Getting through it

As I said in my last post a long, long time ago, we moved to the States. This involves a lot of time on the phone, apparently. You have to call a bunch of people and give them a bunch of information. Over and over and over again. And of course it’s the basic stuff.

Name? Telephone number? Social security number? Wife’s name? Wife’s telephone number? Address? Last four digits of your social? Previous address?

And then, with a few calls to the doctor’s office for the kids, it’s all the above … for three kids.

But I’m getting through it all. It’s a once and done thing, mostly. And those on the other end of the phone have been patient. What I haven’t been good about is simply having a planned thing to say before making the call. I usually just call the doctor’s office … oh, right, I need to ask about an appointment. New patient, sure, soon as possible, stutter here, stutter there.

We ordered some furniture online and after a few days, I checked its status. It was something very vague, and we were hoping to get the stuff before some guests showed up. Pick up the phone. Make the call. They didn’t pick up, but they said I could press one to leave a message for someone to call me back. Ummm … I’d rather not … but I need this stuff! Ok, fine. I pressed one, and they didn’t ask for a message! Hurray! But then they asked for my phone number instead. Boo … And yes, they called me back and then it’s having to say a 16-digit order number to get service. At least they asked the address and had me confirm instead of me giving the address.

But the majority of the calls are done now, I think. I may need to call the BMV (bureau of motor vehicles) to ask them about where my vehicle registration has gone. But otherwise the doctors are mostly set up, furniture is all here, cable is ordered, and the power is on.

As a whole moving back and having to make all these calls wasn’t something that I was afraid of, stuttering-wise …and that’s simply because I never thought of how much there actually would be. But then I took it one call at a time, deep breaths, didn’t let a bad call get to me, and let the necessity push me to pick up that phone again and again and again, making it easier and a lot less scary.

Memorial Day Stuttering

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

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

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

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

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

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

Was that Avoiding?

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

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

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

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

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

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

More stuttering and more happy

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

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

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

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

“So, where are you guys from?”

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

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

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.

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.

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.

Looking back – 3, 6 and 9 months

I thought I’d take a quick look back at what was going on with my stuttering 3, 6 and 9 months ago.

Three months ago:

Stuttering Life Changes

What I can say is that based on some “lessons learned,” the first few weeks are going to be fraught with some fear and uncertainty. Meeting new people, learning a new process, and navigating a new city will all take me out of my comfort zone.

Yep, definitely lived up to the hype. But I’m trying to be more even-keeled about it since I know it’s happening. I’ve already noticed slight improvements in some meetings with my speech (and lousy speech in others, still).

Six months ago:

Your Stuttering Theories

Before the stutter, we imagine what horrible things are going to happen to us if we stutter and if we are found out. But that’s just a theory. And theories should be tested.

Ah yes, my talk with Dr. Weidig. I remember it well. And am still trying to live by his straightforward advice — you have a life-ending vision of what your stutter will do? Well, let’s find out if it’s really going to be that bad!

Nine months ago:

Tales of the Stuttering Ambush

The meeting gets started, and it’s just another staff meeting. Going through what work is happening now, and what work is coming up. Then the boss remembers, and …
“Oh, I almost forgot, we have a visitor from one of our offices. He’ll be here for two weeks doing …”

Ah yes, the ambush. Work, lunch, social events. Hasn’t happened to me at lunch recently, but it did happen during a meeting. I got put on the spot to explain some things on a presentation. I was a bit of a mess (understatement). I got through it though. I need to be better prepared, really.

Upcoming site changes

I sat down yesterday and listed out all the changes and additions that I’d like to make to the site. Then realized it’s a lot of work. Then I thought how it should all be perfect — find all the links, all the articles, all the videos — and then put it on the site.

Then I remembered my French.

With stuttering and speaking a foreign language, I was always hesitant. Because I thought it all had to be perfect. Then I could utter the words. So since it’s never going to be perfect, I had a nice excuse for never using my high school French.

Then I found out that no, that’s not the case at all. You don’t have to be perfect to open your mouth. Just put it out there, and don’t be afraid.

So with this site it should be the same. Put up what I can. Don’t be afraid. I can filter and sort it out later. I can build on it more and more. Nobody is going to complain. At least I’m making the effort.

Dreaming of a Stutter

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

And I’m not happy about it.

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

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

Confronting the Elevator

I talked a few days ago about stuttering in and around the elevator. I’m getting “better” at it.

I found out a few days ago that a person in my new office probably knows someone who I used to work with back in the States. Let’s call the guy here “A.” The person who I know back in the States has a name that starts with a hard K sound. First and last name!

Let’s step back and see how stuttering success could be measured:

1. If I put off speaking to someone because I’m afraid of a stutter, but then talk to them eventually, is that good?
2. If I don’t put off speaking to someone and then stutter while I speak to them, is that good?

I’d count both of them as a success, frankly. I suppose as long as in the first instance the time isn’t too long. You can’t put something off for weeks. Maybe a few days.

Anyway, I put off asking A for a few days because I didn’t feel like stuttering, I didn’t have to know that he knew this other person, and I didn’t know what kind of response he’d have anyway. Would it be awkward or something?

But he’s a really friendly guy and quite talkative.

So the other day he and I were in the elevator, and there was also someone else in there. Sometimes when I’m so afraid of speaking and know I’ll stutter, I’ll just start talking before my brain realizes what’s going on and what a bad idea this is.

That’s what I did.

I bumbled through the introduction, sort of saying what office I was in. Then started slowly pushing out the name. It wasn’t too bad, actually. He maintained eye contact and waited patiently. (A is British — I’m wondering if they’re wired slightly differently after the whole King’s Speech thing?).

Anyway, he said he did know this person, and then gave me a little information on what she is doing now and where she is. And that was that!

What I’m Stuttering on Lately

Two stories for today’s entry.

Valentine’s Day (of course). So there’s this certain kind of Pakistani breakfast food that my wife really enjoys. It’s a street-food type thing. And of course being here in Saudi, there’s a Pakistani neighborhood, complete with many shops. The only issue is that I have no idea specifically where to get this stuff, and to find out, I’d have to … talk to someone.

But I decide to suck it up. My son and I went out early in the morning before anybody else in the house was up. I had to stop at the office for a quick errand. On the way back, we dove into the neighborhood. We drove around aimlessly for a while, trying to spot a shop from the car. I had been taken to this place before, but it was at night. I had to find someone to ask. You can tell the difference between the Pakistanis and the Saudis based on their dress. So I knew who I was looking for. Finally I found a guy walking along the road. I rolled down the window and started talking. I said the name of the stuff I was looking for. I didn’t stutter on it, but my breathing was off. He gave me a sort-of blank stare. But then asked if I was speaking Arabic or Urdu or what. I said Urdu, and said the name again a few times. He got it. Then instead of giving me directions, he just hopped into the car. Ok …

He pointed here and there, and on we drove. He got us into a more specific area of the neighborhood. This is what I wanted! We let him out with a thank you. My son and I found some parking and then started walking. I wanted to find a shop that was crowded (forgetting about how I don’t like going to crowded restaurants because ordering there is even more stressful). We saw a place, and saw the stuff we wanted.

I pointed and ordered, and the guy asked me how many. I said just one. Then, right there, sitting in the same place, was the guy who helped us in the car. He stood up and told the person behind the counter to help us out and ordered exactly what we wanted. Ah, making connections.

Then I noticed some other food that I wanted, so I pointed and asked for that as well. Another person standing next to me clarified it in Urdu to the person taking the order. So even though I stuttered a little here and there, I managed to push through and get what I wanted — and get something special for my wife for Valentine’s Day.

Second story —

After getting out of the neighborhood, my son and I went over to the Starbucks for coffee. The day before I had denied him a request for hot chocolate. So today I thought I’d oblige. But of course he threw a curveball and asked for a white hot chocolate. He told me this right before walking into the store, so I had only a few seconds to freak out about trying to say “white.”

So I ordered for myself what I usually do and stuttered just a little. Then I pushed really hard and got my son’s order out. The funny thing is that often those of us who stutter end up drinking/eating things we don’t want because that’s what’s easiest to day. In this case, I was able to order exactly what my son wanted, but the guy didn’t really know how to make it. And I didn’t know what was supposed to be in it, either. He conferred with his colleague, but then still added coffee in it (don’t think you’re supposed to … still need to check on that) so I said no, no, it’s ok, no big deal. (It was early — a little caffeine for an 8-year-old can’t be that bad, right?)

In both instances I made sure that the stuttering took a back seat for the needs of others. I’m not going to deny loved ones things just because I can’t say something comfortably. I can suck it up, and I can work through it.

Stuttering on the Elevator

Have an idea for a business? They say you should be able to distill it into a few-seconds-long “elevator pitch.” I’m sure you’ve heard this before. And I’m sure that if you stutter, you just sort of laugh at this notion. Sometimes I can’t even say the floor number I want to go to if someone is asking. That’s always a real awkward gem. Doors are closing, it’s close quarters, really quiet, the easiest question ever.

Aside — how many of you have just said, yeah, that’s it, (already pressed) instead of saying the floor number? And then you get off on that floor, and say, oh, whoops, this isn’t right. And then turn around and call the elevator again, this time hoping you’ll be the only one in there, or at least be able to get in and push the button. Or just take the stairs. Stuttering as a weight loss plan. Great.

So while I’ve been programmed to just shut my mouth on elevator rides, I am talking more now. And still stuttering more. And not caring if other people on the elevator are listening in. If I’m waiting with someone on the top floor, and we’re both going down to the ground level, chances are good that our conversation will continue all the way through. People will get on and off, and I’ll just talk on through. I’m getting better at this. Does this mean I can just blurt out something witty and spontaneous and not stutter? Heavens no. But stuttering with someone at the company who is way more senior than me doesn’t put me off as much.

I’m not sure right now if I should be trying to meet more people — and using elevator run-ins as the fuel for this. I mean, I haven’t even met everybody on my floor yet. Can I just leave it at that for now?

Lastly, (and thankfully) I usually don’t stutter at all on the floor I’m on — it’s easy for me to say, “ten.”

My Second NSA Conference

Been busy with the new job, but hey, I’m still stuttering every day, so I might as well keep on with the blog, right?

The NSA Conference is happening this year in Chicago. A few weeks ago a friend of mine (who I met last year at my first conference — also his first) texted me to remind me that the hotel was filling up fast. So I took care of that before registration even opened up. Well, it’s open now! I’ll get that taken care of today probably. I’m guessing there will be even more people this year than last.

So while I do have enthusiasm for going to the conference again, I also have some tinges of apprehension. It’s that deep-down stuttering-built-this social anxiety, I guess. For a first timer, it ends up being easier — you have a workshop where you’re forced to meet other first timers! (Well, you don’t know that it’s going to be that easy until you get there) What about second timers, though? Do we get a workshop? Can we just crash the first-timer party?

I remember some people (non-first-timers) randomly coming up to me and introducing themselves. Maybe I should try that approach? That’ll take quite a bit to just go up to someone and ambush them. But I’ve done it before! I saw there was an NSA e-mail about workshop ideas. Maybe I could come up with something and host that? I’m sure I’d meet plenty of people that way.

See, again, this is what the stuttering does — I had a great time at the first conference, I stuttered and didn’t die, I met a lot of cool people, but I’m still stressing about the next conference. I think if I had been going to meetings during this past year, it might be different. It might be easier to meet strangers who stutter. But other than the blog, I haven’t been engaged in stuttering.

I thought about this a little more, and I think I have a plan. Volunteer! I saw it on the side of the NSA registration page. This is perfect! Meet people by force! (No, seriously, I really do need to be eased into these things. Even if it is a years-long process. Also, it doesn’t help that I’m so far away.)

I honestly am not the volunteering type. This has nothing to do with me being a terrible person (no, really). I think it’s more the stuttering isn’t interested. I mean, volunteering usually means talking to strangers, and that usually involves … talking, so … no.

So I’ll start another conference adventure and let you all know how it goes.

If you want to read all my old NSA Conference posts, click here. I’ll dig through them to see if I can expand on anything for 2015.

Stuttering more at work

I haven’t been keeping formal records or anything, but I have a strong feeling that I’m stuttering a lot more at work. A lot.

Obviously it’is because of the new job, new people, new experiences. Before I’ve been living a few stories, and everybody around me already knew them, too. But now, for entertainment purposes, I have to retell some stories. And since I’ve not run through them a bunch of times, they’re all coming out pretty rough. But I’m just stuttering on through them.

I’d say I’m getting out about 75-80% of what I want to say. (As in, talking vs. keeping silent) Remember the irony here is that stuttering has taught me over the years to not say a lot. Not saying a lot does tend to help when you’re starting a new role and need to feel out what’s what. So I’m using that to my advantage. (See? Stuttering gives you some gifts).

But otherwise, there’s blocking, dragging out sounds, repeating, the whole lot. It’s in front of friends, subordinates, supervisors, their bosses, and their bosses. But nobody is giving me a hard time about it.

And here’s what that’s doing for me:

1. I’m not hiding any more (well, as much)
2. I’m not wasting energy on being covert/avoiding
3. Maybe I’m educating people (not a lot of advertising being done, though)
4. I’m saying exactly what I want to say so there’s no confusion (most of the time) over what I want
5. I’m gaining confidence and getting more comfortable with my new environs.

Waiting to Stutter

I’m writing this while I sit and wait at the local telecom office here in Saudi. It’s after work hours, and I need to sign up for internet service in our new town. This involves getting a 4G modem/router thingy that you put in your house, and the internet magically comes through and then goes all over the house via Wifi.

Or does it?

I’m assuming the product that I’m going to ask for has Wifi. But I really don’t know. There’s a brochure for it here in the office, of course, but it’s all in Arabic. And besides, when I read about it online, it didn’t say anything (in English) about being Wifi capable.

But it has to be, right? I mean, the last few boxes I had had it, so surely this one must.

And why am I wondering about this? Well, duh, it’s “wifi,” and it’s a “w,” and I know I’m going to stutter on it.

Yes, I’m getting better and just stuttering and just eventually saying what I want to say, but I still don’t want to go through the process. The person who I am going to talk to is a Saudi who speaks English as a second language. I know I’m not supposed to care about him smiling or laughing at me, but it’s hard to rewire those fears.

And the worst part about this? Well, I got here after work, so at 6 p.m. There are a lot of people in front of me, and they’ve closed for prayer time as well. So maybe I’ll get to talk to the guy at 8 p.m. So I’ve had two good hours of internally freaking out about saying a single word. This is the stuttering life.

Follow up: Alright, so I sat down with the guy (after 2.5 hours of waiting) and made the simple transaction. And since I thought about the word “Wifi” so much and stuttering on it, I had a go. And stuttered on it. Pretty bad. Bad enough that Saudi kind of put up his hands (like, three times, since I stopped and started three times) and said “What? what?”

But hey, I didn’t die, I found out what information I wanted to know, and most importantly, I grew a slightly thicker skin (and didn’t end up in jail for punching him in the face.)

Stuttering and Searching Part 2

I talked a few weeks back about the search for a compound here in Al Khobar.

I was thinking back through the move and wanted to go through its parts and talk about how the stuttering may have affected it. I can say that overall, I don’t think it hurt the moving process at all. Let’s go through it bit by bit:

1. Getting the call about leaving the project – I was in the States, and my boss asked me what my number was. He called around midnight. I had 30 days from then to stay on the project. No stuttering.

2. Sending out an e-mail to some folks I already talked to about another job within the company. No stuttering, of course. But the person who I was slated to talk to (interview with) wouldn’t be available for a few more weeks.

3. Interviewing for a new position. I had actually interviewed for this position previously. I may go into detail about this in a few months, but basically I got the job I wanted. It took a few more days to set up another phone call with someone else to finalize details, but that was also not stuttering related.

4. Getting my household goods packed up. No stuttering really. I sent out some e-mails to our logistics coordinator for boxes, and made some phone calls to him regarding what the movers would actually do.

5. Finding a compound. This one was a little tough. But I think the delays were not on me, they were on others. If I needed to make a phone call or send an e-mail, I did it the same moment. If I needed to see someone, I went and talked to them. Did I stutter while visiting some of the compounds? Definitely. But did it make a difference at the end of the day? No. I was actually not afraid to pick up the phone and call places. I had to, so I just sucked it up.

6. Getting the company to pay for the compound. There was a small technical/financial issue with this that I won’t get into, but I did just go see the person in HR. We talked face-to-face and were able to sort things out. I stuttered, but was also sitting calmly, so I slowly let the message out.

7. Getting my son into a school here. No delays. The schools were closed until this week anyway. I sent some e-mails, and I also phoned them to ask what the policy was. My wife also called and made a trip to the school for the testing. I made a visit to the school and talked to some people in person. I picked up the registration papers and sent them back the same day. The school was good about follow-up, so there wasn’t a need for any more phone calls.

8. Getting into the new job. I’ve been to some meetings, and I’ve been stuttering. But I’ve also been able to talk to my new colleagues without any issues about business and personal matters.

So what’s the bottom line here? Well, the important takeaway for me is that looking back on what’s a large change in my life, stuttering (although it’s been present) has not had a negative impact. I’ve acknowledged it, but I haven’t let it make decisions or cause any delays. This is a huge win, and a good confidence boost going into more meetings and introductions at work.

I also still have to meet a lot of neighbors. I haven’t really had a lot of time for that, but the weekend is coming up …

Some 2014 Stuttering Thoughts

(Note: I’ve finished my move from Yanbu to Al Khobar here in Saudi. It involved a lot of talking, and quite a bit of stuttering, too. I started the new job (which I’m not going to really talk about that much … only indirectly) and so far things are going well. I did have a chance to advertise in a meeting with a bunch of people … but chose not to. Let me get to the post I wanted to write at the beginning of 2015 first, and then I’ll talk more about the move and what happened later on this week.)

I’ve never thought of any of the years of my life with regards to stuttering. As in, “that was the year I started stuttering,” or, “that was the worst stuttering year of my life,” and so on.

But 2014 was definitely different. I started it out with a lot of nervousness. I had made the decision to finally (finally!) start a blog on stuttering. All the notes, the scribbles to those notes, the typed thoughts … all of it was going to go public.

I started the blog in April/May, and was amazed how easy it was to write … a lot … about stuttering. There’s a lot of bottled-up feelings! Lots to that iceberg, really.

July was definitely the best — I went to the NSA Conference for the first time. Now that I think about it, that was a pretty big deal. I mean, I dedicated an entire vacation to the conference. And traveled from Saudi to do it. I definitely jumped into the deep end, and it was absolutely worth it. Incidentally, I just booked the hotel for the Chicago conference this year. I haven’t even registered or told my boss about this vacation, or bought air tickets, or thought about what else I’ll do on the vacation. But I know I’m going!

I’d say the biggest change that came out of 2014 was that my stuttering didn’t bother me anymore. I mean, yes, it “bothers” me in the sense that I can’t always communicate something, but what I’m talking about is the bigger sense — that I’m someone who stutters. So what?

But how did I get to that point?

Well, in 2014 I learned some really valuable things:

1. There are other people — who I am now friends with — who stutter. I’m not alone.
2. If I stutter on something, I won’t die.
3. I don’t know how someone will react to my stutter. But more than likely, it’s going to be with patience, not some hateful comment.
4. As part of that, educated people will focus on the message and respect your physical shortcomings.

Those major themes finally entered my life, and I feel much better for it.

In 2014 I would say, based on casual observance, that I’ve been stuttering … more.

A lot more.

And why is that? Because I’m not using those avoidance techniques. I’m not substituting words as much. I’m saying what I want to say, stutter-be-damned.

Alright, so here we go — new year, new city, new neighborhood, new friends, new colleagues, new neighbors, new clients, new office, new job.

Let’s keep calm and stutter on.

Some temporary discomfort

Still in the process of moving. Hey, c’mon — I’m overseas. Things are … different.

For instance, I’m moving from one side of the Kingdom to another. From a small town to a larger one. In our small town, there are two compounds to choose from. In the larger one, there are more than a dozen.

My company basically gave me a list (e-mails, phone numbers) for some of the compounds. The person in HR is obviously busy getting other people settled (in or out, I guess) so he can’t call around.

My wife and kids are out of the country visiting family. So it’s not like I can get her to call. I don’t have an administrative assistant any more to make calls.

So of course the first thing I do is e-mail a bunch of them. I sent them a form letter of sorts. I waited a day.

I got some responses, and they either said yes, we have something, or no, we’re full. For the others, well, I started to make some phone calls. You can imagine how much fun this wasn’t. Not only am I speaking to someone over a not-the-clearest cell phone connection, but English isn’t their first language, and oh yeah, did I mention I stutter?

Houses aren’t houses here. They’re called “villas” on a compound. I can feel the stutter coming in on “villa” every time. So I sometimes say “house.” Which is confusing for them. And doesn’t get me any answers. I also have many other detailed questions, but most of the time the person on the other end doesn’t know or doesn’t understand.

Great … it’s only my housing situation that I’m trying to sort out.

Despite all of this, I’ve got things narrowed down and am just going to go there in the next few days to meet people in person and see what’s what. Then I can stutter in person and point and use hand signals or draw pictures or whatever (just kidding. Well, sort of.)

A little more traveling and a little more discomfort, but after this is all sorted out, then it’ll be smooth sailing for a while.

Stuttering for Coffee

Things are still in process for my work transition/life transition/move across the Kingdom-maybe, but for now, I do have some good news:

We are off the hook at Starbucks for having to give our actual names.

“Perhaps his reasons for giving initials in place of a full name were less about sparing others inconvenience and more about wanting an accurate representation of himself on his coffee cup. I’ll take any name with any spelling so long as I don’t have to engage in a whole dialogue about it. In a place where everyone seems to be rushing, I feel guilty holding up the line for an extra ten seconds.”

So there you have it. Perfectly fluent people (there’s no mention of stuttering in this article) are using different names at Starbucks so that they won’t get their order mixed up, or to be funny or creative.

Surely you can non-stutter out some name, right? I must try this … knowing my stutter, I’d probably stutter out a fake name, too. I’d be nervous about “getting caught.”

I’ve noticed that they don’t always ask me for a name though. If it’s not as busy, they simply take the order, and then call it out when they’re done. But yeah, during the rush it’s a little unnerving, and makes me wonder if I really need to be spending money to stutter.

What would be funny is if you used a fake name and had it written on a cup — and then took it into a meeting where they said, “let’s go around the room and introduce ourselves.”

Some stuttering bits for today

A few things today:

First:

I wrote a lengthy guest post over at westutterandwedontcare. It’s about the worst stuttering experience I’ve ever had. So if you’re having a lousy day, by all means, compare and contrast!

Here’s a little bit from the story:

The organizer then said he’d introduce the speakers, and started to give a short background on each of them. So this is what they meant by introductions. I leaned back in my chair and took another sip of soda. I had gotten away with one. Just as I started to think about other things, the organizer asked that the finance people at the plants stand up and introduce themselves. A microphone was being passed around.

I started to worry.

You can read the rest of the story here.

Second:

Another thought exercise and/or experiment — what would our speech be like if we were told it’s not that bad? We’re hardest on ourselves, but what if someone recorded us, reviewed it, then told us it’s not as bad compared to someone who’s fluent? (Note — I do mean in a deceptive way). If we didn’t know it, would that boost our confidence and help our speech? Would that help break down negative associations we have with speaking?

A little more — let’s say they recorded us giving a short speech. And they also recorded some fluent people who are maybe not as confident or are afraid of public speaking. Then we sit down with the videos. We are only shown the fluent parts of our speech (maybe a stutter here and there) and for those who are fluent, we are shown only the bad parts. If we are “trained” in this way, would that help us out over the long run?

Third:

There’s this story about writing every day and its benefits. As someone who tries to journal every day, I can certainly attest to having my head organized a little better, and feeling better overall.

Reflective writing, particularly in a journal, has been shown to have health benefits both physical and emotional, like increasing control and creativity, decreasing anxiety, depression, and rage.

I usually scribble down things about work (lists, phone numbers, meeting notes) but also longer thoughts on stuttering, including good experiences and bad ones. I’d be interested to know if others are doing the same thing — what are you focusing on when you write about your stutter in a journal?

Who will you stutter with today?

I had the chance to travel home during the holidays, and I noticed something interesting with regards to stuttering and interacting with people. Namely, if given a choice of people — male, female, young, old, calm, flustered, etc., who would you want to (try to) talk to?

I’m at the airport, and I need to check in for my flight. I’m there pretty early, so there are more counter agents than customers. So I drag my suitcases through the little maze and … well … who’s it going to be? The young man who’s typing on his computer? The young lady who’s looking at me? The older man who’s also looking at me?

There’s so much to consider in just a few seconds — will the old man care if my suitcase is a half kilogram over? Will the young lady be pulled aside by the young man and asked how to do something, thus dragging out the whole process? Will the young man — who might be new — not understand my visa and start asking me questions that I’ll stutter on?

I’d like to think that I don’t think about my stuttering until just a few seconds before it starts to happen. But I think since I’ve been doing it for so long, it’s really burnt into my head. It’s driving the bus. I try to fight this by going up to the counter, smiling, saying hi, and handing over my passport. I take another deep breath. Breathe!

But how do I usually decide? Well, after interactions at the airport, retail store and bank, I’ve noticed that I’m usually partial to the person who’s smiling. As long as they’re not standing next to someone else talking. Because hey, if I’m going to stutter, I’d rather have an audience of one.

The smiling does a lot to disarm me. It says, “hey, you’re welcome here, I’m open to helping you, and I’m not going to jump down your throat and interrogate you.”

I always, always, return the smile. Disarm you! Disarm me! Now I can breathe again. And say hello. And hand you my passport. And say, “two bags.” And even ask a question that I already know the answer to! (Confirming that the bags aren’t checked all the way through to my small town.)

On the one hand, I don’t usually have to say that much to the counter agent. I’m well prepared. But is that because I stutter? And I don’t want to talk to them that much? No. I don’t think so. I think as I get older and figure things out, I realize that being prepared while you travel makes life a whole lot easier. If that means less chit-chatting, then so be it.

So what about you? When you reach the front of the line and have a choice, who does your stuttering fear the least?

Thankful for Stuttering – Part 1

I’m thankful for:

The barista who stands there patiently with their sharpie while I force out my name
The passport agent who sits there quietly while I force out ‘dates’ as hard as possible
My parents who never said anything negative about my stuttering or that I had to sort it out or be a failure
My friends who never laughed at my stutter
My coworkers who wait while I explain something during a meeting and stumble through it
The person on the other side of the phone who hangs on the line while I stutter out my address
The cashier who doesn’t roll their eyes while I stutter out my phone number
The new people who I meet in the Kingdom at lunch who’ve never commented on my stutter

I could go on.

I’m thankful for all of these people because they show me that stuttering isn’t going to kill me. If I want to talk to someone, I’ll get through it. I’ll make more positive associations with talking than negative ones. I’ll learn that 99 out of 100 people are patient, loving and kind when it comes to listening. And that one person out of a hundred isn’t going to bring down my moment, my afternoon, or my day.

Stuttering and My Job

Alright, so here’s the last thing to say about jobs and stuttering (for the moment).

I talked about what my own situation is — and whether I’m one to even talk about these things.

Thirdly, am I one to talk? I will readily admit that my stutter probably pushed me into engineering. Maybe not fully, but it had something to do with it. Well, the thing is, I didn’t just sit and stay in the first job that I had. I saw my boss and his job. I saw how much he talked, and how he carried himself with others and in meetings. And despite the fact that I didn’t think that would be possible, I kept working at it anyway.

The question is, if I had to do it all over again knowing more about stuttering, getting help and being more open, would I have made the same choices? I don’t know. Engineering isn’t too bad. I don’t think I knew enough about it to think that, ‘hey, here’s a great job where I can sit in a cubicle for 40 years and never have to talk to anybody.’

I think maybe some of the changes I would have made (if engineering was locked in as a major) would be regards to job-searching and networking. What were my peers doing? Could someone tell me what I’m supposed to be doing at a job fair? Drop off my resume, or … talk?

But again, it’s hard to say — I graduated 30 days before 9/11. The job market got a little soft, and there was a lot of uncertainty. So having a family contact for my first job was probably the only answer.

Was ignorance maybe better? What if I had someone who knew more about certain jobs? And then assume that I had the courage to ask them about speaking and stuttering in those jobs. Wouldn’t that have scared me off? Would I have known to seek alternate opinions?

The other thing of course is that everybody’s stutter is different. I usually don’t stutter on every single word, but hey, it’s happened. If I’m talking to familiar people it’s not too bad. If I have to make a presentation, it’s hit and miss. So many variables.

Afraid of speaking on the job. Before getting the job.

Going back to last week’s posts on jobs. In my second paragraph, I talked about well, fear. Fear of having to say something, having to present something.

As many people have said, fear cannot run your life. It’s definitely a lot more prevalent if you stutter, but it’s gotta be controlled.

If you see someone doing your dream job, and you see them (for just an hour, or a day, or a week) and they’re talking way more than you think you could, then you still need to ask more questions. What about all of the other time? What are they actually doing?

Being afraid of a job because you might have to do a presentation once a year is an irrational thought. It’s the same thinking that goes into why people buy bigger houses than they need — well, maybe someone might visit us once a year for a week. So we need that extra bedroom!

No you don’t.

Here’s a crazy thought. What if the person who you see doing your dream job is a covert stutterer? Or someone with other speech difficulties? Someone who worked a lot at speaking and then gained the confidence to present and carry on at work?

I’m not saying that you have to be covert to be successful. Of course not. But you can practice, practice, practice. You can get more comfortable with your coworkers. You can advertise to them that you stutter (on your own terms and on your own timeline) which may take some of the edge off.

I’m telling you that you can’t do that job.

I talked the other day about jobs and stuttering. Let me go through it again, but in more detail. I’ll start with the first point today and do the others tomorrow.

What I said was that there are going to be people who will hate on your future job dreams.

So basically, here is what they’re telling you:

1. They know every single verbal interaction you will have.
2. They know that you will fail at every single one of those interactions.
3. They know every single person who has that job that you want, across the country, and around the world.
4. All those people who they know do the exact same thing in the exact same way, and you won’t be able to do that.

So again, seriously? You’re going to buy that?

You’re going to believe that an engineer working at an auto factory has the same verbal demands as an engineer working on a job site in Texas? That an IT professional at a small company is doing the same things as someone at a Fortune 500 company? Just because you’ve spent 12 years in school observing your teachers, doesn’t mean that’s the only way to teach. Every coach isn’t always yelling and explaining. Managers don’t always have to give presentations. Every lawyer isn’t arguing in court.

Nobody’s an expert on every single job in the country. Nobody knows that much about what your daily demands are going to be. So don’t let anybody tell you that they do. You have to find out for yourself. You have to reach out and do some research.

And what if you do some research and find out that the verbal demands are really tough? Well, then you have to prepare yourself. You have to do the work. How badly do you want it? If you’ve prepared yourself academically (and possibly physically) why not verbally? Do the best you can at it, and if you have to do some advertising and get help early in the job, so be it. But build up your confidence. Build up your network. Make people comfortable with your stuttering.

Remember that those haters are like the voice in your head. Every day, you have a verbal interaction. And every time, you say to yourself, I can’t do this. I will avoid doing this. I don’t have to do this. The little person in your head — the hater — he wins. But what happens when you do talk, and you do stutter, and you do succeed? You’ve proven to yourself you can win and shown the hater that he’s wrong.

Some Stuttering Jobs

Recently on the Stuttering Community Facebook page, Amy asked what jobs everybody has. Remember that all of these people stutter. Here are the jobs and/or places where people work. So what’s your excuse now?

Call center, machinist, SLP, engineer, grocery store stocker, receptionist, doctor, paramedic, firefighter, journalist, professor, restaurant manager, IT, chef, electrical engineer, project manager (that’s me!), police officer, sports writer, accountant, nurse, priest, teacher, woodworker, lawyer, ultrasound tech, data scientist, graphic designer, HR, heavy equipment operator, web developer, care giver, soldier, salesman, and counselor.

Stuttering and your future job

I wanted to comment on something I’ve been seeing lately on Facebook groups and Reddit — young people who stutter worrying about what sort of job they might have since they stutter. I remember a few posts that said the person who stutters talked to someone in their profession or industry, and they said, no, you won’t be able to do this. You have to be able to talk.

This is all a bunch of crap.

Let me go through this in three parts. I want to just put forth some main ideas on this.

Firstly, hearing one person hate on your future job prospects is like having one person telling you that you can’t lose weight. Think about it. They’ll tell you how they’ve tried everything, it’s genetic, just don’t worry about it, just live with it. Seriously? And you can’t find ten other people who have lost 50 lbs and are more than happy to tell you how to change your life to do the same thing? You can communicate with anybody now through the Internet. You can ask to talk to someone who has your future job. You can reach out to many of them, and you’ll find someone who can help guide you through the process.

Secondly, if you’re looking at what a future job entails and then just giving up because you think — think — that you can’t do the speaking involved, then you’ve already failed. You’ve said to yourself that you’ve tried everything — various speech therapists, group therapy, self therapy, daily practice of techniques and things like Toastmasters. So, again, really? You’ve tried all that. You’ve done all the work, and you’re still going to give up? You’ve worked hard to change negative connotations of your stuttering into positive ones, and a dream job is still not going to happen?

Thirdly, am I one to talk? I will readily admit that my stutter probably pushed me into engineering. Maybe not fully, but it had something to do with it. Well, the thing is, I didn’t just sit and stay in the first job that I had. I saw my boss and his job. I saw how much he talked, and how he carried himself with others and in meetings. And despite the fact that I didn’t think that would be possible, I kept working at it anyway. I’ve moved up. I’ve freaked out, I’ve practiced, I’ve had good days and bad. But I’m still going forward, and I’m still being scared at what the future might hold. But I’m better prepared.

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: