Getting comfortable

I spoke a long time ago about how it takes a few months when I get into a new job or situation to feel more comfortable speaking in front of everybody. Well, its been about 8 months now that I’ve started a new job, and I can certainly say I’m comfortable.

It’s easy for me to present, on a biweekly or more basis, all of my engineering projects to the plant leadership team. And that’s at three different plants. I don’t have any issues making points or asking questions on conference calls. And calling vendors and contractors is easy as well.

I’ve been able to make time to gather more background information and prepare material for meetings. That’s all helped enormously with my confidence while presenting.

I don’t feel as much stuttering pressure, either. I can still feel when I’ll block, of course. But I’ll either stutter through it, or stop and take a breath.

So for me — and your results may vary — time has helped. With comfort, with words, with confidence. I’m not planning on going anywhere job-wise — I’m back in PA where I wanted to end up after Saudi — so for now I’ll just keep pushing on seeing who I can be without worrying about my stutter.

Summertime Stuttering

Well, what a summer it’s been. We’ve moved from Indiana to Pennsylvania, moved into a house we bought, and got the kids sorted out with summer fun. This includes season passes to Hersheypark which is pretty awesome. I could sing its praises all day long.

I’ve also started up the National Stuttering Association’s Lancaster-York-Harrisburg chapter. We have been meeting at Speechcare, a local SLP office. Our host actually ran the group many years ago, so she was happy to help get it going again. I felt very comfortable starting and helping to run the meetings after going to a years’ worth of meetings in Indianapolis. The biggest lesson to learn was that it’ll start slow, and that’s ok. If you spend a year with just a half dozen people, that’s completely normal. So I’m pleased to say we’ve got at least four of us who stutter as well as our host.

As part of the big move back to Lancaster — where I grew up — I’ve had to call a lot of companies for medical, dental, addresses, etc., It’s been quite a grind. I didn’t have the luxury of a lot of houses to choose from, so of course we ended up on a street that I have trouble saying. And we live in Lititz, not Lancaster … not that Lancaster is any easier to say anyway. But I’m getting through them. Trying to ignore them once I hang up and it’s gone rough. Focusing on the wins and moving forward with getting things done and set up.

I’ve been at the new job for six months, and I’ve become very, very comfortable speaking with everybody here. We just got a new plant manager, and during our one-on-one, I did advertise up front that I’m someone who stutters. I made a point to tell him that I’m not someone who gets nervous, so don’t think it’s that.

The start of school is next. Everything will begin near the end of August. I have a goal to get more involved with the schools here — the same ones I went to as a kid. So I’m very excited about that. I also need to inquire about any coaching opportunities since that’s something I did in Indiana.

More to follow.

Speaking on flights

Sorry for the insanely long delay in posting. I’ve been busy with a new job! Lots to say about that. But for now, we’re moving from Indy to Pennsylvania. I’m in Indy this week getting things cleared up for the move.

I flew one way to Indy on Friday. When I sat down on my Southwest flight, I noticed the gentleman sitting next to me, an older fellow, had a shirt on that said something like, “thermo systems.” I was genuinely curious. We have some needs at our plants. I wanted to ask him what they did.

Of course I didn’t have to.

Of course I could have searched up the company’s name myself.

Of course I had a high chance of stuttering on this “cold call.”

I asked.

And then we made small talk about the company and whatever else — it’s just him and another person. And they do autoclaves for the Pharma industry, nothing I could use, unfortunately. But still. It was a win. I wanted to speak, and I spoke up. I gathered information I wanted to know, and I was able to carry on a simple conversation with little to no stress.

Advertising at the new job

I started a new job this week. it’s been a very long time coming. When I moved back from Saudi, I was hoping to get on the East Coast. It didn’t work out that way, and that was fine. I landed at one of my company’s office in the Midwest — where I had worked before. But I would apply for jobs back home as I saw them online. It would go in spurts. Some weeks I’d apply to a dozen, some months it was barely one or two. I did manage to get a few phone screens — HR people — and then to the next level and the hiring manager. For the longest time I didn’t advertise my stutter. I had this idea in my mind that they’d view it negatively, and this particular job (of the week) was my best shot, so let’s not add any more elements to it.

I would stutter somewhat during calls, but nothing too bad. I’ve done so many interviews and have told the same bits of experience, that it just comes off easily now. I’d maybe stutter on having to think about something out of the blue or a small line in my resume that I’d forgotten about. But still. No advertising.

I don’t know if I didn’t get jobs based solely on my experience or on their needs at the time. I don’t know if the stuttering that I did do had a negative impact. I was trying to convince myself it wasn’t.

In the fall I got an e-mail from an HR person asking about a call. I’d applied to the job a month earlier.

A close friend of mine had been encouraging me to advertise, and I thought, well, ok. Let’s do it. The decision was easier than the execution. I’ve had previous calls where I was like, ok, I’m going to advertise, this will be fine. But then the conversation got going, and the opportunity never presented itself. This time would be different. No matter what the opening question or two would be, I’d get it in there.

So I did.

I didn’t die. The interviewer simply acknowledged it and moved on to the questions. Excellent.

I made it to the next round to speak with the hiring manager (my current boss). I advertised again, and he thanked me for it. Whoa.

After a few weeks I had a chance to interview at the plant. I advertised to three people at the same time. No big deal. I had another in-person at the corporate offices. Advertised again. Still going well!

After a few weeks, I got the call that I got the job.

The other day I went to a meeting that I didn’t have to. I just wanted to try to meet more plant folks since I’d be supporting them. There were eight of them in the room, and they were talking about some activities for the upcoming weekend. Near the end of the meeting, the leader went around the room to find out if anybody had any issues. When he got to me, he said, he’s new. I took the chance to introduce myself. And tell eight people that I’m a person who stutters.

The more I did it over the past few weeks, the easier it got. And the better I felt. The weight was off. I could just speak freely, fluent, stuttering, whatever was in between.

I still have to introduce myself to two more plants in the area and countless other people. But I’ll be telling them all that I stutter.

Hello, Groundhog

The other day I went out to the car, and there was a groundhog in the middle of the road. We looked at each other. I got closer. He didn’t move. I got even closer. still nothing. He was moving a little, but I’m sort of used to animals running away. Or, maybe in his case, purposefully walking away. Still nothing. Maybe a broken leg? Nope, he moved around a bit. But he was still in the middle of the road and seemed really lethargic.

Since it was the middle of the morning and nobody was really around, I figured I had to do … something. I knew calling 911 wasn’t the answer, so I stood there and called the regular police number instead. They picked up quickly, and I didn’t have a plan of what really to say.

But I did alright. I didn’t stutter, simply said that, I apologize for calling about this, but you see, there’s this groundhog, and he’s here in the middle of the road, and well, he doesn’t look well, so …

We don’t deal with that.

Oh.

But, here’s a number to call instead. Perfect.

I was feeling so good about the first call, that I dialed the next number, a state department. They said that they have people who deal with this, but you have to take the animal to them.

Uh. No … I’d rather not pick him up. He’s got claws, right? I could see it ending quite badly for both of us.

So I decided to not do anything after that. I figured he’d find his way to the grassy area and then let nature take its course. I had tried at least, but it seemed that nobody was interested in the poor guy.

I will say though that my stuttering didn’t enter my mind as I was making the calls. As in, well, maybe I could e-mail someone instead. Or Twitter. Or whatever. Just call. It’ll take care of it quickly. And it worked! So now I have another small positive correlation to add to the list.

Note: Later that morning, my wife suggesting posting on the homeowner’s association Facebook page. Someone managed to call a community police officer (what?) and they came quickly to take him away. He was still moving around slowly, so it was probably a much better ending than getting run over by a car.

Ordering through the App

If you’re like me, around 38, you remember back in the day you had to go into the gas station to pay. You had to tell them the pump number. One number. And you couldn’t substitute it with anything. Well, maybe you could point. Or maybe you were the only car there. Or maybe you were having a rough year with saying vowel sounds and pump eight was the only one open, and well, looks like we’re stuttering.

And then, slowly, all the pumps changed. They all got the credit card readers. Debit cards took the place of cash. No need to speak to anybody anymore. Come and go as you please.  With the occasional bonus of going inside for some touch-screen sandwich ordering magic.

So that brings me to my love of Starbucks. I like the coffee, the ambiance, the memories I’ve made there with people there. The reliability of it. But of course for those of us who stutter, it’s always a struggle.

(Well, sometimes. I’ve been in Starbucks that are super-busy where they don’t ask me my name. And I’ve been in ones where I’m the only one and they ask me my name.)

I know for a while they’ve had an app. But I’ve been lazy about downloading and using it. I’ve been doing well ordering lately since I switched (for calorie reasons, I swear) from mochas to Americanos. But on the app, I can order ahead. Make the drink exactly how I want it, pay for it, and not talk to anybody. I did this the other day before a meeting. It was glorious.

So is that it for me then? No more counter ordering? No more drive through?

I actually don’t know. And I’d love to hear from you on this. What do you do? Are you afraid that you’re running out of places to practice? Do you even care about practicing at Starbucks? Do you not want any place, gas station, cafe or otherwise dictating what you do with your speech?

I think if there was a financial incentive (save a few cents) for ordering online, I’d be more inclined to do it. I also don’t think I’d be up for doing it when I’m going there with someone else and know that I’ll be sitting there for a while.

Stuttering Awareness Day

Today, October 22nd, is Stuttering Awareness Day. I’ll admit … I’ve not done anything for it. Other than update this blog, I suppose. My speech as of late has been off an on. I’ve been experimenting slightly with my diet. I have found that the cleaner I eat, the marginally better my speech is. I need to string together a few more weeks of that.

I did have a chance to speak with a speech therapist the other day. She’s the mother of two boys who are good friends with our youngest son. We were all at the park together. I struck up the conversation, saying that I heard that she’s a speech therapist. And then said something I rarely say, “Well, I’m someone who stutters…”

It’s funny because part of me probably doesn’t advertise because I stutter on … the word stutter. And usually before that my speech is good when I’m just making some small talk. And in some ways I feel like stuttering on stutter would kill the conversation. I’ve never thought of what happens after that, really. Do we all stare awkwardly at each other?

What’s interesting about being someone who stutters — and I bet we all do this — is that I can recall every conversation I’ve had with a “stranger” for the past few days. Not family and friends, but random exchanges. I can spend a lot of time overanalyzing them, too. Like at my oldest son’s baseball game yesterday, speaking with one of the parents. Like at the camera shop asking about a piece of equipment. The simple stuff in the elevator.

I’m sure that every year I say I’ll get better at advertising. Or talking about stuttering with strangers. I think these days I’m better about engaging with strangers, yes. Educating about stuttering? Probably not. On the bright side, with every conversation comes that chance, so hopefully in the next 12 months I’ll have more of those stories.

Something small

I think too often for those of us who stutter we focus on the losses. Moments that we stumbled, interactions that went south in a hurry because we couldn’t say anything. And they last a few seconds, and we think about all day. And over time they add up.

Part of moving toward a different attitude — that of acceptance — at least for me, is focusing on the small wins instead of the small losses. I want the small wins to add up. I want to ignore the small losses.

The other day the kids and I were walking out of a store toward the car. I noticed an SUV backing out of the spot next to mine, and the tailgate was slightly open.

Decisions, decisions. You could drive off in that. You could stop and do it yourself.

I walked up to the side of the SUV and motioned to the driver. He rolled the window down, and I said his tailgate was open. I didn’t stutter. I walked quickly to the back and closed it.

That was it.

The old me would have said, nope, no, no way, stuttering. No need to interact. It’s not life or death. Don’t even bother.

The new me is trying to ignore all that crap. What would I be doing — how would I be acting — if I never listened to that stuttering negativity? I’d be making more small talk. I’d be more engaging. More helpful. Less fearful.

Sleeping in my seat

A few months ago I was on a plane and having to speak in order to make things more tolerable. The other day I was on a flight and had to speak just to get my phone back.

I was on a small plane, two seats on each side. After we reached cruising altitude, it was time for a bathroom break. When I got back, someone was sleeping across both of my seats. I looked at the guy in the row behind me who just put up his hands. It was pretty odd, and pretty funny. Fortunately the plane wasn’t full, so I went to the back and found two empty seats and sat down.

But my phone was still in the seatback pocket of my original seat. On the window side. Meaning I’d have to reach over a sleeping stranger to get it. That would be the course of action for Old Stuttering Me. New Stuttering Me decided to flag down the flight attendant. She knew about the seat change. Ah, but could you please try to get my phone for me?

I suppose I could have left it go until the end of the flight. But then I thought, what if I get up there and it’s gone? I don’t really even know what the sleeping person looks like. And besides, it was a good chance to speak and, if need be, stutter through it. I did fine, bumbling through some words (planes are kind of loud, actually) but ultimately conveying my needs.

Nice camera you got there …

So today is a special blog post – number 300! As most of you know, this blog started out strongly, started to wane, completely waned, came back somewhat strongly and is now on some sort of steady schedule that I change every month.

But 300! I’m guessing I’m well past 120,000 words on stuttering by now. I am, of course, still stuttering. I’m trying to get more brave, trying to experiment here and there, and trying to speak up when I can. I’m also not being bothered by my stuttering as much, even if it’s in front of a dozen+ people in our office.

Today’s post is about a spontaneous chat I had with someone the other day on the soccer field. I coach my son’s team, and as we were walking to the field, I noticed someone with a huge Canon lens. They’re easy to spot since they’re white — and since I’ve got one as well. He wasn’t using it, just had it down and was chatting with someone. After our game was done, and we were walking out, I spotted the camera man again. He was talking to someone now, holding his camera by his side.

I seriously didn’t think about my stuttering the entire time. I was genuinely curious why on earth he had this lens — who did he shoot for? It’s a pro-grade lens, so he couldn’t be a hobbyist like me, right?

I walked up to the pair and said excuse me, and asked if it was a 400. Yes, sure was. Then some small talk about the camera, I also have the same setup, who do you shoot for, oh, just for myself, some other small things, and then that was that.

On the outside, it would almost seem like a pointless conversation. What was I hoping to learn? Did I learn anything of value?

That didn’t matter to me at all. I had an opportunity to talk to a complete stranger about my hobby, something I know quite a bit about. And I got to practice my speech for free.

So as far as I’m concerned, no conversation is ever pointless if you stutter.

Thanks for the call

I had to send out some documents to several different companies a few days ago. I sent them all two e-mails — one with a smaller PDF, and then one that had a link for an FTP of a larger file. I knew the e-mail addresses that I had were good, and I could have followed up the next day with yet another e-mail asking if they got everything.

Well, no. I decided to suck it up and call them all. I waited about two hours and started to make the rounds. This is something I never really had to do, and I never really saw the point of. I mean, e-mail, right? Always seems to work.

I called up the first one, introduced myself, stuttered a bit, and then said I had sent some documents across about two hours ago, and well, did you get them? Yes, we have, and we’re looking at them. Then I just … started talking. Telling them more about what was going on, the project at hand, and reiterated some points. Again, points they could have read in the documents.

But none of them seemed to mind.

They all listened, asked a few quick things, agreed with others, made comments.

Then I remember at least two of them said at the end of the call, “thanks for calling.”

Wow.

Ok. So let’s recap — I didn’t die because of my initial stutter. I confirmed that they received the e-mails. I got to sort of introduce myself as the point of contact. And, they were even grateful for me reaching out.

So there we go. Positive experience despite the stuttering. I’ll definitely be doing that again if it comes up.

Chatting and riding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Next project

Yes, I know, I’m still working through my Stuttering Tournament. But I have a quick project that I’d like to knock out in the next few days.

I’d like to start collecting YouTube videos of … famous people who stutter. Not famous people who said they have stuttered, but people who go out on tv today and aren’t afraid to stutter.

I get the whole thing about famous people who used to stutter. Overcoming it. But for me and millions of others, it’s not a reality that we’ll ever have. I’d rather show people that look, you stutter from the time you wake up until you go to bed, and so do these other people on tv, and it just feels much more relatable.

So what I’ll do is add a page just for the videos and start compiling with updates on the front page if there’s a bunch I’ve just put on.

Please send any along in the comments.

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.

Friendly chit-chat

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flashing Lights

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

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

No luck. Flashing lights.

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

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

No.

“Excuse me, could you close that shade?”

“Oh, the light from outside?”

“Yes, thanks.”

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

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

I closed my eyes and was able to relax.

I’m a medium?

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

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

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

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

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

But I need the practice.

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

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

Stuttering Tournament, Round 1, Match 1

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.

vs.

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?

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?

I’m going to give this to the No. 1 seed. It’s far worse because you have no choice. You’re on the spot, you’re expected to perform, and you’re going to recall all those times before when you were put in the same situation and stuttered through the whole thing. Not only that, but you have to start with your name which is always the worst part. Once you’re totally out of breath, frustrated and trying to avoid eye contact, the rest of the speech has to happen. A speech. A spontaneous speech. Sure, you could run through some canned material, but you’ll be so flustered that it’s likely to be filled with stutterific transitions.

We’ve all been called on in class and feigned ignorance. Tried and true. The teacher quickly moves on, or someone else just chimes in. Sometimes, hey, bonus, the answer is easy to say, so it pops out in a confident hurry. The no. 8 seed, to me, can result mainly in either a neutral or positive feeling with adequate management. The no. 1 seed? Seems destined for the negative.

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!

Ah, life

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

I still will.

Let me do my taxes first!

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

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

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

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

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 …

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?

Stuttering Tournament

Well, it’s NCAA Tournament time, and since my alma mater isn’t in it, I’ve got the mental capacity for my own tournament. (And was rather amused by being able to autofill in a dozen brackets on ESPN).

So here’s what we’re going to do. Since 64 is going to end up being a long list (and it’s my blog and I’ll do what I want) I’m going to list 32 stuttering circumstances, and we’re going to find out the most unpleasant one. Now I understand about acceptance and testing the waters and putting yourself out there, but this is for fun, and this is looking back on what life was like growing up — and about a lot of the feelings that have been burned in. I also know there are a lot of things I didn’t/couldn’t include. There’s a lot of mental blocks that could probably be in their own tournament.

So of course we’re going to have four regions, and then 8 circumstances. Our four regions will be:

Phone, Audiences, Food, and One-on-One

In my view, here’s the seeding for each. This is based on how uncomfortable I’d be for each. Your circumstances may certainly differ! In the coming days I’ll describe each of these more in a paragraph, and then the tournament will get going next Friday with the first matchups. By the end of next weekend, we’ll be down to the last 8.

If you have comments or think a seeding should be different, let me know!

Phone

  1. Cold-calling a senior person at a company
  2. Making an urgent phone call
  3. Calling in a food order to a busy, noisy place
  4. “Going around the room” on a conference call
  5. Phone interviews
  6. Cold-calling a business to ask them detailed questions
  7. Ordering a new service (i.e. cable, new gym, etc.)
  8. Speaking to parents of your students (if you work with students)

Audiences

  1. Being asked to make a speech on the spot (including introduction)
  2. Giving a wedding speech
  3. Reading religious text aloud at a service (church/mosque/temple)
  4. Meeting and speaking in front of the family of your partner
  5. Fielding questions from a group
  6. Presenting at work
  7. Running a meeting at work
  8. Responding when called on directly in front of a group (class, meeting)

Food

  1. Ordering for a noisy car full of people at the drive-thru
  2. Saying grace/prayer for a meal in front of family
  3. Ordering food at a bar when the bartender is busy
  4. Complaining about food or service at a restaurant
  5. Giving a custom order at a busy lunchtime
  6. Ordering while at a business lunch
  7. Speaking in a dark and/or loud restaurant over other people
  8. Asking for a menu clarification

One-on-one

  1. Going on a blind date
  2. Confronting a neighbor you’ve never spoken to before
  3. Interjecting / trying to interrupt someone
  4. Getting pulled over and speaking to an officer
  5. Being interviewed while being recorded
  6. Immigration official at an international border crossing
  7. Meeting friends of friends
  8. Answering detailed questions about your work and personal life when getting to know someone

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.

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.

 

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.

 

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