What to do when you have to talk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

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.

Stuttering Tournament, Round 1, Match 3

1.

Cold-calling a senior person at a company – this requires all sorts of painful things — introducing myself, quickly explaining why I’m calling, and then answering some unknown questions. And then if I don’t plan it well enough, having to face the reality that I’ve forgotten to ask something, and I can’t very well call again.

vs.

8.

Speaking to parents of your students (if you work with students) – a close stuttering friend offered this up, and I can only imagine how stressful it’d be. Especially considering how much detail you want to explain. And then feeling that maybe they’d like to ask you something but then don’t bother because they don’t want to hear you stutter any more.

Another win for the number 1 seed. A lot of this has to do with the singular nature of the event. How often are you calling someone senior at the company? Once every six months? Once a year? Once a career? That adds so much to the pressure and the strain.

With both circumstances I can prepare, prepare, prepare. But both will throw out curve balls — questions I couldn’t even have imagined. Having to give an explanation. Or having to leave a message explaining why I’m calling.

But with the company call, there’s a feeling that it’ll trickle down to you … eventually the tale of your stuttering on the phone will reach your boss, and they’ll pull you into their office.

With parents, it’s ok to forget to tell them something — you can just e-mail them later on. But you know the senior person has a lot going on — and a full inbox. If you forget (because your boss will remind you) then you’re screwed.

Stuttering Tournament, Round 1, Match 2

Food

1

Ordering for a noisy car full of people at the drive-thru — I hate the drive thru enough, and now we’re adding a bunch of people, talking, being indecisive, not having enough change, and probably being pushy as well. Oh, and then I have to repeat my order a few times since I can’t hear over the ruckus.

vs.

8

Asking for a menu clarification — don’t recall the last time I’ve done this, either. If I don’t understand it or think it might have something that tastes odd, move on to the next item! Now is not the time to experiment with fancy burger toppings.

What we’re at here is what is worse? What would you rather not face at the end of a long day at the office? A long day, period?

Another win for the number 1 seed. There are so many ways out of a clarification. So many alternate words that you can use. And if since you’re not sure, and you’ve opened your mouth, and you’re pointing to it on the menu, the waiter will see your confusion and start filling in the blanks. Your friends will offer up their experience with the food. They will tell you it sucks or doesn’t. What to include or not.

Even if you know you’re going to stutter on the word “gluten,” then just continue down the menu till there’s something non-bread.

Now let’s say you’re determined to say the word. Awesome. You stutter though the question. You can probably get your stuttering in one-on-one with the waiter while your friends strike up their own conversation. Hell, you can even chase down the waitress after she takes your order and do the clarification in private!

The drive through is pretty horrible, really. With just yourself you’re facing randomly timed questions, having to repeat your order, items that aren’t available, custom changes, confusion as to which drive through window is open and where to pull up to, and really, just park and walk in. Or order through an app. Or cook your damn self.

Now let’s take all that and multiply it by the four other people in your car. Doesn’t that sound awesome?

Stuttering Exhaustion

Ah, so there is some evidence as to why I feel so drained when I’m having a long hard stutterific day:

Forming emotional and mental responses to the stimuli around us, too, takes physical work. Here Reisinger refers to the work of Lisa Feldman Barrett, much of whose work centers on the premise that our brains create our emotions by forming predictions based on past experiences.

This is from an article about why we feel so tired after sitting all day at work.

The article goes on to talk about running through various scenarios in our heads and how they’ll play out. Ah, sound familiar? I probably spend 90% of any conversation doing this, looking ahead to word choice and trying to figure out the next essay question to ask so I’m off the hook for speaking.

I think most of us who stutter know this all intuitively already, of course. But it’s a good reminder when we have a speech-heavy day looming on the horizon. May be good to dump whatever else we can, work-wise, to alleviate the stress and reduce the overall levels. It’s a good idea to plan as much as we can so whatever failure points we have in our control are thought through. For example, having an extra laptop charger handy for our boss, our presentation on a spare USB stick, or printouts handy in case the projector won’t connect. It may all not be necessary, but at least when something happens we can keep talking and calmly handle our business.

Remaining Tournament Details

Here’s a description of the bottom half of the bracket:

Food

  1. Ordering for a noisy car full of people at the drive-thru — I hate the drive thru enough, and now we’re adding a bunch of people, talking, being indecisive, not having enough change, and probably being pushy as well. Oh, and then I have to repeat my order a few times since I can’t hear over the ruckus.
  2. Saying grace/prayer for a meal in front of family — I haven’t done this specifically, but I did have to say some religious things at a wedding once. That was not at all pleasant. It’s really quiet, there’s no hiding, and only one way to say it. Oh, and God is watching and listening, too. Although I suppose He understands …
  3. Ordering food at a bar when the bartender is busy — I know what I want, I know what I’m going to stutter on, and this guy has no time for me. He is being called by a waiter, he’s being beckoned by another patron, and he’s filling up drinks. In my mind, I have about 5 seconds to get this order across, and it’s going to take 12 minutes.
  4. Complaining about food or service at a restaurant — I can’t even remember the last time I’ve done this. And of course it’s because of the stuttering. I don’t like conflict, and then for something like food? Forget it. I can just go eat somewhere else.
  5. Giving a custom order at a busy lunchtime — that kind of deal where you have a few slips of paper from coworkers and have to list them all while standing in line. Every order has to be perfect no matter what. And then the added stress of what to do when the restaurant says they don’t have something. Time for a phone call!
  6. Ordering while at a business lunch — ah yes, the path of least resistance. I don’t even care if it’s not what I want. I’m not stuttering in front of my boss and people at his level.
  7. Speaking in a dark and/or loud restaurant over other people — not quite as bad as having to order because well, you don’t actually have to engage in conversation, now do you? Surely there’s a game on that television above the bar …
  8. Asking for a menu clarification — don’t recall the last time I’ve done this, either. If I don’t understand it or think it might have something that tastes odd, move on to the next item! Now is not the time to experiment with fancy burger toppings.

One-on-one

  1. Going on a blind date — all the prepared statements in the world, all the talking to yourself in the mirror or doing silly mouth exercises are a match for this. There are so many variables! Charming? Nervous? How am I coming across? Wait, what’d she just say?
  2. Confronting a neighbor you’ve never spoken to before — particularly for conflict, this is the worst. You have to spend every day in your house then thinking about what the person right there — right there! thinks about you. And to make matters worse, you could have prevented it by just introducing yourself that first day when you saw them move in …
  3. Interjecting / trying to interrupt someone — the open mouth, the finger pointed up. The noise coming out of your mouth that’s not a word. Is anybody looking? Oh, crap, they are. And the person talking is now looking at your eagerly, waiting for your moment of brilliance.
  4. Getting pulled over and speaking to an officer — not only do I have to come up with a decent excuse, but I have to not stutter while doing it. Or should I be charming? Maybe say something witty? Oh, wait, I’m going to stutter, and the officer is going to think I’m on drugs or hiding something, and well, this is going to escalate quickly.
  5. Being interviewed while being recorded – Nothing like having your stuttering burned into the cloud for … ever. And all while having to come up with answers to a meaningful interview.
  6. Immigration official at an international border crossing — long flight, really tired, need to make a connecting flight. No pressure, buddy! Just don’t come across as nervous or like you’re trying to hide something and you should be good. Wait, why are they taking so long with that person? What’s going on?
  7. Meeting friends of friends — You guys call yourself my friends? Surely you know this about me now? What canned stories am I supposed to use here? Stuff about me? Stuff about my friends? I haven’t rehearsed or planned for this!
  8. Answering detailed questions about your work and personal life when getting to know someone – Not so fast, buddy. I’m going to give you short answer and then pop an essay question on you. I don’t faff about with yes/no stuff or multiple choice. Oh no, you’ll be telling me about your childhood while I try to breathe and think of a way out of this …

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.

Questions for an SLP

A few days ago I shared a guest post from Melissa James at Well Said: Toronto Speech Therapy. I sent her some questions, and she was nice enough to reply…

You run a speech therapy clinic for adults who want to work on their speech, social or communication skills. As this is a stuttering blog, how often do you work with clients who stutter?

As a speech therapist in a private practice, I work with clients who stutter nearly every day. More specifically, 40% of our caseload are adults who stutter. The other 60% of our clientele consists of vocal work, professional communication, accent, articulation and several other core speech therapies. Over the past five years, as a clinic, we’ve worked with approx. 300 adults who stutter who want to work with a therapist that truly grasps the unique challenges of being an adult who stutters.

Your clinic works to treat the physical and psychological parts of stuttering, how do you strike that balance with clients? Have most of them had therapy in the past? And-

This question touches on a very important commonality among adults who stutter; the vast majority of these adult clients received speech therapy in the past. Some individuals worked on their speech as children, and others, started working on their speech as adults. Adults who stutter frequently inform me that they find it difficult to utilize the speech exercises they’ve been taught (easy onsets, breathing, stretching, etc.) in real life. Most adults are looking for support with their stuttering at work and in high-pressure situations; consequently, if you are unable to implement your fluency tools in these settings, the stress compounds, and often worsens the outcome.

When you talk to a new client about the “burden” of stuttering, is it something they’ve thought about before? Or are they suddenly reflective, realizing more and more about themselves?

From my professional observations, most adults who stutter are know that many things in life are harder when you stutter, and moreover, recognize the pain associated all the while not taking time to process and reflect on the burden of stuttering. I also believe that most adults who stutter don’t openly discuss the struggle of stuttering in social and professional environments because most adults who stutter don’t know another peer who stutters. Online support groups have come a long way in building a community for adults who stutter and this is an excellent way to discuss the experience of stuttering with others who truly understand. Whether in an online group or a therapy setting, I feel that reflection and emotional exploration is an extremely important part of the speech-therapy journey, notably, engaging in and sharing thoughts, feelings and beliefs about yourself as someone who stutters. I think that most adults who work on their fluency find it incredibly liberating to work with a speech-language pathologist who acknowledges and respects the experience. Research shows the practice of reflection and mindfulness with regards to stuttering, known as ‘Acceptance and Commitment Therapy’, is helpful in reducing the severity of the stutter.

I would imagine that most adults who stutter who see you understand there’s no cure. So what do you do to help them understand that change is possible? How do you get them to move on from the mental state of, “it’s always going to be this way.”

In the traditional medical sense, there is no cure for a stutter. So to speak, there is no medication or surgery offered that will resolve stuttering; however, there are evidence-based treatment methods that reduce the frequency, duration and overall severity of the stuttering. I believe in full transparency in my work, therefore, I explain to my clients that the “cure” for stuttering is not external – an instantaneous solution does not exist. The client needs to engage in hard work in order to achieve stuttering improvement. In fact, during these sessions clients recognize the onus is on them, and they tend to work harder than I do. It’s also important to note that clients that are truly feeling hopeless don’t often seek help. The people who contact me have the readiness factor that is crucial in improving stuttering. If you want to improve and you are with the right clinician, you have a recipe for success.

How often do your clients visit? Are they given, for lack of a better term, homework assignments? I know as a kid we were told to go over sounds and practice breathing. How do you challenge an adult who stutters?

Clients usually visit once per week at the beginning of a therapy plan and less frequently towards the ends of a program. Therapy’s mandate is to build sustainable skills. Clients begin by learning the practices during an early stage, and later start to implement the tools in real life. The next step sees an increase in real life implementation, meanwhile reducing the frequency of sessions. The final goal is maximum fluency with maximum independence. Each week, we collaborate on a home plan. The best home plans are social exercises, (e.g., speak to three strangers or recording a new voicemail message) and mindset exercises (e.g., cognitive behavioral therapy exercises, mindfulness practices). A home practice strategy that adults who stutter like are time-of-day-challenges where you engage in a ten-minute long conversation, utilizing all the tools, during a specific time of day (e.g., following dinner every night). Daily, applied home practice is essential for success in a stuttering treatment program to allow for practice outside the clinical setting.

Is there a certain fear that you hear about over and over again with professionals? Something like a presentation to give at work, or having to interview, or something else?

Common fears include meeting new professionals, giving presentations and being interviewed. Adults who stutter fear that colleagues or contacts think they are incompetent if they stutter openly. At the same time, these adults don’t want others to pity or patronize them. Meanwhile, they tend to be highly ambitious, intelligent and want to progress in their careers, yet feel bound by a constant fear of exposing their stutter during one-on-one interactions. Adults who stutter also fear, or feel nervous about, speaking on the telephone, and specifically being hung-up on. Other common concerns include introducing themselves ex. saying their name while checking into a hotel and speaking on a conference call. Almost always, these fears get in the way of the client practicing these skills which in turn reinforces the anxiety and the stuttering. Through a slow exposure approach, we can start to practice these situations, thereby reducing the anxiety through exposure, which in turn reduces the frequency of stuttering.

 

Well Said: Toronto Speech Therapy

One of the things I wanted to try to do a long time ago was to have guest posts and interviews with SLPs. So! Finally after a few years, here we are.

Melissa James, B.A., M.H.Sc. (Reg. CASLPO), was nice enough to send along a post. She is the director at Well Said: Toronto Speech Therapy.

From their site:

We are Toronto’s speech therapy clinic for adults where you can work with registered speech-language pathologists to improve your speech, social or communication skills. Our work focuses on practical, real-world outcomes. From a lisp to social skills, our registered professionals help you develop the confidence that you need. Our services are always founded in research-based approaches that have helped thousands of others.

From Well Said: Toronto Speech Therapy:

Top 6 Tips for Letting Go of Your Feelings About Stuttering

Stuttering is painful, not in the stub your toe kind of painful, but a deep, chronic worry and frustration, emotional kind of painful. This leads many adults who stutter to a speech therapist’s office to help reduce their stuttering. In the past, you would expect to work on slowing down, using voicing, breathing, and other tricks to help you speak more fluently. While this type of therapy has research efficacy, a significant proportion of adults find that this therapy works only as a temporary fix. And another common complaint with this type of tools therapy is that people feel like they’re putting on a mask. Masking the disfluencies can be a great thing for someone who feels neutral about their stuttering. Unfortunately, most adults who have an emotional history with their stuttering that is far from neutral. For someone who has struggled with stuttering their entire life the feeling about their stuttering: the anxiety, negative thoughts, avoidance of situations are worse to cope with than the actual stuttering.

For these people who stutter a new approach to stuttering treatment has been developing steam in the speech therapy community. This type of treatment focuses on healing the psychosocial and emotional aspects of stuttering. Years of coping with stuttering certainly does take a psychological toll and this approach to new stuttering treatment is designed to alleviate the emotional pain rather that the stuttering itself. This new approach (let’s call it a counseling approach) to stuttering therapy has some good research behind it. Research has shown that not only were people who stutter feeling more accepting of their stutter and positive about themselves after working with a speech-language pathologist who used this approach AND –  the frequency of stuttering decreased and gains were still evident three months later. This means that working on your stuttering with a speech therapist who uses the counseling approach will help you feel better and decrease the number of stuttering moments at the same time. Are you surprised to hear this? Probably not. As someone who stutters, you know that when you are having a bad day when your mind is cluttered with worry and negative thoughts, your speech is less fluent. And, when you are feeling care-free, like during a relaxing vacation, your speech becomes your most fluent. This research does well at capturing something you already knew: your mood affects your fluency. And so, now speech therapist’s can work with you on helping you reduce anxiety, increase vulnerability, feel more positive, and more accepting of your stuttering which together will reduce the stuttering.

Here are the top 6 tips for letting go of your feeling about stuttering:

1. Journal – Journalling has life-changing powers to develop your self-reflection, emotional processing, and insight. When you journal about your experience with stuttering, you are reorganizing your feelings into thoughts and confronting them in a safe way which will allow you to get all the “feels” out and down on paper rather than ruminating over how you should or could have said it better.

2. Practicing Gratitude –  Getting into the habit of noticing why you are lucky or what you are grateful for has been demonstrated in research to improve one’s wellness. For adults who stutter taking a few minutes to take perspective on what you have going for you can be very helpful in improving your feeling about stuttering.

3. Mindfulness – Mindfulness is a hot topic in the psychology disciplines right now. Several articles are written on a daily basis on the benefits of mindfulness from depression to anxiety, to anger management to stuttering. Mindfulness is essentially taking time out of our modern 2017 lives to disconnect and focus gently on our being without judgment. I personally like yoga as a mindfulness practice. Some people really like guided relaxations. You can find guided relaxations on the internet here.

4. Envisioning your goals realized – I often ask clients to collect images and put them together in a collage that represents how they want their lives to look in 5-10 years. This task of visualizing the future for my clients who stutter has been helpful in shifting the focus away from speech and on to the real values. By focusing on how you want your life to look in five years, we can at a glance see what is important to you. And from there, we can work backward and formulate a plan for how we get there with stuttering.

5. Checking the evidence – See if you can challenge your own thinking when you notice a negative thought passing through your internal dialogue. For example, did you just think to yourself – oh, she probably thinks I am incompetent – stop yourself and ask ok, wait a minute this thought is unhelpful and what evidence do I have to prove this is true? You may want to read more about unhelpful thoughts if you think this strategy would work well for you.

6. Most importantly, you shouldn’t feel bad about stuttering and you shouldn’t call your a dysfluency a “mistake” or a “mess up” We have to change our language about our stuttering to make it neutral. When we describe something using neutral language, our minds are less likely to associate it with a negative emotion.

Do you have any strategies that you used to deal with the unhelpful feelings and thoughts around stuttering?

Stuttering name recall

I read this article and thought, oh, hey, great, a way to recall names when I’m meeting people — I’m pretty terrible at it.

“It’s a major faux pas to forget someone’s name — it makes people feel like they have been slighted or marginalised or unimportant,” says Kethera A Fogler, an assistant professor in psychology at James Madison University in Virginia in the US. “Their name is so uniquely them, which exacerbates that feeling, but it’s what makes it so easy to forget.”

I had heard about this technique a long time ago — focus on the name, say it again, associate it, say it again in conversation, but it’s really hard to practice and implement. The stuttering is so strong — the distracting thoughts, that is. I am always so, so, so focused on freaking out and what it’s going to be like to say — or not — my own name. And then when the other person starts talking, I’m so drained to pay attention.

And then, and then! What happens? Oh, right, I’ve stuttered out my name, so after a bit the person comes back and asks me what it is again. We went through this!

So, instead of thinking about this article for myself and fellow people who stutter as a technique to learn other people’s names, let’s share this article with our own friends in the hope that they send it around so much that our names are actually remembered the next time we spend so much energy stuttering them out.

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 and Politics 2

I spoke yesterday about introspection after the election. Trying to see the world from someone else’s eyes and understand that I can’t just shove my views down another’s throat. I have to stop and listen and really digest. And you’d think that would come naturally to me as someone who stutters. I’m not often judged by my speaking, but when I am, I obviously hate it, and I wish others would sit in my shoes for ten minutes and understand my journey.

Today I want to expand on politics and my stuttering. Asking myself, ok, so if you want a particular candidate to win, what are you willing to do? And the answer is, other than speaking to my like-minded friends and family, not much. And yes, I know that’s sad and pathetic.But again, stuttering.

To me, my view of helping a candidate revolves around calling people on the phone or knocking on doors. Talking to people. I understand that campaigning is much, much more than that. There are jobs that don’t involve speaking. But for a long time that’s how I saw it, and that’s burned in. Talking to strangers is potentially confrontational and scary. I’ll stutter — and then I start thinking — ok, the stuttering is fine with me (now in life) but wouldn’t that reflect on my message and my candidate? Hopefully not. 

I’m not sure what I’ll be doing over the next few years, politics-wise. And I also have to ask myself, maybe I’m just not the kind of person to do that, period? Maybe I’m content sitting on the sidelines like so many others. 

I can see how an impassioned voter would be angry at me. I get that. But being angry at me and leaving me doesn’t do anybody any good. I think too often we do that. We need to dig in and find out what the “block” might be. Fluent people can be anti-social, too! And surely there are those who stutter who are saying screw it and cold calling households.

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.

Stuttering and fitting in

So yes, the International Stuttering Awareness Day Online Conference is over, having ended on October 22. But I’ll still post about it if I want to! Today’s post is More Than Just Stuttering Pride by Elizabeth Wislar.

She talks about speech therapy in school:

…I definitely received a message that my stutter was bad and something that should be fixed. I felt like a constant failure because I could not seem to apply the techniques I learned in the outside world.

Thinking back on my own experience with therapy in school, I realize now how much everything was also at odds with each other. And how much “fitting in” was important:

1. My class participation was crap because I didn’t want to raise my hand and stutter, but my friends all laughed when I made jokes on the side fluently.

2. My class participation grades were good despite occasionally stuttering when having to give an answer.

3. My speech outside of school was still stutter-ific despite going to therapy. I didn’t understand that therapy was just that — therapy — and not meant to be a permanent fix. So I thought that with enough therapy it would just go away.

Elizabeth speaks about going to the NSA conference and getting hoarse there from speaking so much. I do the same. Nobody judges! Nobody’s in a hurry! They want to listen to what I have to say. It really is liberating.

And better yet, she speaks about how stuttering is something that goes against the grain of what is normal — so let’s be disruptive and make people uncomfortable.

I want to allow blocks to go on longer than I have to if I see the person I’m talking to looks annoyed or put out. Or better yet, I want to let blocks or repetitions go on longer because I find them enjoyable. Isn’t true subversion finding power and pleasure in the things society finds defective? Let’s do it.

This is who we are, and this is how we speak. I need to be better about this, I think. Just letting some blocks or repetitions go on for a little longer. Make it obvious. Do it often enough to become even more comfortable with the sound of my stuttering voice.

Stuttering and Resilience

If you didn’t already know, those of us who stutter are a rather resilient lot. We have to be. We have to get up every morning and know perfectly well that we haven’t been cured magically overnight. Nor will we ever. We have to pick up the phone again and again, cold calls, strangers, onlookers and prompts for voicemails be damned. And we have to interview for jobs again and again and again and again. And before we interview in person, it’s always a phone call.

So yes, we know very well about bouncing back.

So this is an article about learning to become resilient.

This sums up a lot of what we all know:

Resilience presents a challenge for psychologists. Whether you can be said to have it or not largely depends not on any particular psychological test but on the way your life unfolds. If you are lucky enough to never experience any sort of adversity, we won’t know how resilient you are. It’s only when you’re faced with obstacles, stress, and other environmental threats that resilience, or the lack of it, emerges: Do you succumb or do you surmount?

The article also gets into stresses — the size and duration. Some are affected by a single large event. Others — like us — get the small, repeated kind. (And yes, I know it may not be very small …)

They go on to talk about what we should really take to heart — we are in control, and it’s our reactions that will shape our outlook and stance on life. I’ve always felt an internal locus of control. I don’t blame anybody else for my mistakes or station in life. I’m calling the shots, and thus, I’m living with the consequences. If there are others who are speaking negatively about me or trying to hurt me, then I either just cut them out of my life or ignore them.

Perhaps most importantly, the resilient children had what psychologists call an “internal locus of control”: they believed that they, and not their circumstances, affected their achievements.

They then talk about perception:

One of the central elements of resilience, Bonanno has found, is perception: Do you conceptualize an event as traumatic, or as an opportunity to learn and grow?

More stuttering goodness here. Ok, yes, I had that oral presentation in front of my class, and I stuttered through the whole thing. But will I take that singular event (and be able to remember it 20 years later) or ask myself, ok, for the next presentation, what can I do better to prepare? Did I do everything I could have this time? Rehearse it with myself in the mirror? In front of peers? Did I practice the breathing and other techniques that I went over with my therapist? Did I relax my shoulders and focus on my best friend sitting three rows back, or the salty looking kid in the front row who I don’t like?

I was definitely not good at this growing up because I didn’t have a lot of tools to use for stuttering. I just sucked it up and kept pushing on. Hence my ability to recall a lot of specific events from the past (just read through this blog. No, really, there’s stuff from elementary school in here.)

And this is consistent with the article later on:

Human beings are capable of worry and rumination: we can take a minor thing, blow it up in our heads, run through it over and over, and drive ourselves crazy until we feel like that minor thing is the biggest thing that ever happened.

So resilience can go both ways — we can build it up or tear it down. It’s our choice with how we react. And with stuttering, we face that choice every time we dare to open our mouth. And every time we don’t, too.

Stuttering and being charged up

So this is a funny piece about introverts. I was reading it thinking, hmmm … I do some of those things but it’s because I stutter (but less and less). I don’t consider myself as introverted at all — although I can see how people would think so.

But the reason I posted about this article was for this part:

The difference is that while certifying deeds gives energy to extroverts, certifying deeds takes away energy from introverts. Yep, we introverts have to find other ways to recharge besides authenticating documents.

I never really thought about life like this, but really, it is. Moments either take away from us, or add. Is it fulfilling or draining? And so as someone who stutters, I usually focus on all those moments that are taking away, those that are draining — or going to drain. And I never think about how fluent moments are adding. Or other activities.

What else is fulfilling to me? What can I enjoy that will help put me at ease, relieve stress and help build me back better for tomorrow? And shouldn’t I structure more of my life around those things?

Do they have to be “easy” speaking things? Like reading a book to my kids or talking to them? Talking to very close friends? Or is it ok for my stuttering stress to be eroded by a bike ride?

I think it comes down to how much does my stuttering really stress me out these days? I’m on much, much better terms with it now. I can have a bad moment and not let it eat at me all day. There are other things that “take away.” I think having it so stuttering has less and less power to “take away” is really the goal.

Fluency as a curse word

Today’s ISAD 2016 paper that I’m going to comment on is

Is Fluency a Curse Word? (Frank Stechel)

“Nonetheless, when I challenge myself and use fluency enhancing techniques to be able to say a word fluently, where I previously anticipated problems, I prefer to think of my success as achieving or approximating fluency rather than stuttering more easily or differently. Why does it make a difference? Because – and this is simply my own feeling – when I’m speaking essentially fluently, even with some repetitions or prolongations, I feel in control and can feel the flow of my speech, which is not my experience when I’m stuttering with more tense blockages.”

This article makes me think of fluency as “control.” There are definitely times when I’m stuttering and my speech is just all over the place. My breathing is totally off, my pacing isn’t right, my thoughts are quickly going off track, and there’s no control in sight. Other times when I’m stuttering — maybe at a work meeting, or with friends, where I’m getting through the dialogue, but it’s not exactly smooth. But I’m getting the message across, and I’m using the words I want. I’m slowing myself down enough to remember to breath and pace my speech, and thus achieving more fluency.

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.”

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.

Action for Stammering Children Day 5

Alright, so today is the last day of commenting on the Action for Stuttering Children’s tweets. You can read what I wrote about on Day 1Day 2, Day 3, and Day 4.

Today’s post is  “Can you really read other peoples’ minds? Do you really know what other people think about your speech? Try to relax and go with the flow.”

So I really like this one. Quite brilliant, really. And here’s why — think about … what you think about other people when they’re talking. Are you really even paying attention? You hear bits and pieces here and there, right? I mean, if you’re at lunch, making some small talk with coworkers, what are you really thinking about? You listen for a bit, you think about the meeting you have coming up. Or what’s due tomorrow. Or your dinner date that evening. Or your weekend plans. Isn’t your credit card bill due? Is this Friday payday? What time is that thing for my kids tomorrow?

Just as you’re thinking about other things while your friends are talking, so are they. They hear you. They hear the stuttering. They might hear what you’re saying. But they’re also spacing out. Trust me. And we shouldn’t be bothered by it. And we should also shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves, either. There’s an enormous pressure on those of us who stutter to be perfect — because that’s what we always see on tv, at work, and at home or with friends. But it’s not necessary. But speaking is just one part of life. And we just so happen not to be perfect at it. So?

I wrote a while ago about first impressions, and I think it’s really relevant here, too. (almost a year ago to the day!)

I think this idea of a first impression being so important is a bunch of crap. Try this out — what do you remember about the first time you met your best friend? You know, the one who you’ve been friends with since you were like, 12? The one you met in English class who you still talk to every day? The one who doesn’t care what you look like because they can just as easily open up the high school yearbook for a few laughs?

Do you remember that first encounter? No? I didn’t think so.

I’ve also noticed that as I tell more and more of my close friends about stuttering, I get sort of the same reaction — you stutter? I never noticed. Some even say, yeah, but it never seems to bother you. Does it?

I’m not saying at all that stuttering doesn’t bother me. Or that it shouldn’t bother you. But it should bother us less and less as time goes on. As we make more positive connections between stuttering, saying what we want, and having neutral or positive experiences. And that all comes from realizing that we are our harshest critic. That our friends are our friends because they support us. And that strangers who hear you stutter aren’t going to jump down your throat about it and then spend the rest of their week telling the whole word how strange you sounded while ordering coffee.

Action for Stammering Children Day 4

I’ve been commenting on tweets from the Action for Stammering Children. You can read my thoughts on Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3.

Today’s post is  “Building your child’s confidence by focusing on what he is doing well and praising them, can make them feel more relaxed about their stammer.”

I was very fortunate that my parents never bothered me about my stutter. They never told me to slow down or whatever. They were supportive with regards to me going to speech therapy in school. They also did encourage me academically and when I was involved in extracurricular activities. I think that all helped a lot.

I think that stuttering during school and then going home to pressing expectations would have really crushed me and caused me to completely shut down socially. As it stood, I enjoyed school and became more and more comfortable talking to my friends as the years went on.

I can see how my parents even asking a question here and there would really make me dwell on my stuttering for days and days. I had enough of that when I had book reports and whatever other presentations in school.

All that being said, I do think it’s important that if your child stutters, to get involved more in what they’re doing at school. That way you know when certain things are coming up (presentations!) and can help them — and encourage them — to rehearse. Even if it’s not in front of you, point them toward their best friends for an audience.

It’s also important to focus on the positives as the quote says. We all have our bad days, and once we start thinking about what we stuttered on, we get to, well, I’ll always stutter on that. Which leads to, if I can’t even talk in front of my class this year, how will I do it next year? And the self-doubt mounts quickly and spirals out of control.

We absolutely need someone there to put it all in perspective — a parent to say, what else will you be doing in that class? What else have you done? Is there a report that’s also part of the grade (in addition to the presentation?) Are there more oral reports coming up this year? Did you get feedback from your teacher already, or maybe you’re just being harder on yourself (as we usually are) than you should be?

I think as parents we must also come to grips with the fact that our children may not always want to confide in us. And that’s ok. So it’s also important to keep an eye on your kid’s circle of friends. Who are they spending the most time with? Can they confide in them? Can you talk to that friend about your child’s stuttering? Is that friend strong enough to stand with your child if someone laughs at their stutter?

Action for Stammering Children Day 3

Been going through some tweets from the Action for Stammering Children. Here’s a link to the First day and Second day.

Today’s post is  “Take your time and speak a bit more slowly. Pause and take some time to think before you start to speak.”

I find that as I get older, I definitely do this more and more. If nothing else, it’s to just take the time to take a breath. Maybe a long, deep breath. And this sounds strange, but I then try to focus on the middle of my first sentence. What I’m going to say — not how I’m going to start to say it. Sometimes this works, and the opening bit of the sentence comes out more easily.

It’s a fine line when you’re speaking slowly, though. Especially if you’re covert — all you’re really doing is scanning ahead for words to avoid. On the other hand, I find that if I can string a few words that I actually want to say (through better breathing and pacing) my confidence grows and so does the momentum of my speaking.

I’ve also found that if you actually stop to think and pause between sentences, you can really gather your thoughts and make sure you’re heading in the right direction. There’s nothing worse than getting completely off track and stuttering while doing so — it just means you’ll have to stop, correct yourself and explain what you really meant. And by that time, you’re flushed with anxiety and want to start speaking faster. And then it all breaks down quickly.

If you get a chance, try to notice how you pace your speaking when you’re talking to colleagues or even strangers versus close friends. With strangers, I’m usually a bit more tense, a bit more hurried, my shoulders are hunched up, and I’m not really thinking about what I’m saying. More of how it sounds coming out, and what I have to say next.

With close friends, think of a time in a coffee shop, or in the living room late in the evening. Quiet, relaxed. Your pacing is probably slower, you’re listening more, you’re not as worried about how you sound, but what you’re saying. That’s the kind of pacing we should all try to do with everybody.

Action for Stammering Children Day 2

This week I’m going to go through several tweets from the Action for Stammering Children. Here’s yesterday‘s post. These have all been done by children, teenagers and therapists. They all sum up the stuttering experience very well, and I thought I’d add a bit more to them regarding my own experience.

Today’s post is, “Certain situations make us stammer more. Many of us find being put on the spot or under pressure the hardest.” This is meant for teachers by pupils.

I know when I was in school I certainly hated getting called on randomly. I mean, yes, I had the answer, but having to articulate it was pretty stressful. And everybody who stutters has been through The List.

What’s The List? Oh you know. For me it was a spelling lesson. There’s a new chapter for spelling, a list of words, and we’ll go around the room, and everybody will say the word, spell the word, read the definition and/or use it in a sentence.

So let’s see … I’m … 15th … go down the words … yeah, I can’t say that.

I’m not sure how it happened, but I think my French teacher in high school figured out that my stutter bothered me and that I hated having to speak. So imagine this — we had a language lab. You put on headphones and you and everybody else are all on the same “channel.”So the teacher could make us listen to a recording (en Francais!) and then she’d ask us about it. So everybody could hear you answer (en Francais!). So it was the hell of having to speak up in class but with the added hell of basically being on the phone. Fun!

Anyway, the point is that my French teacher was nice enough to click over to me, ask me something for just a second, and then go onto the next person. So grateful.

I know that for most presentations or book reports or whatever I was a total wreck. But I think that was a function of being a young person — waiting until the last minute, throwing something together, not rehearsing, and totally lacking confidence.

So what would I tell my younger self? Well for book reports and presentations that are a few weeks out, prepare and rehearse. Get more comfortable. You’re going to stutter, but the more you know, the more confident you’ll be, and the more comfortable you’ll be with delivery.

And what would I tell my younger self about getting put on the spot? About being asked to read something outloud suddenly? About having to go up to the chalkboard, do a math problem and then talk through the solution?

Well, start with a deep breath. Then take another. Then focus on delivering your answer at your own pace. Just because your friend before you rattled off an answer quickly doesn’t mean you have to. Remember — slow is your friend — your friends want you to take your time — it’ll make class end earlier! But seriously, I do still deal with this in my working life. I’m put on the spot by a senior manager or VP — asking me specifics about a project. Deep breath, some consideration, slow delivery. And in the working world, it’s ok to say you don’t know (when you genuinely don’t know — not when you’re just avoiding) and say you’ll find the information and get back to them.

The stuttering bothered me because I was comparing myself to my fluent friends constantly. But how do they sound when they’re put on the spot? Unsure? Uncertain? Searching for words? Nobody is perfect in those situations time and time again.

And what would I want to tell my teachers if I could go back?

Knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t want them to back off on oral presentations or anything. Not at all. That’s not how real life is going to be. But I’d prefer them to challenge me more on it. Ask me — Did you prepare early? Did you rehearse? Did you get a bunch of friends together and do the presentation in front of them?

For stuff on the spot, I’d ask simply that they be patient and maintain eye contact. To control the tone and make sure I’m not feeling rushed. For something like spontaneous group work — where you assign a leader — ask the group to assign one. So if I’m feeling good that day, I can take it. Otherwise I can still contribute meaningfully without the stress of having to present the bulk of the work.

I think also to recognize when I’m having a bad day (speaking-wise) and you’ve called on me. Look, I got up and did the math problem in front of the class. I showed all my work. I wrote it all out in a way that anybody could follow along. When I go in on explaining the first step and can barely say “x,” I’d certainly appreciate lightening up on follow-up questions.

To read more about my experiences in school, you can click here for elementary school, here for junior high, and here for high school.

Action for Stammering Children Day 1

Last week Action for Stammering Children put up posts on Twitter regarding stammering. These were quotes by children, teenagers and therapists on stammering and how to build confidence. I wanted to look at them and give my own thoughts on each. I’ll be doing one per week — they posted five, and they can be found on twitter @StammerCentre and by searching for #stammeringtips.

So the first one is, “People are more interested in what you have to say than how you are saying it

One of the nice experiences I’ve had since moving to Saudi is the respect. You simply get more if you are a Westerner. The premise is simple — you have been hired because you have the expertise and knowledge to help the company or project. The way we do things in the West is considered more sophisticated, and imparting that know-how is important.

So what happened to me when I started going to more meetings here — meetings with my engineers and clients — was that as soon as I started talking, everybody got quiet and started to listen. It was a bit unsettling at first, really. But then I figured it out. Did I stutter? Oh sure, lots. But everybody just sat there, staring at me, hanging on my every word. This guy knows! Listen to him! At least that’s what I’d like to think.

Sadly, thinking about it more, I realize that before coming here, people would listen to me because … well, I didn’t talk that much in the office or in meetings. Because I was covert! And knew I’d stutter. So if I had something to say, it was startling to them. And it must have been important if the quiet guy is speaking up!

But most importantly, I’ve learned that friends and loved ones don’t care about your stutter at all. If you ask them about it, they’ll tell you that, “I don’t hear you stutter when you talk.” And why is that? It’s because they’re listening. They want to hear the message, hear your feeling, and make a connection. You listen to them, and they listen to you. That’s the point of family and friends, right?

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.

Somebody Famous

I had the chance again to do some international travel over the past few weeks (and no, that’s not an excuse for my horrid posting schedule). But as I was walking through airports, it occurred to me — what if I saw someone famous?

I think a lot of people are like this — they go to events, they wait around outside clubs and airports and whatever else, hoping to catch a glimpse of a movie star or sports hero. And sometimes, just carrying on with your normal routine, you run into someone famous. You’re in the same space, there’s an exchange of looks or smiles or whatever. An acknowledgement of existence. And then?

Hi? Hello?

I think I need to ask someone fluent about what they are so eager to say to a famous person. What bits of conversation are you looking to start with? How will the small talk open? Because despite the strides I have made with my stuttering, it’s not something I think I would do. See someone famous … ok, great, move on. Not going to talk to them, not going to engage, not even going to bother snapping a photo — because then someone will ask, “did you go up to them?”

For me it starts with the name — not mine, theirs. There are thoughts that for those of us who stutter, we stutter on our own names a lot more because there’s no alternative — no substitution is possible. Well, it’s the same for anybody else, really. When you’re sitting in a meeting and have to go around the room — and tell someone on the phone who’s in the room. So the opening hello is fraught with fear — and of looking silly or nervous or whatever. And it’s not that I’m nervous, famous person. I stutter.

And then I think, ok, say somehow I get past that. Then? Think of not overly famous people — just the ones who are big in whatever sport or tv show you enjoy. One that’s not sweeping the world. I like cycling — there are plenty of cyclists who could probably walk through airports completely unnoticed. So then? I have to quickly think — ok, where were they, what did they just accomplish, are they in the middle of some big event or great season? And then find something witty to ask. More stress, more uncertainty.

So you add all that up, and … no thanks. Carry on, famous person. Have a good time.

Minding the Gap

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the gap. There’s that space for all of us who stutter — between who we are now and who we think we should be. It covers everything — our job, our spouse, our friends, our relationships, our outlook on life. There’s a gap to be found in them all. How would life be different if I didn’t stutter? If I had been more confident during that interview for the job I didn’t get? If I had asked about a different neighborhood or apartment when I moved into a new town? If I had spoken with my guidance counselor or friends of parents about career choices?

Even people who don’t stutter have these gaps as well. They’re constantly comparing themselves to this that or the other.

Career-wise, I’ve been very good about not ever doing this. It wasn’t terribly hard. My friends who I grew up with basically didn’t have the same college degree as me, nor did they have the same kind of job. They didn’t have the same upbringing, and didn’t have the same goals. We are different, and that’s fine.

But things always change. You find out someone at work is the same age as you, someone who is more charismatic, outgoing, talkative, and ambitious. And you start to wonder. You think that you’ve got all the same tools, all the same opportunities. The same amount of experiences in similar projects, and are now in the same office. So you start to wonder. Is he slightly ahead of me because I’m not more outgoing? Because he can talk a good game? Because people find it easier to talk to him?

This has thrown me off lately because it’s entirely new. I’m trying to handle it by breaking it down into smaller pieces and rationalizing my way out of it. Asking myself, well, sure we’re here in Saudi, and it’s easy for him, but I want to move back to the States sooner than later. And maybe doing the sales thing instead of engineering isn’t really my thing. Maybe a technical job again would be nice.

And even bigger than all of that is how much importance I’ve placed on work. Is that really necessary? Sure, there’s going up and doing a good job and all that, but there’s also extracurriculars to focus on — like this blog, more writing, and doing more stuttering-related things when I get back. It’s all been helping. The gap is getting smaller. I’m going back to, his goals are different than mine. We want different things out of life.

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