Remaining Tournament Details

Here’s a description of the bottom half of the bracket:

Food

  1. Ordering for a noisy car full of people at the drive-thru — I hate the drive thru enough, and now we’re adding a bunch of people, talking, being indecisive, not having enough change, and probably being pushy as well. Oh, and then I have to repeat my order a few times since I can’t hear over the ruckus.
  2. Saying grace/prayer for a meal in front of family — I haven’t done this specifically, but I did have to say some religious things at a wedding once. That was not at all pleasant. It’s really quiet, there’s no hiding, and only one way to say it. Oh, and God is watching and listening, too. Although I suppose He understands …
  3. Ordering food at a bar when the bartender is busy — I know what I want, I know what I’m going to stutter on, and this guy has no time for me. He is being called by a waiter, he’s being beckoned by another patron, and he’s filling up drinks. In my mind, I have about 5 seconds to get this order across, and it’s going to take 12 minutes.
  4. Complaining about food or service at a restaurant — I can’t even remember the last time I’ve done this. And of course it’s because of the stuttering. I don’t like conflict, and then for something like food? Forget it. I can just go eat somewhere else.
  5. Giving a custom order at a busy lunchtime — that kind of deal where you have a few slips of paper from coworkers and have to list them all while standing in line. Every order has to be perfect no matter what. And then the added stress of what to do when the restaurant says they don’t have something. Time for a phone call!
  6. Ordering while at a business lunch — ah yes, the path of least resistance. I don’t even care if it’s not what I want. I’m not stuttering in front of my boss and people at his level.
  7. Speaking in a dark and/or loud restaurant over other people — not quite as bad as having to order because well, you don’t actually have to engage in conversation, now do you? Surely there’s a game on that television above the bar …
  8. Asking for a menu clarification — don’t recall the last time I’ve done this, either. If I don’t understand it or think it might have something that tastes odd, move on to the next item! Now is not the time to experiment with fancy burger toppings.

One-on-one

  1. Going on a blind date — all the prepared statements in the world, all the talking to yourself in the mirror or doing silly mouth exercises are a match for this. There are so many variables! Charming? Nervous? How am I coming across? Wait, what’d she just say?
  2. Confronting a neighbor you’ve never spoken to before — particularly for conflict, this is the worst. You have to spend every day in your house then thinking about what the person right there — right there! thinks about you. And to make matters worse, you could have prevented it by just introducing yourself that first day when you saw them move in …
  3. Interjecting / trying to interrupt someone — the open mouth, the finger pointed up. The noise coming out of your mouth that’s not a word. Is anybody looking? Oh, crap, they are. And the person talking is now looking at your eagerly, waiting for your moment of brilliance.
  4. Getting pulled over and speaking to an officer — not only do I have to come up with a decent excuse, but I have to not stutter while doing it. Or should I be charming? Maybe say something witty? Oh, wait, I’m going to stutter, and the officer is going to think I’m on drugs or hiding something, and well, this is going to escalate quickly.
  5. Being interviewed while being recorded – Nothing like having your stuttering burned into the cloud for … ever. And all while having to come up with answers to a meaningful interview.
  6. Immigration official at an international border crossing — long flight, really tired, need to make a connecting flight. No pressure, buddy! Just don’t come across as nervous or like you’re trying to hide something and you should be good. Wait, why are they taking so long with that person? What’s going on?
  7. Meeting friends of friends — You guys call yourself my friends? Surely you know this about me now? What canned stories am I supposed to use here? Stuff about me? Stuff about my friends? I haven’t rehearsed or planned for this!
  8. Answering detailed questions about your work and personal life when getting to know someone – Not so fast, buddy. I’m going to give you short answer and then pop an essay question on you. I don’t faff about with yes/no stuff or multiple choice. Oh no, you’ll be telling me about your childhood while I try to breathe and think of a way out of this …

Stuttering at the Hospital

So i’ve got this hernia. I’ve had it for a few years, and normally it doesn’t bother me too much. I try not to push it too hard, exercise-wise, but the other day … I did. I was working out in the evening, and I knew it was pretty messed up. Nevertheless, I thought I could power through it — maybe it’d go back in while I slept.

Nope.

I slept for about three hours and was up at 2 a.m. Googling my ailment, what doctors and hospitals were covered under my insurance and whether or not I was going to die. Turns out a hernia can be really serious! The intestine can get suffocated and well, bad, bad things happen.

The next morning, my wife drove me to the ER. I suppose one benefit about suburban life is that the emergency rooms aren’t busy. At all. My belly was very sore at this point and didn’t seem to be going away (other times when I aggravated it, it’d go away after a few short hours). Then the ER doc came in and figured things out in less than a minute. Off for a CT scan. (I’d had one of these before for my eye twitch, so no worries there.)

When I got out of that, I sat in the room for a while until the doctor came. Things were feeling better (drugs, sitting up and relaxing all helped). He explained that the intestine wasn’t pushing through the abdomen muscle — it was my fat. Ah, my fat little belly. Causing all sorts of fun.

A few years ago, I would have been ok with his explanation and quick departure. Not so fast this time! I had questions. I stuttered through them, and he listened patiently. I got my answers. We even got to that point where he’s holding out his hand to shake mine, and I’m still stuttering on a word. I shook his hand while still talking and kept asking questions.

The outcome was that I was discharged that morning feeling alright. I took the rest of the day off from work and then stuttered through a voicemail to a surgeon’s office to set up elective surgery. (the surgeon’s office called me back the next day, so hey, they got my stuttertastic message).

I know I stutter. I know it’s hard to ask questions sometimes. But I’m also a customer. I’m a patient. I worry. My loved ones worry. I don’t want to have to rely on a hundred different internet opinions on something this serious. I didn’t die (because of the stuttering) and got all my questions answered.

 

Questions for an SLP

A few days ago I shared a guest post from Melissa James at Well Said: Toronto Speech Therapy. I sent her some questions, and she was nice enough to reply…

You run a speech therapy clinic for adults who want to work on their speech, social or communication skills. As this is a stuttering blog, how often do you work with clients who stutter?

As a speech therapist in a private practice, I work with clients who stutter nearly every day. More specifically, 40% of our caseload are adults who stutter. The other 60% of our clientele consists of vocal work, professional communication, accent, articulation and several other core speech therapies. Over the past five years, as a clinic, we’ve worked with approx. 300 adults who stutter who want to work with a therapist that truly grasps the unique challenges of being an adult who stutters.

Your clinic works to treat the physical and psychological parts of stuttering, how do you strike that balance with clients? Have most of them had therapy in the past? And-

This question touches on a very important commonality among adults who stutter; the vast majority of these adult clients received speech therapy in the past. Some individuals worked on their speech as children, and others, started working on their speech as adults. Adults who stutter frequently inform me that they find it difficult to utilize the speech exercises they’ve been taught (easy onsets, breathing, stretching, etc.) in real life. Most adults are looking for support with their stuttering at work and in high-pressure situations; consequently, if you are unable to implement your fluency tools in these settings, the stress compounds, and often worsens the outcome.

When you talk to a new client about the “burden” of stuttering, is it something they’ve thought about before? Or are they suddenly reflective, realizing more and more about themselves?

From my professional observations, most adults who stutter are know that many things in life are harder when you stutter, and moreover, recognize the pain associated all the while not taking time to process and reflect on the burden of stuttering. I also believe that most adults who stutter don’t openly discuss the struggle of stuttering in social and professional environments because most adults who stutter don’t know another peer who stutters. Online support groups have come a long way in building a community for adults who stutter and this is an excellent way to discuss the experience of stuttering with others who truly understand. Whether in an online group or a therapy setting, I feel that reflection and emotional exploration is an extremely important part of the speech-therapy journey, notably, engaging in and sharing thoughts, feelings and beliefs about yourself as someone who stutters. I think that most adults who work on their fluency find it incredibly liberating to work with a speech-language pathologist who acknowledges and respects the experience. Research shows the practice of reflection and mindfulness with regards to stuttering, known as ‘Acceptance and Commitment Therapy’, is helpful in reducing the severity of the stutter.

I would imagine that most adults who stutter who see you understand there’s no cure. So what do you do to help them understand that change is possible? How do you get them to move on from the mental state of, “it’s always going to be this way.”

In the traditional medical sense, there is no cure for a stutter. So to speak, there is no medication or surgery offered that will resolve stuttering; however, there are evidence-based treatment methods that reduce the frequency, duration and overall severity of the stuttering. I believe in full transparency in my work, therefore, I explain to my clients that the “cure” for stuttering is not external – an instantaneous solution does not exist. The client needs to engage in hard work in order to achieve stuttering improvement. In fact, during these sessions clients recognize the onus is on them, and they tend to work harder than I do. It’s also important to note that clients that are truly feeling hopeless don’t often seek help. The people who contact me have the readiness factor that is crucial in improving stuttering. If you want to improve and you are with the right clinician, you have a recipe for success.

How often do your clients visit? Are they given, for lack of a better term, homework assignments? I know as a kid we were told to go over sounds and practice breathing. How do you challenge an adult who stutters?

Clients usually visit once per week at the beginning of a therapy plan and less frequently towards the ends of a program. Therapy’s mandate is to build sustainable skills. Clients begin by learning the practices during an early stage, and later start to implement the tools in real life. The next step sees an increase in real life implementation, meanwhile reducing the frequency of sessions. The final goal is maximum fluency with maximum independence. Each week, we collaborate on a home plan. The best home plans are social exercises, (e.g., speak to three strangers or recording a new voicemail message) and mindset exercises (e.g., cognitive behavioral therapy exercises, mindfulness practices). A home practice strategy that adults who stutter like are time-of-day-challenges where you engage in a ten-minute long conversation, utilizing all the tools, during a specific time of day (e.g., following dinner every night). Daily, applied home practice is essential for success in a stuttering treatment program to allow for practice outside the clinical setting.

Is there a certain fear that you hear about over and over again with professionals? Something like a presentation to give at work, or having to interview, or something else?

Common fears include meeting new professionals, giving presentations and being interviewed. Adults who stutter fear that colleagues or contacts think they are incompetent if they stutter openly. At the same time, these adults don’t want others to pity or patronize them. Meanwhile, they tend to be highly ambitious, intelligent and want to progress in their careers, yet feel bound by a constant fear of exposing their stutter during one-on-one interactions. Adults who stutter also fear, or feel nervous about, speaking on the telephone, and specifically being hung-up on. Other common concerns include introducing themselves ex. saying their name while checking into a hotel and speaking on a conference call. Almost always, these fears get in the way of the client practicing these skills which in turn reinforces the anxiety and the stuttering. Through a slow exposure approach, we can start to practice these situations, thereby reducing the anxiety through exposure, which in turn reduces the frequency of stuttering.

 

Hitting a Fluency Stride

The “beauty” of stuttering is that you never really know what you’re going to get when you wake up in the morning. You could have a day of misery (even though it’s all in your head — and you shouldn’t be discouraged through the whole day anyway … but, yeah, I know, reality) or you could just start with a fluent ‘good morning’ and carry it all the way through an engaging dinner conversation.

I’ve casually noticed now in the last week or so that I’m starting to hit a “more fluent” kind of stride, particularly at work. The funny thing is, I knew this would happen.

It certainly took longer than a few weeks, but hey, it’s under six months. I’m still not perfect every day (never will be, never expect to be), but I’ve been letting it bother me less and less, and I’ve been trying to speak more and more. For whatever reason, it’s producing a bit more fluent speech, and it’s been noticeable to me.

What can be the cause? I’d say more comfort. Same people every day, same level of patience from them on stuttering. Same meetings every week, same types of things to say. Also I’ve gone through meeting most of the people who I’ll have to talk to, so there’s less stress about introductions and small talk.

I’ve also started thinking about my breathing more and more. Like, take a breath, think, relax, speak. Breathe. Breathe! And a moment of fluency in the morning on something I was stuttering on a few weeks ago lends to more confidence later in the afternoon.

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.

Stuttering Silence in College

I’d be very interested to hear what others might have to say about this — particularly what you were feeling during your first weeks of college as someone who stutters.

I read this article a few days back about the death of Madison Holleran. I had a really long think about it afterward because parts of it really resonated with me.

When I was a senior in high school, things were very good, and I was really happy. By this time, my stuttering wasn’t bothering me too much — I had a strong support group, good grades, and a clear path to college.

When I entered Pitt in the fall of 1997, e-mail and the Internet were relatively new. AOL instant messenger was a thing, sure, but none of us were obsessed with checking our e-mail every five minutes. That being said, we were still connected to our friends at other colleges. Going home for a weekend or Thanksgiving was a pretty big deal since freshman year you could usually find everybody at home.

Those first few weeks were, at times, pretty dark. I remember distinctly thinking one day while walking back to my dorm that I had gone to too big of a school. I wanted to transfer. There’s the idea that you see about college on television and in movies — red brick dorms, people laughing and playing in the Quad (whatever that was), going to parties and meeting cute girls, and having a lively discussion in small classes.

Brochure? Yes. Reality? Not so much. And it was getting to me.

Of course the stuttering wasn’t helping much. There was no partying for me, nor engaging with professors in class (or in recitation, really, cause those were smaller). And my grades were just slowly drifting downward, which was also having a negative effect.

What did end up helping were two things — a few guys who I met on my floor, and the student newspaper that I had joined. I managed to make strong bonds with people who may have heard but didn’t care about my stuttering. I didn’t advertise or anything, but I wasn’t afraid to lean on them when things started getting bad.

If I had been more tuned in to my stuttering, I think I would have tried to join a group. That’s the advice that I would give to anybody who stutters and is going to college. You’re being thrown in with 20,000 other people, so even the fluent people probably think they’re alone, too.

I think we also need to try a lot harder to communicate. We hate doing it because of the stuttering, but you can’t be alone with 20,000 people, questioning your decisions and not feeling like you’re getting what you paid for and just let it all fester inside.

I understand that depression and suicide are completely different from stuttering. I get that. But my point is that there is a tendency for those of us who stutter to really hold everything in. And when there are a lot of huge changes in your life in a short timeframe, it’s a recipe for disaster if you don’t have the right outlet — and you have to be able to communicate to that outlet.

Stuttering on Lately

It’s amazing how much life gets in the way of trying to do something regular like blog posting.

Anyway! Here we go with another Stuttering on Lately post.

This past Friday night my old boss here in the Kingdom invited a bunch of people out for his going-away since he’s leaving on final exit come June. He’d been my boss for four years (until I moved to Khobar) and was really awesome at it. He had it over in Bahrain, and although I didn’t know everybody he invited on the e-mail (only a dozen or so names) I didn’t think too much about it [in a stuttering sense.]

I got there, and there were a few people who I didn’t know, but it wasn’t a big deal to just latch on with the old boss and two guys he was talking with. It wasn’t a dinner really, just drinks — coke for me. I sort of cheated with my first name by using the Arabic pronunciation — which of course was a little funny given the Western audience — but worked well enough. I only introduced myself to two people anyway.

As per conversations, I’m mostly happy to let others talk. And you know how your office is — there’s always someone there who goes on and on. I could say that the stuttering was holding me back, but really the noisy environment coupled with people I didn’t know all that well held me back. I prefer something more quiet with friends. I did have a chance to talk to the ol’ boss one-on-one, so that was good. When I was talking, I was doing pretty well — maybe all the caffeine and sugar from the coke.

Afterward, I told a friend I’d meet up with him and spend the evening. I didn’t know where he lived, so I gave him a call. He gave me the general vicinity and then started explaining specifics. Like the name of his building. That started with an ‘l.’ And then he said, “you’ll have to tell security…”

The evening was quickly going downhill. I wanted to just drive home instead.

I told him that I’d give him a call as I got closer to get the directions. But the name of his building was still stuck in my head.

I rolled up to the security gate, and put the window down. Well, let’s just get this over with.

Got stuck on ‘l.’ I’m guessing it was for a few hours. The security guy gave a guess. (and of course there were two buildings that started with l, and he guessed the other one.) The thing about people finishing your sentences (other than its rudeness) is that it messes up your stutter. Whatever breathing or pacing you might have is gone. Because then they put you back on their schedule. They asked you something, and now they want an answer. But you don’t have any air. And you’re still trying to say what they suggested to tell them, no, that’s not it.

The guard was smiling by this time (he didn’t really seem to care what building I was going to) and eventually I got the name out. He let me through and told me where to go. I called my buddy again to confirm the apartment number, and that was that. After putting the guardhouse in my rearview, I didn’t think about it anymore. The next morning when I went by them again, I didn’t dwell on it either. I didn’t die, I got to see my friend, and things were, relatively speaking, smooth enough.

Stuttering Link Roundup

A nice big link roundup for Stuttering Awareness Week. Plenty to comment on for the next few days as well.

From the Stuttering Foundation:

Stuttering Awareness Week begins May 11, 2015, and offers an opportunity to focus public attention on a complex disorder that touches 70 million people around the world and more than three million in the U.S. alone.

I like the idea of making t-shirts, actually …

Scroobius Pip and the benefits of a stutter

Pip’s raps include references to his stutter. The song 1000 Words is about how he stood out when growing up. His lyrics, however, show he has always had a positive view of his speech impediment: “Sure, broken stammers of a youth can kind of bring some attention, but the sympathy of a teacher can get you out of detention”.

An article from William Browning, the managing editor of The Dispatch, a Mississippi newspaper.

In short, acceptance is the goal. I am not there, yet. In the company of loved ones my stutter does not trigger an undertow of negativity. In professional settings, though, a stuttering moment has the ability to freeze my marrow. I want to take that power away from my stutter. Unleash the balloon, as it were.

By now you’ve all seen this one about Tiger writing a letter to a kid who was getting bullied by his stutter. Here’s the original article from Golf Digest:

That Tiger responded so quickly was the act of not only someone who knew taunting when he was a child — both because of his stutter and his race — but it was also the act of a father of two who understands how we need to protect our children.

From HuffPo, Stuttering is nobody’s fault. Another great article from Katherine Preston, commenting on the BBC article linked above about Scroobius Pip. I used to think for a long time that my stuttering was somehow karma-related or even from routine childhood falls and bumps and whatever else. Not so much!

These are the facts: stuttering is not caused by psychological trauma, unsupportive parenting or mental neurosis. Rather, stuttering is a genetically influenced, neurological condition.

An article from a Pakistani living in Sweden.

There seems to be no habitual behaviour associated with my stammer. This also goes to show that much of my impediment is uncontrollable. Also, at the same time, just like how people have bad hair days, stutterers also have bad days and good days and sometimes fluent days. According to my experience, stutterers can communicate effectively but they cannot communicate fluently.

The last thought he has in the article is perfect — I go through the exact same thing every time I’m at Subway.

From the American institute of Stuttering — on why we should accept our stuttering.

When people accept their stuttering, they enter situations and use words they might normally avoid. They are willing to tell others that they stutter, and are open to letting others see and hear instances of stuttering without shame or embarrassment. They communicate effectively and also happen to stutter.

Stuttering Mentor

As I think back about my stuttering growing up, I think it would have been helpful to have a mentor to navigate stuttering. Someone who actually stuttered and managed to still move through life confidently.

I think someone who could have explained the iceberg to me as well as challenged me to get out and speak more.

Most “discussions” I had about stuttering were with myself — like, I knew that there were groups out there meeting, but I simply talked myself out of it.

I think what held me back about reaching out for help was that if I did that, then I’d admit that I had a problem. And if I’m having to reach out, it must be a pretty big problem. I suppose I equated it to seeing the doctor. Of course now I know that’s not true. We should reach out for help in all facets of our life — work, play and home.

An older mentor would also have known about the NSA Conference and other groups like Toastmasters. He or she would explain the reality of things like college (you only need a small solid core of friends), looking for a job (how to network), and the corporate world (it’s not necessarily as speaking-intensive as some people make it out to be.)

I think if you’re the parent of someone who stutters, finding a mentor is pretty important. And how would you go about it? I’d think that either through your therapist or through your support group. A monthly support group is nice, but you still have to feel comfortable stuttering the other 29 days.

For me, I’d feel comfortable being that mentor to someone. I imagine it’d happen after I move back to the States.

Overthinking Things

Two hundred posts! Finally made it. The past few days were slow due to the fun times at the hospital and the MRI (they didn’t find anything in my head).

I wanted to talk today about how those of us who stutter may end up overthinking things. I know I do this all the time. It’s a well established base — because I stutter, I don’t like to communicate, because I don’t like to communicate, I don’t get the right answers all the time. Because I don’t get the right answers, I have to spend more time and energy finding things out on my own. Because of spending that time and energy, I either get bored or tired and then the overall objective isn’t met. Something along those lines. Then I associate any failure in communication or achievement with my stuttering.

What happened with this MRI thing? Well, when I talked to the doctor, I told him (and stuttered) about my previous MRI experience. It wasn’t pleasant — I had a go in a smaller, older MRI and freaked out. Then I was told about the more “open” MRI. I was able to do that without any kind of sedation. It was fine. The doctor here said the MRI they have is smaller, so it can get a better scan. So I automatically asked about the sedation or anesthesia. This lead to a longer road of testing and waiting and whatever else.

When I finally got the call to go down to the MRI (after waiting in a hospital room all morning) they asked me again if I really wanted or needed the anesthesia. I told them about my concerns. The tech asked if I wanted to see the unit. Sure, why not. (Note that when I got into the MRI suite and realized that this was actually going to happen, my heart starting pounding a bit. Hilariously, I compared this to heart pounding when everybody is “going around the table” doing introductions, and it didn’t even come close.)

And which MRI was I going to go into? It was the bigger one. The one I could deal with without any drugs.

So all this runaround with the sedation or anesthesia — was that because of stuttering? No. Sometimes you just don’t think to ask. There’s no need to be hard on myself at every turn in the road. Now I’ve learned a little more. Ask to see the MRI. Someone’s definition of small or old might not be the same as mine.

I think part of accepting my stuttering is also accepting that if I’m going to get across what I want to get across, things are still not going to be perfect. I still need to work on other parts of my life. I need to continue to learn from experience and grow as a person.

Here’s to another 200 posts — and hopefully many more than that. I can’t believe it’s already May and the NSA Conference is less than two months out. In 60 days from now, I’ll be blogging about workshops and experiences from Baltimore!

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.

Your virtual stuttering reality

The other day I mentioned stuttering and speaking and Google Glass. There is some recent research on this, and Shelley Brundage talked to Stutter Talk recently about it.

There were no significant differences in the %SS across audience conditions, suggesting that the frequency of stuttering is similar in virtual and real world conditions. These findings suggest that similar responses occur after speeches to virtual and live audiences.

You have to listen to this interview. It’s great. They discuss safety, control and repeatability with regards to virtual reality usage. Also how this technology can be used in therapy. It’s probably still a few years (hopefully months) away, but it’d be nice to see more customizable virtual reality apps for the masses. Of course there’s Google Cardboard which is a good start…(I’m tempted to order this).

How else can this help those of us who stutter? Well, a lot of what I’ve been seeing on Facebook groups lately is along the lines of, “I have an interview tomorrow, what should I do?”

I suppose you could find a friend to practice with. But there’s a lot of effort in that, and the interaction may not be helpful. I know there are a lot of us who become very comfortable with close friends and find we don’t stutter with them as much. (And yes, it can sometimes be the total opposite). Also, how you react to a smiling man may not be the same as a frowning woman.

But if you had virtual reality at your disposal, you could run a bunch of different scenarios in the week leading up to the interview. The thing that I’ve found about interviews is that you tend to get better at interviews the more you do them. But the problem is getting the interview in the first place. There’s applying, waiting, e-mailing, more waiting, maybe a phone screen, more waiting, an e-mail, more waiting, and then the buildup to the big day. That’s a lot of time to worry yourself into a total mess.

The paper talked about speaking in front of groups. You don’t always have days and days to prepare yourself for a presentation. Maybe a day or two. And sometimes you’re put on the spot. So what about practicing at home? You go to work and see your boss give a presentation. Go home and practice it yourself. If you did that every day for a half hour, some of the barriers to public speaking would be removed. Too often when we’re put on the spot we forget about everything — breathing, pacing, eye contact, hand movements — and just focus on trying to get those words out in some coherent fashion. Virtual reality would allow us to practice all of these things.

Even at the most basic level — using the phone — virtual reality would be useful. All I’d need to see is an image of a phone with that “mute” light on and off. And someone asking who’s on the call. I’d really love to be able to reprogram my brain to get past this (assuming that’s possible).

A Stuttering Drop of Ink

The best way I can put this is with a drop of ink. Let’s say red. A cup of water. You know what happens. The ink goes in the water, the water changes color. All of it. Is it what I wanted?

I had to talk to one of the senior guys at the company today about some lists. I had a few really quick questions. We went through it, I didn’t stutter much. No big deal. But then I was really curious about something. And I wanted to ask him. So I did.

It was a total mess. Totally incoherent, got stuck on almost every word, he looked at me patiently, finished maybe one or two words (I really didn’t mind at that point).

Did I say what I wanted to say? Definitely not. Did I communicate what I wanted to? Sort of maybe?

It’s like the drop of ink. You should take the drop and use it in a pen. Write words. Draw a sketch.

The drop or blob of ink was shoved out. It was sent out in the hope that it could be understood even though it didn’t have the right pen or brush. Actually, you know what? It ended up being like that thing you do in elementary school where you drop ink all over the place and then blow it with a straw to make a tree. Except you wanted to draw a flaming truck powered by rockets jumping over the Grand Canyon.

After a few stuck phrases, he got up and started diagramming on a white board, “I think I know what you’re asking for.” And he did. Was I grateful? Very much so. But was it a success?

It’s hard to say. Yes? The thing is, I didn’t have to ask him that question (or try to). I probably should have been better prepared. I probably should have taken a deeper breath up front, or maybe stood up, or had something on paper to reference.

Then there’s the whole finishing-your-sentences aspect. He didn’t just do that, put he finished entire thoughts. Took a few keywords, squinted, and started drawing on the white board. Is that a win? He didn’t just dismiss me and tell me to figure out what I wanted to say. Or send him an e-mail. Or ask someone else. So there’s an element of respect, too.

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.

Getting called out

Have you ever gotten called out for your stutter? I mean in a sympathetic way? By someone who understands what stuttering is?

I’m not sure getting laughed at or cut off or ignored is really being called out. That’s just the other person displaying bad or ignorant behavior.

I was asked by someone just two years ago. It was a senior person at my company. He asked me a little about it, but I think part of the point was to convey that he had had a stutter as well. And that he still stumbled (but not really) on some words. I’m not convinced it was stuttering, and maybe it was just a way to make a connection with me. But it was a little awkward because, well, how much do you share? What do you say, “well, listen, there’s the one-minute version of my life-long angst, and then there’s this blog that I’ve got. If you printed out all the posts, it’s nearly 75,000 words. Should we start there then?”

On the other side, as someone who stutters, have you ever called out someone else who stutters? And no, I don’t mean when you knew full well that they did but just wanted to connect. More of a “I know you’re being covert …” kind of a deal.

I’ve never done this. I’m pretty convinced that I’ve never met anybody else who stutters (other than last year at the conference, of course). And if I have, then man, they were even better at being covert than me!

What I’m Stuttering on Lately

A few quick things that I’m stuttering on a lot these days.

1. Last week I had a workshop for work. So I was telling a few people that I’d be out of the office for this workshop. And of course I stuttered all over workshop. So I’d occasionally call it a “thing,” or “conference” or whatever else I could muster.

2. I have a colleague whose name I can barely say without stuttering every time. This is pretty rough considering how closely we have to work together every day. It’s really bad because I can say the first syllable but then get stuck on the second. The alternative is just to get up from my desk and walk over to his — it’s about 20 feet away.

3. I’ve moved to Al Khobar from Yanbu. I lived in Yanbu for four years, and have trouble saying that as well. It’s annoying only because people ask me where I was before I came to Khobar. I was on a program that had offices in Jubail (easy to say!) and Yanbu (impossible to say!). I’ll occasionally defer to the name of the client, but that doesn’t really help in the long run.

As you can read from the above, there are some pretty fundamental things that I’m stuttering on lately. I feel to some extent that it’s dragging the rest of my speech down. But since I know this (and that it could happen) I’m trying to brush off all the stuttering instances above. Just because I stutter on certain words, doesn’t mean I’ll stumble on the next one.

And while I’m stuttering on the above stuff maybe 90% of the time, I need to focus on celebrating the 10% of the time they do come out fluently. I’ll get more comfortable with my audience at work, and it’ll get easier. It always does. I’ll get the 90% down to 80%, and then down below 50%, and then I can focus on whatever else is bothering my speech.

Asking, Telling and Stuttering

I have a feeling that this could be a much longer post if I could sit down and talk to a bunch of people who stutter and ask them about their childhood and how they are getting on with parenthood … I’ll add it to the list for the future.

As a child, I was pretty curious. But I don’t remember asking a lot of questions thanks to the stuttering. Especially in school if something didn’t make sense, I’d just keep on reading the book or doing the homework problems until I got it. I might ask a friend. But I wasn’t about to ask the teacher.

The same thing was for my life at home. It was a lot of observation and figuring things out for myself. My dad is the person who has all the answers, but I just wasn’t the kind of person who’d ask.

Well, now I’m a father, and I find myself forever telling things to my kids. I explain this, I define that. I draw pictures for them, we look stuff up online. Sometimes I stutter, sometimes I don’t. But it doesn’t get in the way. The numerous explanations beget questions …and more questions. And that’s good — I want my kids to be curious.

The point is that those of us who stutter probably don’t ask a lot of questions. So we might be inclined to think that our children can also “figure it out” the same way we did (assuming they’re fluent). This may be true, but why assume that? We have an opportunity not only to connect with our children, but to practice our speech (and understanding of the world) on someone who won’t judge at all. Let’s take advantage of it.

Explaining Stuttering

Alright, so as mentioned on Twitter, I need to explain stuttering to my kid. I haven’t been able to find anything online about how to talk to your kids about stuttering — if you’re the one doing the stuttering. I thought this was a pretty interesting oversight, actually.

I wonder if we educated our own children more about stuttering, then maybe they can go into school and educate their own friends. Or at least be the one to stand up for someone who stutters and say, ‘well, my dad does that, and it’s not a big deal.’

Some quick background on the kid (my kid) being interviewed: He’s 8, he goes to an American school here in Saudi (and has been in English-only schools his whole life) and is pretty typical for someone his age. Lots of television, falls off his bike once in a while, somewhat picky with eating, likes donuts, up for adventure.

He’s seen me work on this site and look up stuttering pages. But never asked me about it.

My idea was to interview and maybe educate at the same time. I wrote down a few questions and wanted to see if anybody had something else they wanted to know from this 8-year-old.

What I’ve got so far:

1. Do you know what stuttering is?
2. Do you hear me stuttering around the house?
3. Does it bother you?
4. Do you think you stutter at all (he doesn’t)
5. Does anybody in your class stutter?
6. Have you ever heard anybody on tv or in movies stutter?
7. What do you think causes stuttering?

Interestingly, I hadn’t stuttered around my kids up until about a year ago. I’m not sure what changed. When I speak to them, I had never avoided or changed things out. I still don’t, but now I’m stuttering.

When I read books to them, though, I don’t stutter at all. (this is awesome, by the way).

Let me know if you can think of anything else to ask. I’ll probably interview him by this weekend.

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 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.

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