A look back at trepediation

I wanted to look back and see how I was feeling a year ago at this time — going to my first conference. Thought I’d share a few posts. It’s also what really prompted me to get blogging about stuttering. This year I’m really excited — I’m going to see friends who I met last year and stayed in touch with, and my brother is even going to see what it’s all about.

I’m learning to laugh at stuttering a little more. It’s not that I didn’t before, it’s that I didn’t have a chance to because I never brought it up. But now that I’m more open about it, I actually tell people that yes, I’m going to a stuttering conference. Inevitably, they’ll say something like, “to learn how to stutter better?” And others think it’s all about getting help, “did you learn any techniques?”



No and no. But I suppose it’s up to me to stay open about this. It’s new to them. We know it’s complicated. It’s worth an explanation. I’ve just noted that you only have anybody’s attention for a short period, so you have to be rather concise — do you talk about acceptance, or do you talk about the philosophy of stuttering and that stuttering on what you want to say is better than not saying anything?

Here’s my first post regarding the conference from last year.

I know that most of them will stutter, and I know many others will be speech therapists and professionals. But it’s still intimidating.

And then the next day, still trying to talk myself into it:

Most of my stuttering life, I’ve shut out things like conferences and social meet-ups because I talk my way through what might happen, decide I don’t need it, and then that’s it. Like for this conference, because of that hard-wired response, it went like this …

And then I finally go ahead with it:

I’m excited about going to this conference because I really do have a lot of questions for other people who stutter. Since I’ve kept this stuttering to myself all these years and avoided reading up on it, I’ve lived a silo-like existence.

Thoughts on the detailed conference program Part 2

Some thoughts on Day 2 of the upcoming NSA Conference and the workshops now that the full program is out. I don’t think I’ll do days 3 and 4 as we’re now on top of the conference. Definitely misplaced this … but anyway.

Here’s what I’m interested in:

Stressful Life Events and Stuttering & the Development & Maintenance of Stuttering

I’ve been through a lot of these I think, and maybe I need to lend them a little more credence with regards to my stuttering. That being said, I’m also understanding my personal confidence cycle more and more, and what to expect after a life changing event.

However, research reveals that SLE (i.e., divorce, new move) increase the likelihood of the onset of stuttering (Guitar, 2006). This study investigated whether stressful life events of a person who stutters (PWS) have developed and/or maintained stuttering over one’s lifetime.

Next up:

Is Your Stuttering Really “Selective Vowel Aphonia”?*

This reminds me of last year’s Avoid Avoiding.

This workshop will demonstrate ways to dissolve the “brick walls” without resorting to struggle, force, or avoidance, as well as strategies to reduce your fear of speaking situations and to replace stuttering with easy, effortless, natural-sounding speech.

Since I still haven’t figure out what I want to be when I grow up, I thought that “Wait, YOU want to be an SLP? The Experiences and Challenges of SLPs who Stutter” would be a good workshop. I was intrigued by the idea of becoming an SLP at last year’s conference, but haven’t had a chance to learn more about what specifically the job could entail. I have very limited (almost no) experience interacting with SLPs. I don’t remember seeing something like this last year.

We will then discuss challenges and experiences that we and audience members 24 2015: Baltimore, Maryland have faced (grad students, SLPs), and explore new perspectives regarding how we can be assets to the field.

Lastly on Thursday I’m tempted to go to the Open Microphone (there are several throughout the conference, though). I had a pretty interesting time at this last year, even though it did scare me.

You can listen or participate, it’s all up to you! These sessions are an opportunity to communicate in a safe and supportive environment and in a small group setting.

Thoughts on the detailed conference program Part 1

Alright, a few days late (sorry, been busy at work plus thinking about packing for the trip home and then to France) but here’s a quick review of Day 1 of the more detailed program.

I am certainly most excited about the Wipe Away Your Fears Icebreaker. After last year’s first timer’s workshop, I was worried how a second timer would meet people. Yes, there’s just going up to people, but that’s still slightly intimidating — even though we all stutter!

Got conference jitters? Wipe them away in this fun “Getting to Know You” icebreaker. Come meet conference veterans and newcomers alike in a fun, interactive icebreaker activity. You’ll walk away energized and ready to face the first day of the conference.

The next one I’m interested in is, “Understanding the Medical Treatments of Stuttering. A Review of the Past, An Analysis of the Present and a View of the Future.” This reminds me of last year’s workshop regarding research. Not exactly the same, but that’s good.

Dr. Maguire will review the latest understanding of the medical treatments of stuttering and will review what may be on the horizon.

Along the same research lines is, “Genetics in Stuttering: A User Friendly Update” which would be up next.

Exciting breakthroughs in this research are providing a new perspective on stuttering, including: its causes, what this information means for those who stutter and their families, and how it may impact treatments for stuttering.

Programming note: I fly out of the Kingdom Tuesday and arrive in the States … Tuesday. What I’m hoping to do is auto-load the blog for the duration of the conference with what I posted last year about the conference as well as some other stuttering insights. Then I can lay out all the goodness of this year’s conference for you once I return. I’ll be going to France for a week after the conference to chase the Tour (like I did last year) and will be sure to bring back some stuttering stories from there, too.

What are you after?

I’d venture to say that those of us who stutter listen to not only what people say, but how they say it a lot more than someone who is fluent. The fluent person will hear the message; we will notice speed, accent, pauses, filler words, word choice and facial expressions.

I say this because in a given office, over the course of a given day, there are a lot of conversations. And we tend to fixate on the people who are the most confident, the fastest, and the most coherent. We want to be them! Our televisions — dramas, comedies, sports commentators — are filled with fast-talking, eloquent people. They barely stumble, they always have something to say, and they never stutter.

But isn’t life on a bell curve?

Listen to everybody else. All the presenters during a team meeting aren’t the best speakers. But they are all communicating. Some are speaking slowly, carefully choosing their words. Others are neither fast nor slow. Some people know how to think on their feet, others don’t.

I’ve often looked at my boss (past and present) to hear how they’re speaking and what they’re saying. I use it to sort of gauge whether or not I’d be able to eventually do that. But that’s not a good approach. Because people around the world have the same title as my boss; I don’t know how they talk. I don’t know how they communicate. And the same for his boss or other senior folks at the office — they have counterparts across the globe who have different ways to speak and still get results.

The point is also that the smoothest talking people aren’t always the ones getting the results. You don’t have to be the most polished speaker to move on and move up. If we stutter, we should continue to work on our acceptance and our message.

Conference Program is out

The NSA Conference Program is out! I’m very excited about this. It’s available for download here.

They’ve also got an app (through a guide app) that’s got conference and program information in it. I downloaded it, and it’s brilliant. That’ll make it easier to keep up instead of having to shuffle through papers.

In the next day or two I want to go through the program and compare what is planned for this year vs. what was done (and what I wrote up) from last year. Thus, if you’re going for the first time, you have an idea of what it might be like.

Learning more about Toastmasters

As I mentioned last week, they had an intro to Toastmasters at the office today. I went, sort of knowing what to expect, but not really.

Stuttering has shaped me in very fundamental ways, particularly with regards to initial reactions to social situations. Let me explain first what my feelings were, and then what I thought of afterward.

There were probably about 50 people there. Most of them were coming to learn about Toastmasters (free lunch!), and there’s even another meeting tomorrow because of the high demand. I saw one or two people who I knew, but in an office of over a thousand, it was mostly new faces to me.

When I first sat down and looked through the agenda, I could already feel myself getting nervous — and this was before I even read or understood what was going to be presented. I have such a strong negative association with presentations and agendas, that I automatically assumed I’d have to participate (and thus stutter) somehow. It’s a hell of a conditioned response to have. I also noticed that they meet every week which also seemed very intimidating.

The presenters started going through what Toastmasters is all about, and it was very nicely done. They basically said they’d demonstrate a typical meeting with a guest speaker, table topics and evaluation.

When they began the table topics, the idea was to pick one of the topics blindly and speak about it. They asked for volunteers. I started to panic a little. What? I didn’t sign up to talk on my first day! I’m not ready for any of this! I looked down, reverting to my usual avoidance behavior. They ended up picking some people who were already part of Toastmasters, and they did an admirable job.

Again, my initial reaction to hearing people talk about various topics was to hear the words they were choosing, and then tell myself that no, I couldn’t say a bunch of them because I’d stutter. I even tried to think of how I’d try to breathe or avoid some of the words that were used during table topics. The stuttering … it’s burned in pretty deep.

I’ve known about Toastmasters for a long time. I’ve also known about speech therapists and help groups. Have I ever bothered looking any of them up? No. And why? Because I never thought I needed them. If I did those things, it’d mean that something could be improved about my speech. And if that’s the case, then I’d be acknowledging the stutter. I never wanted to. I wanted to just ignore it for the longest time and do my own thing.

But for those of you who have been reading for a while, you know things have changed. Time to face the music. I want practice. I want to face the fear. I want to tell people.

Had I done this Toastmasters meeting three years ago (if someone had dragged me along) I’d have gone, been scared out of my mind, and then vow to never go again. Things are vastly different now. The covert stuttering phase of my life is over. People who stutter go to Toastmasters. People who stutter are successful at speaking in front of groups. People who stutter are going to stutter anyway, so why not get more comfortable doing so.

I know people reading this who stutter will think, no, no, there’s no freakin’ way I’d do that. And I get that. I really do. Everybody’s journey is different, and everybody may or may not be ready at the same age or stage in their life. It’s the time for me, though. I’m not getting too crazy with the speaking challenges, but this is a good start.


An e-mail came across yesterday for our company’s Toastmasters chapter. There’s an introductory meeting next week. I’ve seen a lot of people who stutter mention Toastmasters. Particularly Pam. I wasn’t sure I’d get a chance to join here in Saudi.

So in the interest of accountability and overcoming any sort of fears about speaking, I’ve accepted the meeting notice. It’s on the calendar.

Keep in mind that the majority of the people who will be there are non-native English speakers. (I’m assuming it’ll be in English and not in Arabic …) So I suppose I have a bit of a language edge there. But of course the stuttering is there to pull that back.

I have read what to expect, but I’m obviously still nervous about the whole thing. Mainly around the voice screaming in my head that’s saying, “You’re voluntarily signing up to speak to people. You’re an idiot. You will be nervous, you will sweat, you will stutter, and you will fail.”

I have this image of myself getting up in front of people and not stuttering. But I also remember getting up in front of people at last year’s open mic and stuttering a lot more than I could have imagined.

So there’s that.

Anyway, it’s on the calendar. My dear readers now know about it, so I have to go and report back.

Critical Stuttering Mass

Growing up, I knew one other person who stuttered. And I didn’t feel comfortable talking to him about stuttering. He wasn’t as covert (as I tried to be). After that, I indirectly met one other much older person (once, for a few minutes) who stuttered. This all changed last year when I went to my first NSA Conference.

But as far as becoming more accepting of my stutter and reaching out to people, it didn’t happen until very recently. I’ve been trying to think of why. I see some people on Facebook who are very young and reaching out, and others who are much older and reaching out for the first time, surprised and overjoyed at the community’s response.

I think there’s a sort of “critical mass” effect that’s going on. When you’re covert, you deny stuttering at every level. It’s my problem. It’s my daily hell. It’s my limitation. It’s my challenge to overcome. I can do this on my own, and I don’t want to reach out to anybody. If I reach out, it’s admitting that it’s holding me back. It’s not! (Even though it is, mentally and maybe socially).

I think thanks to social media (and the King’s Speech, I suppose) it’s more out there. You can search online for a group, or if you insist on being covert, someone will pass something along to you eventually. If you start listening to enough small bits of information from various sources, it’ll eventually reach that critical mass. You’ll start to see that other people stutter. They make videos about it (even if you never watch them). They record podcasts (even if you never listen to them) and they write (even if you only skim a post here and there).

It took me a long time to reach a point where I could put even a few words out on this blog. But signing up for the NSA conference gave me something to be accountable to. And once I was there, the rest of the critical mass was formed — everything about stuttering was normal. If you think you’re alone stuttering, go to the conference and start talking to one person — you’ll exchange the exact same stuttering stories, and you’ll be laughing together for a long time.

I don’t know if I could have kept up with this blog if I hadn’t gone to the conference last year. It wouldn’t have lasted. I would have probably gone back into my shell, content to continue practicing my covert behaviors, and wondering what could have been if I had kept writing.

For people who are considering making the transition from covert to overt, know that there are a lot of people out there to support you. Facebook groups may only have a few thousand people in them, but I assure you there are many more lurking. For me life has gotten better now that I’m not dreading every single social or work interaction. It’s not perfect, but it’s definitely improving.

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