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.

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