Stuttering and COVID-19

Just a few weeks ago I was writing about attending a trade show and what that felt like. Don’t worry, I’ll finish up that short series this month. But first, of course, the pandemic. I count myself very lucky to be working in the food industry at this time. We’ve been tasked with producing as much as possible for the next few months, so there’s plenty to keep me busy. And as a corporate engineer, I’m able to work from home. I’m on calls pretty much all day with some breaks — enough to go for a walk or check in on the kids. The kids will start online school next week, so that’ll give them something to focus on for a few hours a day.

What I wanted to address today is how being someone who stutters is helping me deal with the pandemic mentally. None of these three reasons is earth-shattering or new — you can find them on memes or motivational posters or whatever. But I wanted to tie my experiences to each of them.

I will certainly say that it’s taken me years to get to this point. I had to do a lot of work and go through a lot of pain and heartache. It’s still not easy every day, but it’s certainly better than it was five or ten years ago.

1. I can only control so much in my life. For everything else, I must accept what happens

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve stuttered. This will never change, and that’s something I’ve come to accept. There are some days that are a lot better than others, and that randomness is part of the angst of stuttering. I have no idea what the day will hold for me when I wake up. There are some things I can control — my breathing (using my techniques) and techniques like advertising to get the attention focused on my message versus my delivery.

With Covid, I can control my comings and goings, who I go to see (nobody) and wearing a mask if I have to go in public. I can make a grocery list and hurry through the grocery store, making sure to socially distance myself from everybody. I’ve come to accept that this will go on for months. I can’t control that or what others do. I have to focus on doing my part and maintaining control for myself and my children.

In many ways this ties into the item below:

2. My response to stress is up to me

When I’m stressed out and having to speak, it’s always a disaster. This used to happen if I was upset and yelling. Or if I had to give answers on the spot about something I wasn’t prepared for. If I had a lot to do in a short period of time at work and was asked about other things. I’ve learned in these instances that I’m stressed not because of a singular event, but because I’m carrying the burden of several things. And this additional stress has put me over the edge. After many years I realized what I was doing and learned to compartmentalize my stresses. Then dealing with a smaller stress became easier because I could use familiar tools — take a long pause and try to slow my breathing. Calm myself down. Think clearly, and prepare just a few words.

In dealing with Covid, it’s an ongoing stress that wasn’t there even a month ago. It permeates everything — tv, work, friends, family. The uncertainty of it means that everybody is always on edge. It’s hard to prepare and plan for anything because the news changes every 12 hours. Some news is inherently more stressful than others — and not only does the pandemic create stress, but there’s the daily stresses of work and family to pile on as well.

Occasionally I feel the stress of Covid on top of family, friends and work will go past my breaking point. I want to get upset, I want to rant on about how terrible everything is. But I’ve learned that that response won’t do anything for me. So I slow down and focus on just one stress at a time. When I do that, I calm down a lot faster. I don’t “stack” stresses up. If Covid has got me upset and my kid forgets to put away the dishes, I won’t lash out.

3. Focus on the positives, and don’t dwell on the negatives

Stuttering is inherently filled with perceived negatives. Not being fluent. Getting flummoxed. Not wanting to say anything at all. Not being able to make a joke fast enough. Not getting through on the phone. Every day, every hour, you can find something negative about stuttering. Rarely do we focus on the positives. Over the past few years, I’ve been trying to change that.

The news these days is mostly negative as well. How fast the pandemic is traveling, how many are infected, what more is to come, and how long we must stay isolated to get ahead of the virus. It can be hard to even think of something positive, but I know that by doing so I can get through the days, weeks and months ahead. I think about how fortunate I am to still have my job and something to do all day to keep me occupied. I think about lunchtime walks and being able to get some exercise and sun. I think about the tools we do have to connect with one another — texting, calling, e-mailing — that make it more bearable. I think about being able to spend more time with the kids — seeing them between conference calls and having more meals with them.

I know that Covid won’t go away for many months, but I’m also counting myself fortunate that I’ll be able to blog more and talk about all the conference calls I have to do and the ways I’m getting through them.

 

 

 

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