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Stuttering on Facebook … and More Robots

I wanted to just mention today about two Facebook groups that I’ve joined recently — Stuttering Community, Stuttering Hangout, and Stuttering Arena.

They’ve each got about 3,000 members, which is pretty nice. Although I suspect that there are probably a lot more people out there wanting to join but afraid to because they’re covert — and doesn’t joining a group or belonging to a group show up on your timeline? And thus your friends could see it?

Recently people have been throwing questions out there about stress levels, genetics, kinds of stutters. It’s really interesting to read the comments and see how people relate to their stutter. Most of the posts have 20-30 comments or more, so people are reading and responding. I put out something on there about stuttering on your employer’s name … didn’t get much traction, though … maybe it’s me. Anyway, it’s nice to read all the comments and get some ideas for blog posts.

I was talking about robots the other day, and lo and behold, here’s some more fun that’s come to my attention.

First, there’s this expensive toy that can be bought from the Apple Store.

That’s right. It’s your head on a stick. That can be driven around. Aside from the general creepiness of it, I wonder how someone who stutters would deal with this. I could see how a company in the States could put one of these in say, an office in India doing engineering work. The boss could “move around” the office and check in on what everybody’s up to. My question would be — could I program it to say things, or would I have to say everything? Like, could I just select a few recorded messages once I rolled up to someone?

There’s also the new Amazon Echo product …

Amazon Echo is designed around your voice. It’s always on—just ask for information, music, news, weather, and more. Echo begins working as soon as it hears you say the wake word, “Alexa.” It’s also an expertly-tuned speaker that can fill any room with immersive sound.

Seriously? Can I change its name though? What if I stutter on Alexa nine times out of ten? Do I have to stutter and stumble in my own house? Can I just name it Captain Chucklebuckets? I have a hard enough time when my son is standing next to me and forcing me to talk to Siri. Son, back in my day, we just looked stuff up the old fashioned way …

I can also see myself going to someone’s house and being embarrassed by this thing. Like I start stuttering, it might pick up what I’m trying to say and suggest or do something else. Ugh. No.

This is what the upcoming robot invasion feels like for someone who stutters:

Them: What, are you afraid the robot is going to terminate you? Like in those movies?
Me: No, that’s silly.
Them: Then what are you afraid of?
Me: I’m afraid he’s going to ask me a question. And then when I stutter on the response, then he’ll terminate me.

I promise tomorrow I’ll take off the tinfoil hat and stop talking about robots …

Hello, Groundhog

The other day I went out to the car, and there was a groundhog in the middle of the road. We looked at each other. I got closer. He didn’t move. I got even closer. still nothing. He was moving a little, but I’m sort of used to animals running away. Or, maybe in his case, purposefully walking away. Still nothing. Maybe a broken leg? Nope, he moved around a bit. But he was still in the middle of the road and seemed really lethargic.

Since it was the middle of the morning and nobody was really around, I figured I had to do … something. I knew calling 911 wasn’t the answer, so I stood there and called the regular police number instead. They picked up quickly, and I didn’t have a plan of what really to say.

But I did alright. I didn’t stutter, simply said that, I apologize for calling about this, but you see, there’s this groundhog, and he’s here in the middle of the road, and well, he doesn’t look well, so …

We don’t deal with that.

Oh.

But, here’s a number to call instead. Perfect.

I was feeling so good about the first call, that I dialed the next number, a state department. They said that they have people who deal with this, but you have to take the animal to them.

Uh. No … I’d rather not pick him up. He’s got claws, right? I could see it ending quite badly for both of us.

So I decided to not do anything after that. I figured he’d find his way to the grassy area and then let nature take its course. I had tried at least, but it seemed that nobody was interested in the poor guy.

I will say though that my stuttering didn’t enter my mind as I was making the calls. As in, well, maybe I could e-mail someone instead. Or Twitter. Or whatever. Just call. It’ll take care of it quickly. And it worked! So now I have another small positive correlation to add to the list.

Note: Later that morning, my wife suggesting posting on the homeowner’s association Facebook page. Someone managed to call a community police officer (what?) and they came quickly to take him away. He was still moving around slowly, so it was probably a much better ending than getting run over by a car.

Stuttering and Politics

I’ve been thinking a lot today about the election and the past few months, and the media, and the polls, and the enormous support that came through for our next president. I thought about how I was lulled into thinking it’d go one way and it really didn’t. I thought it might even be a landslide, an early night.

But what do I know? 
Well, that’s the point. What do I know? And how do I know it? I stutter, so I’m inclined not to talk as much to people. To really dig in, to get into the details. To not only make small talk, but then get into taboo topics like politics and religion.

That means I have my bubble. My immediate family (I can influence my kids, so what) and then on facebook a lot of like-minded friends who I grew up with or have gone to college with. We pass around the same stories and memes and whatever else. Read the same polls. I assume they are going through the same things I’m going through, and feeling the same things.

But they’re obviously not.

What one person hears and what they think isn’t what I hear or think. Could we talk about it? Yeah, we could, but again, there’s distance, frequency and then the stuttering. And why would I want to talk politics on the phone with someone who I haven’t talked to in months? There are other things to catch up on.

What’s outside of my bubble? Different experiences, different influences. If I talk to a close friend, they might eventually tell me about a parent who’s recently lost a job or is going through a medical issue. They might tell me about a college roommate who is struggling. And these points have influence. They become more important. They take precedence over character and get to the heart of one’s station in America.

But again, that’s a lot of talking. And I’m inclined to be more comfortable (and more fluent) with “the choir.” So when you tell me about the majority of Americans who are frustrated and angry, I don’t have a direct connection. I may read it here and there, but it’s not my daily.

It’s easy for me to be dismissive about our next president based on his behavior thus far. But what I really should be doing is reaching out to others, stuttering-be-damned and find out what’s making them so dismissive about politics as usual.

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.

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.

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).

Stuttering Moments

Yesterday I talked about a really hard moment I had speaking. It was one of the worst in recent memory, and I let myself dwell on it for a few hours afterward. Not really completely getting me down, just in awe of how bad it was and what happened during and after.

What I’ve noticed on Facebook posts lately is people refer to having a “bad day” with regards to stuttering.

I’ve certainly been guilty of this myself, but I’ve changed my attitude in recent years. I don’t have bad days. I have bad moments. That’s it. A few minutes, an instance, an exchange. Nothing that should cloud the next question, the next conversation.

I think it’s so important to have this mindset. Since I’ve started this new job, there are discussions all day. Meetings all the time. I can’t let something at 9 a.m. cloud events at 11, 2 and 3:30. I’d be a total mess. And I have to talk when I have to talk. I’m not going to hide anymore.

I think one of the ways to keep moving on is to see your speech from your listener’s viewpoint. Especially at the office. They probably won’t dwell on it. They probably won’t say anything about it later that day, or week or month. So if they’re not thinking about it, then why are you?

What happens to me is that I might stutter hard with someone in the morning, and then have another meeting with them in the afternoon. I can’t be shy about speaking up if the need arises.

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.

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?

Some Stuttering Jobs

Recently on the Stuttering Community Facebook page, Amy asked what jobs everybody has. Remember that all of these people stutter. Here are the jobs and/or places where people work. So what’s your excuse now?

Call center, machinist, SLP, engineer, grocery store stocker, receptionist, doctor, paramedic, firefighter, journalist, professor, restaurant manager, IT, chef, electrical engineer, project manager (that’s me!), police officer, sports writer, accountant, nurse, priest, teacher, woodworker, lawyer, ultrasound tech, data scientist, graphic designer, HR, heavy equipment operator, web developer, care giver, soldier, salesman, and counselor.

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