Slowly updating

Along with a renewed vigor for posting to the site, I’m working through all the static pages and updating them. Today I refreshed the About page. It had been three years! I’m not 37 anymore …

I also updated the e-mail address at the bottom of the About page, but you can also always just comment on any post as well.

Also, at the end of this month, I’ll have been at my new job for two years. Hard to believe that I was just sitting in on several interviews. It’s the first job where I advertised from the start — screening phone call, hiring manager, plant folks on site, and then when I got the job, introducing myself to all the other managers.

I would definitely say it’s made life a lot easier. There have been some new folks at the plant and elsewhere, but the advertising to them has been very straightforward as well. My stress is reduced — when I do stumble on words, I don’t even think about the stutter. I just think, ok, let me regroup and get some words together. I also don’t swap out words — ok, maybe once in a while. Can’t lie. Sometimes I just don’t want to stop the speech!

I think that since the stuttering isn’t at the front of my everyday speech anymore, I’ve let the blog slide. But going through twitter and reading updates on Facebook groups, I realize there are still thousands of people out there who stutter who are on the same journey.

Friday Tournament

Here’s a better idea. There are 32 “teams” for my little tournament, which means 16 first round matchups. I’ll just do all of them on Fridays for four months! Starting with tomorrow.

I’m off for the next few days, and will have time to write them all up and put them in queue. So even if I faff about and can’t get to posting about real life, at least those tournament matchups will still happen.

In the next few days I will be trying to give up processed food. Focusing on mostly fruits and almond milk and chicken breasts. It’ll be awesome, I’m sure. Oh, and guacamole. Surely that can’t be processed.

He lives! And still stutters.

Yes, the tournament is still looming over my head. Must finish! Two quick things for now, and then much more later. Firstly, I’m solo these days as my family is overseas visiting … family. More time for writing and getting up to no good.

Secondly, I’m still stuttering, but also still getting out there. This evening I went to the local velodrome to take photos (you know, when you buy a shiny [used] lens you gotta bust it out occasionally) and had a friendly chat with the people in the office about taking photos. And I didn’t even plan what I’d say! Just went in, took a breath, and let the words flow out.

Ah, a third thing. I won’t be going to the NSA Conference this year. It’s in Dallas, so a bit further away and more expense. I’ll be sticking around here, and maybe just exchanging many e-mails with some stuttering friends. And of course keeping things better updated on here!

More Tournament Details

I wanted to expand a little on each “team” in my Stuttering Discomfort tournament. Then we’ll get going on head-to-head matchups over the next few days. It’s important for me to list what the basis is for each of them …

So here we go for Phone and Audiences:

Phone

  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.
  2. Making an urgent phone call – I had to make a phone call after getting into a car accident, and it was a miserable, stutter-filled mess. There’s a call to a complete stranger, having to quickly give information that you may or may not know (where you are, what’s happened, what do you need). Then there’s having to call a loved one, and that’s nervous because you want it to be quick in case someone is trying to call you back from the other calls you made.
  3. Calling in a food order to a busy, noisy place – phone calls are bad enough, but now it’s having to speak louder and more slowly. And the feeling that they’re under pressure to hear you and are in a hurry. Sure I could do things on my own damn pace, but then they might hang up. Also, whenever I call, it’s for a real custom order. I can’t mix and match words to fluenticate (ha!) the situation.
  4. “Going around the room” on a conference call – the phone again, and this time with the added hell of the in-person introductions. But instead of having all the eyes on you, everybody’s listening and if you take too long, someone will ask if you’re still there. Of course you are, but you’re out of air, so you can’t even whimper out a “yes.”
  5. Phone interviews – prepare, prepare, prepare. And then they approach it in a totally unpredictable way. The only way this gets better is by doing a ton of them. But that means living through a lot of awkward pauses and stutters.
  6. Cold-calling a business to ask them detailed questions – just another reason to turn me to the internet. But of course if I want a bike part this afternoon, calling the local bike shop is the only way. And then I have to introduce myself. Right? No? Then explain what I need. How much do I explain? Am I wasting their time? Are they busy? Wait, what did I need again? Crap, what time are they open until? I can find that out online, nevermind.
  7. Ordering a new service (i.e. cable, new gym, etc.) – the same information, again and again. Things I can’t skip out of. Name, address, phone number. Credit card number. And then wanting to ask some detailed question but not wanting to bother because I’m already exhausted and out of breath.
  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.

Audiences

  1. Being asked to make a speech on the spot (including introduction) – Ah, yes, introducing myself. So not only do I stutter through my name and role at the company, but now you’re asking me to do something unrehearsed. At least with a  take or two I’d be somewhat smoother. But nope.
  2. Giving a wedding speech – I might feel more comfortable surrounded by family and friends, but this is all on tape. And I hate hearing or seeing myself recorded. And in 15 years, helping the bride and groom clean up after a party late and night hearing the bride say something like, “oh, I still remember that speech you gave … it was just so … honest…”
  3. Reading religious text aloud at a service (church/mosque/temple) – tied to the above. All eyes on me for someone else’s moment that will live forever. And no other words to choose from! At least I could rehearse it a few times and practice breathing. And then forget the breathing when I see all those eyes …
  4. Meeting and speaking in front of the family of your partner – ah yes, high pressure small talk. I can rehash a bunch of old stories, but aren’t I supposed to come across as funny and interesting? That’s how I was advertised, right?
  5. Fielding questions from a group – I have no idea what you people want! I want to do the right thing and have a nice long think and give you a beautiful, well-thought out and eloquent answer. But that would require me not avoiding about two dozen words. Maybe I could e-mail y’all instead?
  6. Presenting at work – Not the most fun, but at least I can practice a few times and get a lot more familiar with the material. I can even set up the powerpoint so that it has way too many words on it and everybody can just read!
  7. Running a meeting at work – Not at all difficult, right? I put out the agenda, and then prompt others for updates. But still if I’ve got something to talk about it may get a little tricky. Thankfully it’s all internal, so I’m at least familiar with the crowd.
  8. Responding when called on directly in front of a group (class, meeting) – Well, sure, there’s a debate here of, should I stutter through the actual answer, or just say I’m not sure and let them call on someone else?

Boxed in and Stuttering

The other day I had to go visit a client at their site. They’ve got several buildings and parking lots, and although my boss had the power to park in a visitor lot a few weeks back (and have the guard inside not care) the guard was not so welcoming to me. He instructed me to head to a totally different lot. Fortunately I had gone there early enough that I wouldn’t be late for my meeting.

I drove around to the other lot. I think this is the lot? It had a gate. Oh boy. I have a badge. I took out the badge and waved it at the reader. Nothing. Again. And again. Nothing, nothing, sorry. I had to get to this meeting, and I had to park in this lot — the campus was big enough that the other lot would have made me late.

I pushed the call button on the keypad. I could hear it dialing. And then getting to a wrong number and switching and … dialing again and … connected. I looked in my rearview. I was being That Guy. I was boxed in. I couldn’t just back up and leave and give up (and hustle to the other lot).

I told them, without stuttering, that I was a contractor, and I had a meeting in a certain building. I had a badge that I held up to the camera. Right after they raised the gate, they asked me my name.

Seriously?

I started shoving my name out as I nervously looked again in the rearview. Ok, ok, gate’s open, can I just go? I finished saying my name (wasn’t too bad) and drove through.

I’ve had bad experiences with toll booth operators, border agents and drive throughs. This parking lot call box was a nemesis I hadn’t faced in long, long time, though. I think what I’m going to do next time is either park in a different lot or just go find out from security (in person, of course) what’s wrong with my badge.

Stuttering at the Hospital

So i’ve got this hernia. I’ve had it for a few years, and normally it doesn’t bother me too much. I try not to push it too hard, exercise-wise, but the other day … I did. I was working out in the evening, and I knew it was pretty messed up. Nevertheless, I thought I could power through it — maybe it’d go back in while I slept.

Nope.

I slept for about three hours and was up at 2 a.m. Googling my ailment, what doctors and hospitals were covered under my insurance and whether or not I was going to die. Turns out a hernia can be really serious! The intestine can get suffocated and well, bad, bad things happen.

The next morning, my wife drove me to the ER. I suppose one benefit about suburban life is that the emergency rooms aren’t busy. At all. My belly was very sore at this point and didn’t seem to be going away (other times when I aggravated it, it’d go away after a few short hours). Then the ER doc came in and figured things out in less than a minute. Off for a CT scan. (I’d had one of these before for my eye twitch, so no worries there.)

When I got out of that, I sat in the room for a while until the doctor came. Things were feeling better (drugs, sitting up and relaxing all helped). He explained that the intestine wasn’t pushing through the abdomen muscle — it was my fat. Ah, my fat little belly. Causing all sorts of fun.

A few years ago, I would have been ok with his explanation and quick departure. Not so fast this time! I had questions. I stuttered through them, and he listened patiently. I got my answers. We even got to that point where he’s holding out his hand to shake mine, and I’m still stuttering on a word. I shook his hand while still talking and kept asking questions.

The outcome was that I was discharged that morning feeling alright. I took the rest of the day off from work and then stuttered through a voicemail to a surgeon’s office to set up elective surgery. (the surgeon’s office called me back the next day, so hey, they got my stuttertastic message).

I know I stutter. I know it’s hard to ask questions sometimes. But I’m also a customer. I’m a patient. I worry. My loved ones worry. I don’t want to have to rely on a hundred different internet opinions on something this serious. I didn’t die (because of the stuttering) and got all my questions answered.

 

Do we have to talk?

The other day I was at a Starbucks, and there were two men outside speaking Arabic. I wanted to sit outside. I passed them on the way in, obviously, so in addition to thinking about having to say my name for my coffee, I also got to think about going up to them and telling them about my Saudi experience.

I shoved my name out to the barista, whatever, that was done. I wanted to sit outside and read since it was a nice day. There was a table near these two gentlemen. I went outside.

As those of you who stutter know, there’s timing with all of this, and things “expire” pretty quickly. If you don’t go up to them when you first get out there, the window closes pretty quickly. Then you’re just being creepy and weird.

I thought about this. I thought about the stuttering. I thought about what I wanted to say. Then I thought, am I just being too hard on myself?

Yes, I’ve been getting better about speaking up. At work, at basketball practices, whatever. Do I have to do this everywhere? Am I obligated to practice? Aren’t I allowed to look at it form a non-stuttering perspective — maybe they just want to be left alone, my experience was boring, and really, are we somehow going to become best friends if I go up to them?

I didn’t talk to them. Yes, the stuttering did have something to do with it. But it was also about picking my battles. Challenges? And also the social picture. Maybe sometimes you just don’t want to talk to someone else.

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 Basketball Update

I wrote a few weeks back about coaching boys basketball this year. So what happened is that they put the first time coaches together, so I’m a co-coach. Which is fine with me obviously. My co-coach is a great guy who’s very much into it which is great. I’ve ended up doing most of the backend stuff — sending out e-mails to parents and putting together the line-ups for the games. And then during practices I help out with the specific drills that we’ve come up with. My co-coach actually played (I played a little intramural during high school but was obviously terrible) and so he’s got a solid idea of how moves should be done and what skills need to be worked on.

I didn’t expect the co-coaching thing to happen, but I’m honestly happy it did. It’s a better transition for me. It’s easing into it vs. being thrown in (which I’m accustomed to). I can see what is working or isn’t, what should be said or not, and adjust.

I’m having a very positive experience and not letting any stuttering get in the way. Now they are talking about spring sports and needing volunteers. And I’m not even hesitating to volunteer. If my daughter wants to do softball, I’ll happily sign up as a coach.

Getting through it

As I said in my last post a long, long time ago, we moved to the States. This involves a lot of time on the phone, apparently. You have to call a bunch of people and give them a bunch of information. Over and over and over again. And of course it’s the basic stuff.

Name? Telephone number? Social security number? Wife’s name? Wife’s telephone number? Address? Last four digits of your social? Previous address?

And then, with a few calls to the doctor’s office for the kids, it’s all the above … for three kids.

But I’m getting through it all. It’s a once and done thing, mostly. And those on the other end of the phone have been patient. What I haven’t been good about is simply having a planned thing to say before making the call. I usually just call the doctor’s office … oh, right, I need to ask about an appointment. New patient, sure, soon as possible, stutter here, stutter there.

We ordered some furniture online and after a few days, I checked its status. It was something very vague, and we were hoping to get the stuff before some guests showed up. Pick up the phone. Make the call. They didn’t pick up, but they said I could press one to leave a message for someone to call me back. Ummm … I’d rather not … but I need this stuff! Ok, fine. I pressed one, and they didn’t ask for a message! Hurray! But then they asked for my phone number instead. Boo … And yes, they called me back and then it’s having to say a 16-digit order number to get service. At least they asked the address and had me confirm instead of me giving the address.

But the majority of the calls are done now, I think. I may need to call the BMV (bureau of motor vehicles) to ask them about where my vehicle registration has gone. But otherwise the doctors are mostly set up, furniture is all here, cable is ordered, and the power is on.

As a whole moving back and having to make all these calls wasn’t something that I was afraid of, stuttering-wise …and that’s simply because I never thought of how much there actually would be. But then I took it one call at a time, deep breaths, didn’t let a bad call get to me, and let the necessity push me to pick up that phone again and again and again, making it easier and a lot less scary.

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).

Thoughts on the detailed conference program Part 1

Alright, a few days late (sorry, been busy at work plus thinking about packing for the trip home and then to France) but here’s a quick review of Day 1 of the more detailed program.

I am certainly most excited about the Wipe Away Your Fears Icebreaker. After last year’s first timer’s workshop, I was worried how a second timer would meet people. Yes, there’s just going up to people, but that’s still slightly intimidating — even though we all stutter!

Got conference jitters? Wipe them away in this fun “Getting to Know You” icebreaker. Come meet conference veterans and newcomers alike in a fun, interactive icebreaker activity. You’ll walk away energized and ready to face the first day of the conference.

The next one I’m interested in is, “Understanding the Medical Treatments of Stuttering. A Review of the Past, An Analysis of the Present and a View of the Future.” This reminds me of last year’s workshop regarding research. Not exactly the same, but that’s good.

Dr. Maguire will review the latest understanding of the medical treatments of stuttering and will review what may be on the horizon.

Along the same research lines is, “Genetics in Stuttering: A User Friendly Update” which would be up next.

Exciting breakthroughs in this research are providing a new perspective on stuttering, including: its causes, what this information means for those who stutter and their families, and how it may impact treatments for stuttering.

Programming note: I fly out of the Kingdom Tuesday and arrive in the States … Tuesday. What I’m hoping to do is auto-load the blog for the duration of the conference with what I posted last year about the conference as well as some other stuttering insights. Then I can lay out all the goodness of this year’s conference for you once I return. I’ll be going to France for a week after the conference to chase the Tour (like I did last year) and will be sure to bring back some stuttering stories from there, too.

Feeling sick …

I’ve not been too well the past few days. Been to the doctor and back. Nothing serious, just the annoying stuffed head, nose and scratchy throat. I suppose it happens once in a while and can be chalked up to not enough sleep and possibly too much exercising.

The one upside of course is practicing talking to total strangers (the doctors/nurses/check-in desk people). I’ve been able to stay pretty calm and collected and fluent. Although I have stuttered when the questions start going on and on (and of course my phone number). I also keep on forgetting to collect my thoughts before opening my mouth. And they’re simple questions! What’s the problem today? Well, my head is all stuffed up, my nose is runny, my throat is scratchy. And yet somehow I bumble through it.

I also had the follow up with my MRI. I was able to ask the doctor a bunch of things I already had pretty good answers too — stuttered a little here and there, but at least I got to practice. And overcome my fear of talking and asking things to somewhat-strangers.

I’ve got some Botox injections slated for this evening. At least it’ll make this annoying eye twitching go away. Lately it’s not only been a discomfort, but as the muscles get tired, it’s a little painful by the end of the day.

I have written out a list for the next few weeks of posts — don’t worry about that. I think the first thing will have to be another link roundup. I’ve been seeing some really good things on Twitter lately.

Stuttering Favorites

Tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of this blog. So I thought I’d take a look back at the year and my favorite posts. The other benefit is that I can update a few of them over the next few weeks …

Covert and Overt Stuttering — Transitioning from covert to overt was a big deal, and it’s not done yet. But I’m making progress every time I say what I want to say and not just what I can say.

Conference Calls — they’ve gotten much better already in the new job — I know most of the people on them, and they’re patient anyway. But it’s crazy how your mind works when the mute button goes on and off.

Summing Up a Day of Stuttering — a long thought exercise — something for those of you who know someone who stutters. This is what life is like. And this is what those of us who stutter go through to make ourselves feel normal.

My Kind of Stuttering — My early exposure (before the NSA Conference) to people who stuttered was very minimal. Almost nonexistent. So it was interesting to see that stuttering has variety of faces (and sounds … or not) and I do some and not others.

I’m Telling You That You Can’t Do That Job — Message boards, Facebook, wherever else — there’s a lot of negativity about what people who stutter can do. If you put in the effort and do the work, you can make a major change. And if you’re young and undecided, you still have every opportunity open to you. There’s no time for haters.

Meeting the Stuttering Brain — this capped off my Stuttering Vacation that included the 2014 NSA Conference. Tom Weidig and I talked about stuttering, and he offered blunt advice that really resonated.

Stuttering Link Roundup – Part 1

Finally after weeks and weeks and months and months (not really), here’s a link roundup in two parts.

This first is for blogs that are here on WordPress. They’re easier for me to find. I hope all of them continue to write about stuttering. We definitely need more voices and experiences.

http://iamvikesh.com/

I grew up thinking I was shy. In reality, I now realise that it wasn’t shyness but the fear of stuttering which caused me to keep my mouth shut in school, even when I knew the answer. At that first self help group meeting in November 2001, where I first spoke with others about stuttering, my eyes were opened and the wheels started turning in my head. I wasn’t the only one in the world who spoke like this, wow! It was an amazing feeling of empowerment.

https://krushybrushy.wordpress.com/

When I was at school, I was good at pretending that I didn’t have a stutter or that it won’t affect my life in any way. In reality it was different. The life of essays, coursework and exams didn’t require much human interaction to succeed…

https://hannahmariealison.wordpress.com/

As a child and teenager, I was depressed and very quiet. I didn’t say much because my stutter was so bad that I would come home from school mentally and physically exhausted because trying to do something so simple as to talk became a huge chore. Fast forward to today where I am a happy 24 year old engaged woman who is pursuing her dreams…

What I’m Stuttering on Lately

I had a chance last week to travel around the Kingdom a bit. I took my 8-year-old son.

When we got out of the airport in Medina, I needed to get us a taxi to the hotel. I knew what I wanted to pay, and the first cabbie quoted me a price that was way too high. I waved him off. I strode out to another few taxis and asked their price. Too high again. I said no. I started to walk off. He lowered. I said no again. We eventually agreed on a price (that was still too high, but whatever). I was just happy that I bargained a little bit and saved $13. I hate bargaining, and I’m usually the kind of person who just settles for whatever someone says. But I was feeling a lot more confident, and I had options, and I wanted to show my son how things are done.

I was staying with family at the hotel, so I didn’t have to check in. And when my son got hungry (and he’s particular about his food) family ordered room service, not me.

I stuttered off and on with my family members who I hadn’t seen in a while. Streaks of fluency punctuated by long agonizing moments of silence or a consonant being dragged out. I had a lot of catching up to do, and most of the stories I hadn’t told anybody else. So I was feeling my way around their adjectives, trying not to avoid.

I suppose I should mention the “standard” stuttering at the Starbucks at the Riyadh airport as well as on “diet coke” in the airplane. Some things I can always count on. But I didn’t go uncaffeinated!

Again with my son, and again with ordering food — we were at the food court, and he wanted a chicken sandwich at Burger King. I was tasked with getting some Pizza Hut. I didn’t want to (try) to say “crispy chicken.” So I told my son, look, here’s the money, order what you want (cleared it with me first) and I’m going to go order the pizza so we can get back to the room faster. We ended up doing that twice.

Yes, I avoided. But see, it’s complicated, right? I mean, he’s 8, and he’s gotta learn this stuff. How to order what he wants, how to deal with some money, and how to stand in line and collect the same food with a receipt. Right? Right? Lessons on growing up disguised as avoidance techniques. I guess covert behavior can be enabled by children.

Flying back home, I got into a conversation with a stranger while standing idly at a phone charging stand. He just began asking things, where we were going, where we were from. And it wasn’t too bad talking. Just an easy, slow-paced conversation without too much stress. And it annoyed me only because it made me wonder how many other casual conversations (you never know who you’re going to meet!) I’ve avoided because of stuttering.

Stuttering Cousins

I had been told this before, but had completely forgotten — I’m not the only one in my family who stutters. My cousin on my dad’s side stutters, and well, he just so happens to live an hour away from us here in Kingdom. I’m pretty bad (horrible) with keeping up with my cousins (they’re all over the place, and I’ve got a lot of them!)

Anyway, this cousin of mine came to visit us the other day. (I only found out that he’s here in Kingdom this past week) I’m sure I’d met him before, but had never talked to him before. We had other family over, so the issue of stuttering never came up. So this brings up a point I made a few days ago about calling people out. And I realized how complicated stuttering really is and the feelings associated with it. He could probably quickly tell that I stuttered. I did it openly. But I never asked him about his, or being covert, or how things are with speaking at work.

This cousin is slightly older than me, and I could see what he was doing/saying/not saying. Covert! So sneaky. He didn’t “stutter” in the more “well-known” public sense. And of course I didn’t know if he was avoiding (he probably was). I could see the pauses, the starts/stops. He did repeat a few words here and there as well.

It made me think back to how my life used to be. Before the NSA Conference, before this blog, before making the transition (partially) from covert to overt. All the tricks, the quiet, the easier words.

I think I really need to make a goal of talking more to this cousin in depth about his stuttering. I’m curious how things were back in Pakistan before he moved to the Kingdom, and how the people at work see him or talk to him. And how they react to the stuttering (if he ever breaks out of his covert shell). He’s also bilingual.

Before that I need to sit down and think of some decent questions. Questions that I wouldn’t mind answering myself. And at least get back into that old frame of mind. Obviously I know how personal this is, so I need to tread carefully.

Getting the name out

Aside: This evening a neighbor stopped by to drop some food off. I had talked to her on the phone before, but never met in person. As she stood at the door, she paused, trying to think of my name. I could feel that I wouldn’t stutter on my name, so, out it came! I felt slightly bad because I know she wanted to remember it, but hey, it’s a victory, right?

Stuttering Experimentation

So I posted a few days ago: How much do you consciously experiment with your stutter and speech? Do you do funny voices while alone? Speed things up? Slow things down? Does any of it help?

For me? I don’t do the funny voices or accents, but I do slow things down. This is very different than people simply saying, “you should slow down.” We get that crap all the time. This is a very conscious effort — monitoring your breathing, relaxing the shoulders, maintaining eye contact, stuttering but moving on, and controlling the pace.

I’ve found some success with this, but it’s difficult to remember all the time. Too often we jump into a conversation and are pinned to its pace. But why? Why not just take a breath?

I was in a meeting the other day and had to present some information. I was under the impression (thanks, fast-paced world!) that I needed to get it out as quickly as possible. So I did. And I stuttered. I wasn’t too fazed, but it was still annoying. Then what happened? Well, someone else had to give some information. And you know what? They’re fluent. And they took their sweet time. Why didn’t I just do that? Because I thought me, the most junior person there should hurry? That the meeting was already going long enough? That speaking slowly would somehow mean that I wasn’t sure of the information I’m presenting? Lesson learned.

I think I need to think of some kind of clever mnemonic before speaking. I’m sure there’s something out there already.

And what about talking faster? I tend to speak faster in the late evening after having a lot of diet coke (usually while at dinner with friends). And I do pretty well, fluency-wise. But I’m not sure if it’s the tired mixed with the caffeine, or being with friends, or the louder music, or what. During the day, it’s not something I’m convinced would work.

Finishing my Stuttering

I’ve been wanting to comment on this HuffPo article that’s been out for a while on why you shouldn’t finish the sentence of a person who stutters.

I wholeheartedly agree with everything that’s said, particularly this part:

While I appreciate the effort, sometimes it makes me feel a bit worse, which seems counterintuitive. Instead of feeling relieved that they jumped in and played superhero and saved the day, I feel a sense of unease, of discomfort. I understand that they are trying to help, but even though they think they’re being supportive by finishing a sentence for me — or for anyone else who stutters — it doesn’t help.

I think though that it’s really audience-dependant. On the one hand, no, I don’t want you finishing my sentences. On the other, if you’re a senior person at my company, and you decide to finish a word of mine here and there, I’m not going to jump down your throat about it. That’s somewhat career-limiting. I’ve been humiliated by my stuttering before, so I know the drill.

(Aside: I stuttered really hard this morning with a very senior guy at work. He finished a word or two. I stuttered through a whole conversation with him — that I had initiated. That I could have just summarized in an e-mail. I felt rushed, I felt foolish at times, I felt myself covered in sweat. But … I did dive in on my own. So despite the heavy stuttering and the occasional finished word, I’d call it a win.)

It’s also interesting here in Saudi where English isn’t everybody’s native language. So occasionally I’ll be in a meeting, and one non-native English speaker will finish another’s sentence (both are fluent). The idea is that they might just need a little nudge with the words, and they just want to get on with it. I suppose there’s a chance that (based on my appearance) I might not be a non-native English speaker as well.

On another practical note, when you finish my sentence, it also disrupts the general flow. I was about to say the word (no, really) and then was going to pause, take a breath, and … but you finished. So now there’s this gap, and I’m not ready for it. So I try to say a word, but I’ve forgotten to take a breath. So I’m stuck, there’s an awkward silence, you’re not focusing on me, I’m losing the other person listening, I’m fumbling for another word, you’re back to this guessing game, I’m getting dismayed, and …

The other question is — am I allowed to finish a word or sentence of someone who’s fluent? Does that set a precedence? Do people even notice those things? Should I just not do that at all and be patient instead? It’s a tricky game.

I think this article is great in that it presents this idea to people who know nothing about it. So if they hear someone stuttering, they’ll say, ok, I’ll just wait and listen. What I’d like to know though is really, how would you even broach the subject? Like at work? Do you tell your whole department? A few people here and there when it comes up? What do you say?

You know what stuttering does to your head? It makes you think things like: “If I send them this article, I almost feel like I’m asking for special treatment.”

Look, I know fundamentally that I’m not asking for special treatment. I’m only asking for patience and understanding. But sometimes that covert me manages to pop his head up and take over a few relationships. Changing that will take time.

Smoothing out the posting schedule

In an effort to smooth things out a bit here, I think I ought to tell you what’s on the docket for this week. That’ll keep me honest with regards to posting.

1. That Huffington Post article about not finishing sentences. I wonder if those of us who stutter finish the sentences of fluent people? And what about when English isn’t the first language?

2. What does your perfect listener do? We all dread opening our mouths when it comes to talking to strangers, so what would you really like? Do you just want them to be patient, or do you want them to know more about stuttering itself?

3. How much do you consciously experiment with your stutter and speech? Do you do funny voices while alone? Speed things up? Slow things down? Does any of it help?

4. What I’m stuttering on lately

5. Link roundup! I’m getting way behind on this …

Getting older and stuttering

What I’ve been seeing a lot on Facebook lately is a lot of younger people who stutter worrying a lot about their future.

For the record, I was too naive to realize that stuttering would be a lifelong problem. Being covert for such a long time, I figured I could just keep on doing it, and everything would be fine.

What I’d say to a younger person who stutters is that it can get better with the right attitude change. That’s what takes a long time.

The basis for the change is simple and can be spelled out in three aspects:

1. The people who matter don’t care that you stutter
2. The only way to know if something horrid is going to happen is to open your mouth
3. The horrid consequences that you foresee happening when you stutter don’t happen

I’ve mentioned these things before.

What happens as you age is that you simply have more data. You talk more. You see what happens when you stutter. You see how people react. Over months and months and years and years, you see that at the end of the day, it’s us who need to open our mouths again and again and not be afraid of what happens.

We also get more patient as we age. We listen more. We consider our words carefully, and find out if we stutter on one or two (instead of avoiding them) our message becomes more clear. Our listener becomes better engaged and informed. A trust develops amongst our friends.

Is it an overnight process? Heavens no. Does it require work? Yes. Does that mean sitting in your room by yourself for hours on end reading out loud? Maybe. Does it mean not hesitating to open your mouth when you want to say something? Definitely.

Your Stuttering first impression

We all grow up hearing these two things:

“You only get one chance to make a first impression.”

and

“You can’t judge a book by its cover.”

Let’s talk about how these two contradict each other. It’s ridiculous, really. 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.

Oh, you do? And was it good? Ok, fine. Was it bad? Really? But you’re still friends, right?

Exactly.

Think about work. You had an interview. You worried, prepared, stuttered. You got the job, you joined the team. You messed up a little on your first assignment. People grumbled. But ultimately, did they care? No. They hired you for a reason. They needed your help. Your talent. They gave you a little slack on that first task, and you learned something to improve on for the next go-around.

And what about being on the other side? The one giving the interview? A candidate comes in, no resume in hand, coffee-stained shirt, 15 minutes late, cell phone ringing. Are you not going to hire this person based on that? You’re not going to ask them to talk about themselves, talk about their experience, and what they can do to help you? You’re not going to find out they know a lot more than what you remembered from looking at their resume for five seconds?

The point is that we should try to focus on the message, not the delivery. We shouldn’t worry about the delivery. If the person is worth talking to, then they won’t care how you deliver. They want to engage with you, want to listen to you. And like your best friend, they’ll still be listening 23 years later.

Getting called out

Have you ever gotten called out for your stutter? I mean in a sympathetic way? By someone who understands what stuttering is?

I’m not sure getting laughed at or cut off or ignored is really being called out. That’s just the other person displaying bad or ignorant behavior.

I was asked by someone just two years ago. It was a senior person at my company. He asked me a little about it, but I think part of the point was to convey that he had had a stutter as well. And that he still stumbled (but not really) on some words. I’m not convinced it was stuttering, and maybe it was just a way to make a connection with me. But it was a little awkward because, well, how much do you share? What do you say, “well, listen, there’s the one-minute version of my life-long angst, and then there’s this blog that I’ve got. If you printed out all the posts, it’s nearly 75,000 words. Should we start there then?”

On the other side, as someone who stutters, have you ever called out someone else who stutters? And no, I don’t mean when you knew full well that they did but just wanted to connect. More of a “I know you’re being covert …” kind of a deal.

I’ve never done this. I’m pretty convinced that I’ve never met anybody else who stutters (other than last year at the conference, of course). And if I have, then man, they were even better at being covert than me!

Across the Kingdom for a Stutter

I’ll be traveling over the next few days here in the Kingdom. I’ll still set up some posts in the meantime, though.

For traveling and stuttering, I’m not thinking or worrying about anything specific. I’m traveling with my 8-year-old son, and we’ll be taking a plane, taxi, and checking into a hotel. I guess if I’m going to be anxious about anything right now (about 24 hours before the event) it’ll be having to get a cab from the airport to the hotel. The hotel’s name starts with an M, and there are two of them in the city.

There might be some Starbucks during the layover as well, I suppose. But I’ve been getting pretty decent at that. I’m not letting the stuttering get to me. It happens, and I know it’s going to happen, but boy, do I really want that coffee.

I guess the goal has always been to minimize the stuttering-as-a-problem. Stuttering-as-something-to-worry-about. Put it right up (or down) there with forgetting my headphones or earplugs. There are so many other bigger headaches with travel that I really don’t need to let stuttering start shoving its way in, distracting me from making lists and printing out boarding passes.

Another sporting view of Stuttering

When you see a professional athlete, what do you see? (Aside from the occasional mistake, of course). We see performance at a high level. For play after play, game after game, season after season.

What do we think when we see a seasoned public speaker? The confidence, the eye contact, the message, the audience connection. It’s also performance at a high level.

Now think about how many professional athletes there are. And how many really good public speakers there are. Not many, right? We know by now that we can’t do even half the things a professional athlete can do. But can we still enjoy sport with our family and friends? Of course. Are you bothered when you can’t throw a football 50 yards or crush a baseball past the outfield wall? Probably not.

Shouldn’t it be the same for speaking? Why do we see people on television and think we need to be that eloquent and strong and fluent? Hardly anybody else is. The next time you hear someone fluent at work during a meeting, listen to their hesitations, their fillers. They’re all over the place. Are they bothered? Likely not. So when we’re not having the most fluent of days, should we really be comparing ourselves to such a high standard? Definitely not.

A sporting view of Stuttering

I was watching soccer last night (no, I’m not going to call it football) and inevitably the commentators will focus on a single play (or less than a half dozen) and say the game came down to those plays, those decisions.

Did it really? Isn’t it the sum of the parts?

I understand what they’re doing — they tell us about what made the most noise, what seemed to have the most influence. The penalty in the box, the no-call that everybody but the ref saw. And for days afterward (if it’s a championship game) we’ll all talk about those same few plays.

With stuttering it tends to be the same. Our game is the entire conversation, but we usually only focus on our one big block, our one huge moment that a word just wouldn’t come out. We were having a half-decent speaking day, and then a miserable moment put us down.

But speaking shouldn’t be like that. It should be the sum of the parts. Do some players have a bad day? Yeah, ok. Every time they’re on the field they screw something up. But even with professionals, they occasionally make mistakes. Then what? The best players don’t let it bother them. They move on to the next minute, the next series, the next half of play.

We need to do the same.

Stuttering after work hours

I said a few days ago that I’d be out at a workshop for work. Well, there wasn’t much speaking to be done at the workshop for me. Afterward though, we all headed to the bar (and then to another) for socializing.

I talked a good bit with my colleagues — one-on-one, and sometimes to someone across our table — so everybody could hear me talk. Nothing I said was prepared beforehand. I didn’t have an agenda. I’d just be listening, realize it’s a good time to interject something, and then started speaking when appropriate. The group was made up of people at my level and above. Some very senior people from the company.

How did I do?

I stuttered. A lot.

This goes back to what exactly is stuttering? What do you think, in your mind, is success?

To the casual observer, they’d see me open my mouth, start speaking, and start stuttering. I’d finish saying what I wanted, and then be quiet. For the observer, I stuttered.

For me? I don’t think so. I said what I wanted. I used the words that I wanted. I took the time that I needed. I engaged the person who I wanted. I occasionally got the response that I wanted. I’ve conveyed (maybe not fluently) information. That’s success.

What else does the casual observer see? They see me standing there, quietly listening to the conversation. To them, I’m not stuttering. They think that’s ok. I’m just taking it all in.

What’s really happening? Well, I’m standing there, and I’ve thought of something to say. I’ve quickly analyzed the words that I need to utter. I’ve gauged my audience, the dynamic that’s going on, the likelihood of being interrupted by the waiter, a few other possible distractions, and decided that since I’m going to stutter so much — and not even get out the first few words, that I won’t say anything at all. That’s failure.

And what’s the sum at the end of the evening? More success than failure. Simple as that. If I wanted to say 10 things, did I hide behind my inabilities on more than 5 of them? I failed. Did I just throw it out there and get through it, judgement and stuttering be damned? Success.

I think overall I’m starting to “get there.” I’m maybe at like 60/40. I’m uttering what comes to mind, but I’m still holding back a lot.

Superstition and Stuttering

Well, well, it’s Friday the 13th. Bad luck today? Good luck? The same? What about your stuttering?

I’ve never been a very superstitious person myself, but I can see how someone who stutters might be inclined. Stuttering is so delightfully random that way. I put my pants on left leg first and didn’t stutter my name during first period science! I rubbed my belly clockwise thrice and when the phone rang, I didn’t stutter my company’s name!

From a more scientific standpoint, I’m pretty curious about how some things do affect my stuttering, though — especially considering that I’m allergic to just about everything. Especially soy. What if I cut that out my diet? I feel like I stutter more after eating a lot of cheese. Or dairy. Or eggs. But sometimes I’m fine when I eat those things. Isn’t being gluten-free a thing now? Should I try that?

After I’ve exercised for an hour and really “opened my lungs” a bit — does that help with my stuttering? What about early in the morning when I’ve not had anything to eat for the past 12 hours?

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