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.


Somebody Famous

I had the chance again to do some international travel over the past few weeks (and no, that’s not an excuse for my horrid posting schedule). But as I was walking through airports, it occurred to me — what if I saw someone famous?

I think a lot of people are like this — they go to events, they wait around outside clubs and airports and whatever else, hoping to catch a glimpse of a movie star or sports hero. And sometimes, just carrying on with your normal routine, you run into someone famous. You’re in the same space, there’s an exchange of looks or smiles or whatever. An acknowledgement of existence. And then?

Hi? Hello?

I think I need to ask someone fluent about what they are so eager to say to a famous person. What bits of conversation are you looking to start with? How will the small talk open? Because despite the strides I have made with my stuttering, it’s not something I think I would do. See someone famous … ok, great, move on. Not going to talk to them, not going to engage, not even going to bother snapping a photo — because then someone will ask, “did you go up to them?”

For me it starts with the name — not mine, theirs. There are thoughts that for those of us who stutter, we stutter on our own names a lot more because there’s no alternative — no substitution is possible. Well, it’s the same for anybody else, really. When you’re sitting in a meeting and have to go around the room — and tell someone on the phone who’s in the room. So the opening hello is fraught with fear — and of looking silly or nervous or whatever. And it’s not that I’m nervous, famous person. I stutter.

And then I think, ok, say somehow I get past that. Then? Think of not overly famous people — just the ones who are big in whatever sport or tv show you enjoy. One that’s not sweeping the world. I like cycling — there are plenty of cyclists who could probably walk through airports completely unnoticed. So then? I have to quickly think — ok, where were they, what did they just accomplish, are they in the middle of some big event or great season? And then find something witty to ask. More stress, more uncertainty.

So you add all that up, and … no thanks. Carry on, famous person. Have a good time.

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 Cousins

I had been told this before, but had completely forgotten — I’m not the only one in my family who stutters. My cousin on my dad’s side stutters, and well, he just so happens to live an hour away from us here in Kingdom. I’m pretty bad (horrible) with keeping up with my cousins (they’re all over the place, and I’ve got a lot of them!)

Anyway, this cousin of mine came to visit us the other day. (I only found out that he’s here in Kingdom this past week) I’m sure I’d met him before, but had never talked to him before. We had other family over, so the issue of stuttering never came up. So this brings up a point I made a few days ago about calling people out. And I realized how complicated stuttering really is and the feelings associated with it. He could probably quickly tell that I stuttered. I did it openly. But I never asked him about his, or being covert, or how things are with speaking at work.

This cousin is slightly older than me, and I could see what he was doing/saying/not saying. Covert! So sneaky. He didn’t “stutter” in the more “well-known” public sense. And of course I didn’t know if he was avoiding (he probably was). I could see the pauses, the starts/stops. He did repeat a few words here and there as well.

It made me think back to how my life used to be. Before the NSA Conference, before this blog, before making the transition (partially) from covert to overt. All the tricks, the quiet, the easier words.

I think I really need to make a goal of talking more to this cousin in depth about his stuttering. I’m curious how things were back in Pakistan before he moved to the Kingdom, and how the people at work see him or talk to him. And how they react to the stuttering (if he ever breaks out of his covert shell). He’s also bilingual.

Before that I need to sit down and think of some decent questions. Questions that I wouldn’t mind answering myself. And at least get back into that old frame of mind. Obviously I know how personal this is, so I need to tread carefully.

Getting called out

Have you ever gotten called out for your stutter? I mean in a sympathetic way? By someone who understands what stuttering is?

I’m not sure getting laughed at or cut off or ignored is really being called out. That’s just the other person displaying bad or ignorant behavior.

I was asked by someone just two years ago. It was a senior person at my company. He asked me a little about it, but I think part of the point was to convey that he had had a stutter as well. And that he still stumbled (but not really) on some words. I’m not convinced it was stuttering, and maybe it was just a way to make a connection with me. But it was a little awkward because, well, how much do you share? What do you say, “well, listen, there’s the one-minute version of my life-long angst, and then there’s this blog that I’ve got. If you printed out all the posts, it’s nearly 75,000 words. Should we start there then?”

On the other side, as someone who stutters, have you ever called out someone else who stutters? And no, I don’t mean when you knew full well that they did but just wanted to connect. More of a “I know you’re being covert …” kind of a deal.

I’ve never done this. I’m pretty convinced that I’ve never met anybody else who stutters (other than last year at the conference, of course). And if I have, then man, they were even better at being covert than me!

My Kind of Stuttering

I don’t think I’ve ever really mentioned on here what kind of stuttering I do.

Here’s a handy chart that lists four of them.

I’ve almost always done prolongations and blocks. I’m not sure if I really do repetitions or not — I mean, if I’m trying to say a word, get the first syllable out and then get stuck on the second (a block), sometimes I’ll try the first syllable again. I might do this a few times.

I was just thinking … what’s worse, a prolongation or a block? Toss up, really. They both equally suck, I think. With a prolongation you just never know … when it’s going to end. And it’s the only thing you can think about. And the listener doesn’t know when it’s going to end (although who cares what they think, right? Right!). For me at least if I prolong on one specific sound during a conversation, it’ll get prolonged every single time during that same conversation. And if it’s a word I can’t avoid, it’s even more annoying.

For the blocks, they just create confusion. There’s a flow to every conversation. Until there’s not. And then there is! And then there’s complete silence for who-knows-how-long followed by a loss of eye contact, a change of subject, and a wondering of how many hours until lunch.

For the phone, (if given the choice … ha!) I’d rather have a prolongation than a block. At least then the listener knows you’re trying to queue something up. In person, I’d prefer a block because then the person can see you’re trying to say something.

The thing about insertions to me is that, well, don’t fluent people do this, too? I don’t think I use this as a stuttering/covert tool, really. I just use it to let someone know that I’m thinking. And that something is going to come out.

I think I’m going to have to pay really close attention over the next few weeks for these things and see what I’m really doing as far as insertions.

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.

A stuttering outlook

I suppose this will be a larger, more philosophical discussion at some point, but what I want to know is, if you’ve set up your life to not stutter, are you still someone who stutters?

For example, if you’ve got a job with a minimal amount of talking — and you’ve mastered the things you need to say with confidence, gusto and fluency, and your home life isn’t too complicated — not a lot of dinner parties (if at all) social gatherings, etc., and maybe you don’t have children to stutter to, does this mean you’re fluent?

Or maybe that you’re just really good at being covert?

This all may seem like a strange premise, but here’s my point — it matters when it comes to things like career advice. If I give (biased) career advice and say, “you should be an engineer. You’ll be able to get by with a minimal amount of talking, probably not have to do any presentations, and the pay isn’t half-bad either,” am I really just advocating that someone who stutters continues to be covert and hide?

Or even with regards to family life — I could say, “you should date or marry someone who isn’t as social — it’ll just make you tired,” am I really just saying that someone with a large family who’s very sociable will put too much pressure on your speech?

I’ve been thinking about these things since subscribing to a number of facebook groups and e-mail lists. I’m 35 now, and I’ve been stuttering for nearly 30 years. There are a lot of young people out there looking for advice, and I think there’s a balance to strike here.

On the one hand, you can push someone really hard — tell them, you know what, screw your stuttering — do whatever you want! If a listener doesn’t like it, they can piss off.

On the other extreme, there’s saying nothing. There’s perfecting your covert behavior.

What’s in the middle? To still acknowledge the fact that you’re going to get frustrated once in a while? That you’re going to have a bad day? How do you explain to someone that they can overcome this, but then turn around and say, well, some battles aren’t worth fighting?

I suppose one thing to do is say to a younger person, “alright, well, you have to choose. Either embrace this and say, “yes, I’m someone who stutters,” or keep on doing what you’re doing and being covert. But remember that if you embrace this, there’s always a chance that you’re going to have 99 bad days out of a hundred. I mean, how honest do we have to be here? Can I throw in that well, 99 out of a hundred interactions aren’t going to mean anything anyway, so if you stutter, who cares? It won’t kill you.

What would you say to a young person who stutters?

Stuttering Selfies

I’m putting together a longer link roundup for the next day or so, but for now all I have to say is that I’d like to think the person who invented the selfie was a covert stutterer.

I mean, c’mon, think about it. It’s the perfect avoidance tactic.

Like, he was on vacation in Venice, walking around enjoying the sights. Then thought he should have a photo of himself and the beautiful surroundings.

“I could go up to this nice person over there and ask them to take a photo of me while I stand in front of these gondolas. But they look pretty Italian. I bet they don’t speak English. Maybe the guy — the gondola guy? What do I call him? Anyway, maybe he’s used to this sort of thing. I could ask him. Or wait a minute. What if I just … if I just pointed the camera at myself and then … click. Yeah, that should work.”

Stuttering and traveling

This is going to be a sort of “what I’ve been stuttering on lately” post that focuses on my recent trip to England. The thing about my trip is that other than the thought of stuttering with the bike fitter, I wasn’t sure what else to worry about. I didn’t spend any time getting worked up or worried. That’s how my stuttering usually goes — the fear and worry only manifests itself minutes before the event. Unless of course there’s a meeting that I’ve known about.

That being said, here we go —

I flew from Saudi to Istanbul to Manchester. So in Istanbul, I stopped at the Starbucks. I didn’t have to, but I wanted to. (We don’t have one in our small town in Saudi — so it’s a treat). As I was standing in line, I was slowly starting to sweat over my impending stuttering. I knew I would. The distance between me and the person behind the counter was pretty great, there were people in front of me in line, there were a lot of people in the airport in general, it was noisy … but nobody behind me … well, for a few minutes anyway. I did stutter on “mocha” as I usually do. Also, I’d rather not have cream which always end up as, “oh, and no … cr-….” Cream? Yeah. “cream.” There’s a certain point when you’re standing in line and freaking out that you think, you know what, I actually could just walk away…

Getting into Manchester, I was a little nervous at the passport control. She asked where I had flown in from, and I dragged out the sssss for Saudi Arabia. Then some mundane stuff — what do you, how long will you be here. She saw that I was from the States, so asked where. I replied with a smile, “Pennsylvania.” She seemed happy with that and made a comment about how nice it was. It left a positive taste in my mouth at least.

Right after that, I was walking out — no checked bags — and a customs person asked where I had flown in from. I told him Ssssaudi as well. He said, “through …?” Oh, Istanbul. “Ok, you’re fine then.” And off I went.

During the few days I was there, my buddy would usually do the food ordering. He didn’t do this because he was considering my stuttering — he did this because that’s just how he is. He’s got three kids, so he goes around, gets their orders, considers it as the whole, then figures out what’ll work out best. So I just add in my needs. For the drinks though, I was usually on my own. I had some relative success saying “diet coke” for the four days.

When I checked into the bicycle fit, I didn’t actually tell them my name. Just that I had a 1 p.m. appointment for a fitting. They already knew what was up. I had considered advertising to the fitter that I stuttered, but then thought, no, there’s really no point, is there? And would I advertise to the person who checked me in — eh, no. Here, just fill out this form, have a seat there, he’ll be right with you.

Lastly from what I can remember at the moment was ordering pizza at the Istanbul airport on the way back home. Sbarro. A counter. A man behind the counter. So I just held up two fingers, and I pointed to the two types I wanted. I suppose I could have said “that one,” and “that one,” but there was really no need. He knew what I was pointing to. See, it’s things like this that make me wonder — am I justifying my silence or avoidance, or just being practical? I think it’s a fine line at times. I mean, if I didn’t stutter, wouldn’t I do it the same way? The guy in front of me basically did the same thing.

I stuttered pretty fiercely on that particular diet coke at Sbarro which was annoying because there were people standing around. Then I didn’t even check to see that he filled it up with the right stuff. It tasted a little off …

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