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.

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