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 …

Stuttering and Path

I’ll admit that when it comes to the latest apps and programs, I’m not up to date. That’s mostly to do with living in Saudi — we don’t exactly have things like Groupon here, and the shop down at the corner only takes cash — they probably won’t care about Apple Pay any time soon.

That being said, I do try to keep up with what’s going on back home. I read this with some interest about Path via daringfireball.

From the site:

We’re thrilled to announce Path Talk 1.1, with the goal of giving you a new super-power: putting the power of a personal assistant in the palm of your hand. It’s called Places, and it lets you interact with any local business. No phone call needed.

Places gives you the power to message your favorite local businesses to request appointments, make reservations, or even check out prices and hours. It’s all by text. And it’s all for free.

Um … wow. Ok then. This really ties up well with my recent post about a day without stuttering.

I’ll be honest, I don’t use Path right now for anything. And probably won’t while I’m still here in Saudi … I have messaging apps and Facebook that are working ok. But that being said, this sort of thing blows me away from a stuttering standpoint.

I mean, I won’t have to call a local business to … interact with them and ask them stuff?! Seriously?! Yes, there is a lot of information already online, but like they say, making reservations and whatnot can’t always be done via the web. And then the next point in this is having an online assistant making phone calls for you.

I’m not so sure my life would be so busy that I’d need something like this. But it’s only the beginning. Soon we’ll be able to text power companies and credit card companies… and the pizza place… and maybe even the fast food restaurant…

Which brings me to (assuming I move back to the States) do I download and start using this because it’s new and cool and useful and saving me time, or am I doing it because it’s a few less people who I have to talk to (and not stutter with?). Or is this something I can use (or a stuttering patient could use) little by little to help with certain hard situations — eventually weaning themselves off?

An Evening without Stuttering

After work, our PWS goes back home with not much to do but watch television. He gets a call from another buddy asking if he’d like to come over to watch the Monday Night Football game. Sure thing.

He heads over, and it’s just the two of them. His buddy asks about food. “Just call and order a pizza. I gotta run next door to my neighbor’s house to pick up his keys. He’s going to be out of town for a few days.”

Alright, no problem.

Our PWS whips out his iPhone and pulls up the pizza place’s web site. He puts in an order and hits submit.

During the game, our PWS doesn’t say too much about what’s happening on the field. He’s keeping an eye on his fantasy football team on his buddy’s iPad. He remembers an article he read about one of the coaches that was very interesting. He pulls it up and hands the iPad to his buddy. “This is crazy. Check this out.” His buddy reads the article and starts commenting on it for a few minutes.

At halftime, our PWS gets a call from his dad, whose favorite team is playing that evening. Our PWS quickly gets up from the couch and walks to the kitchen to talk. “Yeah, things are good. I’m just at a friend’s house. Yeah, we’re watching… I know, right? I can’t believe it either…That guy is incredible… Uh-huh… Yeah… Ok… Yeah… No.., work’s fine… It’s fine. Alright… I’ll talk to you later.”

Since he knows his dad isn’t a big texter, he texts his younger brother who is still living with his parents. They do this off and on for the second half of the game.

After the game, our PWS says goodbye and heads home.

In the next post I’ll go through what our PWS did during the day and point out all of his covert actions.

An Afternoon without Stuttering

We continue following our person who stutters from the morning into lunch. After tomorrow (when I talk about what he does in the evening) I’ll go back and review his actions and what manner of sneakiness he showed through the day.

For those who are covert, none of this is new. But if you stutter and your friends wonder what it’s like (or don’t think you stutter) then you can show them these posts.

Just before lunch, our PWS has a list of questions about a project he’s working on. He needs to talk to someone in a different department. He opens up Outlook and checks their calendar. He sees that it’s 11:15 now, and the person has a meeting at 11:30 for an hour. He gets up with his list and walks up a floor to meet them. “Listen, I’ve got a bunch of things I wanted to know about this project,” he starts, looking at his page of questions. “Can we talk about this?” The other person responds, “Eh, well, I’ve got a meeting in a few minutes, so …”

“So maybe it’d just be better if I e-mail them to you?”

“Yeah, that’d be awesome.”

“Alright, cool.”

And that’s that.

Next up, lunch. The same coffee friend comes by and asks about lunch — where do you want to go? The options work out basically to: 1. Sit down place where the waiter takes your order. 2. Counter place where you order, 3. Fast food place and 4. Electronic ordering place.

Our PWS offers up the fast food place, “I ate healthy over the weekend,” but his buddy turns it down, “I didn’t.” Ok, well then how about no. 4 — we can get sandwiches there, and it shouldn’t take too long. “Ok, that’s good. Let’s go.”

After lunch is done, our PWS continues working quietly at his desk. He doesn’t get too many phone calls, but maybe the occasional visitor stopping by to ask something. Here comes someone now.

“Hey, how are you? Listen, for this report, it’s got this spreadsheet as backup. Where did you get these numbers from?”

Our PWS replies, “Oh, it’s from another department. Then I just check them against our information.”

“Ok, but there are a few things here that don’t add up. Can you get this resolved? I need this as soon as possible. Can you call them?”

“Yeah, sure.”

Our PWS dials the number. As it’s ringing, he swings his chair towards the side of his cubicle and begins going through some folders. “Let me see what we did last time for this.”

The phone picks up, and the person who stopped by sees that the PWS is busy rifling through folders. He begins talking to the person on the phone about the problem. Our PWS swings back and pulls up the spreadsheet on the computer and listens to the phone conversation intently. They work through the issue over the phone, and the person walks away satisfied.

Before leaving for the day, our PWS gets an e-mail from the electric company — the extra charge has been resolved and will be reimbursed.

A Morning without Stuttering

So for this thought exercise, we’ll be making a bunch of assumptions about age, career, education and so on. But you’ll see the concepts are the same — there is a possibility to avoid speaking in this day and age.

Starting with the morning, our fictional person who stutters wakes up. He gets dressed and decides to try something new for breakfast. Instead of cereal, he wants to cook some eggs. Not just regular microwave-scrambled eggs, but something with more flair on the stovetop. He had this idea last week, so this morning, he fires up his iPad and pulls up a Youtube video. He could have casually asked a coworker last week. No need. When he’s got a question or concern about how his egg is turning out based on this particular Youtube video, he searchs for another. Then finds out what he was doing wrong.

Since our person who stutters got home late last night, he didn’t notice the envelope from his power company on the floor by the front door. He picks it up and opens it. He sees that there is an extra charge on the bill. He folds it and puts it into his pocket and heads out to work.

He drives to work trying to think of what’s on the menu for today. Is there a staff meeting? I think so, it’s Monday. So that’s at 9. Once he gets to work, he smiles at a few people, saying hello. Let’s make him an engineer who works on datasheets and specifications for an engineering company. His company has an open-plan cubicle arrangement. After about an hour, his buddy comes by and asks about going downstairs to the cafe for some coffee. They both go down, and when his buddy orders, he follows up with “the same.”

Back at his desk, he pulls out the power bill. Thankfully he sees that there’s a Web site on there. He brings it up and searches for an e-mail address or help page. He finds it, enters in his information, and quickly types out his issue briefly.

Before going to the staff meeting, he prints out the spreadsheet that his boss will review during the meeting. It’s got a list of activities for the team members, and what progress is expected this week. He also looks at what was supposed to be done last week. It’s all done.

During the meeting when his boss calls on him, he quickly nods his approval “yeah” when his boss asks about last week, and then when asked about the next five days says, “no problem.” He knows that there is a problem, but it’s pretty small. He’s got a dentist appointment on Wednesday afternoon. But he’ll just send an e-mail to his boss who should be cool about this. Then just stay an extra hour or two to finish the work.

Days without Stuttering

Many years ago, after learning how to drive, I learned something else: that you have to pump and pay for gas. It’s simple, yes, but of course it’s an additional interaction that I had to deal with. More stuttering.

In those days (Let’s say the late 90s when I was leaving high school and getting into college) you’d pull up to the pump, get out, pick the gas you wanted, pump it, hang the pump back up, and then walk inside to pay. All the pumps had numbers, so you simply told them what number pump you were on.

Tell them. Numbers. Easy words. Not many words. Just one, really. Maybe a hello first.

I hated this. Some of the numbers were easier to say, sure, but you never knew how many other cars were going to be there. And you never knew how many other people would be standing in line inside, waiting to pay for sodas and Twinkies. And of course it was like, why would you hesitate on this answer? They’d ask, you’d say. How can you not know? The number is right there — it’s huge. And if there was a line, you’d feel the pressure of that as well.

Miraculously, a few years later, most of the pumps started to change. They took credit cards. I had a credit card. You swipe, pump, and go. No talking. No pointing helplessly. No anxiety. Swipe, pump, go. Swipe, pump, go. Everything should be this easy!

Over the past few years a lot of things have become this easy …

So over the next few days I wanted to write out a thought experiment of sorts — morning, noon and night as someone who stutters but has decided to not talk to anybody for anything. What would that look like?

I think it’s important to consider technology in our lives and what it can do to help those of us who stutter. If I have 30 activities in a day, I can choose a path where I don’t talk to anybody for all of them. The next day, I can challenge myself. I can talk on one of them. Then the next day, two, and three, and so on. I can slowly build confidence on my own terms.

Another way of putting this is to show people (those who don’t stutter) just how easy it can be to be a covert stutterer. (Note — I’m not talking about the emotional stuff — just the interactive stuff.)

Stories untold

I think if you asked people who knew me very well, they’d say I was pretty outgoing. That I talked as much as anybody else, and am always up for a good time.

I think if you asked people who didn’t know me as well, they’d probably say I was pretty quiet and didn’t say much.

It’s that cliche of, if you get to know me, I’ll open up a lot more. And obviously that’s got everything to do with stuttering. I’m uncomfortable at first (and for a while, really) but once the initial hesitations are done, the stories will flow.

But not always.

I find myself [trying] to tell stories to friends. And I’m stuttering a bunch on them. Not just the introduction or a name here and there. Like every part of the plot. Names, places, times, relevant jokes. I’m bumbling around so much, that I think it’s not worth it. I’ll push on ahead, finish the story, and then store it away forever.

I think that there’s no way I can get through it again without stuttering, so I’m not going to bother trying with anybody else. It’s a once-told story. Then that same attitude goes toward a bunch of untold stories as well. I think about what I have to say, compare it to a mental list of Words I Hate, and well, nobody hears that story either.

On a related note, I suppose none of my friends really thought I stuttered much because often (in a group of friends) they’d defer to me to “tell the story.” Then it’s me on the spot. I have to get through it quickly and smoothly. Everybody is looking at me, expecting, smiling, wanting to laugh. Talk about pressure.

My stuttering for the week

I haven’t done one of these posts in a while, so I thought I should summarize what I’ve been stuttering on in the past few days.

1. As a cycling fan, I’m excited for this year’s Vuelta a Espana — the tour of Spain. The problem is the word “vuelta.” That v going right into a w. Oh man. I drag out the v a bunch, and then run into a block on the “w” sound. And it confuses the listener when you say it’s the Tour of Spain. It’s La Vuelta — so let’s just call it that!

2. The usual “w” sound on what. It feels like these days I’m asking a lot of questions, and I’m always getting stuck on the “what” part. Everything after that is usually fine, though.

3. One of the Saudis who I talk to regularly here refers to his “family” all the time. But it’s just him and his wife. I thought that was interesting. So he’ll say that he and his family went here, or went there. I’m always stuttering on “wife,” so maybe I should just refer to her as my “family” as well … at least I’d be including the kids, too.

4. We stayed in a hotel a few weekends ago, and for the first time ever, we were in Room 101. The room number (in most countries) is usually trivial, but the big thing here in Saudi are the included breakfasts. So you go down to the restaurant in the morning, and — you guessed it — tell the guy your room number. More w sounds! Awesome! I decided I didn’t care about my stutter and stuttered it out for both days — “one oh one.” It was rough. And he just stared and waited. A little smile came out. I could have very easily said “a hundred and one” which would have been faster. But that would be doing the covert thing which I’m trying to avoid little by little.

(Note: what I’ve done in the past if I get a really hard room number is just hand them the little card-holder thingy that the guy at reception wrote my room number on. If you’re not someone who stutters, and you saw this gesture, you’d think nothing of it. But it’s an old covert trick …)

5. I spoke up at a meeting the other day without stumbling and stuttering too much. I knew exactly what I wanted to say, and I had a good command of the room — there were only a half dozen people in there. I had met them all before. The thing about being a consultant is that you’re expected to talk and lead. So just sitting there isn’t doing anybody any good. I knew they were looking to our team for an answer, and being the manager, it was up to me to take charge and let them know exactly what we were going to do, and when it was going to be done. They had a concern which I also addressed, and the meeting was over in less than 15 minutes. I wasn’t thinking about the stuttering that much. I was focused on the message, and it really helped me drive through the stutter.

Covert stuttering workshop

Covert stuttering exposed! Second workshop, third day. I wrote my thoughts on covert stuttering before.

This particular workshop was a panel of people who were formerly covert. They basically stood up and told their stories. Which were … amazingly like mine. They talked about avoiding situations, substituting words, not participating in activities, the whole bit. Indeed, I was not alone in my stuttering silo!

Just as in previous workshops, I was amazed at how these people just got up in front of a large group and stuttered away, not bothered at all.

They mentioned that there’s not a lot of research out there on covert stuttering. Well … of course. We don’t like to talk. About anything. Or want to associate ourselves with stuttering. So while I didn’t seek out research studies on this kind of stuff, I probably would have considered answering some questions if I ran into a study — say at my doctor’s office or something. But that rarely happens.

Also, there are varying degrees of success when it comes to covert stuttering. I thought this was interesting because it really sums up my life a lot. I have basically a “positive feedback loop” on being covert. What I was doing — avoiding, being silent, etc., was working. My life wasn’t getting any worse, and career-wise, things were continuing to improve. So there wasn’t any motivation in not being covert.

And what is it about being covert that’s so necessary? Well, aside from the usual shame/fear bit, it’s that society really places an emphasis on fluency. Like, perfection. Turn on the tv. Watch any show. Any of them. Nobody stutters. Ever. They’re all reading their lines perfectly. Even on the nightly news if they’re talking to a correspondant and not using the prompter, their words are succint and perfect. Radio personalities are perfect. Books on tape are perfect. Youtube video presenters are perfect. So where does this leave me? Well, I want to be perfect. If I can’t, then well, I’m just not going to open my mouth.

Avoid avoiding

Back to talking about the NSA Annual Conference.

I’m only up to Day 3 — July Fourth from our nation’s capital.

The day started off with You Make the Difference: Avoid Avoiding.

I managed to only write down a few things. The first is, “the environment of strangers has a lot of negative connotations.”

And of course this is why we avoid speaking or even trying to speak. Better to just shut it all down than to be embarassed (again). I do this kind of thing all the time. Why mingle at a wedding when I can just hang out with the few people I know at my table? Why linger at a company function after dinner when it’s just easier to eat and leave? Why try to navigate the drive through and having to speak through a speaker when I can just go inside and point to what I want?

“What have we done to avoid avoiding?”

This is about challenging ourselves to not be as covert, and to be out there with our speaking. We don’t have to be afraid all the time. Sure, sometimes we get a negative reaction, but the percetages are really, really low. It’s just that those instances really stick in our minds. We need to remember the positive and forget the negatives.

One thing she mentioned was stuttering on our voicemail message. So there, you got a call from a stranger, and they heard your stutter. They know you stutter. What are you afraid of now? That they’ll make a comment about it? Ok, so? Then what? Can you move on to talking about work or whatever? Isn’t a few seconds of discomfort better than hours or days of avoidance and having to resort to other means of communication?

(Quick aside — here in the Kingdom, I actually don’t have voicemail. Not on my cell phone, and not on my work phone. At work it just shows a log of missed calls. So if you see that someone called, then you just call back. Same for the mobile — or they could just text me. Does this mean that I may stutter on my voicemail when I get back to the States? Well … maybe.)

One note I wrote down to myself during this workshop was “Avoiding — now I have children.”

This means, quite simply, that we need to be able to speak for our children. Full stop, no excuses. You take your two-year-old to the doctor, and they’re sick, and they’ve been coughing or sneezing and whatever else, so all of that needs to be told to the doctor. What are you going to do, write it all down? Then what happens when the doctor asks you what they’ve been eating or where they’ve been playing? Didn’t think of that, did you? And you have to make sure to give exact answers. This is your kid’s health!

I think in broader terms maybe this is what’s really pushing me to lose the covert and be more overt. My kids. They can’t speak for themselves all the time. They can’t see that something’s not fair. I need to be able to stand up for them. I need to be able to ask about after-school programs, or where to get academic help, or what they’ve been up to in class when it comes to a parent-teacher conference.

As I’ve said many times before though, I’m not perfect, and I didn’t just go to the conference and come back with some sort of fearless streak. I came back with way more confidence and a different attitude, sure, but it still has to be executed on a daily basis. And some days are better than others.

Programming note … I think I may just go to a M-F publishing schedule. It seems most of the readers are visiting during the traditional work week anyway. I think I’m trying to do too much without considering the time it’s all going to take. Better to ease back a little and publish slightly less but with better quality and consistency.

Covert and Overt Stuttering

I’m trying to understand this covert and overt thing a little better. Remember that I haven’t talked to anybody about my stuttering (until now, basically) so the terminology and labeling is … well, interesting.

Tony mentioned it on his blog the other day:

I use fluency tricks to hide my stuttering because I want to sound like people who are fluent. Does this mean that I am ashamed of stuttering? Perhaps. That would be a matter between me and my therapist, if I had one. 🙂 Does this mean that I don’t accept my stutter? Not at all. I accept is as much as a person must accept that he has only one leg or one eye. I AM A STUTTERER. See? There, I wrote it. I am not delusional. 😛 I am okay with reality. However, this does not mean that I have to be okay with stuttering. There is a difference, in my opinion.

I think the covert-overt thing is kind of funny at times. Because, what, you’re basically covert until you stutter … then the cat’s out of the bag, right? I mean, sure, the Starbucks barista doesn’t know I stutter (and of course I didn’t get what I wanted because I was afraid of stuttering when I ordered it) but after meeting a new person at work and talking to them off and on for a week, I’m probably going to stutter. Then what? Maybe they’ll just think that I was nervous or couldn’t find the right word and stumbled over it? So they don’t think that I completely stutter? I suppose that’s being covert, sure. Or maybe they’ll realize it and not think anything of it?

So for some people I’m covert, and others I’m overt?

Here’s the definition from the Stuttering Foundation at the Guidelines (An excerpt of Chapter 23 from the book Advice to Those Who Stutter)

There appear to be two main types of stutterers: (1) the covert stutterer who attempts to avoid contacts with feared words and situations that might identify him as a possible stutterer to his listeners and (2) the overt stutterer who struggles laboriously through word after word as he communicates. Which one are you?


So I guess in my mind, I’m a covert stutterer, and in reality, I’m overt. I think this is part of the iceberg — ok, sure, I stutter, but I don’t want the listener to identify me as someone who stutters. As in, when the conversation is done, and they talk to their friends, they don’t say something like, “oh, you know, Rehan, the guy upstairs who stutters?”

I think lately (past 5 years or so) I’ve been more overt because well, I have things at work I just have to say. And I’ve noticed that people don’t seem to mind the stutter on a few words here and there.

Here’s another older article that touches on it. And this might explain why I didn’t do speech therapy all the way through school.

For MacIntyre, as long as she could replace words, or avoid situations where she knew she would block, she said, she could hide her problem from everyone, including her parents. “I was a walking thesaurus,” she said. When MacIntyre was in grade school, she was already showing signs of stuttering. But when a specialist told her mother to ignore the symptoms, MacIntyre began consciously masking her stutter. Her parents assumed she had simply grown out of it.

I’m curious how other people label themselves and their subsequent behavior. I’m guessing someone who’s overt doesn’t preface every conversation with “look, I stutter, so bear with me.” Or do they?

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