Your Stuttering Associations

The second thing that I picked up from Tom is closely related to the first but slightly different:

2. During the stutter, we feel that if we are stuttering, it’s a negative situation. Thus, we make negative connections with situations. Then avoid them in the future. However, these connections can be broken and positive associations made.

Whereas the first thing I talked about — theories — is more of a drawn out, lots of thinking approach, this is more of a gut feel. These are the results of actually having engaged and stuttered in a situation. These are ones we don’t even bother thinking about anymore. With the theory, we talk ourself out of calling the credit card company or approaching a stranger. With these associations, we either make a quick excuse to friends first, or just change the subject or walk away.

For example, if we are listening to a radio station, and they’re asking trivia questions. And you know the answer. Eh, whatever. Not going to bother calling in. Of if the teacher is asking for volunteers for some kind of speaking role. Or if you’re in a room full of mostly strangers — you just hang on to the those who you know and talk to them.

The point of this is that these are all negative associations we have built up. But what Tom said is that they can all broken. And not only that, but they can be built again in a positive fashion.

Again I’ll reference my France trip — I went up to a stranger in a small town. Sure he was an older gentlemen, but a stranger nonetheless. I didn’t want to. I didn’t have to. But I did. I made a connection. I spoke, I stumbled, but overall it was positive. Score one for talking to strangers.

Is it a long process? Oh yes. Is it pleasant? Probably not. But can it be done? With enough work, yes. We can go from not wanting to pick up the phone to hesitating to pick up the phone to picking up the phone. These are small victories, but slowly those associations and pathways are being rewired. As I said yesterday, the world isn’t going to end.

I suppose one thing I could do to nerd this up a bit is to make it objective, put it all down on paper. I write down those situations that scare the crap out of me (still). Write down the experiences that I can remember that make now feel this way. (I bet I would struggle to do this). And then seek out opportunities to engage people and change my negative associations.

It would also then be worthwhile to write down all the positive experiences. And weigh them against the negative. I know it’d be way out of balance. I know the stuttering isn’t a big deal for the casual listener. But it’s so engrained that it’d really take a lot of practice to change my own perceptions. But I’m willing to do that.

Are you?

Your Stuttering Theories

So here’s the first part of what I got from Dr. Weidig, the Stuttering Brain

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.

What do we mean by this? Well, it’s rooted in fear and shame. We have fears of speaking and feeling humiliated. We are ashamed of our stutter, and how we are not perfect. So what we do is dream up scenarios (often elaborate) of why things will go south if we open our mouths:

1. If I call about reducing the APR on my credit card, they will ask for my name and date of birth. And other numbers. I don’t want to stutter through them. The APR is fine.

2. If I ask the police officer or security person for directions, he might think there’s something wrong with me. He might start asking me questions that I’ll stutter on. Better to just try to find a map and figure out where I am by myself.

3. If I ask the stranger on the subway next to me how to make a transfer, I might stutter. He’ll think I’m weird or on drugs or who knows what. I’m better off staring at the map and trying to figure it out myself.

4. If I advertise my stutter during an interview, they might not hire me. I’d better just suck it up at my current job.

5. If I speak up during a company meeting, my colleagues will think less of me. I’ll just stay quiet.

And so on.

So these are all theories. They deserve to be tested, no? Why not just speak and see what happens? Either what you think will happen will happen, or the opposite will. If it’s the opposite, then you got the information. You made a connection. You make your life easier. You conveyed information successfully. You’ve boosted your confidence. Your colleagues went up to you after the meeting and thanked you for speaking up and saying what they were all thinking.

If you stutter and crash and burn, so what? Did you die? No. (Tom made a strong point about this — it’s our caveman reaction to run from fear and avoid it. But we’re just talking. We’re asking for no whip on our venti nonfat mocha. We’re not facing down a mastodon). Did the world come to a halt? Did everybody at the Starbucks suddenly stop sipping and stare at you while you stuttered out your order in line? No, of course not.

I loved this idea because I really lived it while in France. I would go up to the bakery or whatever, roll out a “bonjour,” and then think of what I wanted and what I wanted to say. I was testing out theories. And in all cases, the world didn’t end. I didn’t get deported. My friend didn’t look at me funny. I got what I wanted when I tried to order.

Most importantly, I still want to go back and speak more.

Stuttering in France Part 1

So after going to the NSA Annual Conference, I flew back to Saudi. But on the way, I stopped off in France for two and a half days to catch the Tour de France. I’m a casual cycling fan and like to get out on my bike as often as possible. Watching the Tour in person was something I’ve been hoping to do for many years.

I talked my best friend from high school into coming for a few days as well. The more the merrier. The plan was pretty simple — we were going to catch two of the earlier stages — flat ones — and that’s it. I wasn’t interested in seeing Paris or any specific tourist trap. All I wanted was to see the peloton a few times.

With regards to stuttering, I was somewhat juiced up by the workshop where others talked about stuttering in foreign languages. And how we all deserve to speak a foreign language. Yes!

Before even going on the trip, I talked to the French couple who I met here in Saudi. I actually practiced some French with them — what I wanted to say at the rental car counter. I wanted a Skoda! (all the Tour cars are Skodas … so … yeah, I dunno. Seemed like a nice idea). Anyway, when I was talking to them, they told me my French was actually pretty good.

I didn’t go to France with any specific amount of French that I wanted to speak, but I wanted to try at every opportunity.

The first chance was at the rental counter. I got a few words in — hello, I have a reservation, here’s my passport … and then she realized I was American and spoke English, sot he rest of the transaction happened in English. No problem. We’re making progress. The other positive thing that happened was that she said she didn’t have the specific car I wanted. But I didn’t back down. I wanted a stick shift car, and well, not the VW Beetle she had. She looked and said it would be tough. Please? I really want this type of car. Ok, so she found something, but it was at the next terminal. Can I go over there? Well, I have some time before my friend arrives, so can they bring it here? Yes, they can. Super.

Since I had taken French in high school, I was able to read and understand mostly everything in and around the airport. I was pretty comfortable and very happy about it. I was also thinking I could make a life in France work …

After my friend showed up, we drove straight for a small town (he took Spanish in high school, so was completely useless with regards to … reading anything). We parked up, strode into town, and waited for the peloton. While standing there, we turned around and realized we were right in front of a bakery. Hungry! So we headed inside, bonjour, s’il vous plait, and well, they’re speaking English as well to us. But I wasn’t letting the stutter get any advantage at all.

The rest of the afternoon and evening was much the same — a little French at the beginning of an interaction, and then they started speaking English. Maybe they were practicing as well? No. Probably not. But I liked the confidence that knowing French gave me in France. And I felt more comfortable because everybody was speaking French and making it all sound normal.

During my French classes in high school, it all seemed so … textbook. And there was no “reality” around it — back in those days before the Internet (as it is today) we didn’t really watch any French speakers on YouTube or shows or anything like that. So it remained very … foreign.

Tomorrow I’ll get into Friday in France. One of the best days of my life for a variety of reasons — including how I spoke to a complete stranger (in French!) and other authority figures.

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