Not now, Stutter

Most of the time, Stutter hangs out with me and makes me overthink everything. Every interaction, utterance, phone call, meeting, presentation, walk-by, doorbell ring, and toll booth hello.

The other night, though, I had to give him a hard shove and tell him I didn’t have time for his crap.

I had connected my cell phone to a charger in a taxi from Bahrain to Saudi, and when he dropped me off, he asked if I had everything. I was eager to get out and get going. I grabbed my two suitcases and jumped out of the taxi, feeling my wallet and car keys. I put my bags into the back of my car and patted myself down for my phone. Where’s my phone? I searched around in the back of the car. Where. Is. My. Phone. I closed my eyes and pounded my suitcases. I cursed. Loudly. A few times.

The taxi had come from Bahrain, and by now was probably on the Causeway and heading over. I resigned myself to a lost phone. No, no, no. Don’t give up. I looked up and saw a guy standing outside of a store. Saudi is a very friendly place — you can pretty much go up to anybody and start talking and not worry about them jumping down your throat or ignoring you. And every Saudi I’ve met has been insanely helpful in personal situations.

I didn’t think about my stutter. The seconds were ticking by. If the taxi got on the Causeway, sure I could get it, but it’d add hours to this nighttime adventure — it was already getting close to 10. I asked the guy if I could use his pho– oh, sorry, are you on your phone? Yes, but what? He hung up on his friend and I told him I forgot my phone in the taxi, and could I call my number? He said ok, what’s the number? I told him quickly, practically pushing the buttons myself — he was calmly putting them in.

The driver picked up, and I told him it was me. He quickly recognized what had happened. I then handed the phone back to the Saudi gentlemen and asked him to help out. They spoke in Arabic for a bit. The taxi said he was parked up right before the toll booth to the causeway, but to hurry on over, no problem.

I hailed another taxi and told him to go to the toll booth for Bahrain, but not to Bahrain. This was slightly confusing. I told him the nearby neighborhood, and he said ok. As we neared, I asked this taxi driver if he could call my phone to find out exactly where the other taxi driver was. He said he didn’t have a balance (pre-paid) on his phone, so we’d have to stop and get one. We went to the street near the toll booth, and he got the card for the pre-paid, and I called my phone again. The taxi driver, while not Saudi, spoke Arabic and sorted out quickly where the first taxi was waiting.

I happily got my phone and got back into the second taxi to go home.

 

Stuttering and boring others

I had a chance to go to a wedding the other day. And of course with a  roomful of strangers comes a night full of small talk.

I stuttered, yes (on the word “wedding” which was particularly annoying … and it was a very long, very hard stutter. Fortunately my tablemates didn’t say anything), but when I was able to make small talk with the people near me, I wondered, am I boring?

I think this has to do with the “canned” stories. The ones I don’t stutter on as much. The ones I know and have been telling people backwards and forwards for weeks. What I do, where I live, summary of children, etc.,

Is everybody else having a better and more interesting conversation with their tablemates?  Are we supposed to?

What got me really thinking about all of this is that I have a few, not many, stories of the bride that others may not know. Is that what I’m supposed to be entertaining everybody with? Are we supposed to be exchanging cookie recipes, or times when the bride and I went through the possessions of my deadbeat tenants?

I suppose my hesitance to share these was due to stuttering. I mean, I’ve not told many of them, and I’m really not sure how entertaining they really are. I didn’t want to fall flat with regards to entertainment value. Instead, I’ll just interject here and there and leave it at that.

Memorial Day Stuttering

Thought I’d check in and let everybody know what I’m stuttering on lately this Memorial Day weekend. I’m home in the States for some business/personal things. So that means a lot more trips to Starbucks, and a lot more having to tell them my name.

I’ve been changing up my drink, doing from the mocha, to the Americano, to the iced coffee, to the Americano on ice. It’s been hard to say “no whip,” but slightly easier to say, “no cream.” And aren’t they always supposed to ask your name? Some have, some haven’t. I’ve been doing a mashup of the Saudi way to say my name and the American with some success. I bumble through the first part of the name and then immediately jump into spelling it so they don’t have to ask again.

Is it avoiding if I’m pre-empting a known stutter even though I just said what I was afraid to say?

I went to the local library to sign up for a card and noticed they had meeting rooms available. I wanted to know about this, so I confidently asked. No stuttering, and I got the answers I needed. Nice win.

I misplaced one of my credit cards and didn’t do anything about it for a few days. I kept an eye on the app to see if any purchases went through. I wasn’t looking forward to having to call them to ask for another card. Eventually I did and of course it was fully automated. Figures.

Last night I went on a social bike ride for the first time in my home town. It’s a “slow ride.” I knew exactly one other person (who I hadn’t seen in person for maybe 17 years) and wanted to catch up with her. I need to look up the definition of social anxiety disorder, but I had no interest in just going up to people and chatting them up despite our like mindedness of wanting to go on this bike ride and it being a lovely night. The thought of that terrified me. What on earth was I supposed to say? I did manage to find my friend and talk and ride for a good long while, so I was happy about that. And she knew others who she introduced me to — although I didn’t end up talking to those people at all which was fine for now. I think if I keep going on these rides, maybe things will open up a little more.

More stuttering and more happy

I spent the last few days in and out of Bahrain (I live in Saudi) because the Formula 1 race was this weekend, and I had a really good friend come from the States. He’s an old friend, and we went around Bahrain, eating, laughing, checking out museums, walking around forts, and of course checking out the race — all four days.

I wrote about something similar just a little while ago, and the same thing happened the past few days. I stuttered. A lot. On just about every story, remark, snide comment, half-joke, full-joke, and one-word joke.

But the beauty of it all was just the comfort. I had so  much. He never said anything about the stuttering. He looked at me, maintained eye contact and listened. He waited for the punchline and laughed really hard only after I said them. That’s a friend. That’s someone who listens. That’s what you need to ignore your stutter and just keep on going.

I was feeling so good about all of this that I did something I only ever really see others do — engage a group of strangers in conversation. We were at a fort, walking around, and there were four older gentlemen (speaking English) who we ended up being around. I didn’t have to engage them or find out what’s what, (and they weren’t talking to us)  but what I wanted was the challenge. Facing the stuttering and winning.

“So, where are you guys from?”

It was a little tough to say, but I made sure to point it toward them, loudly, to make sure I didn’t have to repeat (and probably) stutter.

They were from different parts of the States and had come for the race. I told them about living and working in Saudi. We made some small talk about Bahrain and working and living in the Middle East. I did stutter a little bit on some words, but none of them said anything. They maintained eye contact and were interested. I made sure to take some breaths and slowly pour out my words. I used some partially canned stories, but was also a bit spontaneous. It felt good. I felt confident, and most importantly, my fear of engaging strangers eroded a little bit more.

Action for Stammering Children Day 5

Alright, so today is the last day of commenting on the Action for Stuttering Children’s tweets. You can read what I wrote about on Day 1Day 2, Day 3, and Day 4.

Today’s post is  “Can you really read other peoples’ minds? Do you really know what other people think about your speech? Try to relax and go with the flow.”

So I really like this one. Quite brilliant, really. And here’s why — think about … what you think about other people when they’re talking. Are you really even paying attention? You hear bits and pieces here and there, right? I mean, if you’re at lunch, making some small talk with coworkers, what are you really thinking about? You listen for a bit, you think about the meeting you have coming up. Or what’s due tomorrow. Or your dinner date that evening. Or your weekend plans. Isn’t your credit card bill due? Is this Friday payday? What time is that thing for my kids tomorrow?

Just as you’re thinking about other things while your friends are talking, so are they. They hear you. They hear the stuttering. They might hear what you’re saying. But they’re also spacing out. Trust me. And we shouldn’t be bothered by it. And we should also shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves, either. There’s an enormous pressure on those of us who stutter to be perfect — because that’s what we always see on tv, at work, and at home or with friends. But it’s not necessary. But speaking is just one part of life. And we just so happen not to be perfect at it. So?

I wrote a while ago about first impressions, and I think it’s really relevant here, too. (almost a year ago to the day!)

I think this idea of a first impression being so important is a bunch of crap. Try this out — what do you remember about the first time you met your best friend? You know, the one who you’ve been friends with since you were like, 12? The one you met in English class who you still talk to every day? The one who doesn’t care what you look like because they can just as easily open up the high school yearbook for a few laughs?

Do you remember that first encounter? No? I didn’t think so.

I’ve also noticed that as I tell more and more of my close friends about stuttering, I get sort of the same reaction — you stutter? I never noticed. Some even say, yeah, but it never seems to bother you. Does it?

I’m not saying at all that stuttering doesn’t bother me. Or that it shouldn’t bother you. But it should bother us less and less as time goes on. As we make more positive connections between stuttering, saying what we want, and having neutral or positive experiences. And that all comes from realizing that we are our harshest critic. That our friends are our friends because they support us. And that strangers who hear you stutter aren’t going to jump down your throat about it and then spend the rest of their week telling the whole word how strange you sounded while ordering coffee.

What I’m Stuttering on Lately

I had a chance last week to travel around the Kingdom a bit. I took my 8-year-old son.

When we got out of the airport in Medina, I needed to get us a taxi to the hotel. I knew what I wanted to pay, and the first cabbie quoted me a price that was way too high. I waved him off. I strode out to another few taxis and asked their price. Too high again. I said no. I started to walk off. He lowered. I said no again. We eventually agreed on a price (that was still too high, but whatever). I was just happy that I bargained a little bit and saved $13. I hate bargaining, and I’m usually the kind of person who just settles for whatever someone says. But I was feeling a lot more confident, and I had options, and I wanted to show my son how things are done.

I was staying with family at the hotel, so I didn’t have to check in. And when my son got hungry (and he’s particular about his food) family ordered room service, not me.

I stuttered off and on with my family members who I hadn’t seen in a while. Streaks of fluency punctuated by long agonizing moments of silence or a consonant being dragged out. I had a lot of catching up to do, and most of the stories I hadn’t told anybody else. So I was feeling my way around their adjectives, trying not to avoid.

I suppose I should mention the “standard” stuttering at the Starbucks at the Riyadh airport as well as on “diet coke” in the airplane. Some things I can always count on. But I didn’t go uncaffeinated!

Again with my son, and again with ordering food — we were at the food court, and he wanted a chicken sandwich at Burger King. I was tasked with getting some Pizza Hut. I didn’t want to (try) to say “crispy chicken.” So I told my son, look, here’s the money, order what you want (cleared it with me first) and I’m going to go order the pizza so we can get back to the room faster. We ended up doing that twice.

Yes, I avoided. But see, it’s complicated, right? I mean, he’s 8, and he’s gotta learn this stuff. How to order what he wants, how to deal with some money, and how to stand in line and collect the same food with a receipt. Right? Right? Lessons on growing up disguised as avoidance techniques. I guess covert behavior can be enabled by children.

Flying back home, I got into a conversation with a stranger while standing idly at a phone charging stand. He just began asking things, where we were going, where we were from. And it wasn’t too bad talking. Just an easy, slow-paced conversation without too much stress. And it annoyed me only because it made me wonder how many other casual conversations (you never know who you’re going to meet!) I’ve avoided because of stuttering.

Not Stuttering … now what?!

So I picked up my new bike the other day here in the Kingdom. It’s a Canyon — I ordered it online, and ten days later it showed up. I know the right thing to do is to go to a bike shop and give them my business — but we don’t have them here in the Kingdom. And besides, after the bike fitting, I found out that the Canyons would be a really good fit.

Anyway, the way things work here in Kingdom is that if you have a package going to UPS (or FedEx or DHL) — at least in our small town — you have to go to the carrier’s office to pick it up. They have daytime hours only. Sometimes on weekends. And if you’re tracking your package online, it may or may not say exactly where it is. For instance, it said mine was still in Jeddah — and we’re three hours from there.

So I got to the UPS office in the morning after getting a call from them (that’s the other thing — you have to put your phone number on the shipping address) and there wasn’t anybody there except for the UPS employee. I saw my bike — they just leave the packages out and about.

I went up to the guy and said my name using the more Arabic pronunciation — which I don’t stutter on as much. He said, “yeah, I know.” Ooookay. I guess he either recognized my voice or …? I’m here to pick up my bike. Yeah, ok, there’s a customs fee. I paid the fee and complimented him on how perfect his English was. He said he had lived in the States for more than a decade … and …

…And what was beginning to happen? I told him I grew up in Pennsylvania, had been in Saudi for about four years. I wasn’t stuttering. I was comfortable. There wasn’t anybody else in the office breathing down my neck. I was happy my bike had made it. I was making successful small talk! What should I do? How friendly am I supposed to be? Should I take advantage of these non-stuttering moments? I didn’t want it to be awkward. He didn’t need to know my life story. But I felt I could tell it all right then and there!

Stuff like this happens to me once in a while. But I usually catch myself pretty quickly. You’re talking pretty fast … you’re talking a lot … they’re not looking as interested … move along …

Does this ever happen to anybody else? You just kind of zone out for a few moments and everything is right with the world again? Do you find yourself happily babbling away?

I guess this is what keeps me from advertising. These moments of fluency happen, and I think, well, see, I didn’t advertise, and everything is just fine.

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.

Stuttering your way to financial ruin and social ridicule

The second workshop that I attended had the subject title and was done by Steve Brown.

For the record, here are all of the descriptions for these workshops — so you can read the description on there of who Steve is and what this was going to be all about.

Alright, so I had just come from the First Timer’s Workshop and was feeling good. I was feeling good about jumping into the deep end and actually going to this conference. But I was mentally taxed a good bit already — I usually have to stutter our my name once a month (or even less) — and I had just done a year’s worth of really rough introductions in less than an hour. Thankfully everybody had name tags, so even if I forgot someone’s name, they happily pointed to it. They also had our hometown on there. Mine was listed as Lancaster. That’s true, but I’m living in Saudi now … I can’t remember if the registration form had that space on there or if they just used the billing address for our credit card. Anyway, at first during the first timer’s I wasn’t saying much about my hometown. But by the end of the conference, people were pretty surprised that I was living and working in Saudi.

I walked from the first workshop to the second — and had to go past hundreds of other conference-goers to do so. Should I have been jumping in again and introducing myself? Yeah, probably. But the old me was still leading the charge. You’ve just stuttered your head off! Look at these people! You stutter still! Avoid at all costs! Go put on more deodorant, too!

Ok, ok. Fine, but we’re going to meet some new people eventually, dammit.

I went into the next workshop room and assessed the situation. Smaller room. The speaker would be standing up front, so he might call on me if I sat in front. Unacceptable. But I can’t sit in the back! No! I didn’t come all the way here to hide in the back. I’ll sit in the middle. Should I slide in next to someone who I know? I don’t know anybody. What about a stranger? I could meet someone here, right? You will! No, let’s just sit down and see what this is all about.

Let me just summarize what Steve ended up talking about — his stutter, how he overcame it through really hard work, and how some of those techniques to avoid and use other ways to communicate made him stand out from his peers. He also talked about the importance of body language and setting ourselves up for success before our mouths are even open — don’t slouch! He told us to focus on the message, not the stutter.

Body language is something I really need to read up on. I find myself slouching or tightening up my shoulders all the time. I’ve been trying to practice more eye contact as well.

I liked Steve’s talk. It was funny, it was upbeat, and I could definitely relate.

But as a first timer, there was something off (for me). Something didn’t add up.

I mean, I’m sitting there, someone who stutters, and this guy says he does too. Yet he’s fluently telling us about his past and present. He’s easily walking back and forth on stage, making eye contact, telling jokes, waving his hands here and there.

But then that was the point.

I started thinking about it more — he’s done this before. He’s told these stories before. He’s confident with his material and being in front of people. That was inspirational for me. That could be me. I want to be up there telling my story some day.

So what did I take away from this? Well, that your stuttering really doesn’t have to stop you from your goals. That you can either stutter openly and fight through it, use alternate communication methods or a combination of the two.

(Also, looking back on it, I should have taken more detailed notes — but hey, I’m learning for next year.)

Just for reference, on the first day of the Conference there were 17 workshops across three timeslots. This is a lot of the reason why I want to go next year (and forever after) — I saw a bunch of stuff on the program that looked/sounded interesting that I wasn’t able to attend.

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