Stuttering and boring others

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

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

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

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

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

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

Memorial Day Stuttering

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

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

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

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

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

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

Was that Avoiding?

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

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

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

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

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

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

More stuttering and more happy

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

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

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

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

“So, where are you guys from?”

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

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

The Stuttering Professional

The second workshop that I attended was on The Stuttering Professional. It was put on by Wes Williams, who I had met at last year’s conference. As someone who works in a professional office, I was very interested in what Wes had to say. My own experience has actually been pretty good. The people in my office don’t care that I stutter (at least nobody has called me out on it saying it’s affecting my work). Nor do they mock me or try to finish my words (well, not too much anyway).

Wes handed out some exercises for us:

Share a difficult time you’ve had in the workplace. One where you’ve overcome your reluctance to speak and one where you didn’t, but wish you would have.

For me, I have a lot of both (now). For a long time it was more the latter than former. When that was the case, I’d follow up with a one-on-one talk with meeting participants to express my concerns or an e-mail to the group listing out concerns that I “thought of after the meeting.” In reality I was scribbling down copious ideas in my notebook during the meeting.

Wes also had us consider interviews and two out of three questions:

Tell me about your responsibilities in your current role
What are two situations where you’ve overcome adversity at work
Describe the most frustrating part of your job

Lastly, he laid out strategies that could be considered at work, the first set specifically for interviews.

Under disclaimers, we should point out the elephant in the room early on. Yes, we stutter, no, there’s nothing I can do about it. We can then thank them in advance for their patience. And lastly, set some guidelines. Politely tell them that if we have a block to let us finish.

Under the Delivery, Wes suggested we use the following strategies during a discussion or presentation. Don’t break eye contact — they can still see you. Avoid avoidance and say what you want to say, not just what you think you can get out. Lastly, power through. If you don’t take your time, your time will take you.

This last point was very interesting. Basically it means that we will be consumed by how long we perceive something to be taking. The more we think about how long it’s taking, the more anxious we may feel. And that will cycle and cause us to stutter more.

The first few strategies are basically ways of advertising. I’ll admit I’m not as good at them as I could be. It’s also because I’ve been in the same office with the same people for several months.

The next set is something I can work on every day. I notice that I definitely break eye contact when I’m speaking to people, and especially when I’m stuttering. I also sometimes rush through things when I could stop, breath, think, and then speak.

I really liked this workshop because Wes offered very practical advice for anybody in an office who’s facing countless interactions every day.

Stuttering 9 times out of 10

I’ve come to the conclusion that there are certain words that I’m going to stutter on no matter what.

I do know that I can work past this. But the following items are always painful:

1. If I say my name the way I was raised to pronounce it — with a long e. If I use the proper Arabic pronunciation, no problem. (This continues to be pretty wonderful, by the way.)

2. The “1” in my phone number. It’s near the end, and I really hate the dread that comes when I start saying the first few numbers.

3. My hometown of Lancaster.

4. The town we just lived in, Yanbu.

5. The word “wife,” which, as you can imagine, makes conversations really awkward. Because switching/avoiding doesn’t help at all. What am I going to say, “spouse?” Yeah, no.

So as you can see, some very, very basic stuff. The thing about the phone number is that I’ve pretty much given most companies/services my number. And I can always hand people my business card which lists the same number. For the cities, I’m not having those conversations as much any more either. Only when I first came to the office.

One of the hard things about knowing you’ll stutter on words — especially basic ones — is that by the time you get to a point in your life when you don’t need to say them as much — it’s really hard to do any meaningful practice. Because people are going to ask once in a great while, and they’ll look at you funny if you can’t say, “wife.”

I think also that looking at the basic list above — the cities and “wife” require talking about yourself. And that’s not something I’ve ever enjoyed doing (thanks to stuttering, of course). So even practicing — and talking about myself and history — takes a big change in mindset.

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 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.

Dreaming of a Stutter

I’m assuming it’s because the last few days I’ve been updating this site, looking for other stuttering sites, seeing what blogs are there, and trying to think of where to take this thing that well, I had a dream about stuttering.

And I’m not happy about it.

What happened? Well, in the dream a bunch of us were in a room. It was an office-like environment. An older gentleman was making a comment, and I wanted to say something. But I knew if I said something, I’d stutter. So I didn’t. All the same feelings were there. It was in my head. It was in my throat. I could feel the tension.

Avoiding avoiding. Not exactly a dream come true. Yet.

Consequences of Avoiding Avoiding

Was at a dinner event when I noticed that I was having a hard time avoiding and stepping around the stuttering landmines.

I’ve been avoiding avoiding more and more over the past few months. This has been a huge change for me obviously. Before, I was more quiet, would avoid speaking situations, or would substitute a lot while talking.

So at this dinner party, I was feeling like I didn’t want to stutter as much. So I fell back on my old techniques. Except they weren’t working for some reason. I couldn’t get into that usual covert flow. It was hard to substitute since I haven’t been doing it that much. I thought this was actually kind of funny. Turns out if you don’t use it, it starts to fade.

It ends up being easier to just stutter and try to say what you want than fumble around for words you can say that you can’t quite remember.

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