Stuttering Progress after a Year

Well, well, here we are, one year on, and 199 posts in. Almost made 200!

Today I went to the hospital to get that MRI of mine all sorted out and set up. Here in Saudi it’s a fun adventure of going from office to office, registration desk to check-in desk, building to building. And the signs are pretty lousy, so it’s all-day affair.

I don’t keep any sort of quantitative track of my stuttering. But casually, I’d say today was a huge success — and big improvement of even a year ago.

The main thing was to get answers about the anesthesia and how that was all going to work. Before that though there was another meeting with the neurologist. While I didn’t have a call plan per se, I did have a few key things I wanted to know about, and I got my questions answered — even though I did stutter.

And going from office to office, I often had to hand a piece of paper to someone behind a desk (and a veil) and ask if I was in the right place. Some stuttering, not much. But usually a deep breath, a confident stride up to the counter, and a strong, fluent question. There were not as many people around as well — made things a lot easier.

I was asked my name a bunch of times — they do this as a checking measure — and using the Arabic pronunciation, I had no problems. I think that added to the confidence side of the table in a huge way.

The progress I’ve had even over just a year is a huge win — not just with calling a credit card company or whatever, but particularly with going to the doctor and getting my health sorted out. What I would have done before (covert, avoiding more, what-have-you) would have been to check things online, called my brother the doctor, played it all down, avoided going, avoided calling, avoided setting up appointments, the whole bit.

The MRI is set up for Sunday, by the way.

A year on, nearly 200 posts, and well, there’s still plenty more to stutter on and say. I hope you’ll stick around.

Stuttering Favorites

Tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of this blog. So I thought I’d take a look back at the year and my favorite posts. The other benefit is that I can update a few of them over the next few weeks …

Covert and Overt Stuttering — Transitioning from covert to overt was a big deal, and it’s not done yet. But I’m making progress every time I say what I want to say and not just what I can say.

Conference Calls — they’ve gotten much better already in the new job — I know most of the people on them, and they’re patient anyway. But it’s crazy how your mind works when the mute button goes on and off.

Summing Up a Day of Stuttering — a long thought exercise — something for those of you who know someone who stutters. This is what life is like. And this is what those of us who stutter go through to make ourselves feel normal.

My Kind of Stuttering — My early exposure (before the NSA Conference) to people who stuttered was very minimal. Almost nonexistent. So it was interesting to see that stuttering has variety of faces (and sounds … or not) and I do some and not others.

I’m Telling You That You Can’t Do That Job — Message boards, Facebook, wherever else — there’s a lot of negativity about what people who stutter can do. If you put in the effort and do the work, you can make a major change. And if you’re young and undecided, you still have every opportunity open to you. There’s no time for haters.

Meeting the Stuttering Brain — this capped off my Stuttering Vacation that included the 2014 NSA Conference. Tom Weidig and I talked about stuttering, and he offered blunt advice that really resonated.

What I’m Stuttering on Lately

Of course right after mention the things that I stutter on the most, I end up having to say a few of them.

For a few months (well, 2 years) I’ve had some slight eye twitching going on. It’s more annoying than anything else. It’s random. I had an MRI over a year ago, and they said it’s probably just not enough sleep and stress. Well, it’s still acting up, and my family is still concerned, so I finally went to the doctor here in Saudi to get another opinion.

Since I haven’t been to this particular hospital before, I had to register. I knew this, and I wasn’t looking forward to it. The first thing she asked me, even before my name (which she didn’t ask at all) was my phone number. Awesome!

After that, I had to call a number (from a phone at the hospital … to the hospital) to register for an appointment. The connection was bad, and of course I had to give my phone number. And I stuttered on it. Again. I set up an appointment to see the neurologist. She said they had an appointment that day. Within two hours. Perfect …

Once that was done, I had to go back to the first lady and tell her that I had registered. She asked me for my phone number. I just kept on stuttering, because, well, I stutter, and that’s life. Then she asked me for an alternate number. I took my mobile from my son and looked up my wife’s number. I handed the phone to the lady (for some reason, I felt rushed. Ugh.) Anyway, then she asked whose number it was. Of course. Stutter on …

I got through it, though. Didn’t suffer tremendously, and I got the appointment set up. So success there.

That’s it for the stuttering portion of this story. The remainder is well, par for the course here and pretty amusing. So I’ll share.

I went to the appointment at 1 p.m. as directed. It was in the neurology department. I told the receptionist I had an appointment. She said … no. “You have an appointment with urology, not neurology.”

Of course.

Um, so can I schedule an appointment with the neurologist instead? No, they’re booked today. And all week.

What about next week? Well, that’s the next month, so the schedule isn’t made yet. You will have to call (call!) back on the 29th for the appointment.

Ok, fine. No problem. And then I left. A few minutes after I got back home, the receptionist called me on the phone. The doctor is in, and he can see you now. How soon can you come back? Well, I can be back by 2, I said.

Anyway, I talked to the doctor and explained to him what was going on. I stuttered. He sat there patiently and listened. He told me I had a hemifacial spasm. They’d do an MRI and then probably Botox. Sounds like more fun blog fodder …

Stuttering 9 times out of 10

I’ve come to the conclusion that there are certain words that I’m going to stutter on no matter what.

I do know that I can work past this. But the following items are always painful:

1. If I say my name the way I was raised to pronounce it — with a long e. If I use the proper Arabic pronunciation, no problem. (This continues to be pretty wonderful, by the way.)

2. The “1” in my phone number. It’s near the end, and I really hate the dread that comes when I start saying the first few numbers.

3. My hometown of Lancaster.

4. The town we just lived in, Yanbu.

5. The word “wife,” which, as you can imagine, makes conversations really awkward. Because switching/avoiding doesn’t help at all. What am I going to say, “spouse?” Yeah, no.

So as you can see, some very, very basic stuff. The thing about the phone number is that I’ve pretty much given most companies/services my number. And I can always hand people my business card which lists the same number. For the cities, I’m not having those conversations as much any more either. Only when I first came to the office.

One of the hard things about knowing you’ll stutter on words — especially basic ones — is that by the time you get to a point in your life when you don’t need to say them as much — it’s really hard to do any meaningful practice. Because people are going to ask once in a great while, and they’ll look at you funny if you can’t say, “wife.”

I think also that looking at the basic list above — the cities and “wife” require talking about yourself. And that’s not something I’ve ever enjoyed doing (thanks to stuttering, of course). So even practicing — and talking about myself and history — takes a big change in mindset.

Stuttering at the Races Part 2

The second part of my “stuttering awareness” at the Bahrain GP this past weekend has to do with photography. When I was growing up, I’d get F1 magazine and spend hours going through its pages, particularly the photos in the front by Darren Heath. They’d include all the exposure information. And they weren’t just shots of cars — they were art. Early morning, late evening shots, practice, during races, the whole bit.

I was getting into photography in college, and I thought that sports photography was something that I could do. I could eventually take those kinds of photos!

But like the engineering for a team, it didn’t come to pass. The stuttering really held back any networking or asking or trying to intern someplace. Or even asking professionals who were at the college sporting events that I did shoot at. I thought I knew what I was doing, so why ask them? But just tagging along for a baseball game or whatever else would have been invaluable.

The thing about stuttering — and being covert — is that it really confines you to your tiny slice of life. You’re afraid to venture out, to ask around, to take big risks. You’ll have to talk and expose yourself! So the regrets are even bigger.

At the race I saw some of the professionals toting around their giant lenses. While I don’t have one myself, I have been able to get a decent camera and lens thanks to the job here. So I got a few decent shots off. But nothing even close to being Darren Heath-esque.

Like I said yesterday, it’s always tricky about reflecting and wondering what could have been. Those photographers also travel a good bit and put in very long hours. How long could I really have done that?

Now, the thing about this post and yesterday’s isn’t to say “woe is me, I stuttered, and my life turned out terribly.” Not at all. My life has turned out fine. I’m able to do a lot of the things that I want. The point is for the younger people out there who stutter. You should recognize how stuttering is subconsciously holding you back from exploring your dreams. Not necessarily pursuing, but hey, at least ask about it and try it out a little to see if you like.

Otherwise you’ll be sitting on the other side in 20 years wondering what if.

Stuttering at the Races Part 1

Missed a few days, but hey, still stuttering even though I might not have posted!

This past weekend (starting Thursday, really) there was the Bahrain Grand Prix — Formula One — over in Bahrain. I’ve been a fan of F1 for 20 years, and this was my first race … finally!

On Thursday they had an open paddock walk for about an hour. It was for three-day ticket holders. I took the camera, took a bunch of photos, and loved every minute of it. Not all the teams were out, and only a few drivers showed up, but hey, still worth it.

Friday was practice, Saturday qualifying and Sunday the race.

Since everything was so well organized, there wasn’t a need to ask around for directions or information. And thus, not a lot of stuttering. But I couldn’t stop thinking about my stuttering the entire weekend. My explanation will come in two parts — today and tomorrow.

The first part is that I’ve got a degree in mechanical engineering. When I was in college, I was an F1 fan. I knew the deal — you had to start small and work your way up (F1 being at the peak). The internet was new in those days, but I managed to find a listing of “minor league” teams in the States. I think back in those days they had CART, IRL and then the smaller series where the talent was coming from.

I’m not sure if I e-mailed the guy, or just cold called him, but I remember distinctly talking to a team manager on the phone. He was out in California, and he said, yeah, sure, there’s something here, but you’d have to help do everything. I wasn’t a great communicator back then. So I didn’t talk about this opportunity with my parents — who could have supported me. Or friends who might be headed out there. I should have also called around to more teams — but again, more phone time.

Based on my success now at my current job (and having progressed through various roles) I think I would have done well in the racing industry. I think those of us who stutter probably have more regrets than most — fluent people make a decision just because; we make one because we can’t say what we want.

On the other hand, I did move to Saudi because my Stateside job at the time required a healthy amount of travel. And being on a racing team is mostly travel for the majority of the year. So who knows how that could have turned out.

It’s just something I was thinking about a lot as I watched the various mechanics working over the weekend.

The long road to stuttering acceptance

As I approach the one-year anniversary of this blog and opening up (almost) completely about my stutter, I thought I’d take a chance to talk more about how exactly I got to this point of acceptance.

This was a very, very long process. And I know it’s not the same for others who stutter. Even when I went to the NSA conference, I met people who stutter more and less than I do. Keep in mind that I graduated high school in 1997, so it was well before the Internet as we know it today.

However, this might at least offer some guidance to those still in school wondering if it’ll get better, or what can be done to make things better. And by “better,” I mean more comfortable, more tolerable, and less stressful on a day-to-day basis.

Elementary school – (Ages 7-11) I was aware that I stuttered, but didn’t understand its implications at all. Did speech therapy, but nobody gave me the big picture. Also, I was fluent during therapy, so that didn’t help. No mention on the homefront about my speech. (pretty much continues to present day, actually)

Junior high school – (11-15) My sixth grade teacher commended me at the end of the year about my accomplishments despite my stutter. This was the first time that a non-therapist recognized it and brought it up. I did more therapy in school, but I was usually fluent during those sessions. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was also growing more comfortable and confident in my environment — and gaining friends who didn’t mind the stutter. This was cyclical — low comfort and confidence going into junior high, riding high on the way out. Going into high school, I was down low again, but managed to work back up by the time I graduated.

High School – (15-18) Definitely knew that I had a stutter, and finally met someone else who did as well. We were in some of the same classes together, and we even looked alike. He was a lot more open about it. Not at all covert. But he and I never talked about it, and I regret that. Through peer pressure, I became more involved in the performing arts (on a very, very small scale) and that did a lot of good for my confidence even though it scared the hell out of me at times. I didn’t stutter when I was on stage doing Who’s on First (two nights!) when I was a senior. I had a different therapist in high school, and she taught me about easy onsets and breathing. These are things that I still try to use today, and it’s made a huge difference.

College – (18-22) At this point I should say that I still wasn’t “thinking” about the long-term effects of stuttering. I didn’t know about job interviews, going to meetings, giving presentations and whatever else the corporate world had for me. My summer jobs had been retail and as a bank teller. Not a lot of talking, and it was easy to be covert. I thought that was normal. Since high school, I have not seen an SLP. During the college I do remember introducing myself to others at the student newspaper, stuttering-be-damned. Once that was done, it was easy to maintain those friendships. And as people came and went at the paper, it was easier for introductions. Academically, I did what was required but never bothered talking to professors or asking for help. It just wasn’t something I was used to.

First job – (22-25) I had problems during some of the interviews only because I didn’t know what to say. But after a while I became pretty decent at just bantering and smiling. That being said, I did get my first job through my dad’s connections, and once there, it was easy to be the young engineer who didn’t know anything. I got used to keeping my mouth shut and trying to absorb as much as possible. During the first five years out of college, I never gave my stutter any thought. And despite the Internet, I never bothered researching it or finding any help groups.

Subsequent jobs – (25-31) I can’t pinpoint an exact date, but I started reflecting a lot more about my stuttering and my life. This probably happened when I found out about the Pagoclone trial. And so I started to keep journals. I think the boredom of corporate travel — hotels and coffee shops helped a lot with this. I thought that I could put it all together into a book. Despite all the writing and thinking, I still didn’t reach out to anybody. The Pagoclone trial wasn’t through an SLP. Through writing and reflecting, I started to realize that my general policy of not-asking and not-talking was entirely stuttering-related.

Moving to Saudi – (31-36) I feel like things sort of “settled down” a lot more in my working and home life when we moved to Saudi. Before that, I was traveling a lot more, worried about general job security, saving whatever money I could, and raising a family. But in Saudi more things are taken care of, and I was able to sit down with my stuttering thoughts a lot more. I came here when I was 31. So that’s how long it took to really start looking around online and finding out more about stuttering.

I realized after a while that publishing a book wouldn’t be feasible. But I was reading a lot more blogs, so I decided that might be the best route. But the stuttering still held me back — in being overt. I was afraid of so many things — that were all imaginary. That if someone found out it might affect my job, what my friends or family might think, what having to talk more about it would do to my psyche. So not until I turned 35 last year did I go ahead with the site.

So what does this all mean? It’s a long journey. I never researched stuttering online because it was bothering me or holding me back (or so I thought). I only researched it because I wanted to share my journey with others. For the longest time I thought it was very personal, something that I should have to struggle with on my own. I’ve found out the opposite of course. I’m not alone, and a lot of other people are going through this.

I think for a long time I also didn’t research stuttering online because I didn’t want to admit to myself that I stuttered. That’s an absurd thing to say, but I think it’s true for the majority of covert stutterers. If I don’t learn about it, it doesn’t exist to me, and it won’t bother me [any more than it does]. Of course I’ve since learned that it’ll actually make you feel better knowing more. And it’s really fun to get together with other people who stutter and connect and tell stories.

I will also say that a lot of things came together at the right time. Working at the same company for a number of years gave me the confidence that stuttering more at work wouldn’t have any negative effect. Also being here gave me the financial means to start attending the NSA Conference regularly.

Do I wish I had come to this point earlier? I don’t know. I’m not sure I would have been ready for it. On the one hand, colleagues have always been good to me, so maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference. What about during college or before that? That’s even harder to say — so I’ll go with “it’s complicated.” It’s that idea of, well, had I known and been more aware, would that have had a major impact? I don’t think now it’s going to make any major career impacts, but before it would have been possible. On the other hand, isn’t that true for fluent people anyway? As life goes on, you become more narrow in your pursuits and ambition.

Stuttering in the Newsletter

If you haven’t had a chance to read the NSA’s spring issue of Letting Go, go do it now! There’s a story in there about being a second-timer that I wrote.

I’m definitely still going to try to volunteer in some capacity. I should be able to find out more as the date gets closer. I bought my air tickets last week, so things are getting real now.

Otherwise things are pretty smooth on the stuttering front. My son and I will be going this weekend to the Bahrain Formula One race, so I’m pretty excited about that. I honestly haven’t put any thoughts into it regarding stuttering. I picked up the tickets on Friday in Bahrain, and I asked (even though I didn’t have to) about the Thursday paddock walk. The lady behind the counter said yes, it’s there, and she gave me the time. I also asked about parking and tickets for the rest of the days. She assured me everything was in the bag. I didn’t stutter either time.

I didn’t have to ask, but I wanted to because I felt comfortable, and I wanted to practice a little.

Your virtual stuttering reality

The other day I mentioned stuttering and speaking and Google Glass. There is some recent research on this, and Shelley Brundage talked to Stutter Talk recently about it.

There were no significant differences in the %SS across audience conditions, suggesting that the frequency of stuttering is similar in virtual and real world conditions. These findings suggest that similar responses occur after speeches to virtual and live audiences.

You have to listen to this interview. It’s great. They discuss safety, control and repeatability with regards to virtual reality usage. Also how this technology can be used in therapy. It’s probably still a few years (hopefully months) away, but it’d be nice to see more customizable virtual reality apps for the masses. Of course there’s Google Cardboard which is a good start…(I’m tempted to order this).

How else can this help those of us who stutter? Well, a lot of what I’ve been seeing on Facebook groups lately is along the lines of, “I have an interview tomorrow, what should I do?”

I suppose you could find a friend to practice with. But there’s a lot of effort in that, and the interaction may not be helpful. I know there are a lot of us who become very comfortable with close friends and find we don’t stutter with them as much. (And yes, it can sometimes be the total opposite). Also, how you react to a smiling man may not be the same as a frowning woman.

But if you had virtual reality at your disposal, you could run a bunch of different scenarios in the week leading up to the interview. The thing that I’ve found about interviews is that you tend to get better at interviews the more you do them. But the problem is getting the interview in the first place. There’s applying, waiting, e-mailing, more waiting, maybe a phone screen, more waiting, an e-mail, more waiting, and then the buildup to the big day. That’s a lot of time to worry yourself into a total mess.

The paper talked about speaking in front of groups. You don’t always have days and days to prepare yourself for a presentation. Maybe a day or two. And sometimes you’re put on the spot. So what about practicing at home? You go to work and see your boss give a presentation. Go home and practice it yourself. If you did that every day for a half hour, some of the barriers to public speaking would be removed. Too often when we’re put on the spot we forget about everything — breathing, pacing, eye contact, hand movements — and just focus on trying to get those words out in some coherent fashion. Virtual reality would allow us to practice all of these things.

Even at the most basic level — using the phone — virtual reality would be useful. All I’d need to see is an image of a phone with that “mute” light on and off. And someone asking who’s on the call. I’d really love to be able to reprogram my brain to get past this (assuming that’s possible).

Slight stuttering blog changes

A little over a month ago I talked about making some changes to the site. I’ve finally started doing so now. There’s a menu bar across the top that points to several pages. At this time, those pages are just a framework. There are some links, but not nearly enough. Now that it’s up there, it’ll keep me accountable to mine the Internet for specific information about stuttering.

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