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.

 

 

 

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.

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.

Chatting and riding

This morning I rode my bike into work. It takes about an hour depending on how I’m feeling. I follow a paved trail here in town until just a few blocks from the office. At various points along the trail I can always count on there being more people — joggers, walkers and other cyclists. Since I don’t bike commute every day, I’m not familiar with specific people who may. And on the days that I do, I often leave at different times depending on my own mood and when the sun is set to rise.

I’ve never met up with anybody for any kind of chat on the trail. Other cyclists are either too slow for me or too fast. And I may only see a half dozen commuting any morning.

This morning was different. I got passed early on in my ride by a cyclist who was moving only slightly faster than me. I usually take it easier in the mornings than in the evenings — need to save something in the morning for the ride home! Anyway, I thought ok, let him go, whatever.

For the next half hour or so, I saw that he hadn’t created a huge gap. And after a few road crossings — where you often have to wait for traffic — I caught back up to him.

He made a comment about the traffic. I returned a comment about the traffic.

He asked me how far I was going. I did the same. And coming from.

Small bursts, keep on pedaling. It’s nice, though. Conversation makes the time go by faster. The nice thing about chatting on the bike is that the stress of stuttering is cancelled out by the enjoyment of the ride.

I got stuck when I was telling him about my coaching for my son’s soccer. He tried to finish a word for me. I took no offense. He was an older gentlemen. We talked a little about this and that, and soon it was time to head our separate ways.

I was genuinely anxious when I first realized I could start having a conversation with him on the bike. And it’s complicated — I’d have to speed up a lot to avoid the conversation. And stay away. And then when I did start chatting, I had to resist the temptation to speed up and end things.

But overall it was nice — nice to chat and make the ride go by a little faster. Nice to engage with a stranger. Nice to stutter out loud and not let it bother me too much. Nice to be on the bike where I’m forced to breathe before opening my mouth.

Friendly chit-chat

As I mentioned the other day, I was flying back east. I remembered that I had another speech win traveling.

I was on a smaller plane, two seats on each side. I sit down, and after a while a rather large guy sits down next to me. (We were flying to Indy, and it was a Sunday night). So I asked him if he was going to Indy. Then what kind of work he does there. Short essays. He told me what he was going to be doing … training for his company that has their offices there. Ah, ok. Never been outside of downtown, etc., I told him about my short experience there, our office is downtown.

I was doing well, the pace was good, and I was breathing.

Our chat reached a stopping point, and then they announced that the doors are now closed.

The flight attendant came by and told him that there are two empty seats all the way in the back. So we exchanged polite goodbyes and good lucks, and that was it.

I’m trying to practice more and more in “spontaneous social situations.” I try to keep things comfortable for me, maybe bring up a few canned phrases and stories. Venture out here and there. Short and sweet.

Flashing Lights

I was on a flight a few weeks ago late at night. Two seats on each side, but I didn’t have a partner. I happened to be sitting just behind the wing. It was a short flight, just over an hour from Indy to the east coast.

I was trying to close my eyes and sleep. Even for just a half hour. I wanted some rest.

No luck. Flashing lights.

The strobe from the wingtip was going off. Not only could I see it through the window across the aisle, but it was reflecting off of my window. The person by the window was somehow passed out, though. I thought that maybe I could get up and close it. But then it would get super awkward if I woke them up. Like, what the hell are you doing in my personal space on this airplane?!

Drinks were coming by. I got a Diet Coke. I had to do something. Old me would have said, look, it’s only what, a half hour more? 45 minutes? Close your eyes tighter. Look down. Look away. Lean your seat back. Get a shirt from your carry-on and wrap it around your head if that’s what you need. Check if there are empty seats in the back.

No.

“Excuse me, could you close that shade?”

“Oh, the light from outside?”

“Yes, thanks.”

They finished with the drinks, but didn’t close the shade. Should I get up? Risk that awkward situation? Should I be a full-on weirdo and open my carry-on and–

One of the flight attendants came by, leaned over to the window, didn’t wake up the person there and quickly closed it. Done.

I closed my eyes and was able to relax.

I’m a medium?

I went over to Duluth Trading Company over the weekend since I had seen a bunch of their ads … and wanted to see what it’s really all about. They have nice stuff! It wasn’t too busy, and they had a lot of staff walking around and helping. The first person who asked me if I needed help I turned away. Just looking, thanks.

I then started trying on some dress shirts. They looked big. I tried on a medium first. I should note that for a long time I’ve been a traditional XL. Pretty much ever since I can remember. I’ve recently tried to move down to a large since I don’t want to be swimming in my shirts. Anyway, the medium fit well although the sleeves were a little short. Someone came up to ask if I needed help.

“Do these shirts here have the same fit as those ones?” I asked, pointing to the ones hanging on the wall.

I’m trying to get better at just talking. Even when I don’t have to. I mean, he’s asking if I need help, and he doesn’t have anything else to do that’s more important than help customers. So it’s a nice situation even though I already knew the answer. He tells me yes, they do, and that the shirts were designed for those in the trades, so the sizes are bigger than you’d normally see.

I could have just said thanks at this point and that would be that.

But I need the practice.

“It definitely made me feel good being able to fit in a medium,” I said, smiling. He agreed, saying that he had a similar experience when he first started working here. I thanked him, and that was that.

I think to any onlooker it would seem like a simple exchange. But as those of us who stutter know, it’s a lot more than that. It’s saying what I want to say, being who I want to be.

Ah, life

Life. You came up again and took me away from my precious blog. Does that mean I’m not prioritizing it as I should? Probably … I was supposed to be doing a day-by-day, match-by-match analysis of the tournament that I conjured up.

I still will.

Let me do my taxes first!

And here’s some stuttering news at least. I started coaching my daughter’s kindergarten soccer team. This is a lot less involved than the basketball that I did before. It’s mainly organizing everything and then making sure things stay civil on the field. However, I did slip in a little stuttering during the first few days.

I told all the parents, via e-mail, that I stuttered.

I didn’t ask for anything in that e-mail, so it wasn’t a big deal that nobody responded. But then a few days later when I met them all in person, nobody said anything. So I could take this as, “nobody cares,” or “nobody was bothered.” I didn’t die. Life went on. I ran around trying to figure out who’s who, which kid is which, and where they should all be. It was slightly stressful with regards to the stuttering, but it was also fun running around on the field with the kids.

All in all, it was a positive experience. And now it’s out there for the parents if I stumble while trying to speak to them.

Final Basketball Thoughts

Basketball season is over, and I have a few stuttering-related thoughts on it … and what I’m thinking for the next coaching experience … I previously wrote about coaching fourth grade boys basketball here and here.

  1. At the end of the season, my co-coach printed up awards for each of the kids, made a little speech at the post-season party (at a parent’s house) and handed them out. I didn’t know he was going to do this, and didn’t offer up any words while he was doing this. The kids and parents were happy to get the team awards, so if I’m a coach for another sport, I think it’s something I’d want to do. I think if I wrote a little script and practiced it a few times, I could pull it off without any issues. I might get stuck on the names, but instead of focusing on that, I’ll focus on my breathing, standing up straight, making eye contact, and projecting to the back of the room.
  2. After each game, my co-coach would gather the players around and talk about the one thing we did well, and one thing we could improve on. I need to have a think about this. I saw some of the other coaches doing this as well. I think I’d have to really think about the message and make sure it’s clear when I’m conveying it.
  3. Over communication is definitely key. Sending out e-mails to the parents, being clear on what the schedule would be and what they needed to do certainly made life easier. We had a few times when people didn’t show up on time, but overall it wasn’t too bad. Re-iterating what was said in an e-mail after practice also helped.
  4. Volunteering to coach was a simple and small thing — and it made a huge, huge difference in terms of my confidence. To go back to the stuttering angle — I spoke and didn’t die. I also learned all the simple things that I wrote about above — how to organize, how to direct, and how to keep kids engaged.

I wrote before that if my daughter wants to sing up for softball, I’d coach. Well, that didn’t happen. She wants to do soccer instead. And my other son wants to do soccer as well. I’ll try to do both since they need volunteers.

Before, when I didn’t accept my stuttering (as much) I would have run from these things. I’m not saying I’m running toward them now, but I’m walking. I’m still choosing to engage on my own terms.

I think it’s important to write about these things because many people may not know what they’re getting into, and they shy away from it because they think their stuttering will just take over. It won’t. And even if you ask someone (who doesn’t stutter) what they got out of it, their experience will be totally different than yours.

Moving on quickly

I had to make a phone call first thing Monday morning at work. I thought about what I wanted to say, what point I wanted to get across. The good news was that I was calling someone at our own company. I’m pretty sure my name showed up on her phone. But still. Basically a cold call.

I was a stuttering mess. She didn’t say anything about the stuttering at all. I slowly made my way through the information. I tried not to get frustrated since I was doing so badly. But the good thing was that she remained professional about everything.

I needed a minute after to just take a deep breath. I consciously decided not to let it affect the rest of my day. I knew it was just a bad moment — cold call, phone, etc.,

Then someone came by my cubicle.

I had to ask him something about the same project. This is someone who I talk to frequently and have a friendly rapport with. I was still feeling the hangover from stuttering and having a hard time with my words. But I kept talking, and he kept listening. I slowed down a little to catch my breath. And thought about breathing. I took a breath and then let the words run out. And I did it again. And again. And the stuttering started to melt away, and I got back to what I’m used to with closer associates.

By the time we were done, I once again had gotten my point across. And I had completely forgotten about the phone call from earlier.

Forgetting the pressure

My wife and I had an appointment earlier last week with an immigration officer. It was an official interview, something that would decide status. We knew about this for several weeks, so I had time to gather all the necessary documents.

I didn’t know exactly what to expect other than maybe having to tell the story of what we had been doing overseas and how the status had changed.

I consciously decided not to worry about my speech. In the past, I would have gone through every thing that could have been said, everything that I could have said, thought about all the words, all the combinations, all the avoidances …This time, no. Just deal with it when it came.

I was a stuttering mess. It was on camera and all that. It was official and in a small office.  But of course it was on the usual stuff — name, DOB, kids and their DOBs. Stuttered through it all. The immigration guy didn’t say anything, simply smiled and continued on. I got through my part, and she got through hers, and things were approved.

I’m glad I didn’t waste energy worrying. Sure, I stuttered a lot, but I didn’t die. I got the information across.

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