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.

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