That annoying way you talk

(seems to have been a ridiculously long time since I’ve posted. Shall I use the busy excuse or the laziness one?)

I’ll get caught up on posting about the NSA Conference, but just to get me going again, I was thinking about a show I watch somewhat-regularly on You Tube. (This of course, is because I live overseas and have small children, so watching any show with any regularity is somewhat tricky. Also, this particular show isn’t a tv show anyway. It’s online-only.)

Anyway, the specific show isn’t important, but it’s got a few presenters. I like three of them. The fourth, though … he seems like a nice enough guy, but I hate the way he talks.

Am I allowed to, though?

He doesn’t stutter, he doesn’t have any other speech impediment that we normally think of. It’s just the way his … accent? is. But he’s an American. I grew up hearing the words the way he’s saying them. But his intonation and the way he stresses certain syllables. It’s just … annoying.

I’m letting myself not like this presenter though. And why not? I don’t like other presenters (on other shows, etc.,) for the bland information they give, or their too-fast or too-slow delivery.

I understand that people might not like my delivery if I were on television. I’d stutter, there’d be pauses, and it might be awkward or uncomfortable. But many wouldn’t mind. And maybe that’s the same with this guy.

I think if stuttering is one of those things that we want everybody to accept, then we’ve also got to accept that some will be ok with it, and others won’t. Just like some people like how a fluent person talks, and others don’t.

A look back at trepediation

I wanted to look back and see how I was feeling a year ago at this time — going to my first conference. Thought I’d share a few posts. It’s also what really prompted me to get blogging about stuttering. This year I’m really excited — I’m going to see friends who I met last year and stayed in touch with, and my brother is even going to see what it’s all about.

I’m learning to laugh at stuttering a little more. It’s not that I didn’t before, it’s that I didn’t have a chance to because I never brought it up. But now that I’m more open about it, I actually tell people that yes, I’m going to a stuttering conference. Inevitably, they’ll say something like, “to learn how to stutter better?” And others think it’s all about getting help, “did you learn any techniques?”



No and no. But I suppose it’s up to me to stay open about this. It’s new to them. We know it’s complicated. It’s worth an explanation. I’ve just noted that you only have anybody’s attention for a short period, so you have to be rather concise — do you talk about acceptance, or do you talk about the philosophy of stuttering and that stuttering on what you want to say is better than not saying anything?

Here’s my first post regarding the conference from last year.

I know that most of them will stutter, and I know many others will be speech therapists and professionals. But it’s still intimidating.

And then the next day, still trying to talk myself into it:

Most of my stuttering life, I’ve shut out things like conferences and social meet-ups because I talk my way through what might happen, decide I don’t need it, and then that’s it. Like for this conference, because of that hard-wired response, it went like this …

And then I finally go ahead with it:

I’m excited about going to this conference because I really do have a lot of questions for other people who stutter. Since I’ve kept this stuttering to myself all these years and avoided reading up on it, I’ve lived a silo-like existence.

Learning more about Toastmasters

As I mentioned last week, they had an intro to Toastmasters at the office today. I went, sort of knowing what to expect, but not really.

Stuttering has shaped me in very fundamental ways, particularly with regards to initial reactions to social situations. Let me explain first what my feelings were, and then what I thought of afterward.

There were probably about 50 people there. Most of them were coming to learn about Toastmasters (free lunch!), and there’s even another meeting tomorrow because of the high demand. I saw one or two people who I knew, but in an office of over a thousand, it was mostly new faces to me.

When I first sat down and looked through the agenda, I could already feel myself getting nervous — and this was before I even read or understood what was going to be presented. I have such a strong negative association with presentations and agendas, that I automatically assumed I’d have to participate (and thus stutter) somehow. It’s a hell of a conditioned response to have. I also noticed that they meet every week which also seemed very intimidating.

The presenters started going through what Toastmasters is all about, and it was very nicely done. They basically said they’d demonstrate a typical meeting with a guest speaker, table topics and evaluation.

When they began the table topics, the idea was to pick one of the topics blindly and speak about it. They asked for volunteers. I started to panic a little. What? I didn’t sign up to talk on my first day! I’m not ready for any of this! I looked down, reverting to my usual avoidance behavior. They ended up picking some people who were already part of Toastmasters, and they did an admirable job.

Again, my initial reaction to hearing people talk about various topics was to hear the words they were choosing, and then tell myself that no, I couldn’t say a bunch of them because I’d stutter. I even tried to think of how I’d try to breathe or avoid some of the words that were used during table topics. The stuttering … it’s burned in pretty deep.

I’ve known about Toastmasters for a long time. I’ve also known about speech therapists and help groups. Have I ever bothered looking any of them up? No. And why? Because I never thought I needed them. If I did those things, it’d mean that something could be improved about my speech. And if that’s the case, then I’d be acknowledging the stutter. I never wanted to. I wanted to just ignore it for the longest time and do my own thing.

But for those of you who have been reading for a while, you know things have changed. Time to face the music. I want practice. I want to face the fear. I want to tell people.

Had I done this Toastmasters meeting three years ago (if someone had dragged me along) I’d have gone, been scared out of my mind, and then vow to never go again. Things are vastly different now. The covert stuttering phase of my life is over. People who stutter go to Toastmasters. People who stutter are successful at speaking in front of groups. People who stutter are going to stutter anyway, so why not get more comfortable doing so.

I know people reading this who stutter will think, no, no, there’s no freakin’ way I’d do that. And I get that. I really do. Everybody’s journey is different, and everybody may or may not be ready at the same age or stage in their life. It’s the time for me, though. I’m not getting too crazy with the speaking challenges, but this is a good start.

Critical Stuttering Mass

Growing up, I knew one other person who stuttered. And I didn’t feel comfortable talking to him about stuttering. He wasn’t as covert (as I tried to be). After that, I indirectly met one other much older person (once, for a few minutes) who stuttered. This all changed last year when I went to my first NSA Conference.

But as far as becoming more accepting of my stutter and reaching out to people, it didn’t happen until very recently. I’ve been trying to think of why. I see some people on Facebook who are very young and reaching out, and others who are much older and reaching out for the first time, surprised and overjoyed at the community’s response.

I think there’s a sort of “critical mass” effect that’s going on. When you’re covert, you deny stuttering at every level. It’s my problem. It’s my daily hell. It’s my limitation. It’s my challenge to overcome. I can do this on my own, and I don’t want to reach out to anybody. If I reach out, it’s admitting that it’s holding me back. It’s not! (Even though it is, mentally and maybe socially).

I think thanks to social media (and the King’s Speech, I suppose) it’s more out there. You can search online for a group, or if you insist on being covert, someone will pass something along to you eventually. If you start listening to enough small bits of information from various sources, it’ll eventually reach that critical mass. You’ll start to see that other people stutter. They make videos about it (even if you never watch them). They record podcasts (even if you never listen to them) and they write (even if you only skim a post here and there).

It took me a long time to reach a point where I could put even a few words out on this blog. But signing up for the NSA conference gave me something to be accountable to. And once I was there, the rest of the critical mass was formed — everything about stuttering was normal. If you think you’re alone stuttering, go to the conference and start talking to one person — you’ll exchange the exact same stuttering stories, and you’ll be laughing together for a long time.

I don’t know if I could have kept up with this blog if I hadn’t gone to the conference last year. It wouldn’t have lasted. I would have probably gone back into my shell, content to continue practicing my covert behaviors, and wondering what could have been if I had kept writing.

For people who are considering making the transition from covert to overt, know that there are a lot of people out there to support you. Facebook groups may only have a few thousand people in them, but I assure you there are many more lurking. For me life has gotten better now that I’m not dreading every single social or work interaction. It’s not perfect, but it’s definitely improving.

Hitting a Fluency Stride

The “beauty” of stuttering is that you never really know what you’re going to get when you wake up in the morning. You could have a day of misery (even though it’s all in your head — and you shouldn’t be discouraged through the whole day anyway … but, yeah, I know, reality) or you could just start with a fluent ‘good morning’ and carry it all the way through an engaging dinner conversation.

I’ve casually noticed now in the last week or so that I’m starting to hit a “more fluent” kind of stride, particularly at work. The funny thing is, I knew this would happen.

It certainly took longer than a few weeks, but hey, it’s under six months. I’m still not perfect every day (never will be, never expect to be), but I’ve been letting it bother me less and less, and I’ve been trying to speak more and more. For whatever reason, it’s producing a bit more fluent speech, and it’s been noticeable to me.

What can be the cause? I’d say more comfort. Same people every day, same level of patience from them on stuttering. Same meetings every week, same types of things to say. Also I’ve gone through meeting most of the people who I’ll have to talk to, so there’s less stress about introductions and small talk.

I’ve also started thinking about my breathing more and more. Like, take a breath, think, relax, speak. Breathe. Breathe! And a moment of fluency in the morning on something I was stuttering on a few weeks ago lends to more confidence later in the afternoon.

Stuttering on Lately

It’s amazing how much life gets in the way of trying to do something regular like blog posting.

Anyway! Here we go with another Stuttering on Lately post.

This past Friday night my old boss here in the Kingdom invited a bunch of people out for his going-away since he’s leaving on final exit come June. He’d been my boss for four years (until I moved to Khobar) and was really awesome at it. He had it over in Bahrain, and although I didn’t know everybody he invited on the e-mail (only a dozen or so names) I didn’t think too much about it [in a stuttering sense.]

I got there, and there were a few people who I didn’t know, but it wasn’t a big deal to just latch on with the old boss and two guys he was talking with. It wasn’t a dinner really, just drinks — coke for me. I sort of cheated with my first name by using the Arabic pronunciation — which of course was a little funny given the Western audience — but worked well enough. I only introduced myself to two people anyway.

As per conversations, I’m mostly happy to let others talk. And you know how your office is — there’s always someone there who goes on and on. I could say that the stuttering was holding me back, but really the noisy environment coupled with people I didn’t know all that well held me back. I prefer something more quiet with friends. I did have a chance to talk to the ol’ boss one-on-one, so that was good. When I was talking, I was doing pretty well — maybe all the caffeine and sugar from the coke.

Afterward, I told a friend I’d meet up with him and spend the evening. I didn’t know where he lived, so I gave him a call. He gave me the general vicinity and then started explaining specifics. Like the name of his building. That started with an ‘l.’ And then he said, “you’ll have to tell security…”

The evening was quickly going downhill. I wanted to just drive home instead.

I told him that I’d give him a call as I got closer to get the directions. But the name of his building was still stuck in my head.

I rolled up to the security gate, and put the window down. Well, let’s just get this over with.

Got stuck on ‘l.’ I’m guessing it was for a few hours. The security guy gave a guess. (and of course there were two buildings that started with l, and he guessed the other one.) The thing about people finishing your sentences (other than its rudeness) is that it messes up your stutter. Whatever breathing or pacing you might have is gone. Because then they put you back on their schedule. They asked you something, and now they want an answer. But you don’t have any air. And you’re still trying to say what they suggested to tell them, no, that’s not it.

The guard was smiling by this time (he didn’t really seem to care what building I was going to) and eventually I got the name out. He let me through and told me where to go. I called my buddy again to confirm the apartment number, and that was that. After putting the guardhouse in my rearview, I didn’t think about it anymore. The next morning when I went by them again, I didn’t dwell on it either. I didn’t die, I got to see my friend, and things were, relatively speaking, smooth enough.

Overthinking Things

Two hundred posts! Finally made it. The past few days were slow due to the fun times at the hospital and the MRI (they didn’t find anything in my head).

I wanted to talk today about how those of us who stutter may end up overthinking things. I know I do this all the time. It’s a well established base — because I stutter, I don’t like to communicate, because I don’t like to communicate, I don’t get the right answers all the time. Because I don’t get the right answers, I have to spend more time and energy finding things out on my own. Because of spending that time and energy, I either get bored or tired and then the overall objective isn’t met. Something along those lines. Then I associate any failure in communication or achievement with my stuttering.

What happened with this MRI thing? Well, when I talked to the doctor, I told him (and stuttered) about my previous MRI experience. It wasn’t pleasant — I had a go in a smaller, older MRI and freaked out. Then I was told about the more “open” MRI. I was able to do that without any kind of sedation. It was fine. The doctor here said the MRI they have is smaller, so it can get a better scan. So I automatically asked about the sedation or anesthesia. This lead to a longer road of testing and waiting and whatever else.

When I finally got the call to go down to the MRI (after waiting in a hospital room all morning) they asked me again if I really wanted or needed the anesthesia. I told them about my concerns. The tech asked if I wanted to see the unit. Sure, why not. (Note that when I got into the MRI suite and realized that this was actually going to happen, my heart starting pounding a bit. Hilariously, I compared this to heart pounding when everybody is “going around the table” doing introductions, and it didn’t even come close.)

And which MRI was I going to go into? It was the bigger one. The one I could deal with without any drugs.

So all this runaround with the sedation or anesthesia — was that because of stuttering? No. Sometimes you just don’t think to ask. There’s no need to be hard on myself at every turn in the road. Now I’ve learned a little more. Ask to see the MRI. Someone’s definition of small or old might not be the same as mine.

I think part of accepting my stuttering is also accepting that if I’m going to get across what I want to get across, things are still not going to be perfect. I still need to work on other parts of my life. I need to continue to learn from experience and grow as a person.

Here’s to another 200 posts — and hopefully many more than that. I can’t believe it’s already May and the NSA Conference is less than two months out. In 60 days from now, I’ll be blogging about workshops and experiences from Baltimore!

The long road to stuttering acceptance

As I approach the one-year anniversary of this blog and opening up (almost) completely about my stutter, I thought I’d take a chance to talk more about how exactly I got to this point of acceptance.

This was a very, very long process. And I know it’s not the same for others who stutter. Even when I went to the NSA conference, I met people who stutter more and less than I do. Keep in mind that I graduated high school in 1997, so it was well before the Internet as we know it today.

However, this might at least offer some guidance to those still in school wondering if it’ll get better, or what can be done to make things better. And by “better,” I mean more comfortable, more tolerable, and less stressful on a day-to-day basis.

Elementary school – (Ages 7-11) I was aware that I stuttered, but didn’t understand its implications at all. Did speech therapy, but nobody gave me the big picture. Also, I was fluent during therapy, so that didn’t help. No mention on the homefront about my speech. (pretty much continues to present day, actually)

Junior high school – (11-15) My sixth grade teacher commended me at the end of the year about my accomplishments despite my stutter. This was the first time that a non-therapist recognized it and brought it up. I did more therapy in school, but I was usually fluent during those sessions. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was also growing more comfortable and confident in my environment — and gaining friends who didn’t mind the stutter. This was cyclical — low comfort and confidence going into junior high, riding high on the way out. Going into high school, I was down low again, but managed to work back up by the time I graduated.

High School – (15-18) Definitely knew that I had a stutter, and finally met someone else who did as well. We were in some of the same classes together, and we even looked alike. He was a lot more open about it. Not at all covert. But he and I never talked about it, and I regret that. Through peer pressure, I became more involved in the performing arts (on a very, very small scale) and that did a lot of good for my confidence even though it scared the hell out of me at times. I didn’t stutter when I was on stage doing Who’s on First (two nights!) when I was a senior. I had a different therapist in high school, and she taught me about easy onsets and breathing. These are things that I still try to use today, and it’s made a huge difference.

College – (18-22) At this point I should say that I still wasn’t “thinking” about the long-term effects of stuttering. I didn’t know about job interviews, going to meetings, giving presentations and whatever else the corporate world had for me. My summer jobs had been retail and as a bank teller. Not a lot of talking, and it was easy to be covert. I thought that was normal. Since high school, I have not seen an SLP. During the college I do remember introducing myself to others at the student newspaper, stuttering-be-damned. Once that was done, it was easy to maintain those friendships. And as people came and went at the paper, it was easier for introductions. Academically, I did what was required but never bothered talking to professors or asking for help. It just wasn’t something I was used to.

First job – (22-25) I had problems during some of the interviews only because I didn’t know what to say. But after a while I became pretty decent at just bantering and smiling. That being said, I did get my first job through my dad’s connections, and once there, it was easy to be the young engineer who didn’t know anything. I got used to keeping my mouth shut and trying to absorb as much as possible. During the first five years out of college, I never gave my stutter any thought. And despite the Internet, I never bothered researching it or finding any help groups.

Subsequent jobs – (25-31) I can’t pinpoint an exact date, but I started reflecting a lot more about my stuttering and my life. This probably happened when I found out about the Pagoclone trial. And so I started to keep journals. I think the boredom of corporate travel — hotels and coffee shops helped a lot with this. I thought that I could put it all together into a book. Despite all the writing and thinking, I still didn’t reach out to anybody. The Pagoclone trial wasn’t through an SLP. Through writing and reflecting, I started to realize that my general policy of not-asking and not-talking was entirely stuttering-related.

Moving to Saudi – (31-36) I feel like things sort of “settled down” a lot more in my working and home life when we moved to Saudi. Before that, I was traveling a lot more, worried about general job security, saving whatever money I could, and raising a family. But in Saudi more things are taken care of, and I was able to sit down with my stuttering thoughts a lot more. I came here when I was 31. So that’s how long it took to really start looking around online and finding out more about stuttering.

I realized after a while that publishing a book wouldn’t be feasible. But I was reading a lot more blogs, so I decided that might be the best route. But the stuttering still held me back — in being overt. I was afraid of so many things — that were all imaginary. That if someone found out it might affect my job, what my friends or family might think, what having to talk more about it would do to my psyche. So not until I turned 35 last year did I go ahead with the site.

So what does this all mean? It’s a long journey. I never researched stuttering online because it was bothering me or holding me back (or so I thought). I only researched it because I wanted to share my journey with others. For the longest time I thought it was very personal, something that I should have to struggle with on my own. I’ve found out the opposite of course. I’m not alone, and a lot of other people are going through this.

I think for a long time I also didn’t research stuttering online because I didn’t want to admit to myself that I stuttered. That’s an absurd thing to say, but I think it’s true for the majority of covert stutterers. If I don’t learn about it, it doesn’t exist to me, and it won’t bother me [any more than it does]. Of course I’ve since learned that it’ll actually make you feel better knowing more. And it’s really fun to get together with other people who stutter and connect and tell stories.

I will also say that a lot of things came together at the right time. Working at the same company for a number of years gave me the confidence that stuttering more at work wouldn’t have any negative effect. Also being here gave me the financial means to start attending the NSA Conference regularly.

Do I wish I had come to this point earlier? I don’t know. I’m not sure I would have been ready for it. On the one hand, colleagues have always been good to me, so maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference. What about during college or before that? That’s even harder to say — so I’ll go with “it’s complicated.” It’s that idea of, well, had I known and been more aware, would that have had a major impact? I don’t think now it’s going to make any major career impacts, but before it would have been possible. On the other hand, isn’t that true for fluent people anyway? As life goes on, you become more narrow in your pursuits and ambition.

Stuttering and Accepting the World

Often when we talk about stuttering and acceptance, we mean acceptance of our own stuttering, our own inabilities to communicate effectively.

I want to talk about this from a different angle — accepting things — policies, laws, rules, whatever, because you stutter and can’t voice your opinion.

Well, you can voice your opinion, obviously, but you’d just rather not because you know you’ll stutter.

So what does this silence lead to?

Well, let’s just walk through a simple example. Let’s say you’ve got a small child, maybe in second grade. You’ve just moved to a new school district. You find out (through e-mails and maybe neighbors talking about it) that your elementary school is considering implementing a dress code. At the last school district, they were doing the same thing. And when they did it at the old school, they ran into various issues, all of which you are really familiar with.

(Remember, this is just an example. I think you get the point of what I’m trying to say).

So here you are, filled with plenty of reasons why something like this might not work, and your child who will feel the brunt of it. What do you do? Write a letter? Try to make a phone call? Talk to neighbors who will hopefully be more proactive? Or, if you’re someone who stutters and doesn’t want to engage just … sit back and let it happen? Then just write it off as something your kid will just have to deal with?

Let’s say you take that approach. Your default approach, really. Then what’s the next thing? They’re thinking about adding a soda machine in the cafeteria. Any objections? Passed. Now they are asking parents to buy a more expensive textbook or lab kit, or whatever?

Well, what can you do then?

I don’t have any direct experience with this (and I am a parent of school-going children) but what I’d be inclined to do is this:

1. Try to get friendly with other parents as much as possible. Hopefully before anything like this comes up.
2. Go to school board meetings just to see what they’re like. No need to talk.
3. If I know my stuttering is going to win out at a school board meeting, then drag along a parent friend.
4. I should be friendly with this person. I should be able to convince them one way or the other
5. Support them with e-mails or letters. But then let them do the talking at the school board meeting.

I know what you’re saying — you’re supposed to just stutter and carry on! Ok, I know. But I’m not sure if that’s possible until I actually go to a school board meeting (or whatever kind of public meeting). Maybe it’s really casual, and I feel comfortable speaking up. I’m not saying stuttering should win out, but that, given your limitations, it’s still possible to get important things done.

Once the first few battles are won, more and more speaking should fall onto you instead of others. Confidence is gained. You’ll gain the respect of others, and they’ll focus on the message instead of the stuttering.

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