Stuttering on the cargo bike

I wrote a long while ago about how I faced my stuttering with regards to bike riding. And connecting with people even though it scared me to do so.

It’s happened again.

So I’ve got this bike, a Larry Vs. Harry Bullitt. It’s a cargo bike. It’s plenty of fun here in Indianapolis — taking the kids around, running an errand or two. And just riding it around with my oldest kid. The other day he and I were out, and we saw someone else with a cargo bike. This guy was about 50 feet away at a restaurant next to the trail. He yelled and pointed to his cargo bike. We continued down the trail and …

…turned up a road. And ultimately turned all the way around, heading into the parking lot of the restaurant where he was. As I pulled up to where he had parked his bike, I asked myself, wait, what on earth am I doing? What am I going to say? I’m going to have to make small talk or something with a total stranger. I don’t have to do this!

Too late! He walked up and said hello, introducing himself. I stumbled slightly on my first name. We made small talk! Then talked about our bikes and what we did. I was as calm as I could be, trying to breathe. Why rush? Why stress? It was a nice night out. I was out with my son. We were on a bike ride. No need to overthink it.

Our chat was good, and I met someone new in the community. He gave me his business card, and I’m sure I’ll connect with him again. More importantly, I learned again that talking to strangers won’t kill me, I won’t necessarily stutter a lot, and I can make my way through a conversation without any awkwardness.

New town, new faces. Getting there.

Peppered with confidence

Was just chatting with someone casually — he was doing most of the talking. But I noticed that, occasionally, for clarification, I’d have to blurt out a word here and there. Or ask a question, “who’s that?” and the like. I didn’t think about the stuttering or not, just the need for information.

Then when I realized what I was doing (and not stuttering on) I tried to blurt out a few more things here and there. I didn’t need clarification, I was just curious if I could say something without stuttering. And I thought about what I wanted to say (quickly, since it was in-line with the conversation and I was basically interrupting each time), made sure I took a breath, and then spit it out. Worked pretty well.

I know this isn’t a way to communicate, but it certainly gave me a little boost of confidence with the day overall. Speech felt smooth, confident, without any hesitation. Loud and booming at times, and more spontaneous.

It’s these things that I try to focus on — with regards to the Stuttering Happy — and build on every day.

Stuttering and reading

Well, of course the day after I talk about reading simple children’s books, my daughter comes to me with … a real book. It’s some book about a princess, but that’s not important. It doesn’t have any pictures, is well over a hundred pages, and it definitely taking me back to “Bump” in school.

(Did you have Bump? Oh, it’s a special kind of hell for someone who stutters. Basically one person in your class starts reading part of a story out loud that you’re all following along silently to. Then they say, “bump, Rehan.” And Rehan has to pick up reading (OUT LOUD — did I mention that part?) until he’s had enough and says, “bump, Rebecca.”)

Anyway. she asked me to read this book to her. I’m not entirely sure she “gets” the book, but maybe it’s just nice for her to hear me tell a story. About a princess. And it gives  me a chance to practice my reading, tones, pacing, breathing, and accents as applicable. When I first started reading, I was stumbling a bit. And thought, oh no, here we go. We’ve graduated to non-picture books, and I’m screwed now.

But it’s getting better, and I’m trying to really practice speaking out loud. I do stutter very, very slightly on some words. The ones that start with “w” or “l” I tend to drag out slightly longer which of course irritates the crap out of me. But she doesn’t care or notice, and on we go.

When I was very young, I remember reading books to myself and getting completely lost in them. I’d cast the characters, paint a scene in my head, and off they’d go. I’d read for hours on end, this movie going on in my head the whole time.

Well, I’m doing that again, it seems. While reading out loud, I find myself getting lost again in the story, really picturing what’s going on, how people are talking, interacting, moving.And honestly I think it’s helping with the reading and not stuttering as much. I’m not thinking about the words, I’m thinking about the story and characters. Sure, I see the words I know I’ll stutter on, but they don’t feel like as big of a deal. And again, of course, the audience helps. It’s just my five-year-old daughter (and sometimes the other kids if they’re wandering around).

Action for Stammering Children Day 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Action for Stammering Children Day 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Action for Stammering Children Day 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rehearsal

I mentioned having to do a presentation at work. Well, after my colleague said he was nervous, I told him I wasn’t at all — but the stuttering was just annoying. We then joined the others and did a run-through.

Rehearsal? What a concept. I have thought, for the longest time, that I don’t need such a thing. That I can just get up there and talk, and I’ll be fine. I know the message, I know the audience, I know I won’t be nervous. And yet, time and time again, no rehearsal always has me getting up there and stuttering, which causes quite the downward spiral.

I know there are benefits to rehearsals. But I just think I’m above that. However this time our group wanted to run through it, so I didn’t have a choice. So I stood up in front of my four colleagues, held the paper in my hand (I only had one slide) remembered to take that first deep breath (but none after that) and talked through it.

I stuttered. Here and there. It was only 3-4 minutes, no big deal. After we were all done, my colleague who said he was nervous said he didn’t even know I stuttered until I told him (ok, so maybe I’m still being a little covert … or not really talking to him that much … we are in different departments). And asked if I only stuttered when I had to speak in front of people. Ah, no, I have 30 years of experience doing this. But it was all very supportive and encouraging. We encouraged the others, and that was that.

And you know what? I felt totally different after that rehearsal. I didn’t think about the presentation or stuttering on words at all. I was calm. I knew what I had to say. I knew how fast I had to talk. When to pause, what questions I might get. Prepared. Confident.

So, presentation time. Our group got up, it was my turn to talk. The heart beating in my chest so loud that I couldn’t think of anything else? Not there. The sweating? Nope. The tightness in my throat? Nope.

I stood up, took a breath and started talking. I stuttered. But not too hard, and not too long. I got through the slide, and even got a good rhythm going. I was asked questions challenging our points. I answered them. We all talked about them. I stood up there, not feeling worried about my speech.

After it was done one of my other colleagues remarked that I had done a good job. I think this was a combination of content and presentation praise.

So it turns out that for me and my stuttering at least, rehearsal is a very useful tool. I had an extremely positive experience with it.

 

Not nervous at all

This will the first part of a story regarding a recent presentation at work. The presentation wasn’t that big — we were put into groups of 4, given 2 days, and had to present on the third to about 40 people. We only were given 45 total minutes, half of which we were supposed to speak. (the rest for discussion) So … 24 minutes of speaking, 4 speakers (well, five in my group) so five minutes a piece. Take out some transition time, maybe a single question here and there, and it’s really 3-4 minutes of talking.

Anyway, the morning of our presentation, I was chatting with our team leader. He said he was nervous. One of the people on the “panel” made him a bit nervous all the time.

I think most people who stutter have had this happen to them — a fluent person tell them about being nervous publicly speaking. And you look at them like, are you serious? You’re nervous?

But that’s the easy thing to do. Get pissed off. I just sort of dismissed it but saw it instead as an opportunity. I haven’t been advertising much at all lately. So I said, “oh, well, I’m not nervous at all. But I do stutter, so that just makes it a little harder to talk.”

And it was true. I really don’t get nervous about public speaking in a “getting up in front of others” sense. That doesn’t bother me at all. I’ve done it before. It’s the opening my mouth and betrayal that annoy me more than anything.

The other thing for this particular presentation was that I’d be speaking in front of all my colleagues — who I probably talk to at least once a week or more. So I was feeling fairly comfortable.

Tomorrow — just how did things actually turn out?

 

Looking for the right connection

I was at a meeting several weeks ago with a lot of people. It was an open kind of discussion, if there’s a problem, let’s get it out there, and let’s talk about it. So I had a problem. So I raised my hand (eff you, stuttering!) and stuttered away, stating my issue.

What I noticed as I tried to look around the room was that someone wasn’t interested. At all. Face sort of down, exasperated, get-on-with-it, whatever. We all know this look. Now, was this just because of me and my stuttering? In the moment, I certainly thought so. I could be totally wrong. But I’ve seen it enough to think well, that’s what that is.

But what else did I see? I saw neutral faces. Eye contact. And at the far end of the bell curve? A small smile, a nodding head. Agreement. Understanding.

I think for a long time I’ve been too focused on the wrong end of the bell curve. The dismissive looks and boredom. I need to focus more on those who are actually listening and engaging, those who don’t care about the stuttering and want to hear my message. That keeps me going. I may forget to breathe, to pace myself, to think clearly, but at least I have their attention for the moment, and I shouldn’t waste that.

I know if I have friends in the audience and start to smile a little, they will too. I can then hold their eyes for a little longer before going on to the next smirk or the next nod.

Something in between

I think we all have, with regards to being loquacious, a bell curve of friends. And we tend to be on the quiet end (well, during those covert years). And we notice a lot more how much people do or do not talk.

I think if you asked any of my friends at this point, they’d say I was pretty talkative. Not overly so, but certainly not shy and quiet. Certain coworkers would have a different opinion.

The problem is that as someone who stutters, we tend to focus on those who talk a lot. Either loudly, quickly, confidently, or a combination of those. We think, why not me? I need to be that confident! But we can’t; our voices betray us.

I was out the other day with a friend who talks a lot. Not in a “I like to hear myself talk” kind of way. It’s innocent. He’s curious, he’s friendly, it’s just what he does. I know the deal. I know when he’s at the table he’ll drive the conversation. That’s good.

We were at a store buying something for our sons, and he struck up a conversation with another patron. They talked for a solid 15 minutes as I just stood around. Before I knew it, he was exchanging phone numbers. I thought, is this how fluent people are all the time? No, it’s definitely not.

I think the point is that we shouldn’t get frustrated or down on ourselves in that kind of situation. It’s one end of the bell curve. What I’d like for myself is something in between.

Fine, thanks.

It’s been a while. Not since I stuttered, of course. But a few things have been happening, and I’m still struggling with this blog, a direction, and everything else going on.

Someone came to my desk the other day and asked me how I was doing. It was one of those “good morning” kind of greetings. The one where you’re just sort of expected to say, “good, how are you?” and get on with it. But after I told him I was “fantastic,” he said, “your face tells a different story.” I made a joke about how “dammit, it’s not working any more,” and we moved on. But it really got me to thinking about these quickie exchanges that we have all the time in offices.

I’ve never been one to give a long, detailed answer to “how are you doing,” when it comes from a coworker. That’s not what they want. That’s not the protocol. But then there’s a spectrum of colleague — from person you don’t know at all to person you’d consider a close friend. Although how does someone you don’t know become a friend? Or even get closer? Through these kinds of interactions? I’m wondering if I’ve been subconsciously keeping people at bay because I want to keep the numbers small, or if I just don’t want to talk to them because I know I’ll stutter.

I think there’s a lot of pressure in those small exchanges, too. It’s a fast, straight-forward query. Same as when someone asks you your name. You’re expected to give a quick answer. If you’re not doing well, then yeah, maybe a long sigh and a “well, it could be better,” is fine. Followed by a laugh, because well, let’s not get into why. This is why I always say “yeah, good,” or whatever I can feel is going to be fluent. I never thought to get my facial expression in line as well.

So what’s the path forward on this? Should I slowly give longer and longer answers? Feel out how much time we have to talk? How much I can get out of them as well? I’ve gotten really good at asking other people questions (even though they start with “w,” and I usually stutter on it). At least for me when I get to know people better, my stuttering decreases because my comfort level rises. (not always, but often).

Minding the Gap

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

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

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

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

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

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

I suppose this proves a point

Been a month since I posted! I suppose this proves a point, though. As I’ve said before, I get more comfortable in situations — new city, new job, new people. I moved into this job back in January. It’s been nearly 10 months, and yes, I’m pretty comfortable.

What was intimidating and a bit nerve-wracking at first (speaking up during some meetings, making a call here and there, explaining things to strangers) has become a normal routine.

And so, since I’m not thinking about stuttering as much (but still, of course, stuttering) I think my mind is off of the blog.

That being said! I still have plenty of conference stuff to go through as well as the ISAD on Oct 22 and the ongoing online stuttering conference. And of course the twitter feed on the right is always a good source for stuttering articles.

I think I need to still find a good balance between posting and living with my stutter. I’m thinking a 2 or 3 times a week thing would be good. Daily was definitely too ambitious, but it did work out for a while when I had stuttering on my mind more.

The other thing that’s been happening is simply the busy of work. The days are passing by very, very quickly now. The weather in Saudi is changing (for the better) and the days are heinously short.

And what am I stuttering on? Well, I did have to make a few doctors appointments this evening. I did that in person. And I felt comfortable. Took a big deep breath, explained what I needed (checkup for the daughter, Botox refresh for me — yes, it’s already worn off!). And it was sorted as I hoped. I even managed to stutter only a little bit on the “one” in my telephone number. Nice win.

What are you after?

I’d venture to say that those of us who stutter listen to not only what people say, but how they say it a lot more than someone who is fluent. The fluent person will hear the message; we will notice speed, accent, pauses, filler words, word choice and facial expressions.

I say this because in a given office, over the course of a given day, there are a lot of conversations. And we tend to fixate on the people who are the most confident, the fastest, and the most coherent. We want to be them! Our televisions — dramas, comedies, sports commentators — are filled with fast-talking, eloquent people. They barely stumble, they always have something to say, and they never stutter.

But isn’t life on a bell curve?

Listen to everybody else. All the presenters during a team meeting aren’t the best speakers. But they are all communicating. Some are speaking slowly, carefully choosing their words. Others are neither fast nor slow. Some people know how to think on their feet, others don’t.

I’ve often looked at my boss (past and present) to hear how they’re speaking and what they’re saying. I use it to sort of gauge whether or not I’d be able to eventually do that. But that’s not a good approach. Because people around the world have the same title as my boss; I don’t know how they talk. I don’t know how they communicate. And the same for his boss or other senior folks at the office — they have counterparts across the globe who have different ways to speak and still get results.

The point is also that the smoothest talking people aren’t always the ones getting the results. You don’t have to be the most polished speaker to move on and move up. If we stutter, we should continue to work on our acceptance and our message.

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.

Toastmasters

An e-mail came across yesterday for our company’s Toastmasters chapter. There’s an introductory meeting next week. I’ve seen a lot of people who stutter mention Toastmasters. Particularly Pam. I wasn’t sure I’d get a chance to join here in Saudi.

So in the interest of accountability and overcoming any sort of fears about speaking, I’ve accepted the meeting notice. It’s on the calendar.

Keep in mind that the majority of the people who will be there are non-native English speakers. (I’m assuming it’ll be in English and not in Arabic …) So I suppose I have a bit of a language edge there. But of course the stuttering is there to pull that back.

I have read what to expect, but I’m obviously still nervous about the whole thing. Mainly around the voice screaming in my head that’s saying, “You’re voluntarily signing up to speak to people. You’re an idiot. You will be nervous, you will sweat, you will stutter, and you will fail.”

I have this image of myself getting up in front of people and not stuttering. But I also remember getting up in front of people at last year’s open mic and stuttering a lot more than I could have imagined.

So there’s that.

Anyway, it’s on the calendar. My dear readers now know about it, so I have to go and report back.

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.

Thank you, Dave

Obviously the big news last week was Dave Letterman’s last show and retirement.

These days I don’t watch Dave at all. In fact, it’s been a few years since I’ve seen a show. But when he first moved to CBS, I was still in junior high school, and I used to tune in every Friday night.

At around the same time, Friends had also just come out. Between Dave and Chandler, my sense of humor grew. More sarcasm, more outlandish statements, and naturally more confidence.

With regards to stuttering, having the sense of humor and the confidence helped a lot. I had a small group of friends who also watched the same shows and had similar interests and senses of humor.

Through Dave’s influence, I also started writing on my own a lot more. I would write Top Ten lists — lots of them. Some generic, some personal, some for friends, and share them whenever I could. It was a nice outlet to get some attention from friends without having to stand up and speak.

As for seeing Dave in person, that dream came true during my freshman year of college. Two guys from the student newspaper and I (I was the photographer) got tickets and stood in the standby line. For whatever reason, I was ahead of them, and the people from the show came out and asked who was next — I was! So I ran inside. I had the last seat in the far corner of the theatre. I was thrilled.

Junior year of high school, and I was still watching Dave on Friday nights. He had a segment with some “Big Ass” products, I think. In school I volunteered in homeroom to read the morning announcements. Usually the teacher did this, and he didn’t mind if I did it once in a while. So I’d set up little props as well — saying the morning’s announcements were sponsored by “The Big Ass Dictionary.” That all went pretty well until I said our homeroom teacher was organizing a coup.

During college my Dave watching (and general television watching, for that matter) faded. I still made the Thanksgiving shows though — since I was at home for those.

But I’ll always be grateful for Dave and his comedy — his sense of humor came into my life at the perfect time.

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.

Feeling sick …

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Stuttering Progress after a Year

Well, well, here we are, one year on, and 199 posts in. Almost made 200!

Today I went to the hospital to get that MRI of mine all sorted out and set up. Here in Saudi it’s a fun adventure of going from office to office, registration desk to check-in desk, building to building. And the signs are pretty lousy, so it’s all-day affair.

I don’t keep any sort of quantitative track of my stuttering. But casually, I’d say today was a huge success — and big improvement of even a year ago.

The main thing was to get answers about the anesthesia and how that was all going to work. Before that though there was another meeting with the neurologist. While I didn’t have a call plan per se, I did have a few key things I wanted to know about, and I got my questions answered — even though I did stutter.

And going from office to office, I often had to hand a piece of paper to someone behind a desk (and a veil) and ask if I was in the right place. Some stuttering, not much. But usually a deep breath, a confident stride up to the counter, and a strong, fluent question. There were not as many people around as well — made things a lot easier.

I was asked my name a bunch of times — they do this as a checking measure — and using the Arabic pronunciation, I had no problems. I think that added to the confidence side of the table in a huge way.

The progress I’ve had even over just a year is a huge win — not just with calling a credit card company or whatever, but particularly with going to the doctor and getting my health sorted out. What I would have done before (covert, avoiding more, what-have-you) would have been to check things online, called my brother the doctor, played it all down, avoided going, avoided calling, avoided setting up appointments, the whole bit.

The MRI is set up for Sunday, by the way.

A year on, nearly 200 posts, and well, there’s still plenty more to stutter on and say. I hope you’ll stick around.

Stuttering in the Newsletter

If you haven’t had a chance to read the NSA’s spring issue of Letting Go, go do it now! There’s a story in there about being a second-timer that I wrote.

I’m definitely still going to try to volunteer in some capacity. I should be able to find out more as the date gets closer. I bought my air tickets last week, so things are getting real now.

Otherwise things are pretty smooth on the stuttering front. My son and I will be going this weekend to the Bahrain Formula One race, so I’m pretty excited about that. I honestly haven’t put any thoughts into it regarding stuttering. I picked up the tickets on Friday in Bahrain, and I asked (even though I didn’t have to) about the Thursday paddock walk. The lady behind the counter said yes, it’s there, and she gave me the time. I also asked about parking and tickets for the rest of the days. She assured me everything was in the bag. I didn’t stutter either time.

I didn’t have to ask, but I wanted to because I felt comfortable, and I wanted to practice a little.

Your virtual stuttering reality

The other day I mentioned stuttering and speaking and Google Glass. There is some recent research on this, and Shelley Brundage talked to Stutter Talk recently about it.

There were no significant differences in the %SS across audience conditions, suggesting that the frequency of stuttering is similar in virtual and real world conditions. These findings suggest that similar responses occur after speeches to virtual and live audiences.

You have to listen to this interview. It’s great. They discuss safety, control and repeatability with regards to virtual reality usage. Also how this technology can be used in therapy. It’s probably still a few years (hopefully months) away, but it’d be nice to see more customizable virtual reality apps for the masses. Of course there’s Google Cardboard which is a good start…(I’m tempted to order this).

How else can this help those of us who stutter? Well, a lot of what I’ve been seeing on Facebook groups lately is along the lines of, “I have an interview tomorrow, what should I do?”

I suppose you could find a friend to practice with. But there’s a lot of effort in that, and the interaction may not be helpful. I know there are a lot of us who become very comfortable with close friends and find we don’t stutter with them as much. (And yes, it can sometimes be the total opposite). Also, how you react to a smiling man may not be the same as a frowning woman.

But if you had virtual reality at your disposal, you could run a bunch of different scenarios in the week leading up to the interview. The thing that I’ve found about interviews is that you tend to get better at interviews the more you do them. But the problem is getting the interview in the first place. There’s applying, waiting, e-mailing, more waiting, maybe a phone screen, more waiting, an e-mail, more waiting, and then the buildup to the big day. That’s a lot of time to worry yourself into a total mess.

The paper talked about speaking in front of groups. You don’t always have days and days to prepare yourself for a presentation. Maybe a day or two. And sometimes you’re put on the spot. So what about practicing at home? You go to work and see your boss give a presentation. Go home and practice it yourself. If you did that every day for a half hour, some of the barriers to public speaking would be removed. Too often when we’re put on the spot we forget about everything — breathing, pacing, eye contact, hand movements — and just focus on trying to get those words out in some coherent fashion. Virtual reality would allow us to practice all of these things.

Even at the most basic level — using the phone — virtual reality would be useful. All I’d need to see is an image of a phone with that “mute” light on and off. And someone asking who’s on the call. I’d really love to be able to reprogram my brain to get past this (assuming that’s possible).

The big stuttering things are getting small

(Note: I haven’t forgotten about the link roundup! It haunts me every day. Also, the goal is to get 200 posts done by the end of April. I think I can make it pretty easily. The end of the month marks my one year blogging anniversary! Need to do a bunch of wrap-ups and whatever else …)

Today I want to reflect on how the big things are becoming little things. Well, how they can become little things. I said the other day that I met and talked with my cousin who stutters. Anyway, I got into the office a few days later and told someone about this. And then for whatever reason, I mentioned that like me, this cousin also stutters.

And holy crap, did I stutter like crazy on the word “stutter.” This of course always happens, and I sometimes enjoy the absurdity of this. The rest of the time it’s immensely annoying.

So I got past that, (we laughed about it) and I just began talking to someone at the office about my stuttering. And he listened. He remarked (I talk to this guy every day, several times a day) how he thought it was emotionally linked and that sometimes I seem to be ok, and sometimes I have a hard time. I set him straight on the emotional bit, and I said how it’s pretty random and thus frustrating. Also, “it’s complicated.”

What I also noticed is that our listeners tend to have a fixed attention span. You need to get your stuttering sob story out quickly (ha!) and then they’re like, well, ok, you’re not dying because of this, I can’t really relate, and I need to get back to work/thinking about lunch.

Obviously it’d be easier to connect with someone who already has a connection with someone who stutters (who’s maybe covert but noticeable to family members).

So for the second time in just a few short months at the new job, I’ve talked to coworkers about my stuttering. And it didn’t feel too weird. And I didn’t die. I didn’t lose my job. I didn’t get pulled aside by my boss who heard something from someone. Nothing. Life is going on.

Stuttering Moments

Yesterday I talked about a really hard moment I had speaking. It was one of the worst in recent memory, and I let myself dwell on it for a few hours afterward. Not really completely getting me down, just in awe of how bad it was and what happened during and after.

What I’ve noticed on Facebook posts lately is people refer to having a “bad day” with regards to stuttering.

I’ve certainly been guilty of this myself, but I’ve changed my attitude in recent years. I don’t have bad days. I have bad moments. That’s it. A few minutes, an instance, an exchange. Nothing that should cloud the next question, the next conversation.

I think it’s so important to have this mindset. Since I’ve started this new job, there are discussions all day. Meetings all the time. I can’t let something at 9 a.m. cloud events at 11, 2 and 3:30. I’d be a total mess. And I have to talk when I have to talk. I’m not going to hide anymore.

I think one of the ways to keep moving on is to see your speech from your listener’s viewpoint. Especially at the office. They probably won’t dwell on it. They probably won’t say anything about it later that day, or week or month. So if they’re not thinking about it, then why are you?

What happens to me is that I might stutter hard with someone in the morning, and then have another meeting with them in the afternoon. I can’t be shy about speaking up if the need arises.

Your Stuttering first impression

We all grow up hearing these two things:

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

and

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

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

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

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

Exactly.

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

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

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

Across the Kingdom for a Stutter

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

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

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

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

Another sporting view of Stuttering

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

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

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

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

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