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.

Talking to talk

This morning I went for my quarterly botox appointment. This is always less than fun. I mean, it’s a bunch of needle sticks to the face. A very tiny, skinny needle. But still. It doesn’t hurt necessarily, but it’s just uncomfortable.

Anyway, the point is that I usually have problems talking to strangers … just to talk. And no, my doctor isn’t necessarily a “stranger” because I’ve seen her a few times now, but still. Not very often. Normally when I go to the doctor I don’t talk that much. Or when I go for any procedure (donating blood) there’s not too much chitchat. But my botox doc is very open and nice, so it’s easy to talk to her about what’s going on with my face and a few other things in life.

So she started sticking me with needles while chatting, asking me about the kids. I kept on talking as much as possible. Nothing hard to say, but there was some stuttering. But the talking definitely kept my mind off the needle getting stuck in my face. And she didn’t mess around, one part of my face to the next, quickly and efficiently. Also helpful.

There are people who talk when they’re nervous or want to kill time or just … talk to talk. I’m not like that, and I’d say very few people who stutter are. But sometimes it helps. Stuttering isn’t always as painful as having an actual medical procedure!

Stuttering at Starbucks

So this happened a few days ago:

A Starbucks barista has been suspended for allegedly ‘humiliating’ a man with a stammer by penning his name as ‘RRR… ichard’ on his takeout cup. Richard Procter says his speech impediment was openly mocked by the worker, who wrote the cruel jibe round the lip of the container – even adding an ellipsis to show how the company owner struggles to say his name.

 

Ah, Starbucks. My delicious nemesis. I was thinking how I’d react if this happened to me. I think I’d also be plenty pissed. It’s enough that I get that smile or laugh (at Starbucks and others) whenever I’m trying to stutter out my name. It honestly hasn’t been too bad the past few times — either they haven’t asked me for my name or I’ve been able to push it out with brute force. Or I just spell it out for them from the get-go.

I don’t think I’d want any sort of compensation — drinks or otherwise — from this, though. I’d just want to know that they’re going to change their training program to address it. And want to see it documented and follow up.

I see that fluent folks are giving false names because they’re tired and/or annoyed by the name policy. What a luxury! I suppose I could always do that, too. But that really feels like surrounding to my stutter. I might as well just face it. I mean, if I’m going to treat myself like that, I might as well work for it.

Curious about Stuttering

Am I curious because I was just born that way, or did stuttering have something to do with it?

A close friend recently pointed out to me that I am very curious and take great interest in things I don’t know much about as they are explained or shown to me. And that it’s a genuine interest. Yes, it certainly is.

I think back to when I was young, getting absorbed in books for hours and hours. And not just fiction (we’d be given 1″ thick books with all the year’s stories in them, and I’d eat through it in a week). I’d go to the library and check out books on airplanes (Time Life Series!) and read them again and again.

Given the stuttering, I think it’s to be expected, really. It’s a choice — read, or have to … talk with people. I’ll choose the former every time, thank you very much.

But as I grew older, the approach changed. I didn’t have to rely on reading. I learned that I could ask open-ended questions and just let people talk, occasionally prodding them with another query. And if the tables were turned, I could give short to medium answers which always seemed satisfactory. Even if the listener wanted an essay out of me, I’d avoid it all costs. So now it’s become the norm, and something I actually enjoy — conversations are maybe not 50/50, but I do enjoy prodding and poking and finding out more. And I’m getting better at asking all of my questions — not just the ones I can say fluently.

Stuttering in the Cold

It’s getting cold here in Indiana. We have this townhouse, and it’s tall and narrow. So on the ground floor it’s always a lot colder. The air gets in under the front door and a little bit on the sides. There’s a simple and cheap solution to this. One of those long stuffed tubes. It’s like a weighted sock, really. You sit it there, and it keeps the cold out. Easy.

So let’s go to Bed Bath and Beyond for this. Makes sense that they would have it. And that part way through December they’d have them out. Walking, scanning, dismissing sections. A store that’s not that busy, so employees around. I’m back with my old habit of walking a lot and talking not at all. My oldest son is with me, and after the first lap, he thinks maybe they don’t have it. After the second, he thinks we should ask someone.

Alright. Let’s. Ask.

I find an employee easily and ask him if they’ve got the tube thingy. That goes at the bottom of a door. I don’t stutter. I was worried, of course because I didn’t really know what anybody really calls this thing. He instantly knew what I was talking about. And of course — of course — they don’t have them out yet. He goes to the back and gets one for us. He says they’re not put out yet, but will be soon.

So had I not asked anybody, I never would have found it. I would have probably gone to another store (Kohls?) or just online and then waited.

But now we have it, and it’s keeping the temperature in check.

Stuttering Small Business

(The nice thing about close friends is that they remind you that you haven’t posted in a month … so no, I didn’t actually push publish on this post as I thought I had!)

I hope everybody had a lovely holiday. Filled with family time and stuttering. I did! But it wasn’t all that bad. I spent the holidays in Pennsylvania with family and friends. There’s a really nice bike shop there, and despite the cold weather, I brought my bike along for at least a ride or two. (I did two — and they were under an hour each. At least I got out!)

I learned that I’m not the biggest fan of cold weather riding. Temperatures below 50 confound me. You put too much on or not enough. Your top is too warm, and your legs are cold. You go faster which makes more wind and more cold. You go slow, and well, going slow sucks, too.

Back to the bike shop. Small business. Small business Saturday! (but this isn’t directly about that.) I knew that I wanted to ride, but I also knew I didn’t have a long-sleeved jersey or tights to wear. So off to this shop where I had bought kit before. I got the best, most patient help before, and I wanted it again.

I wasn’t disappointed.

The thing about stuttering is that while there’s a “base” of stuttering — just carrying on with our daily lives — there’s often outside influence that … doesn’t exactly help. Pushy sales people. Being unsure of yourself. Feeling rushed.

All this melted away in this store. I could remember to breathe. I could ask questions, and there was just minutes and minutes of patience. Answering questions, pulling things off the shelf and hangers. She wasn’t in a hurry to do something else, and I wanted to take my time and buy the right thing. I thought of questions — and then just asked them. When I was about to make a final decision on something, I said, “is this the only brand for that?” And it turned out no, there was something else, and I tried that on as well, ultimately buying it.

I know every shopping experience won’t be like this. In person or on the phone. But I did want to stop, breathe, and give thanks for this one exchange that made me think less about stuttering and more about getting exactly what I wanted — by communicating.

Stuttering and Politics

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

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

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

But they’re obviously not.

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

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

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

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

Walking and talking

The other day was my daughter’s birthday. In order to continue brainwashing her regarding her love for bicycles, I thought I ought to get her a little basket for her bike. That way she can tote around … stuff.

Anyway, there’s a larger bike store here in town, and when I searched them up online to find out their hours, I found out they had a store right in the city. Within walking distance of my office. (The main store is a longer drive away and near where we live. Well, sort of.)

On their site, they show products and what store they are available in. The cute little basket showed availability in both the farther away and city store. I had a sneaking suspicion though that I’d be disappointed — they probably didn’t have it downtown. So, I could have called them and asked them. But here’s the thing — I needed the exercise. The store is a little over a mile walk away.

Is this avoiding? I don’t think so. I was going to walk there even if they didn’t have it just to see what it was all about. And it was such a nice day anyway.

Am I adding this to my pile of uncalled people, restaurants and other businesses? No. Not at all. I’ll write about that more tomorrow — sucking it up and making a call without completely freaking out about it.

So in the end I did walk downtown to the bike shop for my daughter’s basket. And … they didn’t have it.

Online Stuttering Conference

International Stuttering Awareness Day Online Conference, 2016 has kicked off. Usually what I do for this is say that I’m going to read and comment and articles and then … don’t. This year will be different! And to get things started, I’ll start at the top of the articles list:

The first article is
Detained But Not Held Back (Kylah Simmons)

I worked overseas for more than five years, and I can honestly say that going through customs and immigration was stressful every single time. I wasn’t doing anything dishonest or shady, but I always thought, well, if I start stuttering, they’re going to suspect something is up, and it’s going to be a very long airport stay. And unfortunately, this is what happened to Kylah.

I have been notoriously bad at advertising, so I have never told an immigration official up front. But I’d like to think if things started going downhill, I’d come forth quite quickly.

What adds to the stress is that line. It’s like when you’re in sixth grade and they’re going around the room, each kid has a spelling word from the list. So they have to say it, spell it out, and then use it in a sentence. And you count the kids, and you count the words, and you’re like … yeah, I’m going to stutter on that.

So you’re standing there in the long immigration line, and there’s a few officers up there. And you look them all over, trying to figure out who looks the nicest. And then start hoping you get “that one.” And then realizing how ridiculous that is. And then focus on other things like, ok, let me start trying to calm myself down. Let me breathe. Let me get my story straight (it’s short and easy). And then trying to remember what they asked last time but then forgetting and then having the stress take another spike.

I try to get back to calm when I approach the officer thought. A strong “hi,” or “hello.” Eye contact. Relaxing my shoulders. Patience. Having my passport ready to hand out quickly. Breathing. Trying to appreciate the space behind me — there’s nobody breathing down my neck waiting to go next. Answering the question to the point. Taking a breath and answering the question. No looking around or fidgeting.

I had an officer in London ask me how long I’d be in the country. I said 6 hours. He asked why. I said I had an 8-hour layover and that his city is beautiful, so I wanted to go see it. He laughed and said, “yeah, I’d do the same thing.”

Stuttering on the cargo bike

I wrote a long while ago about how I faced my stuttering with regards to bike riding. And connecting with people even though it scared me to do so.

It’s happened again.

So I’ve got this bike, a Larry Vs. Harry Bullitt. It’s a cargo bike. It’s plenty of fun here in Indianapolis — taking the kids around, running an errand or two. And just riding it around with my oldest kid. The other day he and I were out, and we saw someone else with a cargo bike. This guy was about 50 feet away at a restaurant next to the trail. He yelled and pointed to his cargo bike. We continued down the trail and …

…turned up a road. And ultimately turned all the way around, heading into the parking lot of the restaurant where he was. As I pulled up to where he had parked his bike, I asked myself, wait, what on earth am I doing? What am I going to say? I’m going to have to make small talk or something with a total stranger. I don’t have to do this!

Too late! He walked up and said hello, introducing himself. I stumbled slightly on my first name. We made small talk! Then talked about our bikes and what we did. I was as calm as I could be, trying to breathe. Why rush? Why stress? It was a nice night out. I was out with my son. We were on a bike ride. No need to overthink it.

Our chat was good, and I met someone new in the community. He gave me his business card, and I’m sure I’ll connect with him again. More importantly, I learned again that talking to strangers won’t kill me, I won’t necessarily stutter a lot, and I can make my way through a conversation without any awkwardness.

New town, new faces. Getting there.

Moved back. And still stuttering.  

There have been a lot of big changes since I posted last. The biggest being that we moved from Saudi back to the States. I’m at the same company, but in a different office. It’s by my own choice. Work was slowing down in Saudi, and there was a nice opportunity to move to Indiana — into an office I’ve worked in before.

I also went to the NSA Conference for the third time, met up with some old friends and met some new people as well.I have been noticeably stuttering a lot more. A lot. I don’t mind it too much. It’s easy to see now how it’s due to so many changes. Not just the move, but the need to get on the phone more, talk to people about what’s going on more, and helping the kids get adjusted to life in the States. We’d been out of the country for more than five years, so it’s a big change to come back.

I’ve also started going to NSA chapter meetings here in Indy. For the first time ever. I’ve only gone to one meeting thus far, but I enjoyed the experience tremendously. It’s just nice to feel that continuation of the conference, really. A place where I can stutter openly, not have to avoid as much, and practice techniques.

I have every intention to keep this blog going as much as possible. I have a lot of stories to tell just from the past few weeks. I’ve been on the phone a ton. I’ve challenged myself a lot more. I’ve had friends challenge me. Work is good; nobody has said anything negative at all. I’m having to introduce myself a lot more as well which is rough but manageable.

Not now, Stutter

Most of the time, Stutter hangs out with me and makes me overthink everything. Every interaction, utterance, phone call, meeting, presentation, walk-by, doorbell ring, and toll booth hello.

The other night, though, I had to give him a hard shove and tell him I didn’t have time for his crap.

I had connected my cell phone to a charger in a taxi from Bahrain to Saudi, and when he dropped me off, he asked if I had everything. I was eager to get out and get going. I grabbed my two suitcases and jumped out of the taxi, feeling my wallet and car keys. I put my bags into the back of my car and patted myself down for my phone. Where’s my phone? I searched around in the back of the car. Where. Is. My. Phone. I closed my eyes and pounded my suitcases. I cursed. Loudly. A few times.

The taxi had come from Bahrain, and by now was probably on the Causeway and heading over. I resigned myself to a lost phone. No, no, no. Don’t give up. I looked up and saw a guy standing outside of a store. Saudi is a very friendly place — you can pretty much go up to anybody and start talking and not worry about them jumping down your throat or ignoring you. And every Saudi I’ve met has been insanely helpful in personal situations.

I didn’t think about my stutter. The seconds were ticking by. If the taxi got on the Causeway, sure I could get it, but it’d add hours to this nighttime adventure — it was already getting close to 10. I asked the guy if I could use his pho– oh, sorry, are you on your phone? Yes, but what? He hung up on his friend and I told him I forgot my phone in the taxi, and could I call my number? He said ok, what’s the number? I told him quickly, practically pushing the buttons myself — he was calmly putting them in.

The driver picked up, and I told him it was me. He quickly recognized what had happened. I then handed the phone back to the Saudi gentlemen and asked him to help out. They spoke in Arabic for a bit. The taxi said he was parked up right before the toll booth to the causeway, but to hurry on over, no problem.

I hailed another taxi and told him to go to the toll booth for Bahrain, but not to Bahrain. This was slightly confusing. I told him the nearby neighborhood, and he said ok. As we neared, I asked this taxi driver if he could call my phone to find out exactly where the other taxi driver was. He said he didn’t have a balance (pre-paid) on his phone, so we’d have to stop and get one. We went to the street near the toll booth, and he got the card for the pre-paid, and I called my phone again. The taxi driver, while not Saudi, spoke Arabic and sorted out quickly where the first taxi was waiting.

I happily got my phone and got back into the second taxi to go home.

 

Stuttering and boring others

I had a chance to go to a wedding the other day. And of course with a  roomful of strangers comes a night full of small talk.

I stuttered, yes (on the word “wedding” which was particularly annoying … and it was a very long, very hard stutter. Fortunately my tablemates didn’t say anything), but when I was able to make small talk with the people near me, I wondered, am I boring?

I think this has to do with the “canned” stories. The ones I don’t stutter on as much. The ones I know and have been telling people backwards and forwards for weeks. What I do, where I live, summary of children, etc.,

Is everybody else having a better and more interesting conversation with their tablemates?  Are we supposed to?

What got me really thinking about all of this is that I have a few, not many, stories of the bride that others may not know. Is that what I’m supposed to be entertaining everybody with? Are we supposed to be exchanging cookie recipes, or times when the bride and I went through the possessions of my deadbeat tenants?

I suppose my hesitance to share these was due to stuttering. I mean, I’ve not told many of them, and I’m really not sure how entertaining they really are. I didn’t want to fall flat with regards to entertainment value. Instead, I’ll just interject here and there and leave it at that.

Memorial Day Stuttering

Thought I’d check in and let everybody know what I’m stuttering on lately this Memorial Day weekend. I’m home in the States for some business/personal things. So that means a lot more trips to Starbucks, and a lot more having to tell them my name.

I’ve been changing up my drink, doing from the mocha, to the Americano, to the iced coffee, to the Americano on ice. It’s been hard to say “no whip,” but slightly easier to say, “no cream.” And aren’t they always supposed to ask your name? Some have, some haven’t. I’ve been doing a mashup of the Saudi way to say my name and the American with some success. I bumble through the first part of the name and then immediately jump into spelling it so they don’t have to ask again.

Is it avoiding if I’m pre-empting a known stutter even though I just said what I was afraid to say?

I went to the local library to sign up for a card and noticed they had meeting rooms available. I wanted to know about this, so I confidently asked. No stuttering, and I got the answers I needed. Nice win.

I misplaced one of my credit cards and didn’t do anything about it for a few days. I kept an eye on the app to see if any purchases went through. I wasn’t looking forward to having to call them to ask for another card. Eventually I did and of course it was fully automated. Figures.

Last night I went on a social bike ride for the first time in my home town. It’s a “slow ride.” I knew exactly one other person (who I hadn’t seen in person for maybe 17 years) and wanted to catch up with her. I need to look up the definition of social anxiety disorder, but I had no interest in just going up to people and chatting them up despite our like mindedness of wanting to go on this bike ride and it being a lovely night. The thought of that terrified me. What on earth was I supposed to say? I did manage to find my friend and talk and ride for a good long while, so I was happy about that. And she knew others who she introduced me to — although I didn’t end up talking to those people at all which was fine for now. I think if I keep going on these rides, maybe things will open up a little more.

Was that Avoiding?

I had a chance to think differently about what avoiding really means. I know that those of us who stutter substitute like crazy. Words we can say for words we can’t. Looking ahead in our speech to find a different way to say something. But what if I said something fluently that’s not exactly what everybody else says? It’s just because I didn’t know it?

What happened was that in an effort to cut back on sugar, I’ve stopped ordering mochas from Starbucks. I’ve moved on to Americanos. It’s good enough for me. I don’t add any sugar. Sometimes I’ll add milk. I ordered one the other day, and the barista asked if I wanted milk in it. I said, yeah, sure. He shouted back, “white Americano!”

Ah. Did not know that. I could have just said that in the first place.

But. That “w” on white is tough for me. I can see how I would have just asked for an “Americano with milk.” Another “w.” Anyway. I’d have figured something out. But the idea of saying ‘white Americano’ does scare me. I know I’ll stutter on it every time. (well, I know, I know. Just work through it. But you get the idea.)

So this brings up what you call it — couch or sofa? Soda or Coke? Pepsi or Coke (knowing full well what they have … but if you can’t say ‘Coke,’ asking for a Pepsi and having them correct you.

I guess at the end of the day it is avoiding. Because we do know better. We can be clearer in many instances. And with something like, “sub” vs. “hoagie,” your childhood friends and family are going to look at you funny if you use the wrong one.

Reading to an Audience

IMG_0583I know I’m up on the second anniversary of the blog, so I’m cooking something up for that. In the meantime, I’ve had a chance to read at my daughter’s school. I talked about this a couple of weeks ago.

Things at work have slowed down enough that I had a chance to go in today and read to her class. She’s in pre-k, so that means a bunch of 4- and 5-year olds. I want to say that “I haven’t had time before” to go in and read because work has been so busy, but I think subconsciously I was afraid of reading in front of others — even if they are just kids.

The book that I read was Rosie Revere Engineer. I’ve read it at home to her a bunch of times. I don’t stutter at home when I read it. At all.

I wasn’t sure what the protocol was for reading to the class. I suppose I could have e-mailed her teacher, but my daughter said I could just come in. Right. So I did that. I took the kids to school and walked her to her classroom, book in hand. The teachers had been notified that I’d be there. We got there at 7:50, and she said I could read to them first thing, just after 8.

I didn’t really flip through the book the night before or have a practice reading in the morning, either. I had read it a bunch of times. I was feeling fine about it. I was happy to be doing it, and my daughter was really fired up about me being there. But when I got to the school and had to stand around for a few minutes, I flipped through some of the pages. I saw some words that … instantly triggered feelings for me. Things that started with l. Or w. I took a deep breath. This would be fine. I’d breathe, I’d play with my voice, I’d project to the back of the room. Maybe I’d stumble or stutter a bit, but no big deal.

It really felt like when you were a kid and could finally go on the big roller coaster at the park. You just say, “yeah, of course I do!” and you stand there in line with the adults. And you get closer and closer. And then you think, no, wait. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.

Stuttering is messed up because as I sat there waiting, the thought of abandoning the effort did cross my mind. But what would I say? Would it really matter? I could just leave. My daughter would be devastated, though. And really, it’s a quick reading, first thing in the morning. If you stutter a little, you won’t die.

Alright, I’m up. My daughter takes me by my hand and leads me to the chair in front of the room, There are about two dozen little kids, and half a dozen adults. I dove in, enthusiastically.

I got through a few words and then … stuttering. I got stuck on some words, but not for long. I got stuck on a w-word for a really long time, and heard a little murmur run through the crowd. As I was dragging out some other words and then taking a big pause to collect myself, the teacher remarked, “this is a pretty long book; do you want some water?” I said no, and pushed on.

(A word about this book. So … it’s probably a little bit above the audience that I read to. As a book, the message is really, really good. But it is a little confusing how it’s laid out. So even a somewhat astute kid might not “get it” the first few times. All that being said, it’s also a good message for someone who stutters — Rosie fails and is laughed at. She fails again, is laughed at, but then encouraged to keep trying.)

I got through the book. I was sweating a little, but otherwise in good shape. I did stutter. A lot more than if I was just reading quietly to all of my kids. I tried to remember to breathe and find my right pace. I did inflect my voice and make sure I was looking at the kids occasionally.

I think that I would do it again. Maybe not to her class this year, but next year or whatever. I think that with some practice I could certainly get better at it. Did not reading it in the morning hurt my fluency? Maybe, maybe not. But I think it might have made me even more apprehensive about signing up, seeing all the words that I think I’d stutter on.

 

Peppered with confidence

Was just chatting with someone casually — he was doing most of the talking. But I noticed that, occasionally, for clarification, I’d have to blurt out a word here and there. Or ask a question, “who’s that?” and the like. I didn’t think about the stuttering or not, just the need for information.

Then when I realized what I was doing (and not stuttering on) I tried to blurt out a few more things here and there. I didn’t need clarification, I was just curious if I could say something without stuttering. And I thought about what I wanted to say (quickly, since it was in-line with the conversation and I was basically interrupting each time), made sure I took a breath, and then spit it out. Worked pretty well.

I know this isn’t a way to communicate, but it certainly gave me a little boost of confidence with the day overall. Speech felt smooth, confident, without any hesitation. Loud and booming at times, and more spontaneous.

It’s these things that I try to focus on — with regards to the Stuttering Happy — and build on every day.

Trying to Advertise

I’ve talked about advertising a bunch before, and it’s something I still struggle with. I get into a comfortable groove — with work, friends, family, and well, there’s no need to upset the apple cart.

So I had to take a phone call the other day — one where I’d be giving a lot of information to the listener — and I thought, ok, look, I need to advertise. I’m going to be a little nervous, probably, and well, it’s important that I don’t stutter much. I planned how to do it, even! I would say, look, before we really get into this, I want to let you know …

And what happened? Lots of talking on their end. A few quick questions with short answers from me about something we’ve been working on. (So no stuttering on my side). And then when I had to explain something, I was already feeling loose and confident, so … didn’t advertise. And I barely stuttered anyway. The phone quality wasn’t the greatest either, so maybe they thought any stutter was a lousy connection.

I think advertising must be an art. I think it probably needs a lot of practice, and a bit more confidence than I can muster on a regular basis. I’ve done it once or twice — but I know I need to get out there more, just own up to it, and blurt it out. The problem is timing, really. I mean, I’m already thinking way too hard about breathing and pacing during a conversation. Where to fit in word, phrases, a sentence here and there. And then of course there’s the fact that I almost always stutter on the word “stutter.” Maybe that helps with the advertising? I suppose so.

My own reading voice

Another thing that I noticed while reading a full-on book to my daughter is that I have a fixed reading pace that’s neither slow nor fast. One that reduces the stuttering, lets me have fun with the words, and is sustainable. I really did try a few different speeds.

Too slow, and I was thinking too much about the words. It didn’t feel natural. I could breathe a little better, but that didn’t necessarily translate to fluent speech for some reason.

Too fast, and I ran all the words together (of course). I couldn’t breathe, and my daughter didn’t like it much either. I felt too much pressure and stuttered even more.

So I ended up somewhere in the middle, maybe slightly toward the slower side only to make sure I was getting enough air. Not only did this help with being fluent while reading, but also to help reprogram me when I’m speaking to actually … breathe.

I think a lot of the time we are subconsciously hurrying our speech. It’s what we see in the media and hear from friends telling great stories. And the opposite is that we’re told to slow down (which is crap) but we quietly think, ok, let me try that (because it’s not hard to do) and of course that doesn’t work out either.

So I’m content with my own pace. I know there is one. I know I can practice it, and I can have fun with my voice going at that pace.

Oh, you’re listening?

I’ve noticed that what’s been happening at work over months and months of being here is that … people are listening. They’re not dismissive or nonchalant about chatting with me. They want to hear, they want to engage. And that’s been very encouraging. Even the ones who appear to be busy all the time — they’re taking time out to talk, to listen, and to think.

All of this is helping my stuttering out a lot. Am I still stuttering when I talk to them? Oh of course. But it’s bothering me less and less. I’m not focused on the stuttering, just on the message. Because the listener is focusing on the message.

I know this may not apply for everybody, but there are surely some people who, given enough time, will become someone who you gravitate toward.

More stuttering and more happy

I spent the last few days in and out of Bahrain (I live in Saudi) because the Formula 1 race was this weekend, and I had a really good friend come from the States. He’s an old friend, and we went around Bahrain, eating, laughing, checking out museums, walking around forts, and of course checking out the race — all four days.

I wrote about something similar just a little while ago, and the same thing happened the past few days. I stuttered. A lot. On just about every story, remark, snide comment, half-joke, full-joke, and one-word joke.

But the beauty of it all was just the comfort. I had so  much. He never said anything about the stuttering. He looked at me, maintained eye contact and listened. He waited for the punchline and laughed really hard only after I said them. That’s a friend. That’s someone who listens. That’s what you need to ignore your stutter and just keep on going.

I was feeling so good about all of this that I did something I only ever really see others do — engage a group of strangers in conversation. We were at a fort, walking around, and there were four older gentlemen (speaking English) who we ended up being around. I didn’t have to engage them or find out what’s what, (and they weren’t talking to us)  but what I wanted was the challenge. Facing the stuttering and winning.

“So, where are you guys from?”

It was a little tough to say, but I made sure to point it toward them, loudly, to make sure I didn’t have to repeat (and probably) stutter.

They were from different parts of the States and had come for the race. I told them about living and working in Saudi. We made some small talk about Bahrain and working and living in the Middle East. I did stutter a little bit on some words, but none of them said anything. They maintained eye contact and were interested. I made sure to take some breaths and slowly pour out my words. I used some partially canned stories, but was also a bit spontaneous. It felt good. I felt confident, and most importantly, my fear of engaging strangers eroded a little bit more.

Stuttering and reading

Well, of course the day after I talk about reading simple children’s books, my daughter comes to me with … a real book. It’s some book about a princess, but that’s not important. It doesn’t have any pictures, is well over a hundred pages, and it definitely taking me back to “Bump” in school.

(Did you have Bump? Oh, it’s a special kind of hell for someone who stutters. Basically one person in your class starts reading part of a story out loud that you’re all following along silently to. Then they say, “bump, Rehan.” And Rehan has to pick up reading (OUT LOUD — did I mention that part?) until he’s had enough and says, “bump, Rebecca.”)

Anyway. she asked me to read this book to her. I’m not entirely sure she “gets” the book, but maybe it’s just nice for her to hear me tell a story. About a princess. And it gives  me a chance to practice my reading, tones, pacing, breathing, and accents as applicable. When I first started reading, I was stumbling a bit. And thought, oh no, here we go. We’ve graduated to non-picture books, and I’m screwed now.

But it’s getting better, and I’m trying to really practice speaking out loud. I do stutter very, very slightly on some words. The ones that start with “w” or “l” I tend to drag out slightly longer which of course irritates the crap out of me. But she doesn’t care or notice, and on we go.

When I was very young, I remember reading books to myself and getting completely lost in them. I’d cast the characters, paint a scene in my head, and off they’d go. I’d read for hours on end, this movie going on in my head the whole time.

Well, I’m doing that again, it seems. While reading out loud, I find myself getting lost again in the story, really picturing what’s going on, how people are talking, interacting, moving.And honestly I think it’s helping with the reading and not stuttering as much. I’m not thinking about the words, I’m thinking about the story and characters. Sure, I see the words I know I’ll stutter on, but they don’t feel like as big of a deal. And again, of course, the audience helps. It’s just my five-year-old daughter (and sometimes the other kids if they’re wandering around).

Fluent now, fluent later …?

One of the few things that I’ve been fluent on consistently is reading children’s books to my kids. But I’ve noticed that whereas before I could rip through say, 10 stories without a single stutter or stumble, now it’s once or twice per 10. I don’t know if I’m being too hard on myself (I think I am) or if something is getting to me and letting the stutter creep in.

My daughter mentioned to me the other day that in her school the parents sometimes come in and read to the kids. Could I come in and do this? Well, I have been busy, but it is something I want to try.

I’ve noticed that when reading the kids books I see words ahead … that I think, ok, that’s a word I’ve stuttered on a lot before. And the word comes, and I just say it. Without stuttering. This happens again and again and again. (The prescanning of course being a natural course of action for those of us who stutter so we can get ourselves all worked up.)

I’m fascinated by this. On the one hand, I’m happy to see a word, worry about a word, and then say it without any problems. On the other, I think that maybe it’s the audience. I’ve read to my kids thousands of times, and some books I’ve almost memorized. How would I actually do if I had to read in front of a bunch of 5-year-olds? And the teachers? And any other visiting parents?

Well, only one way to find out.

Rehearsal

I mentioned having to do a presentation at work. Well, after my colleague said he was nervous, I told him I wasn’t at all — but the stuttering was just annoying. We then joined the others and did a run-through.

Rehearsal? What a concept. I have thought, for the longest time, that I don’t need such a thing. That I can just get up there and talk, and I’ll be fine. I know the message, I know the audience, I know I won’t be nervous. And yet, time and time again, no rehearsal always has me getting up there and stuttering, which causes quite the downward spiral.

I know there are benefits to rehearsals. But I just think I’m above that. However this time our group wanted to run through it, so I didn’t have a choice. So I stood up in front of my four colleagues, held the paper in my hand (I only had one slide) remembered to take that first deep breath (but none after that) and talked through it.

I stuttered. Here and there. It was only 3-4 minutes, no big deal. After we were all done, my colleague who said he was nervous said he didn’t even know I stuttered until I told him (ok, so maybe I’m still being a little covert … or not really talking to him that much … we are in different departments). And asked if I only stuttered when I had to speak in front of people. Ah, no, I have 30 years of experience doing this. But it was all very supportive and encouraging. We encouraged the others, and that was that.

And you know what? I felt totally different after that rehearsal. I didn’t think about the presentation or stuttering on words at all. I was calm. I knew what I had to say. I knew how fast I had to talk. When to pause, what questions I might get. Prepared. Confident.

So, presentation time. Our group got up, it was my turn to talk. The heart beating in my chest so loud that I couldn’t think of anything else? Not there. The sweating? Nope. The tightness in my throat? Nope.

I stood up, took a breath and started talking. I stuttered. But not too hard, and not too long. I got through the slide, and even got a good rhythm going. I was asked questions challenging our points. I answered them. We all talked about them. I stood up there, not feeling worried about my speech.

After it was done one of my other colleagues remarked that I had done a good job. I think this was a combination of content and presentation praise.

So it turns out that for me and my stuttering at least, rehearsal is a very useful tool. I had an extremely positive experience with it.

 

Not nervous at all

This will the first part of a story regarding a recent presentation at work. The presentation wasn’t that big — we were put into groups of 4, given 2 days, and had to present on the third to about 40 people. We only were given 45 total minutes, half of which we were supposed to speak. (the rest for discussion) So … 24 minutes of speaking, 4 speakers (well, five in my group) so five minutes a piece. Take out some transition time, maybe a single question here and there, and it’s really 3-4 minutes of talking.

Anyway, the morning of our presentation, I was chatting with our team leader. He said he was nervous. One of the people on the “panel” made him a bit nervous all the time.

I think most people who stutter have had this happen to them — a fluent person tell them about being nervous publicly speaking. And you look at them like, are you serious? You’re nervous?

But that’s the easy thing to do. Get pissed off. I just sort of dismissed it but saw it instead as an opportunity. I haven’t been advertising much at all lately. So I said, “oh, well, I’m not nervous at all. But I do stutter, so that just makes it a little harder to talk.”

And it was true. I really don’t get nervous about public speaking in a “getting up in front of others” sense. That doesn’t bother me at all. I’ve done it before. It’s the opening my mouth and betrayal that annoy me more than anything.

The other thing for this particular presentation was that I’d be speaking in front of all my colleagues — who I probably talk to at least once a week or more. So I was feeling fairly comfortable.

Tomorrow — just how did things actually turn out?

 

Looking for the right connection

I was at a meeting several weeks ago with a lot of people. It was an open kind of discussion, if there’s a problem, let’s get it out there, and let’s talk about it. So I had a problem. So I raised my hand (eff you, stuttering!) and stuttered away, stating my issue.

What I noticed as I tried to look around the room was that someone wasn’t interested. At all. Face sort of down, exasperated, get-on-with-it, whatever. We all know this look. Now, was this just because of me and my stuttering? In the moment, I certainly thought so. I could be totally wrong. But I’ve seen it enough to think well, that’s what that is.

But what else did I see? I saw neutral faces. Eye contact. And at the far end of the bell curve? A small smile, a nodding head. Agreement. Understanding.

I think for a long time I’ve been too focused on the wrong end of the bell curve. The dismissive looks and boredom. I need to focus more on those who are actually listening and engaging, those who don’t care about the stuttering and want to hear my message. That keeps me going. I may forget to breathe, to pace myself, to think clearly, but at least I have their attention for the moment, and I shouldn’t waste that.

I know if I have friends in the audience and start to smile a little, they will too. I can then hold their eyes for a little longer before going on to the next smirk or the next nod.

Something in between

I think we all have, with regards to being loquacious, a bell curve of friends. And we tend to be on the quiet end (well, during those covert years). And we notice a lot more how much people do or do not talk.

I think if you asked any of my friends at this point, they’d say I was pretty talkative. Not overly so, but certainly not shy and quiet. Certain coworkers would have a different opinion.

The problem is that as someone who stutters, we tend to focus on those who talk a lot. Either loudly, quickly, confidently, or a combination of those. We think, why not me? I need to be that confident! But we can’t; our voices betray us.

I was out the other day with a friend who talks a lot. Not in a “I like to hear myself talk” kind of way. It’s innocent. He’s curious, he’s friendly, it’s just what he does. I know the deal. I know when he’s at the table he’ll drive the conversation. That’s good.

We were at a store buying something for our sons, and he struck up a conversation with another patron. They talked for a solid 15 minutes as I just stood around. Before I knew it, he was exchanging phone numbers. I thought, is this how fluent people are all the time? No, it’s definitely not.

I think the point is that we shouldn’t get frustrated or down on ourselves in that kind of situation. It’s one end of the bell curve. What I’d like for myself is something in between.

Hello, Friend.

I wanted to reflect on  chance I had a while ago to connect with a friend for several days in a row. An old friend who knows the deal with stuttering, and knows a lot of what I’ve been through.

First of all, it’s quite amazing to speak with someone who is entirely patient with you. Who you know isn’t judging you at all. Who won’t finish your sentences, won’t tell you to hurry up, won’t make stupid suggestions on how to speak more fluently. Do you stutter less? In some cases, yes. But in others not so much.

I noticed that since I hadn’t talked to this person in a while (in person) a lot of my stories stuttered out. Not the canned ones that I repeat all the time. The newer stuff — my current situation, plans for the future, my take on life here and there. For these newer explanations I tended to stutter more than usual, but I was avoiding less. So the comfort level was higher. I wanted to say what I was thinking — exactly — and knew I wouldn’t get any negative feedback.

And since it was with a friend, and, as with all interactions, ultimately time-constrained, I thought maybe the stuttering was happening more because I wanted to make it all sound more interesting — even the bits about work.

Now that I think about it, there are several levels to comfort, really. And it’s tough to get them all aligned. There’s the audience — a close friend or a colleague? Family? Complete stranger? There’s the time you have and the time you think you have — all day for a few days? Months? A few seconds? And of course content — new, canned or somewhere in between.

I couldn’t help but wonder after our time was over if it would be jarring to go back to the real world with impatient people who might look at me funny. But I know the deal. And besides, don’t I deserve to be comfortable at home and with friends at least? And won’t that eventually lead to being more comfortable at the office?

Fine, thanks.

It’s been a while. Not since I stuttered, of course. But a few things have been happening, and I’m still struggling with this blog, a direction, and everything else going on.

Someone came to my desk the other day and asked me how I was doing. It was one of those “good morning” kind of greetings. The one where you’re just sort of expected to say, “good, how are you?” and get on with it. But after I told him I was “fantastic,” he said, “your face tells a different story.” I made a joke about how “dammit, it’s not working any more,” and we moved on. But it really got me to thinking about these quickie exchanges that we have all the time in offices.

I’ve never been one to give a long, detailed answer to “how are you doing,” when it comes from a coworker. That’s not what they want. That’s not the protocol. But then there’s a spectrum of colleague — from person you don’t know at all to person you’d consider a close friend. Although how does someone you don’t know become a friend? Or even get closer? Through these kinds of interactions? I’m wondering if I’ve been subconsciously keeping people at bay because I want to keep the numbers small, or if I just don’t want to talk to them because I know I’ll stutter.

I think there’s a lot of pressure in those small exchanges, too. It’s a fast, straight-forward query. Same as when someone asks you your name. You’re expected to give a quick answer. If you’re not doing well, then yeah, maybe a long sigh and a “well, it could be better,” is fine. Followed by a laugh, because well, let’s not get into why. This is why I always say “yeah, good,” or whatever I can feel is going to be fluent. I never thought to get my facial expression in line as well.

So what’s the path forward on this? Should I slowly give longer and longer answers? Feel out how much time we have to talk? How much I can get out of them as well? I’ve gotten really good at asking other people questions (even though they start with “w,” and I usually stutter on it). At least for me when I get to know people better, my stuttering decreases because my comfort level rises. (not always, but often).

Making your own burger

I haven’t seen the touch screen ordering here in Saudi — until just a few days ago. I mentioned it before — at Wawa and Sheetz.  And yes, I do love it as someone who stutters, obviously. Also also for practical reasons — getting exactly what I want.

But now it’s here. I strolled into the McDonald’s near the office, and was quickly accosted by two very enthusiastic and helpful workers. They were standing by what looked like a poster. It was hard to figure out what was going on as they shoved a little pamphlet into my hands. Ah, apparently I can make my own burger. Did I want chicken instead? No time to think or ask! What kind of bun do you need? Start touching the screen!

They did all the talking — taking me through the process, and I stared and pointed and touched and swiped my way to a burger that’s more expensive but easier on my stuttering self.

The sad thing is that I had been getting more comfortable about ordering fast food. And now there’s this convenience (don’t get me wrong, I don’t go there every day. I’m trying to pack more and more).

I think what’s funny about the process is that it takes longer to order what you want specifically if you were a fluent person. And even if you stuttered, the process is still longer. So people won’t get that, really. Like, hey, I’m stuttering, seems like I’m going to take forever, but you’re really not in a hurry anyway. So chill.

I talked about relationships before — and how I ordered at Subway. Well, at the local Hardees, I literally have to say nothing. Just slap my money on the counter, and the guy knows the whole order, top to bottom. Am I stuttering when I do that? No, not at all. I built that up myself. I stuttered through a crapload of orders, got smoother and smoother, more and more confident. Until he just knew.

So that helped my confidence. Ordering at a computer? Not so much.

 

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