NSA Conference 2017

The National Stuttering Association’s annual conference is happening again this July, this time in Dallas.

http://www.westutter.org/annual-conference/

At the moment, I’m planning on going. I’ve gone to three in a row now, and have enjoyed them immensely. You can read about some of my past conference experiences here on the site.

Admittedly I didn’t do the greatest job of writing up this last conference, but the others were slightly better. When I first went to the conference, I didn’t know what I’d get out of it. I got some really solid stuttering friends! And I still talk with them three years on. I always get some new insight to stuttering as well. A totally different angle or approach than what I would have thought up on my own.

The research updates are also interesting. Even if there’s not some huge cure-all breakthrough, it’s fascinating to hear how researchers are learning more and more.

I think my goal this year will definitely be trying to connect with more people who stutter. I know there are others like me — young professionals — married or not, kids or not. It would be great to hear about their backgrounds — college, first jobs, second jobs, interviews, having kids, meeting neighbors, the whole bit.

Will you be going?

 

The Stuttering Professional

The second workshop that I attended was on The Stuttering Professional. It was put on by Wes Williams, who I had met at last year’s conference. As someone who works in a professional office, I was very interested in what Wes had to say. My own experience has actually been pretty good. The people in my office don’t care that I stutter (at least nobody has called me out on it saying it’s affecting my work). Nor do they mock me or try to finish my words (well, not too much anyway).

Wes handed out some exercises for us:

Share a difficult time you’ve had in the workplace. One where you’ve overcome your reluctance to speak and one where you didn’t, but wish you would have.

For me, I have a lot of both (now). For a long time it was more the latter than former. When that was the case, I’d follow up with a one-on-one talk with meeting participants to express my concerns or an e-mail to the group listing out concerns that I “thought of after the meeting.” In reality I was scribbling down copious ideas in my notebook during the meeting.

Wes also had us consider interviews and two out of three questions:

Tell me about your responsibilities in your current role
What are two situations where you’ve overcome adversity at work
Describe the most frustrating part of your job

Lastly, he laid out strategies that could be considered at work, the first set specifically for interviews.

Under disclaimers, we should point out the elephant in the room early on. Yes, we stutter, no, there’s nothing I can do about it. We can then thank them in advance for their patience. And lastly, set some guidelines. Politely tell them that if we have a block to let us finish.

Under the Delivery, Wes suggested we use the following strategies during a discussion or presentation. Don’t break eye contact — they can still see you. Avoid avoidance and say what you want to say, not just what you think you can get out. Lastly, power through. If you don’t take your time, your time will take you.

This last point was very interesting. Basically it means that we will be consumed by how long we perceive something to be taking. The more we think about how long it’s taking, the more anxious we may feel. And that will cycle and cause us to stutter more.

The first few strategies are basically ways of advertising. I’ll admit I’m not as good at them as I could be. It’s also because I’ve been in the same office with the same people for several months.

The next set is something I can work on every day. I notice that I definitely break eye contact when I’m speaking to people, and especially when I’m stuttering. I also sometimes rush through things when I could stop, breath, think, and then speak.

I really liked this workshop because Wes offered very practical advice for anybody in an office who’s facing countless interactions every day.

First NSA Workshop

Before getting into the first conference workshop, let me just say that while I’ve written about my stuttering travel experiences before (checking in, ordering Starbucks, hailing cabs) I really didn’t think about it that much this time. I just feel better about everything, and I know more and more that stuttering isn’t going to end my travels or cause any major headaches. I also know that I can just say hello and hand a passport to the counter agent. And that I’ve been through most of these airports before, so I don’t have to ask for directions. And that well, I’ll still get coffee even if it takes me an extra few seconds to say “mocha.”

I was excited to go to the first workshop – a conference icebreaker. I had worried before about how I was going to meet new people at this, my second conference. At your first conference, you can just go to the First Timer’s Workshop and BAM! All sorts of great contacts.

There was a very brief introduction to the workshop, and then we counted off to get into groups. This was funny of course, because all of us probably dreaded counting off in school at some point. I even stuttered on my number, as did a few others. And see this is what makes the NSA Conference great – right off the bat they show you that stuttering is fine. Even if it’s in front of 100 other people who you don’t know. There’s nobody to say your number for you, to laugh at you, to look at you funny. Just patience. After counting off, we separated into groups and were handed … rolls of toilet paper.

I think there were about a dozen people in our circle, and we were asked to pick off a few squares of toilet paper. I pulled off about nine, I think. Others took more and less. Then we were told that we had to provide one thing about ourselves for each square that we had. Oh my. So around we went. What was nice was listening to everybody try to come up with something about themselves – you could sort of tell that nobody was expecting this – and had anything prepared. I certainly didn’t.

I was slightly distracted by what stuttering has done to me, though. That is, prepare (and check for potential words I might stutter on) while others are going around the room sharing. Eventually it was my turn, and I was relaxed. I stuttered through my facts and didn’t mind. I said something like how it’s my second conference, I’m an engineer working in Saudi, I’ve been at my company for 11 years, I have three kids … other stuff that was pretty basic. Once that was done, we mingled, talking to each other about what we had heard during the toilet paper time.

When I was talking to a friend of mine after the conference, I mentioned this icebreaker exercise. And she said, “yeah, haven’t you ever done that before?” I guess the thing about stuttering (or maybe my career path, I suppose) is that no, I haven’t really been to a lot of conferences or workshops, period. And generally speaking at work we’re on a client site or project team, so we just get on with it. No time for office bonding per se.

Family sharing

I should probably have mentioned that after the NSA Conference, the trip to France and then a return to Saudi, I worked for a week and then … went on vacation again. It was the end of Ramadan and thus the Eid holidays. So we went as a family to Qatar. And yes, of course I stuttered there, but I’ll save that for later.

This year for the conference, my brother came along. He didn’t go to too many workshops, but it was nice having him around for lunches and dinners. I came to find out what I discovered before with my son — while my own brother acknowledges and knows and appreciates that I stutter, it’s still my deal at the end of the day. And unless he’s submersed in it (he’s not an SLP) there’s not going to be that strong connection.

And I shouldn’t expect that there would be.

That being said, I did take a strongly selfish approach to the week and talk about my stuttering with him as much as I could. Captive audience! You’re my brother, you’re obligated to listen!

So while that was good, it did take some time away from meeting new people at the conference. But since I rarely see my brother (being overseas and all that) I’ll take that compromise.

When I went home to see my parents for a few hours during my time home, I talked about the conference again with them. (Last year, when I went for the first time, their reaction was simply, “did you learn any techniques?”) This year, I pushed things a little more, and I talked a lot more. Selfish! (It’s my theme when I go stateside — it’s all about me). The more I talked to them, the more I think they learned. And I learned something very interesting, too. Not only do I have a cousin who stutters on my dad’s side, but my dad said that his own brother “stuttered a little bit.”

Why, that sounds like he stuttered, then! And was probably covert. And was probably pretty good at being covert. And as I learned during the conference, just further evidence that I was blessed with stuttering before I could even figure out what was going on.

I’m a little sad that I didn’t find out about my (biological) stuttering family sooner. It would have been interesting to talk to them as I was growing up. Just another reason why it’s important to be out there about this to family — they may not care on a day-to-day basis, but they will listen, and they will at least be very curious.

Back from Vacation

Just a quick post to say that I’m back to Saudi from the NSA Conference and then almost a week of vacation chasing the Tour de France. Last year I only chased the Tour for about 2 days. This time it was four full days followed up by a concert in London.

For the whole vacation, I spoke a lot more French than last year. This being related to meeting someone at the conference from Canada (the French-speaking part) and then when I was in France, having dinner with family friends of my traveling companion.

I even told one of the family friends that I stuttered! I knew the word for it because I learned it at the conference.

I won’t say it was all a success — I still hid from a speaking opportunity here and there. But overall it felt good to get out there and stutter away, happily saying and asking what I wanted to.

In the next few days I’ll post about my overall conference experience, comparisons to last year, workshop-by-workshop descriptions, and then a brief on France and a day in England for the concert.

A look back at trepediation

I wanted to look back and see how I was feeling a year ago at this time — going to my first conference. Thought I’d share a few posts. It’s also what really prompted me to get blogging about stuttering. This year I’m really excited — I’m going to see friends who I met last year and stayed in touch with, and my brother is even going to see what it’s all about.

I’m learning to laugh at stuttering a little more. It’s not that I didn’t before, it’s that I didn’t have a chance to because I never brought it up. But now that I’m more open about it, I actually tell people that yes, I’m going to a stuttering conference. Inevitably, they’ll say something like, “to learn how to stutter better?” And others think it’s all about getting help, “did you learn any techniques?”

Ha.

Ha.

No and no. But I suppose it’s up to me to stay open about this. It’s new to them. We know it’s complicated. It’s worth an explanation. I’ve just noted that you only have anybody’s attention for a short period, so you have to be rather concise — do you talk about acceptance, or do you talk about the philosophy of stuttering and that stuttering on what you want to say is better than not saying anything?

Here’s my first post regarding the conference from last year.

I know that most of them will stutter, and I know many others will be speech therapists and professionals. But it’s still intimidating.

And then the next day, still trying to talk myself into it:

Most of my stuttering life, I’ve shut out things like conferences and social meet-ups because I talk my way through what might happen, decide I don’t need it, and then that’s it. Like for this conference, because of that hard-wired response, it went like this …

And then I finally go ahead with it:

I’m excited about going to this conference because I really do have a lot of questions for other people who stutter. Since I’ve kept this stuttering to myself all these years and avoided reading up on it, I’ve lived a silo-like existence.

Thoughts on the detailed conference program Part 2

Some thoughts on Day 2 of the upcoming NSA Conference and the workshops now that the full program is out. I don’t think I’ll do days 3 and 4 as we’re now on top of the conference. Definitely misplaced this … but anyway.

Here’s what I’m interested in:

Stressful Life Events and Stuttering & the Development & Maintenance of Stuttering

I’ve been through a lot of these I think, and maybe I need to lend them a little more credence with regards to my stuttering. That being said, I’m also understanding my personal confidence cycle more and more, and what to expect after a life changing event.

However, research reveals that SLE (i.e., divorce, new move) increase the likelihood of the onset of stuttering (Guitar, 2006). This study investigated whether stressful life events of a person who stutters (PWS) have developed and/or maintained stuttering over one’s lifetime.

Next up:

Is Your Stuttering Really “Selective Vowel Aphonia”?*

This reminds me of last year’s Avoid Avoiding.

This workshop will demonstrate ways to dissolve the “brick walls” without resorting to struggle, force, or avoidance, as well as strategies to reduce your fear of speaking situations and to replace stuttering with easy, effortless, natural-sounding speech.

Since I still haven’t figure out what I want to be when I grow up, I thought that “Wait, YOU want to be an SLP? The Experiences and Challenges of SLPs who Stutter” would be a good workshop. I was intrigued by the idea of becoming an SLP at last year’s conference, but haven’t had a chance to learn more about what specifically the job could entail. I have very limited (almost no) experience interacting with SLPs. I don’t remember seeing something like this last year.

We will then discuss challenges and experiences that we and audience members 24 2015: Baltimore, Maryland have faced (grad students, SLPs), and explore new perspectives regarding how we can be assets to the field.

Lastly on Thursday I’m tempted to go to the Open Microphone (there are several throughout the conference, though). I had a pretty interesting time at this last year, even though it did scare me.

You can listen or participate, it’s all up to you! These sessions are an opportunity to communicate in a safe and supportive environment and in a small group setting.

Conference Program is out

The NSA Conference Program is out! I’m very excited about this. It’s available for download here.

They’ve also got an app (through a guide app) that’s got conference and program information in it. I downloaded it, and it’s brilliant. That’ll make it easier to keep up instead of having to shuffle through papers.

In the next day or two I want to go through the program and compare what is planned for this year vs. what was done (and what I wrote up) from last year. Thus, if you’re going for the first time, you have an idea of what it might be like.

Critical Stuttering Mass

Growing up, I knew one other person who stuttered. And I didn’t feel comfortable talking to him about stuttering. He wasn’t as covert (as I tried to be). After that, I indirectly met one other much older person (once, for a few minutes) who stuttered. This all changed last year when I went to my first NSA Conference.

But as far as becoming more accepting of my stutter and reaching out to people, it didn’t happen until very recently. I’ve been trying to think of why. I see some people on Facebook who are very young and reaching out, and others who are much older and reaching out for the first time, surprised and overjoyed at the community’s response.

I think there’s a sort of “critical mass” effect that’s going on. When you’re covert, you deny stuttering at every level. It’s my problem. It’s my daily hell. It’s my limitation. It’s my challenge to overcome. I can do this on my own, and I don’t want to reach out to anybody. If I reach out, it’s admitting that it’s holding me back. It’s not! (Even though it is, mentally and maybe socially).

I think thanks to social media (and the King’s Speech, I suppose) it’s more out there. You can search online for a group, or if you insist on being covert, someone will pass something along to you eventually. If you start listening to enough small bits of information from various sources, it’ll eventually reach that critical mass. You’ll start to see that other people stutter. They make videos about it (even if you never watch them). They record podcasts (even if you never listen to them) and they write (even if you only skim a post here and there).

It took me a long time to reach a point where I could put even a few words out on this blog. But signing up for the NSA conference gave me something to be accountable to. And once I was there, the rest of the critical mass was formed — everything about stuttering was normal. If you think you’re alone stuttering, go to the conference and start talking to one person — you’ll exchange the exact same stuttering stories, and you’ll be laughing together for a long time.

I don’t know if I could have kept up with this blog if I hadn’t gone to the conference last year. It wouldn’t have lasted. I would have probably gone back into my shell, content to continue practicing my covert behaviors, and wondering what could have been if I had kept writing.

For people who are considering making the transition from covert to overt, know that there are a lot of people out there to support you. Facebook groups may only have a few thousand people in them, but I assure you there are many more lurking. For me life has gotten better now that I’m not dreading every single social or work interaction. It’s not perfect, but it’s definitely improving.

Thoughts on the NSA Conference Workshops

As some of you may have seen, the NSA Conference Day at a Glance Calendar is out. I thought I’d take a quick look through it to see what might be interesting. Please note that the Conference Program isn’t out yet, but when it does come out, it’ll have details on the workshops. These are just my thoughts as a second-timer. I may of course change things up as the conference gets closer.

Wednesday, July 1

Icebreaker — Getting to know each other — I’m really curious what this is going to be all about. Kind of like an open session so that we’re forced to meet other people? I’m hoping so. I met a bunch of people last year in the First-Timer’s workshop and then weeks after the conference started wondering how I could meet people at my second conference without such a vehicle.

Understanding the Medical Treatments of Stuttering (Maguire) — One of the big things I don’t talk about on this blog is treatment. That’s mostly because I don’t go to an SLP here in the Kingdom. And even when I was stateside, I wasn’t seeing one either. I’m thinking more about visiting one whenever we move back just to expand my knowledge and see what I can learn as far as techniques and practice.

Genetics in Stuttering (Drayna) — Kind of the same as above — I have a cousin who stutters, and I have three kids. Definitely want to know what the latest is on this.

Thursday, July 2

Stressful Life Events and Stuttering (Dits) — Every few years I have one of these — big move, job change, new office, etc., I’ve only recently been stepping back and seeing how my speech is affected. For example, I know that a new job will result in more anxiety and stuttering, but it’ll wear off and I’ll get more comfortable after a few months.

The 4 Exchanges: What You Have to Trade-in to Win (D Mitchell) — I want to read more about this.

Wait, You want to be an SLP? (Susskind/Markel) — Yes, this is something I’ve been thinking about — and only because I went to my first NSA Conference last year!

Open Microphone (Finstad) — I went to this last year and forced myself to get up and talk. It was a great experience. I’m not sure what I’m more interested in — seeing how my own speech is, or hearing what others have to say. Either way, I’d like to attend at least one open microphone.

Friday, July 3

Stuttering Chef (Molt) — I want to read more about this.

General Session: Professionals Who Inspire! — as I move through my company, things like this are definitely a big help. I need to be reminded occasionally that my stuttering isn’t going to get in my way. If anything does get in my way, it’s my attitude about stuttering.

At 1 p.m., there are a few that look really good — Career Best Practices for PWS (Schuff/Anderson) and The Power of Positive Psychology (Wade). I made friends last year, and what we did was split up and go to different workshops. Then we’d get back together and talk about them. So I hope to do the same this year.

Fluency vs Acceptance (Gore) — As someone who’s gone from trying to be fluent to someone who’s accepted my stuttering (most of the time) I’m interested to see what else is said on this.

Saturday, July 4

Achieving and Maintaining the “Fluency State” (Colombano) — similar to the above.

General Session: Leana Wen

Factors to Consider when choosing an SLP (Plexico/Molt) — As I said before, I’m thinking about seeing an SLP after moving back to the States. So I’d like to hear what is said on this. I remember last year hearing that the SLP makes more of a difference than anything else when it comes to the effectiveness of therapy.

The long road to stuttering acceptance

As I approach the one-year anniversary of this blog and opening up (almost) completely about my stutter, I thought I’d take a chance to talk more about how exactly I got to this point of acceptance.

This was a very, very long process. And I know it’s not the same for others who stutter. Even when I went to the NSA conference, I met people who stutter more and less than I do. Keep in mind that I graduated high school in 1997, so it was well before the Internet as we know it today.

However, this might at least offer some guidance to those still in school wondering if it’ll get better, or what can be done to make things better. And by “better,” I mean more comfortable, more tolerable, and less stressful on a day-to-day basis.

Elementary school – (Ages 7-11) I was aware that I stuttered, but didn’t understand its implications at all. Did speech therapy, but nobody gave me the big picture. Also, I was fluent during therapy, so that didn’t help. No mention on the homefront about my speech. (pretty much continues to present day, actually)

Junior high school – (11-15) My sixth grade teacher commended me at the end of the year about my accomplishments despite my stutter. This was the first time that a non-therapist recognized it and brought it up. I did more therapy in school, but I was usually fluent during those sessions. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was also growing more comfortable and confident in my environment — and gaining friends who didn’t mind the stutter. This was cyclical — low comfort and confidence going into junior high, riding high on the way out. Going into high school, I was down low again, but managed to work back up by the time I graduated.

High School – (15-18) Definitely knew that I had a stutter, and finally met someone else who did as well. We were in some of the same classes together, and we even looked alike. He was a lot more open about it. Not at all covert. But he and I never talked about it, and I regret that. Through peer pressure, I became more involved in the performing arts (on a very, very small scale) and that did a lot of good for my confidence even though it scared the hell out of me at times. I didn’t stutter when I was on stage doing Who’s on First (two nights!) when I was a senior. I had a different therapist in high school, and she taught me about easy onsets and breathing. These are things that I still try to use today, and it’s made a huge difference.

College – (18-22) At this point I should say that I still wasn’t “thinking” about the long-term effects of stuttering. I didn’t know about job interviews, going to meetings, giving presentations and whatever else the corporate world had for me. My summer jobs had been retail and as a bank teller. Not a lot of talking, and it was easy to be covert. I thought that was normal. Since high school, I have not seen an SLP. During the college I do remember introducing myself to others at the student newspaper, stuttering-be-damned. Once that was done, it was easy to maintain those friendships. And as people came and went at the paper, it was easier for introductions. Academically, I did what was required but never bothered talking to professors or asking for help. It just wasn’t something I was used to.

First job – (22-25) I had problems during some of the interviews only because I didn’t know what to say. But after a while I became pretty decent at just bantering and smiling. That being said, I did get my first job through my dad’s connections, and once there, it was easy to be the young engineer who didn’t know anything. I got used to keeping my mouth shut and trying to absorb as much as possible. During the first five years out of college, I never gave my stutter any thought. And despite the Internet, I never bothered researching it or finding any help groups.

Subsequent jobs – (25-31) I can’t pinpoint an exact date, but I started reflecting a lot more about my stuttering and my life. This probably happened when I found out about the Pagoclone trial. And so I started to keep journals. I think the boredom of corporate travel — hotels and coffee shops helped a lot with this. I thought that I could put it all together into a book. Despite all the writing and thinking, I still didn’t reach out to anybody. The Pagoclone trial wasn’t through an SLP. Through writing and reflecting, I started to realize that my general policy of not-asking and not-talking was entirely stuttering-related.

Moving to Saudi – (31-36) I feel like things sort of “settled down” a lot more in my working and home life when we moved to Saudi. Before that, I was traveling a lot more, worried about general job security, saving whatever money I could, and raising a family. But in Saudi more things are taken care of, and I was able to sit down with my stuttering thoughts a lot more. I came here when I was 31. So that’s how long it took to really start looking around online and finding out more about stuttering.

I realized after a while that publishing a book wouldn’t be feasible. But I was reading a lot more blogs, so I decided that might be the best route. But the stuttering still held me back — in being overt. I was afraid of so many things — that were all imaginary. That if someone found out it might affect my job, what my friends or family might think, what having to talk more about it would do to my psyche. So not until I turned 35 last year did I go ahead with the site.

So what does this all mean? It’s a long journey. I never researched stuttering online because it was bothering me or holding me back (or so I thought). I only researched it because I wanted to share my journey with others. For the longest time I thought it was very personal, something that I should have to struggle with on my own. I’ve found out the opposite of course. I’m not alone, and a lot of other people are going through this.

I think for a long time I also didn’t research stuttering online because I didn’t want to admit to myself that I stuttered. That’s an absurd thing to say, but I think it’s true for the majority of covert stutterers. If I don’t learn about it, it doesn’t exist to me, and it won’t bother me [any more than it does]. Of course I’ve since learned that it’ll actually make you feel better knowing more. And it’s really fun to get together with other people who stutter and connect and tell stories.

I will also say that a lot of things came together at the right time. Working at the same company for a number of years gave me the confidence that stuttering more at work wouldn’t have any negative effect. Also being here gave me the financial means to start attending the NSA Conference regularly.

Do I wish I had come to this point earlier? I don’t know. I’m not sure I would have been ready for it. On the one hand, colleagues have always been good to me, so maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference. What about during college or before that? That’s even harder to say — so I’ll go with “it’s complicated.” It’s that idea of, well, had I known and been more aware, would that have had a major impact? I don’t think now it’s going to make any major career impacts, but before it would have been possible. On the other hand, isn’t that true for fluent people anyway? As life goes on, you become more narrow in your pursuits and ambition.

Stuttering in the Newsletter

If you haven’t had a chance to read the NSA’s spring issue of Letting Go, go do it now! There’s a story in there about being a second-timer that I wrote.

I’m definitely still going to try to volunteer in some capacity. I should be able to find out more as the date gets closer. I bought my air tickets last week, so things are getting real now.

Otherwise things are pretty smooth on the stuttering front. My son and I will be going this weekend to the Bahrain Formula One race, so I’m pretty excited about that. I honestly haven’t put any thoughts into it regarding stuttering. I picked up the tickets on Friday in Bahrain, and I asked (even though I didn’t have to) about the Thursday paddock walk. The lady behind the counter said yes, it’s there, and she gave me the time. I also asked about parking and tickets for the rest of the days. She assured me everything was in the bag. I didn’t stutter either time.

I didn’t have to ask, but I wanted to because I felt comfortable, and I wanted to practice a little.

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.

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.

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.

Stuttering Collaboration

I read this article about how millennials aren’t buying as many cars and houses. Down toward the end of the article, they had this interesting bit:

“Our wealth, after all, is determined not only by our own skills and talents, but by our ability to access the ideas of those around us; there’s a lot to be gained by increasing the odds that smart people might bump against each other.”

This sounded familiar… oh, right. I had read something like this before about Pixar:

The biography adds that Jobs believed that, “If a building doesn’t encourage [collaboration], you’ll lose a lot of innovation and the magic that’s sparked by serendipity. So we designed the building to make people get out of their offices and mingle in the central atrium with people they might not otherwise see.”

Well, well, well. Collaboration! Through random meetings and bumping into people. Networking at your own company, so to speak. Now thinking about this as someone who stutters, I think, well, that ain’t gonna work for me! For all the jobs I’ve had so far, they’ve been in more “traditional” offices. Cubicles, closed offices, no centralized meeting space. For any office meetings, they’d been with people I had been introduced to. I worked at one client site that had several buildings connected together through large hallways, but I never bothered introducing myself to people I ran into.

So would an open office work for me? If I worked in one, what would I do? Would I just “bump into people” and introduce myself or start talking to them? How terrifying is that?

I think at first I … wouldn’t. I’d just keep my head down and keep walking. I’d have to make a lot of repeated eye contact or share a hello or see them doing something that I could talk to them about (maybe comment on their bicycle or car if saw them come in).

Then I might try to tag along with someone else who’s more social. I know I’ve said I’d try to be more open about my stuttering, but jumping into a large non-stuttering crowd (unlike the NSA Conference, say) is pretty scary.

The more I think about it, it seems that what might happen is … a quick conversation. Just as desired. But it’d move along quickly. And no introductions would happen. Then a few days later, something would be added. And then the stress would continue to mount. Because short conversations probably equal little to no stuttering, but as they continue, the desire to introduce myself would get stronger — and the inevitable question from them.

See how this stuttering works? Elaborate scenarios! Then just shutting it all down.

Stuttering and the Therapist

I had such a positive experience at the NSA Conference this past July that something occurred to me — I should try to be an SLP. The joke of course is, “when I grow up [and have life figured out].” Obviously it’s hard to make a wholesale career change after working for 15-20 years. But if I save up enough here in the Kingdom, I could conceivably pull it off when I return Stateside. (And no, I don’t know exactly when that’ll be … it’s … complicated. Anyway). Reading this post on Reddit also made me think about it pretty hard.

So what would it end up looking like — three years of going back to school? A year for some prerequisites and then two years of a master’s program? Let’s assume I can even get in someplace to begin with.

Here’s where being someone who stutters comes in to ruin the decision-making process: I often think about jobs that other people have and think, “there’s no way I could do that.” Which seems absurd in light of being an SLP.

(Note: if you’re fluent and think about jobs for yourself, what do you feel the limitations are? I have a feeling it’s more like, “I don’t think I’d like that.” But you know you could physically do it. That’s the difference. If you stutter, you start imagining all sorts of speaking scenarios…)

It’s not that absurd especially considering that there were a handful of SLPs at the NSA Conference who also stuttered. But my thing is — what about parents bringing in their children and seeing that me, the professional who knows about this stuff and who’s supposed to help, can’t even speak fluently? What about telling the patient that they’ve got to get out in public and interact with total strangers, stuttering-be-damned? Would I even be willing and able to do that? What if I have a bad stuttering day? Will that affect the patient? What if I have a bad stuttering day during a first-time meeting with a patient? Or a parent?

Is all this just in my head?

Yep.

Is it all hooey?

Yep.

Can I overcome all of this?

Yep.

But you see what being covert for so long does. What stuttering does. It gets into everything.

Aside: I’m not sure if it was a workshop or not, but I’d like to sit in on a discussion between SLPs who stutter and people who stutter who are considering it as a career. I know that the number would be really small, but hey, it’s worth a shot.

The thing is, outside of high school therapy, I didn’t go to any kind of therapy. So I’m just guessing on a lot of stuff. What I really need to do is reach out to some SLPs and find out what their educational experiences were like. And for those who stutter, how they told parents and patients about stuttering, its lack of cure and ways to see and/or measure improvement.

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.

Stuttering Fear, Feelings and Fluency

Alright, so this is it. The last review of the last workshop from the NSA Annual Conference.

The last workshop was called Fear, Feelings and Fluency.

So first the bit about fear. And what, did they say is fear? FEAR — False Evidence Appearing Real. False evidence like how people are going to react to your stutter. We have a fear of rejection and criticism. And we’ve been through these occasionally with our stutters. So we assume that all future situations will be like this. So the walls go up …

People who stutter often engage in a lot of self-talk that sabotages the self. We talk up how things are going to turn out when people hear out stutter. So the best protection is to be covert.

On feelings — talking about acceptance — there’s no cure. We should accept ourselves and have no guilt and no shame about the stuttering. That we don’t have to meet your expectations, we have to meet our own. For me, at a fundamental level, I get this mixed up all the time. It fuels the lousy feelings I have about my stuttering. It’s important not to get down on yourself with stuttering. It’s an individual journey, and, as the saying goes, “results may vary.”

On fluency — they talked about focusing on communication, not fluency. Are you getting your message across? Great. Are you stuttering while doing it? That’s fine. If your fear of not being fluent is hampering your ability to clearly articulate your message, then the stuttering has won.

I’ll talk more about these concepts when I talk about my visit with Tom Weidig from Stuttering Brain. He brought up these points as well as some on being authentic.

Next task for me is to make a separate page with all of the links from the conference as well as some parting thoughts. Then it’ll be on to talking about my trip to France that I took on the way back to Saudi after the conference. After that, back to posting on what’s happening around the Internet and other stuttering snippets that I’ve written down over the years.

Lastly, this is the three-month anniversary (or pretty close to it) for the blog. 80 posts, and people from 52 countries have stopped by to take a look. Please feel free to comment or shoot me an e-mail.

Authenticity in Stuttering

Onto the penultimate workshop from the NSA Annual Conference.

I attended Authenticity: Stuttering’s Greatest Gift.

What I got from this workshop was that we need to stay true to ourselves even if that means stuttering and not being as covert as we would like. If we’re covert, if we’re hiding, if we’re avoiding, then that’s not really who we are. We aren’t saying what we want to say. We’re not engaging with who we want to talk to. We’re not standing up for ourselves in our times of need.

Obviously being 100% authentic as someone who is covert and who wants to be overt isn’t going to happen overnight. They talked about weighing the costs of being authentic. How important is this issue that you need to speak and struggle?

Emma made a comment to the group that I thought was very interesting, and I’ll use my own name — “Rehan who stutters is not the same as Rehan who has a stutter.”

My understanding of this point (and what they said at the workshop) is like this — we attach a lot of labels to ourselves: Engineer, father, husband, American, photographer, etc., But we also add “stutterer.” And what happens is that instead of seeing all of those labels and those traits, we only shine the light on the stuttering. But it should be only a part of who we are. What I started thinking is that as someone who stutters, other people are only ever shining the light on the stuttering. And that bothers me.

But it turns out that no, I’m the one shining that light on my own stuttering. It’s me who has issues with stuttering, not anybody else. They have their own problems!

It almost seems like the stuttering permeates every other trait. I want to be a better photographer, but I’m afraid to engage with experienced photographers to get better. I am a father, but I change words when talking to my kids. I am a husband, but I don’t always communicate clearly and concisely with my wife.

The key I think is to isolate the stuttering and kick it out of everything else. Deal with it on its own. But obviously that’s pretty tough to do.

Online Stuttering Workshop

Next workshop that I attended at the NSA Annual Conference was a panel discussion — on online communities. And I was a panelist …

Katie Gore, MA, CCC-SLP, put the panel together. The point was to talk about what types of online stuttering communities there are, how they came to be, what their purpose is, and how they carry out their mission. There were very diverse representatives — a stuttering blog/podcast, a video blog, a podcast, a Google Hangout, and me with my blog.

Katie actually approached me through Reddit. She is active on there, and the stuttering discussion is growing.

She’s got a practice in Chicago:

Speech IRL was founded in the spring of 2013. I had spent the past few years working individually with adult clients, and realized that students and professionals have communication demands that go far beyond the usual scenarios targeted in a traditional speech therapy clinic setting. At the same time, I realized that most of the practices in Chicago were structured around a pediatric or hospital-associated rehabilitative model. My goal in forming speech IRL was to create a practice that could provide flexible, intensive speech therapy that simulates real-life challenges as much as possible. This allows us to do whatever it takes to achieve your goals– the city of Chicago is our clinic!

Daniele Rossi & Samuel Dunsiger were on the panel to talk about Stutter Social, which is a Google Hangout for people who stutter to meet up online and talk.

What is Stutter Social?

Stutter Social is an organization that connects people who stutter (PWS) through Google+ Hangouts. Participating in a Hangout is a fun, free, and safe way to connect with other PWS. Discussion often revolves around stuttering-related issues, but sometimes we just chat about our day or a good movie. We are a very welcoming and friendly bunch so don’t be shy and come join us whenever is convenient for you. We have a Hangout Calendar that lists all the different Hangouts occurring each week.

I also had a chance to buy Daniele’s book. I read through it almost non-stop when I got back to Saudi. I’ll post a review in a few days.

Daniele also talked about his podcast.

And you can participate:

Record an mp3 of yourself speaking and e-mail it to me. Talk about whatever you like! Your positive and negative experiences with stuttering, any tips you have, how your day went, what you day job is, your favourite colour, whatever you like. Send me your audio as often as you wish. You can even sing if you want to. You don’t even have to reveal you’re name. Then I’ll play your submitted audio on my podcast.

Pamela A. Mertz was also on the panel from Make Room for the Stuttering. Not only does she have a long-running blog, but also a long-running podcast, the Women Who Stutter Podcast:

Make Room For The Stuttering was created by me, Pamela A Mertz (initials: pam) after realizing that I have a story to tell. I was a covert stutterer for many years, and was afraid to stutter publicly. Life circumstances and maturity have helped me realize that I wasted a lot of time, and that I much prefer the authentic me. My defining moment was getting fired from a job that I loved and had held for more than 20 years, because I had stuttered publicly.

The final person on the panel was Jacquelyn Revere, who’s been blogging and video blogging about stuttering. Jacquelyn is very active on twitter and has a youtube channel as well.

As I’ve said before, I’m blown away by people who stutter who just put themselves out there. I do it, sure, but on my own terms and certainly not on video. But … it’s something I need to work up to. Maybe a podcast episode first …

I need to update the links and resources on this site based on the above. I’ve noticed there are a lot of people active on Twitter with great links and resources. Most of the Sunday link roundup information comes from Twitter. Speaking of which … I think I may move that to Friday once and for all.

So how did I do talking about this blog? Well, like I said before the conference, I was going to wing it instead of preparing a bunch of talking points. Not exactly wing it, I suppose. I thought about some main points pretty thoroughly before the panel as well as while sitting up there nervously. I really thought that I would be confident with this — it’s my own blog, I know why I want to do it, I had been stuttering and talking a bunch at the conference a lot already. Maybe this could be a nice smooth delivery?

Not so much. I stutter, so I stuttered. But anyway, I got my point across — that another voice in the stuttering blogosphere is good for everybody — and that’s what’s important.

Stuttering Speed Talking

The next workshop I went to after lunch on the third day was Speed Talking. The premise was like open mic, but everybody was guaranteed to get involved. Two rows of chairs were set up facing each other. One row would stay in place, and the other would move to the next seat every 3 minutes. Like speed dating, but with stuttering. The idea was just to … talk.

Since one of my personal themes was “talk as much as you can” during the conference, I was interested to see how this would go. There were about 40 people total, so it would take up about an hour.

There are a lot of interesting dynamics when it comes to speed talking as someone who stutters. Here are my observations:

1. We had to introduce ourselves. For me this meant stuttering out my name. I was doing horribly at this, so about 30-45 seconds (or so it seemed to me) was chewed up by this. Any negative reactions by the person who I was talking to? Of course not! Stutter on!
2. Anything you want to try to ask starts with a “w.” Where are you from? What do you do? When did you start going to these conferences?
3. I decided not to substitute or avoid any words. Which made me stutter more.
4. I wanted to talk, I wanted to meet people! So I was pushing out questions really hard and interested in keeping conversations going.
5. Just like with any meeting of strangers, some people were better at making random small talk than others.
6. I was using some “canned” material, so I didn’t stutter as much on that. But I did get some random questions which took a while to answer.
7. As for “small talk” overall, it’s been a while since I’ve had to do it — not a lot of meeting new people here. So at times it was difficult to articulate what I was doing for a living and where I lived and the whole situation.
8. Maybe I should have talked to each person about the blog, but for whatever reason I didn’t. I don’t know — it didn’t seem like the right venue.
9. Three minutes goes by pretty quick when you’re stuttering (although it seems like forever at the time)
10. There were a lot of people talking in close proximity. So I had to raise my voice quite a bit and really focus on speaking. It was sort of like being at a noisy bar, really.
11. I did talk to some really interesting people, but I was lousy about following up with anybody after the workshop. I mean, I didn’t do any follow up. Need to do a lot better on that next year in Chicago.

So all in all, it was another great chance to … talk. And introduce myself. And stutter. A lot. And be put on the spot. And not to be judged. So that was awesome.

But it was absolutely exhausting.

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.

Some stuttering notes

I’ll be out Friday and Saturday, but should be back to posting by Sunday. Here are some general notes and observations from the conference. I may have alluded to some of this before as well.

Sunday I’ll work on a link roundup — should be a pretty big one since I haven’t done one in a while. There’s a lot of good stuff that’s just been produced out there on stuttering.

1. If you’re going to go next year to Chicago, make sure to bring a hoodie or light coat. In some of the conference rooms, it was really, really cold.

1a. You know they’ve already posted the dates for Chicago? Crazy! And it looks like I may be able to do the NSA-Tour de France double again as well.

2. It was interesting being able to introduce myself (or stutter away at it, anyway) and not bail out and point to my name tag.

2a. A friend told me once to just say my name a few hundred times to get used to it. Yeah, that doesn’t help.

3. I was still having to steal a glance at other people’s nametags because as usual, I was so worried about saying my own name that I would forget theirs.

4. Nobody will finish your sentences or words for you. This was a little weird to me as well. I’m somewhat used to this happening, so maybe that’s why I don’t seem to stutter as much around the office. It’s annoying and degrading, and I’m still going to keep on stuttering through, but to be in such a friendly environment was a whole new experience.

5. After making some new friends, we’d sit around, and I’d hear my own stories come from their mouths. The same heartache on the phone, or while ordering food, or whatever.

6. I wish the conference could have been longer, but at the same time, I was pretty spent at the end of each day — thinking so much about my own stuttering as well as speaking and stuttering so much.

7. Maybe as you’re reading all this stuff about the conference, you think I’m going overboard a little. Well, mostly with stuttering everything that I remember is negative. So there is always a negative association. With all of these posts and remembering what happened, I want to focus on and emphasize the positive.

8. I was wondering why some of the workshops seemed light on attendance. Then I remembered we were in DC — and people wanted to get out and about in town. For me I was only interested in the conference and going to as many workshops as possible. I grew up only 2 hours from DC, so I’d already seen and done the touristy stuff.

No excuses with Rohan Murphy

The last session of the second day at the NSA Annual Conference was the General Session — Opening Announcements and Rohan Murphy.

Here’s a link to more information on Rohan.

Rohan Murphy, who lost his legs at birth, started to wrestle his freshman year of high school. After a successful high school wrestling career he went on to wrestle at Penn State University. In addition to wrestling, Rohan Murphy is also an accomplished powerlifter, competing in international competitions all over the world representing the USA.

The main message that I got from listening to Rohan was “what’s your excuse?”

This really hit home for me on two main levels with regards to stuttering.

The first is that my “excuse” for not wanting to talk more and meet more people is that I stutter. I’m afraid of how they’ll react. I’m afraid of what they’ll think both short and long term. I’m afraid I’ll just look like a fool. I’m afraid that the impression that they have of me will change completely once they find out that I stutter.

That’s obviously all a bunch of crap. Do I still have some of these stuttering excuses? Yes, of course. They’re ingrained. But I am moving past them as much as I can as I get older. The NSA conference really helped. Meeting people and having them react positively has helped. Just saying what I want without a huge negative reaction or long-term consequence has helped. It’s all part of the reprogramming, so to speak.

The second is that my “excuse” for not starting this blog earlier was I didn’t know how others would react. It’s very similar to the above. I had been writing in a journal for many years about my stuttering. How it affected me, how it might affect me. I always wanted to write a book or start a site. But I kept making excuses — it’s too time consuming, what if nobody reads it, what if it doesn’t change anything, what if future employers find out.

Fortunately this year I dumped all of those excuses. The site had been brewing for way too long. It finally erupted and the lava started flowing.

It’s funny because I can see the readership numbers. They’re not that high. But then again, when I was covert for so many years, how many stuttering blogs did I read? And why didn’t I read more? I get it. I understand it. Back then my stuttering was something I would rather not think about if I didn’t have to. So reading a blog about it wasn’t high on my priority list. But after starting this and then going to the Conference, all of that changed.

Rohan’s message permeated through the conference. I could see it everywhere. When I went to the bilingual workshop, for instance. What was my excuse for not trying to speak another language? Why not just do it? What was my excuse for not going up to a group of people? What’s the worst that could happen? What was my excuse for not wanting to promote my blog a lot more? If you’re going to do all this work, then tell everybody — the reaction is probably going to be much better than you think.

Do I still make excuses when it comes to my stuttering? Well, as I’ve said before, I’m not perfect. So yes, I do still make excuses.

But do I make as many?

No.

Stuttering Research

So the first workshop after lunch at the NSA Annual Conference on the second day was What’s Hot in Stuttering Research. Obviously this interested me because uh, well, how are we doing on a cure? No? That’s ok. I’m having a good time at the conference. We can do this again next year.

This workshop was put on by Dr. Ratner from the University of Maryland.

Instead of trying to write out exactly what Dr. Ratner talked about, I’ll just list points:

1. No cure!

2. Scientists are identifying genes that play a role

3. It’s definitely genetic. There’s not an outside influence. (so, no, I didn’t get my stutter from watching too much Porky Pig)

4. The therapist matters more than the technique

(I thought that no. 4 was interesting in light of no. 1. That is, if you’re a parent, you’re not going to get a straight-up cure for your child. But given the right therapist, you can certainly make your child more confident and comfortable with their stutter.)

I need to e-mail Dr. Ratner and get the presentation that she put on. (There was much more she said that I didn’t quite write down fast enough).

She also mentioned going to www.pubmed.gov and searching for “stutter*”. That will show the most recent papers written on stuttering. I did this a little today — you have to really look through it all carefully, though. She also said you could just e-mail the author and they would likely send you a copy of the paper if it’s not available. I will also try to do this. There are some free papers available that I did download that look very interesting.

One paper she talked about was from Dr. Change from the University of Michigan. Here is a link to the abstract. I haven’t read through the paper (note: I’m definitely not a scientist, just an engineer). But I will soon.

I would also encourage you to check out Tom’s site, the Stuttering Brain, if you find an older research paper. There’s a chance that he’s seen it already and has gone through it.

Given the research that is out there, there’s a lot more for me to look through and comment on. But I just wanted to write about the workshop itself that was very, very interesting.

Stuttering through Lunch

Back to talking about the NSA Annual Conference.

Before going to a workshop on What’s Hot in Stuttering Research, I went to … lunch.

There was a First Timer’s lunch, so I grabbed a bagged lunch and headed into the hall. Round tables. Chairs. Strangers. Flashbacks to getting seated at weddings. Having to introduce myself to strangers. Danger! I was already halfway into the room, so no turning back. Wait! You’re here to meet people! No, no! Where’s someone I know? Anybody? I looked around. I was still walking. I was being told where to sit and …

Seated.

Next to a stranger. Other strangers at the table. Someone I know seated next to me! Bonus!

(This is the kind of push-pull that I went through at the conference every day — I’m here to stutter and meet new people. But I’m also holding on to my old ways and fears.)

Alright, let’s get through the introductions. Not all the seats were filled, so that was good. Less stressful at least. The person to my immediate right was not someone who stuttered. She was a speech language pathologist. Well now, this is an interesting change of pace.

While talking to her, I was paying much more attention to my speaking and stuttering. I wasn’t stuttering as much. I wanted to “reset” things after all the stuttering I was doing over the past few hours. Need to keep moving on! Forget the stutter! I talked mostly about my stutter, growing up with it, the job I had now, how awesome the conference was going so far.

She told me about the kind of work she did in the southwest — working at a school district. One thing she said really struck me though — that they needed to do a plan for each student. And then measure progress against that plan. But then … if there’s no cure for stuttering, how could they measure progress?

I haven’t spoken to a lot of SLPs at all (remember, just coming out with all this) so I’d be very interested to hear how this works. I mean, I can see how confidence could increase, how some situations could get better (me ordering at Subway and Starbucks, for instance) but sometimes you just have a bad day, right?

I also wonder if any of this was in play when I did speech therapy during elementary school and high school. Did they figure I was getting better or figure I wasn’t having any serious school issues … so … no need for further therapy?

Stuttering at the open mic

The second workshop on the second day was Open Mic.

It’s a simple premise, really. There’s the microphone, a room full of conference-goers, and that’s it. So you suck it up, take the mic, and start talking. To a bunch of strangers. About whatever you want.

Deep breath. I’m doing this, I’m doing this, I’m doing this.

I walked in there with someone who I met the first day. After the host explained the deal, my friend stood up and took the mic. Just like that. He didn’t even think about it, he just did it. Again, seriously? This is how people are rolling here?

After he was done, another hand went up, another person got up to speak. Everybody stuttered. Everybody in the audience listened attentively. I sat there in awe. Yes, I had just been to a few workshops where people made comments and stuttered. Or the presenters stuttered. But here are a bunch of people just getting up and putting themselves out there. Strangers to strangers.

About half an hour in, I looked around the room and started doing the math. There were way more people in here than time allowed. There was another open mic event later in the conference, though. I started making excuses in my head. The covert in me made an appearance and started making really persuasive suggestions.

No.

I came here to listen, yes, but I also came here to talk.

I put my hand up after someone finished. Don’t think about it. Just stand up and get up there. Start talking. Stop thinking so much.

I had been doing some thinking while in my seat. What would I say? I would talk about how I told my friends I would be attending a stuttering conference. And how all of them said the same thing — that they knew I stuttered, but it didn’t seem like a big deal to them (or me). But of course it was.

So I got up there. And tried to introduce myself. And stuttered. And then I started in on this little reflection. And stuttered some more. And more. But again, nobody reacted negatively. They just sat there and listened. I kept things short, and then sat back down. That was it. I felt good. I had faced the stuttering head on, and it didn’t do anything to me. I lived through it.

What was becoming a little alarming to me was how badly I was stuttering during the conference. This public speaking attempt really highlighted it. But then I thought, well, I’m definitely out of my comfort zone, I didn’t prepare anything, and I barely do any public speaking to strangers anyway. And oh yeah, you do stutter, and that’s not going to just go away because you think it should.

All in all it ended up being a pretty taxing speaking morning. First making a comment at the bilingual workshop and now this. Between all the introductions from the day before, I had spoken more to a room full of strangers in the past two days than in the past year.

And through it all, nothing negative was happening.

Bilingual Stuttering Workshop

The first workshop that I attended on Day 2 of the NSA Annual Stuttering Conference was Bilingual Stuttering.

Again, I didn’t really know what to expect, and again, I was really impressed with the discussion and comments people made.

For me, I grew up in a bilingual household — my parents spoke Urdu as well as English. But I only picked up on the Urdu as far as some understanding. I rarely, if ever, spoke Urdu growing up. This was because others would usually laugh at what I was trying to say. So coupled with my self conciousness as someone who stutters, it was a receipe for never bothering to learn. And what was the point? Everything in the States is in English anyway.

In junior high and high school I took French. Again, I did pretty good “on paper” but rarely spoke because I was self-concious about how I sounded.

And now, here in Saudi, I’m surrounded by Arabic-speakers. I can read Arabic, but can’t speak or understand it.

So what did I take away from this workshop? The first thing that blew me away was that one of the presenters (a native English speaker who stutters) speaks a foreign language. At work. As part of her job. So, in front of clients, on the phone, the whole thing. I sat there in awe. Seriously? And here I am, afraid of practicing a few Arabic words at the office with friendly company?

Some said they stuttered while speaking another language, others said they didn’t. Some stuttered more because they couldn’t be covert — they couldn’t use another word to substitute because well, they didn’t know many vocab words.

I was sitting there getting a little nervous, though. I had a comment! And damned if I was going to come all this way and not say what I wanted to say. I was remembering the goals that I had set before the conference. Ok! So here we go.

Sutter, stutter, stutter, point sort of being made, stutter a lot more, nobody’s laughing, stutter, stutter, everybody’s just patiently waiting, stutter, stutter, make comment, ok, done.

Alrighty then.

What I managed to say is that I am afraid to speak in a foreign language because I know it won’t be perfect. And I want it to be perfect. I don’t want the listener to grab onto how I’m saying something instead of what the message is. This of course is a direct tie with stuttering — the person who stutters is afraid of how the message is perceived instead of what the message is actually saying.

I said that I needed to be more rational about this — it didn’t have to be perfect. Case in point, I’ve got a bunch of non-native English speaking engineers who report to me. Their English isn’t perfect. But they carry on anyway, not really caring. And I don’t care about how they’ve said something — and I can usually decipher the message.

Another important point they made is that we deserve to speak a foreign language. We don’t have to let our stutter get in the way of that, either.

Yes. I do deserve to speak the French that I learned. And Urdu. And Arabic. Need to get that into my head.

Another workshop done and another really great perspective on something that I had thought wasn’t going to change. I got a lot of encouragement and inspiration from those around me who were stuttering but still speaking foreign languages without any hangups.

This definitely had an impact on the trip to France that I took a few days after my Stateside vacation. But we’ll get to that in a few days.

First day wrap-up and some goals

I’ve been summarizing my time at the NSA Conference that took place over the July Fourth weekend in DC.

Here are links to the three workshops that I attended on the first day at the Annual NSA Conference:

https://helloistutter.com/2014/07/14/first-timers-workshop/

https://helloistutter.com/2014/07/15/stuttering-your-way-to-financial-ruin-and-social-ridicule/

https://helloistutter.com/2014/07/17/this-is-stuttering/

And these are the things I said I’d do at the conference. Let’s see how I did on them:

1. Go up to some hotel staff member and ask them where the bathroom/conference room/gym/elevators are, even if I already know. They’ll probably be hearing a lot of stuttering, so hey, might as well get my own practice in.

Well, I did ask someone where the ATM is. He led me right to it. Of course it was just a few steps away. I hadn’t noticed it there. I didn’t stutter when I asked him.

2. Go up to small groups of people and barge on in. Why not, right?

This is pretty much what the First Timer’s Workshop was all about. I also ended up approaching groups that had one person who I knew in them. Then introduced myself to the others.

3. Call down to the front desk, tell them my name, room number and then ask what time checkout is. And maybe if I’m feeling up for it, what the hours are for the gym.

This didn’t happen. The old covert me hung on to something.

4. Introduce myself to as many strangers as possible.

I probably could have introduced myself to more people, but really, as my first conference, I was really pleased with how many people I did meet.

5. I got invited to a panel discussion on online stuttering communities. So, no prepared talking points. No rehearsing what I want to say.

Well, I did sit up there somewhat nervously while the others were talking, trying to figure out what I wanted to say. And in my mind, it was all going to go very, very smoothly. I was rehearsing! In my head! Yeah, not so much. I stuttered. A lot. But hey, that’s alright. I got the message across about the site and what it’s all about. So a win there.

6. Ask any questions or make any comments during seminars that I might have. Right then and there. Not after the seminar or after a few days when I see the host again. Don’t rely on e-mail.

Yes, I did do this. On the first day I didn’t have any comments or questions because my head was still reeling from the speakers who were stuttering (or not) and how friendly/easy everything was. But it was in the back of my mind for the rest of the conference, and I’ll talk about that later.

7. Above all else — listen. To the new people who I meet, and to the speakers at the conference. I’ve lived in a silo regarding my stuttering since I was 7, so it’s time to get some perspective on it.

Yes, definitely. It was great talking to people, laughing with them, hearing them share similar experiences (especially with the phone). It’s been a while since I’ve laughed that hard, and it felt great. Definitely the right place for me.

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