Walking and talking

The other day was my daughter’s birthday. In order to continue brainwashing her regarding her love for bicycles, I thought I ought to get her a little basket for her bike. That way she can tote around … stuff.

Anyway, there’s a larger bike store here in town, and when I searched them up online to find out their hours, I found out they had a store right in the city. Within walking distance of my office. (The main store is a longer drive away and near where we live. Well, sort of.)

On their site, they show products and what store they are available in. The cute little basket showed availability in both the farther away and city store. I had a sneaking suspicion though that I’d be disappointed — they probably didn’t have it downtown. So, I could have called them and asked them. But here’s the thing — I needed the exercise. The store is a little over a mile walk away.

Is this avoiding? I don’t think so. I was going to walk there even if they didn’t have it just to see what it was all about. And it was such a nice day anyway.

Am I adding this to my pile of uncalled people, restaurants and other businesses? No. Not at all. I’ll write about that more tomorrow — sucking it up and making a call without completely freaking out about it.

So in the end I did walk downtown to the bike shop for my daughter’s basket. And … they didn’t have it.

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.

What I’m Stuttering on Lately

Of course right after mention the things that I stutter on the most, I end up having to say a few of them.

For a few months (well, 2 years) I’ve had some slight eye twitching going on. It’s more annoying than anything else. It’s random. I had an MRI over a year ago, and they said it’s probably just not enough sleep and stress. Well, it’s still acting up, and my family is still concerned, so I finally went to the doctor here in Saudi to get another opinion.

Since I haven’t been to this particular hospital before, I had to register. I knew this, and I wasn’t looking forward to it. The first thing she asked me, even before my name (which she didn’t ask at all) was my phone number. Awesome!

After that, I had to call a number (from a phone at the hospital … to the hospital) to register for an appointment. The connection was bad, and of course I had to give my phone number. And I stuttered on it. Again. I set up an appointment to see the neurologist. She said they had an appointment that day. Within two hours. Perfect …

Once that was done, I had to go back to the first lady and tell her that I had registered. She asked me for my phone number. I just kept on stuttering, because, well, I stutter, and that’s life. Then she asked me for an alternate number. I took my mobile from my son and looked up my wife’s number. I handed the phone to the lady (for some reason, I felt rushed. Ugh.) Anyway, then she asked whose number it was. Of course. Stutter on …

I got through it, though. Didn’t suffer tremendously, and I got the appointment set up. So success there.

That’s it for the stuttering portion of this story. The remainder is well, par for the course here and pretty amusing. So I’ll share.

I went to the appointment at 1 p.m. as directed. It was in the neurology department. I told the receptionist I had an appointment. She said … no. “You have an appointment with urology, not neurology.”

Of course.

Um, so can I schedule an appointment with the neurologist instead? No, they’re booked today. And all week.

What about next week? Well, that’s the next month, so the schedule isn’t made yet. You will have to call (call!) back on the 29th for the appointment.

Ok, fine. No problem. And then I left. A few minutes after I got back home, the receptionist called me on the phone. The doctor is in, and he can see you now. How soon can you come back? Well, I can be back by 2, I said.

Anyway, I talked to the doctor and explained to him what was going on. I stuttered. He sat there patiently and listened. He told me I had a hemifacial spasm. They’d do an MRI and then probably Botox. Sounds like more fun blog fodder …

Stuttering Call Plan

I think for a lot of people there’s a tendency to “check out” from work at 5:01, or when you set foot in the parking lot to go to your car each evening.

You’ve been staring at a computer all day, or in meetings all day, or running around pulling stuff together. You want to go home and just forget.

And that’s reasonable. But occasionally there are some things from work that can help us after work.

What someone brought up the other day here is making a “call plan” before calling a client (potential or existing). It’s simple, it’s quick, and it instills some confidence. I know for me when I pick up the phone to call someone, I have a pretty vague idea of what I’m going to say. Sometimes I’ll have the first question or two in my mind, but nothing beyond that. And then I’ll be talking to this person and start stuttering, and then forget what I wanted to say. And then I have to call again. Not good at all.

So what goes into the call plan? Let’s say I want to call a local company here and ask about my satellite dish options. So I’d just write down, “Your name? Your hours? Eurosport? Packages? Monthly cost? How to pay? Install time? Your location?”

Notice I didn’t write down entire sentences or questions. The last thing I need to be doing is staring at questions with words I know I’m going to stutter on. All I want are concepts (reminders). Basically a list.

I know if I don’t make a list, I’ll be left stumbling and stuttering for words. Will I stutter on questions I make from my list? Of course I will. That’s fine. But at least I don’t have to do it over multiple phone calls. If I mess up the first one enough, I’ll likely not bother calling back (which may cause other problems).

My Kind of Stuttering

I don’t think I’ve ever really mentioned on here what kind of stuttering I do.

Here’s a handy chart that lists four of them.

I’ve almost always done prolongations and blocks. I’m not sure if I really do repetitions or not — I mean, if I’m trying to say a word, get the first syllable out and then get stuck on the second (a block), sometimes I’ll try the first syllable again. I might do this a few times.

I was just thinking … what’s worse, a prolongation or a block? Toss up, really. They both equally suck, I think. With a prolongation you just never know … when it’s going to end. And it’s the only thing you can think about. And the listener doesn’t know when it’s going to end (although who cares what they think, right? Right!). For me at least if I prolong on one specific sound during a conversation, it’ll get prolonged every single time during that same conversation. And if it’s a word I can’t avoid, it’s even more annoying.

For the blocks, they just create confusion. There’s a flow to every conversation. Until there’s not. And then there is! And then there’s complete silence for who-knows-how-long followed by a loss of eye contact, a change of subject, and a wondering of how many hours until lunch.

For the phone, (if given the choice … ha!) I’d rather have a prolongation than a block. At least then the listener knows you’re trying to queue something up. In person, I’d prefer a block because then the person can see you’re trying to say something.

The thing about insertions to me is that, well, don’t fluent people do this, too? I don’t think I use this as a stuttering/covert tool, really. I just use it to let someone know that I’m thinking. And that something is going to come out.

I think I’m going to have to pay really close attention over the next few weeks for these things and see what I’m really doing as far as insertions.

Stuttering and Searching Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I’m Stuttering on Lately

I suppose I’ll do a longer year-end roundup, but until then, here’s what I’m stuttering on lately. It’s based mostly on having to search around for new housing and the new job.

“Contract.” I can get through the first syllable just fine, but then that tr- gets me stuck all the time. And it’s something I’m having to say a lot over the phone — the contract for my new job, the contract for my new compound house, working with contractors.

“Villa.” I mentioned this before. They’re not called houses here, but villas. The v just doesn’t come out at all. And then there’s that l- that I’m apparently happy to drag out as well.

In general, cold calling people and asking them about compound availability. For some stupid reason, I kept on making these calls, but I never rehearsed what I was going to say. And so it was like a little train wreck every time as I laid down a bunch of words that may or may not have been in a sensical order.

After coming back from the house-hunting trip, I went to Subway to get my usual sandwich — that I don’t really have to tell them about any more because I go there so often — and I got stuck on the w- in ‘wheat.’ The “whole” came out just fine, but I didn’t expect getting stuck on “wheat” at all. Then I tried to think — do I say whole wheat to them all the time, or do I ask them for “brown” bread? Ugh.

Some temporary discomfort

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unfocused on Stuttering

Alright, just a quick hello today — still alive, and still stuttering of course. I’ve gone across Saudi to my company’s home office to talk to some people about my next assignment. Since I know some people in the office already (from several years ago) they took me around and introduced me to others — so I didn’t have the stress of having to say my name at least.

After that, it’s a quick rundown of what I was doing and what I’m looking to be doing in the near future. And the meetings are usually really, really quick, less than a minute or two. Just a quick drive-by. Which is fine at this point. I had some longer discussions that I’m still waiting to hear the results on.

One fun stuttering bit that happened was here in the hotel. I needed an ironing board and iron. They weren’t provided in the room. But I looked through the guest handbook thingy, and it says you can call a number (housekeeping) and ask for it.

So … I have to … use a phone. To say the word … iron. And ironing board. And I have to do this. Gotta look good for the office visits!

So I took a nice deep breath and tried to think past my stutter, tried to ignore the word, tried not to think about how I was going to stutter. I thought about already saying the word, no problem, no problem, no problem.

Them: Hello, housekeeping.
Me: Ah, yes, hi, I need an iron and ironing board.

No stuttering! Success! Sweetness.

Them: What room are you in?
Me: !@#$!^%&%%!!!!

Are you kidding me?! I thought you knew this. I thought hotels had this part covered. Always. It’s a simple contract — I pick up the phone, you know it’s me. Here, apparently, not so much.

So yeah, I stuttered out the room number.

I’m still calling it a win. I mean, it would have been a win at another hotel, probably.

Summing up a Day of Stuttering

For the past three posts, I’ve outlined a hypothetical day in the life of a cover stutterer. I wanted to show how easy it can be to hide your stuttering from coworkers and friends. By “easy,” I mean doing things to minimize talking and interacting. All the mental planning to do so is certainly not easy and quite exhausting at times.

Here’s the Morning, Afternoon, and Evening.

Let’s review some of the actions from the entire day. Most of it was probably pretty obvious. For those of you who stutter or are covert, you can laugh and nod along. For your friends and family, I hope they see how sneaky we are really being. And what might seem like a “quiet” person may in fact be a covert person who stutters…

After about an hour, his buddy comes by and asks about going downstairs to the cafe for some coffee. They both go down, and when his buddy orders, he follows up with “the same.”

The nice thing about having a work buddy is familiarity. For me at least it’s easier to talk to them, and I don’t stutter as much. But then again, the pressure is also on in speaking situations to not stutter in front of them … even though they probably already know. The interesting thing about a drink order is that after a while, you’ll justify to others why you like it so much — even though several months ago you didn’t want it in the first place. It’s all you could pronounce. Small stores are also nice because you can just collect your snacks and drinks and put them on the counter, quietly giving cash or a card.

Back at his desk, he pulls out the power bill. Thankfully he sees that there’s a Web site on there.

Yeah, it’s 2014, and this is certainly possible. But not necessarily for every utility company. In the past, depending on the fee or problem, I would just let it go instead of calling to correct it. This is of course is annoying because on just about every personal finance page they talk about calling your credit cards and asking for reduced interest rates. Or calling your cable company to ask about a different package to save money.

Before going to the staff meeting, he prints out the spreadsheet that his boss will review during the meeting.

For me being prepared and comfortable with a situation reduces the stuttering possibility. I’ll know what I’m talking about. I can say, and hold up a piece of paper, yes, it’s been done. The other good thing about being organized is being able to bail out a coworker who isn’t.

He’s got a dentist appointment on Wednesday afternoon. But he’ll just send an e-mail to his boss who should be cool about this.

Yeah, because saying a “d” word during a staff meeting would have been pleasant …it’s also easier to e-mail a reason, date and time than say it.

“Can we talk about this?” The other person responds, “Eh, well, I’ve got a meeting in a few minutes, so …”

I don’t do this that often, but there’s the cousin of this action — checking a calendar, finding someone busy, and then calling them to leave a voicemail. (painful in and of itself, but maybe you just hang up and then they’ll see your number.) The evasive maneuvre above is high risk, high reward, though. The person could easily just have said, “yeah, let’s talk. I was going to go to a meeting, but they cancelled it.”

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

Ah lunch. A special kind of social pain. Again, this is a high risk, high reward tactic. Ordering fast food is also pretty nerve wracking. So his buddy could have agreed to it. But remembering what they did last week (maybe a lot of fast food) and maybe a text or two from the weekend about his buddy’s activities, he figured it was worth a shot. The restaurants were definitely not a viable option — having to talk to people — unnecessarily. And option 4 — I’m looking at you, Wawa and Sheetz, with your glorious touch-screen sandwich-making awesomeness.

Our PWS dials the number. As it’s ringing, he swings his chair towards the side of his cubicle and begins going through some folders.

The other option of course is to let the person who you called pick up, and then not say anything. And just look at the other person in the room like, “um, if you want to start talking right now, that’d be super helpful …” The best part is they’ll often say into the phone who they are as well as who you are! One less time of having to say your own name!

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

Our PWS could have pre-empted this by asking on the invite call — should I stop by somewhere and get anything? Or, can you order pizza/sandwich for me? I’ll admit that no, there aren’t too many pizza-ordering apps out there. And maybe the local place doesn’t have an app after all. What our PWS would do in this case is maybe search around online for coupons to the local pizza place (but not call). Then when the buddy comes back from his errand and asks what’s wrong, say, oh, nothing, just looking for a coupon. Or do you have any? No? Then push it onto the buddy to call because it’s his place and he knows his own phone number and address …

Our PWS quickly gets up from the couch and walks to the kitchen to talk.

He’s being polite! He doesn’t want to interrupt the tv-viewing experience of his buddy.

They do this off and on for the second half of the game.

By doing this, he’s staying connected to his family without the added stress of the telephone. And it’s become such a regular thing, that his family doesn’t make a big deal out of it.

So there you go. Day after day, week after week … and so on. Pretty soon you can avoid having to talk to people without too much effort.

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