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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 …

What to do when you have to talk

I’m a member of a few groups on Facebook for stuttering. Frequently on there I’ll see someone saying something along the lines of, “I have a speech tomorrow, and I’m so nervous, I don’t know what to do!” For whatever reason people are reaching out for help hours before they need to go up on stage or whatever to address an audience.

Now I think that the requesters probably skew young — you have a speech for class, or a presentation or whatever for a grade. I get that. Students aren’t the best at … planning.

But here’s the thing. You stutter. You knew when you started high school or college or whatever that you might have to speak. It’s been in the syllabus since Day 1. So what needs to happen is instead of looking at the syllabus and freaking out, preparations need to be made.

I know for me early on I’d see such a requirement and block it out of my mind. I’d freak out, but not in a constructive way. Since then, I’ve been able to slowly change my mindset. And I’d hope others could as well. What you should be doing before practicing any breathing exercises or pre-speaking mouth rituals, is making sure you’re head is in the right place. Instead of dismissing it like a long-term paper or other big project until the last minute, you have to accept that you’re different. You stutter. Your preparation for this is different than it is for others. Your friends can “be so nervous in front of crowds” and still pull off what looks like a nice fluent speech. You can’t. You never have, and that’s fine. But you need to make an exception to your preparation and go above and beyond.

Once you get it into your head that you can and will do this, it’s time to start getting ready. Let’s say it’s an oral book report. Here’s what I’d recommend — and what I’ve done before that’s worked for me.

  1. Read the book. Like, really read it. Don’t just skim it, don’t just read summaries, read it. Know it. Inside and out. Read some criticism of it if you can.
  2. Read parts of it out loud in private. Start to feel the flow of the words and how the author has strung the story together. Practice your breathing while doing this. Take a deep breath before every sentence, and then let it slowly out as the sentence unfolds.
  3. Prepare your report. Write it out, type it out, edit it. Scribble, revise. All of it.
  4. Read your report out loud. One paragraph at a time. Pay attention to your breathing, your pacing, your shoulders. Relax your shoulders! If you’ve been to therapy, practice what you learned there.
  5. Bonus: practice in front of a friend. I know, I know. It’s really hard. You’re covert, and you don’t want your friends to know.
  6. Bonus: practice in front of a few friends.

That’s what I’d say for doing a speech — you need to make time for it. Otherwise you’ll be up against it, barely having said a word of it, and barely being able to finish.

Remember that the idea here is to make better memories of your stuttering. If you do nothing, you’ll make the same memory. And as you grow older, your connection to a speech will be negative. If you put in the time to make the speech a little better, you’ll make that mental connection that preparation equals comfort, and comfort equals less stuttering.

Slowly updating

Along with a renewed vigor for posting to the site, I’m working through all the static pages and updating them. Today I refreshed the About page. It had been three years! I’m not 37 anymore …

I also updated the e-mail address at the bottom of the About page, but you can also always just comment on any post as well.

Also, at the end of this month, I’ll have been at my new job for two years. Hard to believe that I was just sitting in on several interviews. It’s the first job where I advertised from the start — screening phone call, hiring manager, plant folks on site, and then when I got the job, introducing myself to all the other managers.

I would definitely say it’s made life a lot easier. There have been some new folks at the plant and elsewhere, but the advertising to them has been very straightforward as well. My stress is reduced — when I do stumble on words, I don’t even think about the stutter. I just think, ok, let me regroup and get some words together. I also don’t swap out words — ok, maybe once in a while. Can’t lie. Sometimes I just don’t want to stop the speech!

I think that since the stuttering isn’t at the front of my everyday speech anymore, I’ve let the blog slide. But going through twitter and reading updates on Facebook groups, I realize there are still thousands of people out there who stutter who are on the same journey.

A new year of stuttering

Happy New Year, everybody! I hope everybody’s holidays went well. I had a very relaxing end of year. There was a lot of work at the plant (gotta spend money or you’ll lose it for next year) so that was a good kind of busy.

I also had a lot of time to reflect on my stuttering and also this blog. Where I want it to go in the next decade. I’ve written a lot on here, but there’s still plenty to be said. For instance, I usually don’t comment on Facebook stuttering group posts. I think I’ll start to do that — by posting my response on here. It’ll allow for a longer response that will be more easily searchable. The other nice aspect is that it should give me a steady stream of content through the year.

Speaking of goals, I have a few for 2020. All of them are measurable (they’re SMART goals if you’re into that sort of thing). Here we go:

  1. Reduce body fat by 7%
  2. Read 6 fiction and 6 nonfiction books
  3. 25 blog posts
  4. 30,000 meters of rowing per month
  5. Run a November 5k in under 30 minutes
  6. Keep library fines to under $30 annually
  7. Reduce ten items per month from the house

There you have it. I’ll go into further details on the next post what each of them accomplish. And yes, the library fines one is a bit ridiculous, but I have this silly habit of getting out a bunch of books (as do my kids) and then forgetting about them. I feel like two weeks is pretty short checkout time, but then again, I could just set myself a reminder to either renew and/or go to the library.

I may up the 25 blog posts depending on some other ideas that I have for this blog. But that will take a serious renewed commitment to writing. At the moment 25 would represent two per month. Certainly doable. One on how my stuttering is going, and one on answering Facebook questions that I find. I just feel that I can do a whole lot more, so I’m trying to work out what that level of engagement should be.

So! I hope you all have some goals lined up for 2020. I will be checking in on my here on the blog on a monthly basis. Y’all can help keep me accountable.

 

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.

Stuttering and your future job

I wanted to comment on something I’ve been seeing lately on Facebook groups and Reddit — young people who stutter worrying about what sort of job they might have since they stutter. I remember a few posts that said the person who stutters talked to someone in their profession or industry, and they said, no, you won’t be able to do this. You have to be able to talk.

This is all a bunch of crap.

Let me go through this in three parts. I want to just put forth some main ideas on this.

Firstly, hearing one person hate on your future job prospects is like having one person telling you that you can’t lose weight. Think about it. They’ll tell you how they’ve tried everything, it’s genetic, just don’t worry about it, just live with it. Seriously? And you can’t find ten other people who have lost 50 lbs and are more than happy to tell you how to change your life to do the same thing? You can communicate with anybody now through the Internet. You can ask to talk to someone who has your future job. You can reach out to many of them, and you’ll find someone who can help guide you through the process.

Secondly, if you’re looking at what a future job entails and then just giving up because you think — think — that you can’t do the speaking involved, then you’ve already failed. You’ve said to yourself that you’ve tried everything — various speech therapists, group therapy, self therapy, daily practice of techniques and things like Toastmasters. So, again, really? You’ve tried all that. You’ve done all the work, and you’re still going to give up? You’ve worked hard to change negative connotations of your stuttering into positive ones, and a dream job is still not going to happen?

Thirdly, am I one to talk? I will readily admit that my stutter probably pushed me into engineering. Maybe not fully, but it had something to do with it. Well, the thing is, I didn’t just sit and stay in the first job that I had. I saw my boss and his job. I saw how much he talked, and how he carried himself with others and in meetings. And despite the fact that I didn’t think that would be possible, I kept working at it anyway. I’ve moved up. I’ve freaked out, I’ve practiced, I’ve had good days and bad. But I’m still going forward, and I’m still being scared at what the future might hold. But I’m better prepared.

Stuttering and the Buzzfeed Post

I thought I’d go through this buzzfeed list and offer up a bit of my own commentary on it. It might be something you can share with your fluent friends. They probably didn’t understand the buzzfeed piece anyway. Oh wait, you probably didn’t send it to them since you’re covert. Admit it!

Obviously Buzzfeed isn’t the place for a meaningful look into stuttering, but at least they’ve given me some inspiration for a post.

1. Not being able to introduce yourself because you get stuck on YOUR OWN NAME.

I went to lunch this week and sat across a tiny table at Subway from someone who I didn’t know (part of a larger group). I didn’t bother introducing myself. And you know what? Neither did he! And I’m pretty sure he didn’t stutter! We made that “hello-I’m” eye contact a few times, but I never bothered to engage. Can’t win them all.

2. Having to scramble for a new word mid-sentence so you don’t have to say the one that you know will trip you up.

Sometimes I just pause, and sometimes I just start picking words … that may or may not make sense. And then who knows where we all end up.

3. Literally becoming one with your desk to avoid having to read aloud in class.

I think I became an expert in avoiding eye contact with my teachers. Of course there were also those times during spelling lessons when we’d each have to read a word from the new lesson. So I’d look down the list, and then count how many people were before me. I’d figure out what word I’d end up with and spend the next 15 minutes freaking out about how on earth I was going to pronounce it let alone spell it. And then use it in a sentence.

4. Reading a word and knowing, with your stutter-senses, that you would NEVER be able to say that out loud.

The best part is that the word (or words … or phrases … or names of people) changes every day! It’s like one of those little passcode keychain things that doctors carry around. New code every day!

5. Just stopping in the middle of a sentence and hoping that everyone thinks you’re just trying to build suspense.

When I “came out” about my stuttering on Facebook, a friend commented that she thought that was the way I talked and told jokes …

6. Perfecting your stutter-distraction strategies like the fake cough…

I’ve never done this. I’ll have to try it though. Ha!

7. …the “Oh, would you look at that!”
8. …the “What was I saying again?”

I do have a short attention span. I can be distracted easily.

9. The way people tell you they “omg NEVER noticed” you have a stutter.

Seriously, they should give out PhDs in being covert. I’d not only have the degree, but I’d be head of the department.

10. Or even weirder, when you tell them you have a stutter and someone says “no you don’t.”

Well, before I’d never really just offered up that I have a stutter.

11. Hearing someone else pause when they speak and wondering if they’re like you.
12. And feeling an instant affinity for them when you find out that, yes, they also have a stutter.

I have a pretty good time at home and work and laugh often. But I hadn’t laughed really hard and long in a while until I went to the NSA Conference. And then we exchanged stories, and boy, was that great. It was also nice being able to tell jokes … and pause … and still be able to get to the punchline.

13. Wanting to punch someone in their stupid face for completing your sentence for you.

I’ve sort of come to terms with this … but I was wondering the other day — what do fluent people think when I finish their sentences? I actually find myself doing this fairly often because they’re searching for the right word or phrase. But remember, I’m in an environment with non-native English speakers.

14. Especially when they complete your sentence with the wrong word and you’re like, “wtf?”

I find if you keep on stuttering and keep getting louder about it, they won’t interrupt …

15. Or when you’re reading out loud (eek) and someone prompts you with the word you’re stuck on.

Can’t remember this happening … thank goodness.

16. Getting pissed at how fakey and cartoonish TV characters with stutters can be.

My kids watch a lot of cartoons. Including Porky Pig. (By the way, there’s a new version of Looney Tunes, and boy is it ever funny. I mean, Daffy is just off the wall hilarious.) On the one hand, I am annoyed by Porky and how he’s probably set us all back. On the other, I’m sort of inspired because he does just plow on through. Although he does substitute often …

17. Not being able to ask an important question in class because your larynx is just not up to the task right now.

I was in a meeting today, and I had a point to ask. I spoke up. Take that, stuttering! But yeah, mostly in school I just sat back and kept my mouth shut. And read. A lot.

18. Picking what to order at a restaurant based on what you’ll be able to pronounce.

Absolutely. But this gets harder when you have kids, because you have to order for them as well. And you can’t just lie to your kids and say no, they don’t have chicken nuggets.

19. Wanting to buy a cake for whoever made texting the default communication of the modern world.

What else do I love about the modern world? Not having to talk to anybody when I buy gas. Online banking. E-mails. Messengering programs. Did I mention e-mails?

20. And straight up not making friends with people who “prefer to use the phone.”

I had a boss say to me once, “this can’t be solved over e-mails. Pick up the phone and call him. NOW! I did. And it hurt. But hey, he was right. Problem got solved in a hurry. Maybe these fluent people know something after all …

21. Because picking up the phone and not being able to answer is the most awkward thing ever.

I don’t have this problem. I have the problem of the other party picking up the phone. And then not being able to say anything. Can I e-mail you instead?

22. Leaving a stuttery voicemail with lots of pauses and cringing the whole time.

I think this changed a while back. Now you can choose to save the voicemail or try again, right? Or how about I just send you a text. Or an e-mail. Or not call.

23. Requiring a whole different level of preparation for a job interview.

I don’t know if voice exercises work or not. I don’t know if sitting in your car during a three-hour drive to the interview talking to yourself, asking yourself questions out loud, answering them, changing the words, finding the right words, and asking more stuff really works or not. But it worked for me. That and being way over prepared.

24. Getting low grades for class presentations even though you know everything about the topic.

I had an English teacher tell me once that my speech on a book was “honest.” I’m guessing it’s because my voice was strained and I was mostly out of breath the whole time.

25. And of course, people making fun of your stutter before they realize that you’re not faking it.

I don’t think I’ve ever had someone say something really negative about my stutter. But I have had people just laugh at me before. Which was … pretty damn hurtful.

Monday Stuttering Link Roundup

Alright, here it finally is, a link roundup.

Of course everybody by now has seen this list on buzzfeed.

Yes, I “get” everything on that list, and yes, I’ve done most of that stuff. It’s pretty funny, sure. Only we would understand — but isn’t the point to educate others? I mean, yes, it was cool going to the NSA conference and meeting other people who stutter and laughing about things that we’ve experienced (most of this list, actually). But if only we understand, then we’ll continue to face the same kind of environment we already have. So with that in mind, I’ll post commentary this week on this buzzfeed piece — a primer for those who are fluent seeking to understand what it’s really like.

This article in the Washington Post is about those with disabilities seeing the doctor. This real life story is about someone who stutters. It’s a great story and nice insight to what we face with a simple doctor’s visit.

By the look on James’s face, I could tell that he understood just fine. I did, too. I closed the door. “I’m so sorry,” I said. “Let’s start over. My name is Leana. I’m your doctor. I’m also a person who stutters.”

If you recall, it’s something I talked about recently.

Do you stutter? Are you young? Do you live near Purdue? Want to join a study? Here’s one for you:

The project is using a newer, noninvasive neuroimaging technology to examine the brain at work during speaking. Walsh says few studies have looked at the neural mechanisms of stuttering in the seven- to 12-year-old age group due to the challenges other brain imaging techniques pose.

I don’t watch British television, so I don’t know exactly what this show is all about, but here’s a nice piece in the Guardian about a reality tv star with a stammer. He’s only 18 now, so it’s interesting to read about his journey through school and how he built up confidence.

“As crazy as it sounds, my stammer makes me want to work harder every day. I would rather have this stammer than not have it. It’s made me brave, and it’s made me want to go that extra mile.”

Arthur Young talks about his lifelong stutter and how he came to terms with coming out. He’s now an active member of the British Stammering Association.

In 2013, I found a stammering community on Facebook called the British Stammering Association and this provided me with a whole range of information, and most importantly, shared experiences with fellow stammerers. I learnt about overt and covert stammerers and coping mechanisms – some work and some have no evidence, but the group explained the pros and cons from their experiences.

I’m not familiar with this site, TES, but it’s got good quick advice on educating people about stuttering in a school environment:

Understanding how the stammerer feels is an important step to helping support them; why not use an assembly to raise awareness of the condition and tackle some of the myths that surround it. Explore the story of a child who stammers and discuss the challenges his stammer places on his daily life.

And lastly, here’s some interesting news on stuttering research … and seeing what your brain is up to. I definitely wish I could participate in this! What’s interesting about it is that I had a brain MRI done (for something unrelated — an eye twitch) so I wonder if that would be of interest to this team.

Delaying auditory feedback of speech, altering its pitch, singing, speaking in unison with another speaker, or speaking in time with a metronome are all ways of temporarily enhancing fluency in people who stammer. These observations tell us that the cause of stammering may be due to a problem in combining motor and auditory information.

If you have a link or story about stuttering, do please send it along. I try to do searches often online as well as on Twitter. But things have picked up a lot lately because of International Stuttering Awareness Day. I’m sure I’ll find more things over the next few days.

Stuttering and Path

I’ll admit that when it comes to the latest apps and programs, I’m not up to date. That’s mostly to do with living in Saudi — we don’t exactly have things like Groupon here, and the shop down at the corner only takes cash — they probably won’t care about Apple Pay any time soon.

That being said, I do try to keep up with what’s going on back home. I read this with some interest about Path via daringfireball.

From the site:

We’re thrilled to announce Path Talk 1.1, with the goal of giving you a new super-power: putting the power of a personal assistant in the palm of your hand. It’s called Places, and it lets you interact with any local business. No phone call needed.

Places gives you the power to message your favorite local businesses to request appointments, make reservations, or even check out prices and hours. It’s all by text. And it’s all for free.

Um … wow. Ok then. This really ties up well with my recent post about a day without stuttering.

I’ll be honest, I don’t use Path right now for anything. And probably won’t while I’m still here in Saudi … I have messaging apps and Facebook that are working ok. But that being said, this sort of thing blows me away from a stuttering standpoint.

I mean, I won’t have to call a local business to … interact with them and ask them stuff?! Seriously?! Yes, there is a lot of information already online, but like they say, making reservations and whatnot can’t always be done via the web. And then the next point in this is having an online assistant making phone calls for you.

I’m not so sure my life would be so busy that I’d need something like this. But it’s only the beginning. Soon we’ll be able to text power companies and credit card companies… and the pizza place… and maybe even the fast food restaurant…

Which brings me to (assuming I move back to the States) do I download and start using this because it’s new and cool and useful and saving me time, or am I doing it because it’s a few less people who I have to talk to (and not stutter with?). Or is this something I can use (or a stuttering patient could use) little by little to help with certain hard situations — eventually weaning themselves off?

Sunday Link Roundup

Lots of stories and links about stuttering from this past week.

Pam has posted over at Make Room for the Stuttering about an unfortunate turn of events at a recent meeting.

I shared this with some friends in a Facebook group and they asked me how I responded. I didn’t respond – I said nothing as I didn’t want to draw any attention to how embarrassed I felt.

I’m a pretty nice guy, but yeah, seriously, anytime anybody ever asks me if I’ve forgotten my name or some simple piece of information that I’m stuttering on, I want to punch them in the face.

I’m getting salty in my old age — I wonder if I wouldn’t have put that person in their place.

University of Iowa Summer Camp helps those who stutter.

He began enrolling in speech therapy twice a week for 20 minutes and made progress, but nothing has helped like the intensive one-on-one treatment he gets at the nine-day camp offered by the UI clinic. Therapists work with children for five hours daily — far more treatment than they would receive at school.

It has built up his confidence and helped him realize other children have similar difficulties. It’s helped his mother feel less alone, too.

And yes, I’m sure there are other camps around the country like this. I just happened across this one and started to wonder if my life would have turned out differently had I gone to a summer camp while growing up.

The American Institute of Stuttering had its 8th Annual Gala and handed out its Freeing Voices Changing Lives Award. The awards went to Jack Welch and Jes Staley. Vice President Joe Biden honored the gentlemen.

Both the Vice President and Jack Welch shared personal stories of their stuttering and how their mothers helped them overcome criticism in their lives. Each encouraged her son to meet their speech challenge head-on and echoed a similar message – “Stuttering does not define you.”

Here’s a video of Vice President Biden talking about his stutter — and how you shouldn’t let stuttering define who you are.

I get this, I really do. I think there are two parts to it though. One, that we should carry on with our lives and push through our stutter. Become more confident, find techniques that work, seek help when needed. Carry on with our lives and careers despite it. But the second thing is that well, some people should let this define them. Listen, if you asked me if I would like to be paid (as a regular job) to talk about stuttering and spread the word and educate people about it full time, I’d say yes. I’d say yes now, but maybe a few years ago I wouldn’t. Because while it can’t define most people, someone’s gotta take the lead in helping and educating.

When I first saw this video and saw Mr. Biden talking about practicing classic works, I thought, well, you know what, I can spend hours alone in my car saying my name and every word in the dictionary without any stutter at all. But then I realized, well, there’s more than just that. If I’m driving to an interview, I practice some responses out loud. Over and over again. I get used to the words coming out of my mouth. I hear what I might trip up on. I try to say things in a different way. I can pay more attention to my breathing. Does all this practicing always work? Of course not. I get nervous and forget to breathe just like any other interaction. But the preparation does help. It adds just a little dose of confidence that wasn’t there before, and sometimes that’s all it takes.

I’m not terribly afraid of public speaking per se, but doing something like comedy — where timing is key — does scare the crap out of me. But there are those out there doing it:

The people with the death wish are the people who are terrified of public speaking, but choose stand-up as a way to tackle their fear. Brian Baltosiewich, senior marketing producer at WBTV, grew up with a stutter and has performed at The Comedy Zone.

“Once I got into my career, I knew I’d have to do something to get out in front of it,” he said. “It’s the communication business and I have to communicate. I wanted to do something that was really going to scare the crap out of me. To speak in front of a crowd with my own material, not knowing how they would react, I thought that would shock me into being OK with myself and my stutter.”

Here’s a nice article about someone who had success with the McGuire program. Just a note — I have no experience with any stuttering-help programs or products. Tom over at Stuttering Brain does a much better job of reviewing them. But we’re all different — what may work for some may not work for all.

The word “Daysaver” proved so problematic that she would often overpay for a bus ticket to avoid saying it. She would also spend half an hour looking for tricky-sounding items in a supermarket, rather than asking where they were.

Oh, the countless hours I’ve spent wandering around Home Depot instead of just asking someone. This gets harder when you have kids — because they ask you — ‘can’t we just ask someone?’

Lastly, fellow stutterer and expat Geraint at Penguin Ponderings is talking about how he ended up in Saudi to begin with.

Maya Angelou’s Stuttering Brother

Maya Angelou passed away yesterday. The Stuttering Foundation brought up an interesting fact about her and her brother regarding how she got her name.

Working as a Calypso dancer at the San Francisco club The Purple Onion, Angelou, performing as Marguerite Johnson or Rita at the time, was told she needed a more theatrical stage name. By combining “Maya,” the name her stuttering brother Bailey had given her when they were children, and a variation of her ex-husband’s last name, she became “Maya Angelou.”

The Foundation then posed the question on their Facebook page about changing our own names. Is this something you would do?

For me? I wouldn’t change my name. But maybe the way it’s pronounced …

My name is Rehan. Growing up in the States, I pronounced it as the ‘re’ in ‘return’ and the ‘han’ as in ‘con.’ As someone who stutters, my name definitely gives me the hardest time. I’ll probably fill a week’s worth of posts on it, but the short version is that it only comes out with enormous effort. Any kind of introduction — in person or on the phone — is the worst.

When I came to Saudi 3.5 years ago for work, I actually changed the way I pronounced my name because the way that I’ve been pronouncing it is not the way a native Arabic speaker pronounces it.

The word Rehan is actually an Arabic word meaning something like a scent or odor. (A good one).

For a native Arabic speaker, the first syllable sounds more like “ray” than “ree.” But it’s not really “ray,” because you’re softly bouncing your tongue off the roof of your mouth. It’s a sound that’s not in the English language. The second syllable also comes more from the throat. Anyway, it’s a totally different pronunciation, and basically a totally different word to me. More importantly it’s a different word to my brain as well. My brain seems hell-bent on stuttering on the usual pronunciation of my name, but in the first year or two of coming to Saudi, it didn’t get as hung up on the new pronunciation.

Things in years 3 and 4 are sort of leveling out, but saying the “Arabic” pronunciation isn’t too rough for whatever reason. Even on the phone. The funny thing is that I use a different pronunciation based on the listener — if they’re a native English speaker, I’ll use the version I’ve grown up with. And stutter. I do this because they are used to those sounds and pronunciation. If it’s someone from Saudi/India/Pakistan, I’ll use the more Arabic pronunciation. Make sense?

Did I change my name to try to hide my stutter? Maybe so. But I’m saying it to some people the way they would say it anyway. And it’s easier for me! And just getting through my name right off the bat builds a huge amount of confidence.

So what is the deal with saying our own names — and why is it so difficult? Here’s on take from an old posting on the Stuttering Forum:

Basically, we can’t substitute our names.

And of course when we do stutter on our names — don’t you know your own name?! — a Reddit thread.

Lastly, I found some very inspirational quotes from Maya Angelou as well:

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

Well, my stuttering is a long untold story. So now it’s slowly coming out. And it does feel great.

“Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.”

I’d say that this nicely summarizes the long term mission of this site.

Sunday Link Roundup

Hope everybody had a nice weekend. I had a good time going on a long bike ride which I’ll post on in a little while. Stuttering had a lot do with it … as it does with everything, I guess.

Anyway, one thing that I’d like to start doing is a link roundup. So here’s my first attempt. These are all worthy of a follow-up post (or 3) so those will come over the next few weeks. Some of these are slightly old (more than a week) but great nonetheless.

How People Who Stutter Thrive in Everyday Life

A nice write up by someone who stutters on the Stuttering Foundation’s annual gala.

Wahl writes, “The room we were in had an uplifting, comforting air to it. Everyone was welcoming. Everyone had a passion about the topic of stuttering whether it was conducting research on it, writing about it or simply working with others who stutter.

My heartbeat normally races in social settings but here, my heartbeat slowed. I felt at at peace in their company.”

Definitely looking forward to the NSA’s annual conference — I think it’ll be a similar experience for me.

Teaching Elementary Students

While this blog hasn’t been updated in a while, there’s a recent post regarding teaching children. I’ve got three kids of my own, and I don’t stutter as much when talking or reading to them.

Stuttering Stanley writes, ” Some have asked me how can one be a teacher…with a stutter? For me, it is because I mostly do not stutter when I am speaking in front of others, especially with children in a teaching capacity, and I also stutter much less in professional situations. If you want to know the reason why, I am afraid that I can’t tell you.”

Exactly.

The iceberg analogy of stuttering was recently posted on the Stuttering Foundation’s facebook page. Here is more information about it.

I’ll have more on this because it’s basically what this site is all about — how my own iceberg has formed over the years.

And lastly, the conference schedule is out!

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