Your name or your question

I moved into a new house a few months back, and have been slowly doing projects here and there. Of course that means a lot of trips to the big box home improvement stores. During COVID, of course, it’s a little easier — you can basically fill your shopping cart from the comfort of your couch and then go to the store and pick it all up.

One of the options for pickup has been to park your car and then wait while they bring your stuff.

The other option is to go inside and stand in line and wait for your stuff.

And what might be the problems with these if you’re someone who stutters? Oh yeah, you usually have to say your name — first or last. There’s the off chance that they may just ask you for your order number, but hey, it’s still a bunch of numbers and letters that you’re going to be put on the spot to read.

So I ask — what’s better? This system, or our stuttering favorite workaround of meandering the aisles for an hour since we sure as heck ain’t gonna ask someone for help?

As someone who’s come to accept my stuttering, I’m fine with the new way. I actually like it a lot more. I’m focused on the big picture here — staying away from people, spending the least amount of time in the store, and getting exactly what I’ve already spent some time scrolling and trying to find.

I think even if it was a few years ago what I would have done is just shown the clerk my phone with the order number on it. The information they need is there, and they usually ask for it anyway. I could have avoided giving a name if I really had to.

But this way does make me basically confront my biggest challenge — saying my name in public — in exchange for convenience, which is always fun to try.

Free Ice

A few weeks ago we had a chance to finally get away for a few days. We stayed at a house near the beach and decided to have groceries delivered. Our week would be house, beach, and nothing more. The kids were on board. I wanted to keep doing my part as far as the pandemic was concerned.

So I’m in the parking lot at the rental house, and another gentlemen is loading up his car. I stayed a few feet back, and then said hello. We struck up a conversation about where they were visiting from, what they’d done while down at the beach, and how it’s nice to get away. Small talk.

As you can imagine, small talk isn’t something that comes easy for someone who stutters. I am always, always, always worried about the next thing to say, the right body language to put forth, intonation, a laugh here, a smile there, and to come across as … normal.

I definitely feel like I’m getting better at it the more that I do it.

After our discussion, I went back into the house for a bit. I then had to go back outside to grab something out of the car. The same guy was there, and he asked if I’d like a bag of ice since they were leaving and obviously wouldn’t need it. Of course I would — we have a bunch of kids who are pretty hot and like cold drinks!

I realized that this is how it’s supposed to be — and how it is for many, many people. And a lot of what I missed growing up being afraid to talk to people randomly. Random acts of kindness. Serendipities. Offers of help or goods. Or maybe I could help or give directions or advice.

I didn’t ask for the ice. I didn’t ask for anything. Just being myself was enough. Not being afraid of my stuttering and stumbling through a small conversation. Every time something like this happens I do like to stop and write it down. And then go back and look at all of those times when being someone who stutters didn’t have any kind of negative impact.

Howdy, neighbor

Still at home, working away. These days I’d say I spend the majority of the working day on phone calls. That’s right, the guy who used to hate the phone now is on it for nearly 7 hours a day.

Ok, not exactly the phone, but Webex. You get it. Sometimes I turn the video on, sometimes not. Sometimes I have run the meeting, sometimes I just listen in. Including this week, my average weekly meeting total is about 32. That’s a lot of listening and talking.

I’m doing pretty well with it all, I’d say. There are so many familiar faces and voices, so I feel comfortable speaking up whenever I need to.

Early on during COVID I did have to set up some get-to-know meetings when I was given more plants to cover for engineering. I had three of these, and I advertised during all three of them. Within the first two minutes I told them that I was someone who stutters. None of them had any issues with it, and they all thanked me for letting them know. Those kinds of wins have been helping me greatly on the phone as well.

Yesterday I was outside on my driveway faffing about with my cargo bike and saw my neighbor. We’d not met formally yet. He was looking at the bike from afar and then came closer. We started up a chat, and before too long I was also telling him (and his wife who also was outside) that I stuttered.

Advertising is definitely one of those huge barriers that seems insurmountable at first. But the more you do it, the more you want to do it. The better it makes you feel in the moment, and the better it makes your speech and stress as the conversation goes on.

Once the restrictions are lifted, I know I’ll have to travel more to visit my new plants. I am definitely looking forward to practicing even more advertising then. Stay tuned.

2020 Q1 Goals Update

Well, here it is. Something I’m not quite excited about doing as I should be. A goals update. As a reminder, here’s what I wanted to achieve this year:

  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

Let’s go through them one by one. I’m not going to lie and say I have beautiful data. I have some good guesses. But I’ll be brutally honest at the end at least.

  1. Reduce body fat by 7% – Nope, and not on track. No change this first quarter. No fundamental changes to diet or exercise.
  2. Read 6 fiction and 6 nonfiction books – Yes! I did complete two of each. While that leaves me slightly behind, I can easily make this up. I’ll put together a list of the books at my next update.
  3. 25 blog posts – Q1 had 9 posts. So I’m on track to beat this goal.
  4. 30,000 meters of rowing per month – Big no on that one.
  5. Run a November 5k in under 30 minutes – It’s not November yet! Although I did move at the end of March and still haven’t put the treadmill back together.
  6. Keep library fines to under $30 annually – Yes! But only because the library is closed. I think I had $23 in Q1 (I know, I know).
  7. Reduce ten items per month from the house – Maybe? I moved, and definitely threw a lot of crap out.

So let’s see … 7 goals, 3.5 on track, 3.5 not on track. I’d give myself a solid C for 2020 Q1.

Here comes the best part though — the list of excuses! That’s right. I have … reasons … for my shortcomings. Mainly they’re around the stress of COVID, being at home all the time and constantly on work calls through the day. I also got promoted in early March, so the past few weeks have been even busier. Then of course there was the house move in the background all the time. And if that would even happen — we ended up closing in the parking lot behind the title company’s office.

Progress on the “mental” goals more than the physical. But with warmer months coming up, I should be able to tighten things up. I am considering getting some sort of online trainer set up so I have more accountability. Working through the finances of that first.

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.

 

 

 

Attending a Trade Show

I went to a trade show earlier this month. Pack Expo in Philly. This was an easy trip for me since I’m really close to Philly and could just take the train. Also I’ve somehow managed to work for nearly two decades and not ever go to a show. The last trade show I went to was in college, and that was for a newspaper conference in NYC. I wanted to write a few posts on my feelings toward doing this. At the end of the month it’ll also be the end of the first quarter, so I get to be honest about my goals for 2020 as well. It’s a mixed bag …

Today I’ll talk about my feelings before the show and then in the first hour. The next post will be about the show itself followed by a post on my feelings after some reflection. Here goes.

Before the show, I honestly didn’t think about my stuttering. I didn’t think about having to talk to a bunch of strangers and what I’d say to them, or ask them, or tell them about myself. The reason for this was because based on the projects that I knew were coming up for my company, I just wanted to go and see some solutions. I thought about standing at a booth looking at some equipment in operation, or picking up a brochure, or taking some photos.

I think a lot of this had to do with never having been to a show before. I knew about networking events (never done that, either), and this was not that. Some of what was on the show’s web site talked about before and after networking events, but at this time I wasn’t interested in that at all.

As far as introducing myself, I didn’t think much about that either — I figured there would be a name tag and lanyard. So they could just see my name. That took out a lot of the stress.

When I got to the show, it was not too chaotic. I got my badge and strolled on in. This is a smaller version of a show they have out west in the fall. I have been trying to go to that one for a while with no luck due to work. I didn’t have a “floor strategy” or anything. I could have studied the map on the train, but figured what’s the point, I can just walk around. I was planning on being there for two days.

During my first hour, I was pleasantly surprised at how open to talking people were. I figured out after a while this was because a.) these are sales people and b.) I am a customer. There were plenty of other people there without money to spend. But that was not me. I was on a mission.

For whatever reason, I still don’t have business cards yet. I was concerned about this somewhat, but then thought, well, I’ll just get their card, and if I need their stuff, I’ll reach out to them. Oh no. This show was better than that. They put a QR code right on your badge and then gave all the vendors an app to scan. No need for me to carry around a card!

In the next post, I’ll talk about what a typical conversation was like. And how the show got easier and easier as the hours went on.

 

 

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.

Two years at the new job

Wow. It’s been two years since I started this new job. It’s not new anymore!

Compared to the last company I was with for about 13 years, I’ve advertised to more people in a shorter amount of time. I’ll call that significant progress. I’ve also been less and less stressed about speaking on the phone. Cold calls, answering, calling quickly to people I know for information, all of that.

Just the other day I had to make two cold calls basically back to back to get some information from a vendor. One of them was there, the other I left a message for. I used my tools — thinking about what I wanted to say first, then taking a deep breath and speaking at the pace I wanted — not the one dictated by the other person. In both instances it worked out very well.

In addition to paying attention to breathing, another tactic I’ve used a lot is to just … get it over with. Don’t overthink it. Don’t give the Negativity any time to seep in there and start causing doubt. That doesn’t do anybody any good. This of course takes a lot more practice. You can start with “easier” calls that aren’t mission critical to your home life or job.

The beauty of doing a few good phone calls is that you can remember them — and start forgetting about all the misery you’ve had previously on the phone. The last few thoughts of calls will be of communication and expedient resolution. So why not keep picking that option?

Nuances of the phone

So one thing I’m not the best at is … putting people’s phone numbers into my phone. I know, it’s really simple. Just get a phone number, or read a phone number, or have someone text, and then take the few seconds to whip up a contact.

I wanted to open this one up a little. I have a feeling it goes back to stuttering. Hear me out. For the longest time, I hated talking on the phone. Hated. Didn’t want to pick it up, didn’t want to call anybody, didn’t want to be involved in any way shape or form.

I’m also bad at asking someone for their number — people who I will probably have to call. Or people who I would need to contact in case of an urgent matter at the plant. Or have their number to call them to ask them where they are if we’re meeting in a few days. I should have their number because somebody else might ask for it, and why should I spend fifteen minutes sifting through e-mails like a moron?

I think what this disconnect is for me is this subconscious saying, “you’re going to stutter when you call someone, so you’re not calling this person, so no need to remember this number.”

Unfortunately society has gotten to the point where I don’t have to call anybody. I can just text when I want. Or e-mail. Or schedule a meeting.

Sporadically over the past few years I’ve had phone calls with people. Phone calls that went really well. Short. Long. But what they all had in common was getting something straightened out or done in a really short amount of time. Not sure about something? Think it’ll be confusing over text? Too long to text? The person doesn’t check e-mail regularly? Call. Within two minutes, the issue is resolved.

So I need to get better at using the phone as a tool to quickly address things. Calling just to have a chat … I may learn something! I worked for a long time on this idea that if I stuttered I wouldn’t die (and it worked.) Now this is the next thing to work on — associating all the positive effects of the phone and ignoring my fears.

 

Struggling the Most

I’ve said recently that my stuttering hasn’t been too bad the past two years since the new job began. But I do still stutter. I always will. I’ve come to accept this.

So what am I stuttering on lately? Or what conditions seem to make it worse? I’d say unpreparedness.

I had to think for a while about this since things move slow enough — or maybe I’ve just figured out better how to control them — so that I’m rarely unprepared. This mostly happens in a meeting when I’m asked about something completely off-topic. The good news is that I work with people who are patient. So if I need to take a moment to say, “let me think,” they usually do. And then I can look something up on the computer or rack my brain trying to recall what the issue was.

I’d say it only gets worse if there’s a peppering of questions by others for me. Then usually what happens is that I’ll stumble for answers as I’m trying to think. Then while I’m thinking and speaking and stuttering, I’m also forgetting the other thing that they need to know. So a few questions in, and I’m already trying to backtrack and fix a mistake I said two minutes ago.

Just writing about this is making me feel stressed! I can feel it unfolding on the phone on a conference call or in a room with a lot of hard stares.

Adding to the stress is usually the slow realization, during questioning, that I may have completely missed something or screwed something up royally. Or that forgetting about something that has now come back to bite me. Stress goes up, my breathing gets way out of whack, and I’m stuttering all over the place.

Breathe.

But like I said. I usually try to stay organized and prepared so that I don’t have to go through an ambush interrogation. The stress stays at a nice low level. I can breathe. I can let my words out slowly. I can focus on the content versus whatever small stutter I do encounter.

Morning Meetings

Since I work at a manufacturing plant, there’s a need to make sure everybody is aligned every day on what’s going on with production. To that end, there’s a morning meeting. I usually try to sit in on these, just to listen what’s going on, if there’s any issues I can help with (my responsibilities are more long-term, not daily) or if there’s a problem that keeps happening that I can try to wrap a project around.

I’ll often need to talk about project work or something we are trying to do, engineering-wise, during the upcoming year to address long-standing issues.

My usual approach is to listen to the first half of the meeting and then think if there’s something I should add. Oddly, I don’t rehearse this in my head. I just think of what it is, and that’s about it. The last part of the meeting the supervisor will go around the room and ask if the participants have anything to add.

When I was a kid, this was obviously the worst part. Knowing they’d come to me, and I’d have to say yes or no or whatever. But during these meetings, after having done them for so long, I’m not afraid. There’s a feeling that I have to share what I know. I’m comfortable with the group. Everybody is patient with me. We usually laugh during these meetings, so nobody is too uptight.

When they call my name, I always — always — remember to take a deep breath. Then I take another shorter break and start talking. I try not to think about saying the words. I focus on the content. Make sure that I’m being clear and specific with my comments. Because usually if I have to add something, it means that it’ll impact a few people in the room, on the floor, or with regards to production going out to customers.

If there a few items, I’ll have written them down in my notebook. Then after each is brought up, I’ll just continue down the list.

Have I stuttered before during this meeting? Oh, heavens yes. It happens fairly often. But nobody is bothered by it. I’m not, either. I either just power through the word, or take a quick break and try again, making sure to take a breath. I have found that focusing on breathing really helps me not only relax, but with speech in general.

2020 Goals in Detail

Last week I talked about my goals for this year. I’d like to explain them a little further, and maybe they can help motivate you to think of some goals for yourself.

Reduce body fat by 7%

To me this is about eating better, not necessarily working out a lot more. I need to start making better choices about eating food and reducing the amount of refined sugar. I also need to get more disciplined about carrying out speech experiments with regards to intake — does gluten affect my speech? Soy? (I have a soy allergy which is another post altogether). If I ate clean for a week, would I feel more calm and stutter less?

Read 6 fiction and 6 nonfiction books

I have a habit of reading too much nonfiction. When I do read fiction, I tend it whip through it in 2-3 days. This reminds me of childhood when I’d just lie on my bed for hours devouring everything that I could. In this goal will also be stuttering-related books so that I can post some thoughts/reviews on the blog.

25 blog posts

The past few years have not been the best for this blog despite the fact that I … still stutter. I was looking back at my notebooks from 2014 the other day, and on almost every page was something stuttering related. (These are notebooks that I keep for work-related scribbling). So when I launched the blog, my mind was completely filled with stuttering. It’s also when I went to my first NSA conference.

30,000 meters of rowing per month

This has more to do with daily discipline. I have a rowing machine in my bedroom. When I wake up, I should be rowing 500 meters to warm up, and then 2,000 meters as exercise. This would take less than 15 minutes altogether and get the day off to a great start. By doing 2,500, I’d only have to get on the rower three times a week.

Run a November 5k in under 30 minutes

I hate running. I’m a big guy (245 lbs) and it’s hard on … everything. But I also know it’s good for me, and I know it’s good to set goals. I originally had a November goal, but I may have to pull that up to a 10k in March. I’m trying to get some friends to come along with me. With regards to stuttering, the constant aerobic demand should do me well for breathing. And the longer-term nature of this goal will help me to stay patient and focus on the big picture.

Keep library fines to under $30 annually

This one has nothing to do with me stuttering and everything to do with me needing to stay on top of the little things around the house. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere, I think.

Reduce ten items per month from the house

I had read somewhere regarding living more simply that the items in your house weight you down to some extent. You have to see them every day, think about them, take care of them, and move them when you move. Although I’ve moved a few times and have trimmed down items each time, it always seems to creep back up. As I look around my bedroom, I can already see a few things that I just have … to have. This should help me clear my mind and thus reduce my overall stress. Surely that’ll also help with my stuttering, right?

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.

 

Fourth Quarter

I’m trying not to be so lazy with regards to this blog. International Stuttering Awareness Day is going to help with that!

I think in the past I’ve mentioned wanting to do something more this month with regards to stuttering. And every time I have not. So instead this month I’m going to just reflect on how my stuttering has been for the past few months.

It’s been good.

I would say that I’ve been more fluent in the past few months than I have been in many years. I think this may be in part due to the new job finally not being new anymore. The city I grew up in and moving back to being the city I … now just live in. The school year going steadily for the kids.

And frankly during the fourth quarter of the year with work, I haven’t had much time to think about stuttering on a daily basis. There’s a crush of work to be done (spend money!) and it’s to the point where I just make phone calls or schedule meetings or speak up at meetings because if I don’t, things won’t keep moving.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m still stuttering. The good news is that it’s not avoidance though. (Remember, if you avoided a word and ended up being fluent … it’s still stuttering. Your audience may not know it, but you do.) Occasionally I will stutter (mostly getting stuck on a word) and it’ll be kind of jarring to me. Like, oh yeah, I still do this from time to time. But the frequency is so low, and the trauma so light that I don’t even keep track of them anymore.

If you asked me right now what the last thing I stuttered on was, I couldn’t tell you. I think that’s a good place to be.

I know if you’re just finding this blog and reading this, it may not help much. But what I would say is that — I’m forty. This was a journey that I didn’t even start on until I was nearly 30. And even then it took over 7 years to feel this way. It won’t happen overnight. I certainly wish I had started on the journey a lot sooner, of course. But I am where I am, and I’m happy where I am. I know looking back with regret won’t achieve anything, so I don’t.

If you’re just finding this blog, I would encourage you to go through the archives. See what those years were like. Before and after I started down the road of acceptance. It was long, it was painful, but it was ultimately what I needed to do. And that journey has helped me in many other areas of life as well. I’m far more patient than I ever was. I listen more. I want to understand what’s going on underneath. None of that could have been possible without a stutter.

Brain Surgery

I had brain surgery back in late May. No, it’s not why I haven’t posted since April. That’s because I’m lazy.

I had what’s called a hemifacial spasm. Basically there’s a nerve in your brain that controls one half of your face. It was rubbing up against a blood vessel. Whenever it happened, my face would twitch. Sometimes it was my eye, sometimes my mouth, sometimes both, just … annoying.

I had this condition for years. Probably about 5. Before they would just treat it with Botox injections. This required going to see my neurologist four times a year. And having needles stuck into my face. Including my eyelid. That was the worst. But the Botox was over in a matter of minutes, and I was somewhat good to go for another three months.

Eventually my doctor pointed out that well, I have to do this for the rest of my life. And that as I got older, one side of my face would start to look different than the other.

In case you’re curious, this is probably not a stuttering story. It’s just a story about me and what I went through this year.

I guess as far as stuttering is concerned, I never felt afraid to ask my neurosurgeon any questions. Although with something like this, I did read up heavily on it beforehand, so I knew what he’d say.

I had the surgery at Johns Hopkins. I live on the East Coast, and my surgeon has done hundreds of these before.

Of course I did make a joke about fixing my stuttering. Well, when I woke up, it wasn’t “fixed,” so, ha, ha. I still stutter.

My family came to support me during the surgery which was great. I also had several friends come by. I will say that the old me would have relied more on me telling my family (quietly) if I had a problem with the care. I’m at the point now where I’m comfortable speaking directly to the nurses, doctors or whoever comes into the room checking up on me. And there were questions every day — what should I do or not do, can I go for a walk, where’d that doctor go, who are you, can you turn off that computer screen so I can sleep, and so on.

Another thing that helped me reduce stress during this whole ordeal was going through FMLA with work. I completely disconnected for over a month. No calls, no e-mails, no texts. And I had to keep telling myself, look, they’re fine, just focus on taking it easy and getting better. Completely better. Having those feelings wash over me indirectly helped my speech, I’m sure.

This is what I did

I had a really nice win a few weeks ago with regards to my stuttering. Something that I would do now — advertise — that I would not have done 10 years ago.

We had an all-day meeting at one of my plants. A training. They brought in someone from corporate to go over the principles listed in a book as well as a workbook and some in-group exercises. There were about 25 people in the room. I knew the majority of them. But still, I didn’t know the corporate person, and there were a few strangers.

At the beginning of the first day, he asked that we go from table to table. Say our name, how long we’d been at the company, and then something interesting about us.

So I eventually went. I introduced myself, that I’d been with the company for a year.

I had been thinking what I would share. I have a few interesting things. But I wanted to not only say something that was normally uncomfortable (the physical act of saying it) and also add in the challenge of difficult content.

So I said how I’m someone who stutters.

And that I had started a local chapter for the National Stuttering Association.

And that was that. I didn’t die. I barely stuttered. Nobody laughed or scoffed. Maybe it resonated with someone in the room. Maybe not. But I wasn’t afraid. And I gained a lot of confidence among my coworkers which translates well for the future.

Heart pounding

So despite the acceptance, there are still times — moments — that the stuttering become overwhelming. I’m getting better and better at throwing myself into situations. Into asking questions I already know the answer to. Into making spontaneous small talk.

The other night our elementary school had an event for next year’s first graders. An informational session. I went by myself to listen — even though I pretty much knew all the information.

During the course of the talk, I thought of a question. And when it came time to raise a hand for questions, my heart took off.

Like, elementary school, counting how many kids are before me so I can figure out what paragraph I have to read pounding.

I seriously thought that I had this under control. That I could calm myself down. That I was calm! This was no big deal. I had this. Maybe not? Mentally I was fine. I was forming the question in my mind, and I knew how I wanted to ask. Physically I was a mess. My breathing was tripping over itself, and my heart was racing.

This response is really, really burned in. Maybe it was being back in school? Maybe because we were in an auditorium and I knew I’d have to speak up? Maybe because these were the parents of my kids’ friends and they might say something?

My question … it sort of got asked by someone else, so I put my hand down. I could have kept it up, but I didn’t want to go through with it. It was too much in the moment. So I let my stutter win. An unexpected, come-from-nowhere win, mind you.

Wintertime Stuttering

So the idea is that during the holidays, there are more stressful situations — family visiting, friends coming by — that would make things more difficult, speech-wise.

I think for me this is somewhat true — there is certainly more time spent at home during the holidays with family. But on the other hand, I’m more relaxed being at home and away from the stresses of work. Where I am, there’s usually a big crush at the end of the year to get money spent and projects done. This year was no different, but many things were set in motion many weeks before. They got done when they needed to.

My boss even sent out an e-mail the weekend before the holidays saying he’d be checking out. So that was another burden lessened. I was quite happy to be home for more than ten days without any work to worry about. Just kids, the time to fill, and wherever we could go.

So I would ask all of you — when you’re facing the stresses of upcoming work, what are you doing to counteract it? And not just in terms of speech — bigger picture — just what are you doing to reduce the load on your mental health? I know for me just being around my children helps. Talking to them, being in their world, having silly conversations — completely removes me from corporate America.

Getting comfortable

I spoke a long time ago about how it takes a few months when I get into a new job or situation to feel more comfortable speaking in front of everybody. Well, its been about 8 months now that I’ve started a new job, and I can certainly say I’m comfortable.

It’s easy for me to present, on a biweekly or more basis, all of my engineering projects to the plant leadership team. And that’s at three different plants. I don’t have any issues making points or asking questions on conference calls. And calling vendors and contractors is easy as well.

I’ve been able to make time to gather more background information and prepare material for meetings. That’s all helped enormously with my confidence while presenting.

I don’t feel as much stuttering pressure, either. I can still feel when I’ll block, of course. But I’ll either stutter through it, or stop and take a breath.

So for me — and your results may vary — time has helped. With comfort, with words, with confidence. I’m not planning on going anywhere job-wise — I’m back in PA where I wanted to end up after Saudi — so for now I’ll just keep pushing on seeing who I can be without worrying about my stutter.

Summertime Stuttering

Well, what a summer it’s been. We’ve moved from Indiana to Pennsylvania, moved into a house we bought, and got the kids sorted out with summer fun. This includes season passes to Hersheypark which is pretty awesome. I could sing its praises all day long.

I’ve also started up the National Stuttering Association’s Lancaster-York-Harrisburg chapter. We have been meeting at Speechcare, a local SLP office. Our host actually ran the group many years ago, so she was happy to help get it going again. I felt very comfortable starting and helping to run the meetings after going to a years’ worth of meetings in Indianapolis. The biggest lesson to learn was that it’ll start slow, and that’s ok. If you spend a year with just a half dozen people, that’s completely normal. So I’m pleased to say we’ve got at least four of us who stutter as well as our host.

As part of the big move back to Lancaster — where I grew up — I’ve had to call a lot of companies for medical, dental, addresses, etc., It’s been quite a grind. I didn’t have the luxury of a lot of houses to choose from, so of course we ended up on a street that I have trouble saying. And we live in Lititz, not Lancaster … not that Lancaster is any easier to say anyway. But I’m getting through them. Trying to ignore them once I hang up and it’s gone rough. Focusing on the wins and moving forward with getting things done and set up.

I’ve been at the new job for six months, and I’ve become very, very comfortable speaking with everybody here. We just got a new plant manager, and during our one-on-one, I did advertise up front that I’m someone who stutters. I made a point to tell him that I’m not someone who gets nervous, so don’t think it’s that.

The start of school is next. Everything will begin near the end of August. I have a goal to get more involved with the schools here — the same ones I went to as a kid. So I’m very excited about that. I also need to inquire about any coaching opportunities since that’s something I did in Indiana.

More to follow.

Speaking on flights

Sorry for the insanely long delay in posting. I’ve been busy with a new job! Lots to say about that. But for now, we’re moving from Indy to Pennsylvania. I’m in Indy this week getting things cleared up for the move.

I flew one way to Indy on Friday. When I sat down on my Southwest flight, I noticed the gentleman sitting next to me, an older fellow, had a shirt on that said something like, “thermo systems.” I was genuinely curious. We have some needs at our plants. I wanted to ask him what they did.

Of course I didn’t have to.

Of course I could have searched up the company’s name myself.

Of course I had a high chance of stuttering on this “cold call.”

I asked.

And then we made small talk about the company and whatever else — it’s just him and another person. And they do autoclaves for the Pharma industry, nothing I could use, unfortunately. But still. It was a win. I wanted to speak, and I spoke up. I gathered information I wanted to know, and I was able to carry on a simple conversation with little to no stress.

Advertising at the new job

I started a new job this week. it’s been a very long time coming. When I moved back from Saudi, I was hoping to get on the East Coast. It didn’t work out that way, and that was fine. I landed at one of my company’s office in the Midwest — where I had worked before. But I would apply for jobs back home as I saw them online. It would go in spurts. Some weeks I’d apply to a dozen, some months it was barely one or two. I did manage to get a few phone screens — HR people — and then to the next level and the hiring manager. For the longest time I didn’t advertise my stutter. I had this idea in my mind that they’d view it negatively, and this particular job (of the week) was my best shot, so let’s not add any more elements to it.

I would stutter somewhat during calls, but nothing too bad. I’ve done so many interviews and have told the same bits of experience, that it just comes off easily now. I’d maybe stutter on having to think about something out of the blue or a small line in my resume that I’d forgotten about. But still. No advertising.

I don’t know if I didn’t get jobs based solely on my experience or on their needs at the time. I don’t know if the stuttering that I did do had a negative impact. I was trying to convince myself it wasn’t.

In the fall I got an e-mail from an HR person asking about a call. I’d applied to the job a month earlier.

A close friend of mine had been encouraging me to advertise, and I thought, well, ok. Let’s do it. The decision was easier than the execution. I’ve had previous calls where I was like, ok, I’m going to advertise, this will be fine. But then the conversation got going, and the opportunity never presented itself. This time would be different. No matter what the opening question or two would be, I’d get it in there.

So I did.

I didn’t die. The interviewer simply acknowledged it and moved on to the questions. Excellent.

I made it to the next round to speak with the hiring manager (my current boss). I advertised again, and he thanked me for it. Whoa.

After a few weeks I had a chance to interview at the plant. I advertised to three people at the same time. No big deal. I had another in-person at the corporate offices. Advertised again. Still going well!

After a few weeks, I got the call that I got the job.

The other day I went to a meeting that I didn’t have to. I just wanted to try to meet more plant folks since I’d be supporting them. There were eight of them in the room, and they were talking about some activities for the upcoming weekend. Near the end of the meeting, the leader went around the room to find out if anybody had any issues. When he got to me, he said, he’s new. I took the chance to introduce myself. And tell eight people that I’m a person who stutters.

The more I did it over the past few weeks, the easier it got. And the better I felt. The weight was off. I could just speak freely, fluent, stuttering, whatever was in between.

I still have to introduce myself to two more plants in the area and countless other people. But I’ll be telling them all that I stutter.

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.

Ordering through the App

If you’re like me, around 38, you remember back in the day you had to go into the gas station to pay. You had to tell them the pump number. One number. And you couldn’t substitute it with anything. Well, maybe you could point. Or maybe you were the only car there. Or maybe you were having a rough year with saying vowel sounds and pump eight was the only one open, and well, looks like we’re stuttering.

And then, slowly, all the pumps changed. They all got the credit card readers. Debit cards took the place of cash. No need to speak to anybody anymore. Come and go as you please.  With the occasional bonus of going inside for some touch-screen sandwich ordering magic.

So that brings me to my love of Starbucks. I like the coffee, the ambiance, the memories I’ve made there with people there. The reliability of it. But of course for those of us who stutter, it’s always a struggle.

(Well, sometimes. I’ve been in Starbucks that are super-busy where they don’t ask me my name. And I’ve been in ones where I’m the only one and they ask me my name.)

I know for a while they’ve had an app. But I’ve been lazy about downloading and using it. I’ve been doing well ordering lately since I switched (for calorie reasons, I swear) from mochas to Americanos. But on the app, I can order ahead. Make the drink exactly how I want it, pay for it, and not talk to anybody. I did this the other day before a meeting. It was glorious.

So is that it for me then? No more counter ordering? No more drive through?

I actually don’t know. And I’d love to hear from you on this. What do you do? Are you afraid that you’re running out of places to practice? Do you even care about practicing at Starbucks? Do you not want any place, gas station, cafe or otherwise dictating what you do with your speech?

I think if there was a financial incentive (save a few cents) for ordering online, I’d be more inclined to do it. I also don’t think I’d be up for doing it when I’m going there with someone else and know that I’ll be sitting there for a while.

Stuttering Awareness Day

Today, October 22nd, is Stuttering Awareness Day. I’ll admit … I’ve not done anything for it. Other than update this blog, I suppose. My speech as of late has been off an on. I’ve been experimenting slightly with my diet. I have found that the cleaner I eat, the marginally better my speech is. I need to string together a few more weeks of that.

I did have a chance to speak with a speech therapist the other day. She’s the mother of two boys who are good friends with our youngest son. We were all at the park together. I struck up the conversation, saying that I heard that she’s a speech therapist. And then said something I rarely say, “Well, I’m someone who stutters…”

It’s funny because part of me probably doesn’t advertise because I stutter on … the word stutter. And usually before that my speech is good when I’m just making some small talk. And in some ways I feel like stuttering on stutter would kill the conversation. I’ve never thought of what happens after that, really. Do we all stare awkwardly at each other?

What’s interesting about being someone who stutters — and I bet we all do this — is that I can recall every conversation I’ve had with a “stranger” for the past few days. Not family and friends, but random exchanges. I can spend a lot of time overanalyzing them, too. Like at my oldest son’s baseball game yesterday, speaking with one of the parents. Like at the camera shop asking about a piece of equipment. The simple stuff in the elevator.

I’m sure that every year I say I’ll get better at advertising. Or talking about stuttering with strangers. I think these days I’m better about engaging with strangers, yes. Educating about stuttering? Probably not. On the bright side, with every conversation comes that chance, so hopefully in the next 12 months I’ll have more of those stories.

Something small

I think too often for those of us who stutter we focus on the losses. Moments that we stumbled, interactions that went south in a hurry because we couldn’t say anything. And they last a few seconds, and we think about all day. And over time they add up.

Part of moving toward a different attitude — that of acceptance — at least for me, is focusing on the small wins instead of the small losses. I want the small wins to add up. I want to ignore the small losses.

The other day the kids and I were walking out of a store toward the car. I noticed an SUV backing out of the spot next to mine, and the tailgate was slightly open.

Decisions, decisions. You could drive off in that. You could stop and do it yourself.

I walked up to the side of the SUV and motioned to the driver. He rolled the window down, and I said his tailgate was open. I didn’t stutter. I walked quickly to the back and closed it.

That was it.

The old me would have said, nope, no, no way, stuttering. No need to interact. It’s not life or death. Don’t even bother.

The new me is trying to ignore all that crap. What would I be doing — how would I be acting — if I never listened to that stuttering negativity? I’d be making more small talk. I’d be more engaging. More helpful. Less fearful.

Sleeping in my seat

A few months ago I was on a plane and having to speak in order to make things more tolerable. The other day I was on a flight and had to speak just to get my phone back.

I was on a small plane, two seats on each side. After we reached cruising altitude, it was time for a bathroom break. When I got back, someone was sleeping across both of my seats. I looked at the guy in the row behind me who just put up his hands. It was pretty odd, and pretty funny. Fortunately the plane wasn’t full, so I went to the back and found two empty seats and sat down.

But my phone was still in the seatback pocket of my original seat. On the window side. Meaning I’d have to reach over a sleeping stranger to get it. That would be the course of action for Old Stuttering Me. New Stuttering Me decided to flag down the flight attendant. She knew about the seat change. Ah, but could you please try to get my phone for me?

I suppose I could have left it go until the end of the flight. But then I thought, what if I get up there and it’s gone? I don’t really even know what the sleeping person looks like. And besides, it was a good chance to speak and, if need be, stutter through it. I did fine, bumbling through some words (planes are kind of loud, actually) but ultimately conveying my needs.

Nice camera you got there …

So today is a special blog post – number 300! As most of you know, this blog started out strongly, started to wane, completely waned, came back somewhat strongly and is now on some sort of steady schedule that I change every month.

But 300! I’m guessing I’m well past 120,000 words on stuttering by now. I am, of course, still stuttering. I’m trying to get more brave, trying to experiment here and there, and trying to speak up when I can. I’m also not being bothered by my stuttering as much, even if it’s in front of a dozen+ people in our office.

Today’s post is about a spontaneous chat I had with someone the other day on the soccer field. I coach my son’s team, and as we were walking to the field, I noticed someone with a huge Canon lens. They’re easy to spot since they’re white — and since I’ve got one as well. He wasn’t using it, just had it down and was chatting with someone. After our game was done, and we were walking out, I spotted the camera man again. He was talking to someone now, holding his camera by his side.

I seriously didn’t think about my stuttering the entire time. I was genuinely curious why on earth he had this lens — who did he shoot for? It’s a pro-grade lens, so he couldn’t be a hobbyist like me, right?

I walked up to the pair and said excuse me, and asked if it was a 400. Yes, sure was. Then some small talk about the camera, I also have the same setup, who do you shoot for, oh, just for myself, some other small things, and then that was that.

On the outside, it would almost seem like a pointless conversation. What was I hoping to learn? Did I learn anything of value?

That didn’t matter to me at all. I had an opportunity to talk to a complete stranger about my hobby, something I know quite a bit about. And I got to practice my speech for free.

So as far as I’m concerned, no conversation is ever pointless if you stutter.

Thanks for the call

I had to send out some documents to several different companies a few days ago. I sent them all two e-mails — one with a smaller PDF, and then one that had a link for an FTP of a larger file. I knew the e-mail addresses that I had were good, and I could have followed up the next day with yet another e-mail asking if they got everything.

Well, no. I decided to suck it up and call them all. I waited about two hours and started to make the rounds. This is something I never really had to do, and I never really saw the point of. I mean, e-mail, right? Always seems to work.

I called up the first one, introduced myself, stuttered a bit, and then said I had sent some documents across about two hours ago, and well, did you get them? Yes, we have, and we’re looking at them. Then I just … started talking. Telling them more about what was going on, the project at hand, and reiterated some points. Again, points they could have read in the documents.

But none of them seemed to mind.

They all listened, asked a few quick things, agreed with others, made comments.

Then I remember at least two of them said at the end of the call, “thanks for calling.”

Wow.

Ok. So let’s recap — I didn’t die because of my initial stutter. I confirmed that they received the e-mails. I got to sort of introduce myself as the point of contact. And, they were even grateful for me reaching out.

So there we go. Positive experience despite the stuttering. I’ll definitely be doing that again if it comes up.

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