. He asked me a little about it, but I think part of the point was to convey that he had had a stutter as well. And that he still stumbled (but not really) on some words. I’m not convinced it was stuttering, and maybe it was just a way to make a connection with me. But it was a little awkward because, well, how much do you share? What do you say, “well, listen, there’s the one-minute version of my life-long angst, and then there’s this blog that I’ve got. If you printed out all the posts, it’s nearly 75,000 words. Should we start there then?”

On the other side, as someone who stutters, have you ever called out someone else who stutters? And no, I don’t mean when you knew full well that they did but just wanted to connect. More of a “I know you’re being covert …” kind of a deal.

I’ve never done this. I’m pretty convinced that I’ve never met anybody else who stutters (other than last year at the conference, of course). And if I have, then man, they were even better at being covert than me!

Across the Kingdom for a Stutter

I’ll be traveling over the next few days here in the Kingdom. I’ll still set up some posts in the meantime, though.

For traveling and stuttering, I’m not thinking or worrying about anything specific. I’m traveling with my 8-year-old son, and we’ll be taking a plane, taxi, and checking into a hotel. I guess if I’m going to be anxious about anything right now (about 24 hours before the event) it’ll be having to get a cab from the airport to the hotel. The hotel’s name starts with an M, and there are two of them in the city.

There might be some Starbucks during the layover as well, I suppose. But I’ve been getting pretty decent at that. I’m not letting the stuttering get to me. It happens, and I know it’s going to happen, but boy, do I really want that coffee.

I guess the goal has always been to minimize the stuttering-as-a-problem. Stuttering-as-something-to-worry-about. Put it right up (or down) there with forgetting my headphones or earplugs. There are so many other bigger headaches with travel that I really don’t need to let stuttering start shoving its way in, distracting me from making lists and printing out boarding passes.

Another sporting view of Stuttering

When you see a professional athlete, what do you see? (Aside from the occasional mistake, of course). We see performance at a high level. For play after play, game after game, season after season.

What do we think when we see a seasoned public speaker? The confidence, the eye contact, the message, the audience connection. It’s also performance at a high level.

Now think about how many professional athletes there are. And how many really good public speakers there are. Not many, right? We know by now that we can’t do even half the things a professional athlete can do. But can we still enjoy sport with our family and friends? Of course. Are you bothered when you can’t throw a football 50 yards or crush a baseball past the outfield wall? Probably not.

Shouldn’t it be the same for speaking? Why do we see people on television and think we need to be that eloquent and strong and fluent? Hardly anybody else is. The next time you hear someone fluent at work during a meeting, listen to their hesitations, their fillers. They’re all over the place. Are they bothered? Likely not. So when we’re not having the most fluent of days, should we really be comparing ourselves to such a high standard? Definitely not.

A sporting view of Stuttering

I was watching soccer last night (no, I’m not going to call it football) and inevitably the commentators will focus on a single play (or less than a half dozen) and say the game came down to those plays, those decisions.

Did it really? Isn’t it the sum of the parts?

I understand what they’re doing — they tell us about what made the most noise, what seemed to have the most influence. The penalty in the box, the no-call that everybody but the ref saw. And for days afterward (if it’s a championship game) we’ll all talk about those same few plays.

With stuttering it tends to be the same. Our game is the entire conversation, but we usually only focus on our one big block, our one huge moment that a word just wouldn’t come out. We were having a half-decent speaking day, and then a miserable moment put us down.

But speaking shouldn’t be like that. It should be the sum of the parts. Do some players have a bad day? Yeah, ok. Every time they’re on the field they screw something up. But even with professionals, they occasionally make mistakes. Then what? The best players don’t let it bother them. They move on to the next minute, the next series, the next half of play.

We need to do the same.

Stuttering after work hours

I said a few days ago that I’d be out at a workshop for work. Well, there wasn’t much speaking to be done at the workshop for me. Afterward though, we all headed to the bar (and then to another) for socializing.

I talked a good bit with my colleagues — one-on-one, and sometimes to someone across our table — so everybody could hear me talk. Nothing I said was prepared beforehand. I didn’t have an agenda. I’d just be listening, realize it’s a good time to interject something, and then started speaking when appropriate. The group was made up of people at my level and above. Some very senior people from the company.

How did I do?

I stuttered. A lot.

This goes back to what exactly is stuttering? What do you think, in your mind, is success?

To the casual observer, they’d see me open my mouth, start speaking, and start stuttering. I’d finish saying what I wanted, and then be quiet. For the observer, I stuttered.

For me? I don’t think so. I said what I wanted. I used the words that I wanted. I took the time that I needed. I engaged the person who I wanted. I occasionally got the response that I wanted. I’ve conveyed (maybe not fluently) information. That’s success.

What else does the casual observer see? They see me standing there, quietly listening to the conversation. To them, I’m not stuttering. They think that’s ok. I’m just taking it all in.

What’s really happening? Well, I’m standing there, and I’ve thought of something to say. I’ve quickly analyzed the words that I need to utter. I’ve gauged my audience, the dynamic that’s going on, the likelihood of being interrupted by the waiter, a few other possible distractions, and decided that since I’m going to stutter so much — and not even get out the first few words, that I won’t say anything at all. That’s failure.

And what’s the sum at the end of the evening? More success than failure. Simple as that. If I wanted to say 10 things, did I hide behind my inabilities on more than 5 of them? I failed. Did I just throw it out there and get through it, judgement and stuttering be damned? Success.

I think overall I’m starting to “get there.” I’m maybe at like 60/40. I’m uttering what comes to mind, but I’m still holding back a lot.

Superstition and Stuttering

Well, well, it’s Friday the 13th. Bad luck today? Good luck? The same? What about your stuttering?

I’ve never been a very superstitious person myself, but I can see how someone who stutters might be inclined. Stuttering is so delightfully random that way. I put my pants on left leg first and didn’t stutter my name during first period science! I rubbed my belly clockwise thrice and when the phone rang, I didn’t stutter my company’s name!

From a more scientific standpoint, I’m pretty curious about how some things do affect my stuttering, though — especially considering that I’m allergic to just about everything. Especially soy. What if I cut that out my diet? I feel like I stutter more after eating a lot of cheese. Or dairy. Or eggs. But sometimes I’m fine when I eat those things. Isn’t being gluten-free a thing now? Should I try that?

After I’ve exercised for an hour and really “opened my lungs” a bit — does that help with my stuttering? What about early in the morning when I’ve not had anything to eat for the past 12 hours?

Some thoughts on a Stuttering App

What would an app have on it that would be useful?

I took a casual look at the stuttering apps that are available through the Apple App Store. I didn’t download or try any of them, but I don’t think I will anyway. What I was more interested in in a capture application. Something that would gather data on my stuttering and let me know overall if things are getting worse, the same or better.

Of course there was an Apple event the other day, and they’ve updated their site to include this.

I’d been thinking for the past few weeks — what would I really want a stuttering app to look and feel like? Here are my thoughts:

First screen would simply have two choices — before and after. The app’s goal is to capture your …angst? … before and/or after the stuttering.

So if you choose “before,” then you’d get a few more simple choices.

How long until the speaking engagement?
What type — in person, phone.
If it’s in person, is it one-to-one, small group, large group
If it’s on the phone, is the person very familiar, somewhat familiar, or a cold call?
What’s the objective of the call? To ask for information on a subject, or resolution to something? (like calling the cable company about a messed-up bill).

And the same could be built up for a person — familiarity, purpose.

Then maybe it’d ask what would happen if you stutter in a big way.

For the “after,” you might be able to log the same information as above, and then on a scale how much you stuttered, and how much you think it affected the outcome. And if you’ll have to go back.

Obviously it all needs some refinement, but those are my initial thoughts. Maybe I’ll try to map it out in a few days. Then see about building an app to start collecting data.

I’d like to think that after several months of data capture, those of us who stutter could see that we spend a lot of time worrying about speaking when it’s probably not warranted. And that the other person probably isn’t bothered too much.

Looking back – 3, 6 and 9 months

I thought I’d take a quick look back at what was going on with my stuttering 3, 6 and 9 months ago.

Three months ago:

Stuttering Life Changes

What I can say is that based on some “lessons learned,” the first few weeks are going to be fraught with some fear and uncertainty. Meeting new people, learning a new process, and navigating a new city will all take me out of my comfort zone.

Yep, definitely lived up to the hype. But I’m trying to be more even-keeled about it since I know it’s happening. I’ve already noticed slight improvements in some meetings with my speech (and lousy speech in others, still).

Six months ago:

Your Stuttering Theories

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.

Ah yes, my talk with Dr. Weidig. I remember it well. And am still trying to live by his straightforward advice — you have a life-ending vision of what your stutter will do? Well, let’s find out if it’s really going to be that bad!

Nine months ago:

Tales of the Stuttering Ambush

The meeting gets started, and it’s just another staff meeting. Going through what work is happening now, and what work is coming up. Then the boss remembers, and …
“Oh, I almost forgot, we have a visitor from one of our offices. He’ll be here for two weeks doing …”

Ah yes, the ambush. Work, lunch, social events. Hasn’t happened to me at lunch recently, but it did happen during a meeting. I got put on the spot to explain some things on a presentation. I was a bit of a mess (understatement). I got through it though. I need to be better prepared, really.

A link to the solution

I obviously owe everybody a link roundup. Until then you can read this great piece over at diaryofastutterer.

I have for some time urged others to at least attempt to see the little glimmers of hope that do occasionally shine through. Like flowers rising from the soil for the first time in spring, hope is always attempting to rise above the ground that is holding it back. These past two weeks have pushed me to my limits, as do most weeks.

I really enjoy the positive feedback loop he talks about. It’s something I’ve been trying to do more and more. Don’t focus on the negative. Those of us who stutter will find that we can be fluent, and we can be effective communicators at times.

Your Stuttering Pace

I don’t get to watch much (any, really) college basketball here in Saudi. But I know it’s March, and it’s almost time for the Madness. Basketball always gets me thinking about pacing. When you watch a game, you’ll almost always hear the commentators talk about who’s dictating the pace. Who’s trying to slow things down or speed things up. That things are getting out of control, so one team calls a timeout.

Nobody who stutters likes to be told to “slow down.” I think it’s stupid advice, too. But what I want is to move at my own pace.

And sometimes I want to stop.

And take a breath.

And then think.

And then take another breath.

Then think about what my speech therapist told me. Then think about my message.

And then let out my words at a comfortable pace. Not too fast, not too slow.

Very often we’re caught in a much faster, higher pressure situation than we’re comfortable with. But is it really? Ordering at the fast food counter during the lunch rush is high pressure? Seriously? Those people behind you can wait. If you give part of your order and are asked, “and?and?and?” You don’t have to rush out a response. What are they going to do if you take a few extra seconds? Kick you out? Don’t forget about the guy in front of you who stared at the menu for five minutes before figuring out what to order. And he was fluent! Do you think he cared about holding up the line? No.

What I’m Stuttering on Lately

A few quick things that I’m stuttering on a lot these days.

1. Last week I had a workshop for work. So I was telling a few people that I’d be out of the office for this workshop. And of course I stuttered all over workshop. So I’d occasionally call it a “thing,” or “conference” or whatever else I could muster.

2. I have a colleague whose name I can barely say without stuttering every time. This is pretty rough considering how closely we have to work together every day. It’s really bad because I can say the first syllable but then get stuck on the second. The alternative is just to get up from my desk and walk over to his — it’s about 20 feet away.

3. I’ve moved to Al Khobar from Yanbu. I lived in Yanbu for four years, and have trouble saying that as well. It’s annoying only because people ask me where I was before I came to Khobar. I was on a program that had offices in Jubail (easy to say!) and Yanbu (impossible to say!). I’ll occasionally defer to the name of the client, but that doesn’t really help in the long run.

As you can read from the above, there are some pretty fundamental things that I’m stuttering on lately. I feel to some extent that it’s dragging the rest of my speech down. But since I know this (and that it could happen) I’m trying to brush off all the stuttering instances above. Just because I stutter on certain words, doesn’t mean I’ll stumble on the next one.

And while I’m stuttering on the above stuff maybe 90% of the time, I need to focus on celebrating the 10% of the time they do come out fluently. I’ll get more comfortable with my audience at work, and it’ll get easier. It always does. I’ll get the 90% down to 80%, and then down below 50%, and then I can focus on whatever else is bothering my speech.

Asking about my stuttering

Alright, so a few days ago, I said I’d ask my son about my stuttering. I need to explain stuttering to him. I wasn’t sure how to go about doing this other than saying that I’ve been doing it since I was his age, there’s no cure, and oh yeah, it’s because my brain is a little messed up.

So here are his answers to the questions I posted before plus a few more things I thought to ask.

1. Do you know what stuttering is?
When you keep repeating a letter or a sound.

2. Do you hear me stuttering around the house?
Yes

3. Does it bother you?
No

4. Do you think you stutter at all (he doesn’t)
Sometimes when I’m talking fast.

5. Does anybody in your class stutter?
No. I’ve heard them all talk.

6. Have you ever heard anybody on tv or in movies stutter?
No, but I have seen it in books when they’re scared.

7. What do you think causes stuttering?
I don’t know.

Additional questions:

8. Do you think someone who stutters isn’t as smart?
No. They’re the same. (Why?) Because you’re the same as everybody else.

9. Are you tempted to finish my words?
Sometimes? Not really though.

10. Has my stuttering changed in the last few months or stayed the same?
Stayed the same.

11. Is there a time of day that you think I stutter more?
It seems to be more in the afternoon.

12. Do you think it’ll happen to you?
I don’t know. Sometimes I get a little lost while talking, though.

I also explained to him how it’s random and wildly inconsistent. Of course I wasn’t stuttering during all of this. The vibe I got was that stuttering didn’t deserve his attention any more than all the other curiosities of the world. So here again, those of us who stutter think everybody is judging us when in fact our kids are just wondering what’s for dinner, if they can have money for the ice cream social at school and no, bed time is at 9, and it’s only 8:57.

As I think about this more, I think it would have been more meaningful (or still can be) if there’s a broader view of the human body, the motor functions, and how the brain brings it all together. Then dive into what sorts of things can go wrong.

I think the problem with explaining to your fluent kids about your stutter is that they can’t relate at all. It’s likely that 99.9% of their teachers and friends are fluent as well. I’m just trying to think what more, if anything, I can do for my own kids. I think they should be more aware — simply because of me. But I shouldn’t expect that they take it up as some kind of lifelong passion. Or even that they remember to ask me every day how my speech is.

Asking, Telling and Stuttering

I have a feeling that this could be a much longer post if I could sit down and talk to a bunch of people who stutter and ask them about their childhood and how they are getting on with parenthood … I’ll add it to the list for the future.

As a child, I was pretty curious. But I don’t remember asking a lot of questions thanks to the stuttering. Especially in school if something didn’t make sense, I’d just keep on reading the book or doing the homework problems until I got it. I might ask a friend. But I wasn’t about to ask the teacher.

The same thing was for my life at home. It was a lot of observation and figuring things out for myself. My dad is the person who has all the answers, but I just wasn’t the kind of person who’d ask.

Well, now I’m a father, and I find myself forever telling things to my kids. I explain this, I define that. I draw pictures for them, we look stuff up online. Sometimes I stutter, sometimes I don’t. But it doesn’t get in the way. The numerous explanations beget questions …and more questions. And that’s good — I want my kids to be curious.

The point is that those of us who stutter probably don’t ask a lot of questions. So we might be inclined to think that our children can also “figure it out” the same way we did (assuming they’re fluent). This may be true, but why assume that? We have an opportunity not only to connect with our children, but to practice our speech (and understanding of the world) on someone who won’t judge at all. Let’s take advantage of it.

The other side of advertising your stutter

The way that advertising your stutter is supposed to work is that you’re put more at ease. You don’t have to hide, you don’t have to avoid words, you don’t have to feel embarrassed — it’s all out there. And that’s great. That can work.

But there’s another side to advertising — the other person. Or the other people.

Imagine you’re someone who’s covert. You work at a larger company. There’s an all-hands meeting. A new regional manager is coming to talk to everybody about what’s going on, what changes are going to be made, and how everybody is affected.

And the first thing he says is that, well, “I might take a little longer to get my message across because I stutter.”

Then he dives into his spiel, a confident, fluent statement here, a few stutters there, and then by the time it’s over, everybody goes back to their desks. Your desk mate dismisses it all with, “Sounds like our department is fine. I dunno about those other guys though. Well, whatever, at least we got donuts.”

No mention of the stuttering, just another person coming in, talking, stuttering, getting the message across.

And yet, here you are, covert stutterer. If they can do it, why can’t you? That person stood against their fears and delivered a message to a room full of people. Maybe they’ve been doing it for years, but they’re still up there, still trying.

Something like this never happened to me. I don’t know what I would make of it. I’d like to think that if it did, I’d want to reach out to them and ask them about their stuttering.

But also, as I move up slowly at my own company, it makes me wonder about my own next public speech. About my next opportunity to advertise in front of strangers. Who knows, maybe I’ll shake something loose with someone who’s covert.

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