Friendly chit-chat

As I mentioned the other day, I was flying back east. I remembered that I had another speech win traveling.

I was on a smaller plane, two seats on each side. I sit down, and after a while a rather large guy sits down next to me. (We were flying to Indy, and it was a Sunday night). So I asked him if he was going to Indy. Then what kind of work he does there. Short essays. He told me what he was going to be doing … training for his company that has their offices there. Ah, ok. Never been outside of downtown, etc., I told him about my short experience there, our office is downtown.

I was doing well, the pace was good, and I was breathing.

Our chat reached a stopping point, and then they announced that the doors are now closed.

The flight attendant came by and told him that there are two empty seats all the way in the back. So we exchanged polite goodbyes and good lucks, and that was it.

I’m trying to practice more and more in “spontaneous social situations.” I try to keep things comfortable for me, maybe bring up a few canned phrases and stories. Venture out here and there. Short and sweet.

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.

First Timer’s Workshop

Alright, so I’m finally back home after the visit Stateside and French-countryside. I was trying to think about how to recap all of this, and I think I’ll just do it in chronological order. So, the first workshop that I attended was the First Timer’s workshop.

Just to set the scene — there’s me, the covert stutterer who doesn’t like meeting people (well, having to introduce myself at least). I don’t like conferences because I had what was probably my most embarrassing moment at one (so those chairs, lighting, carpet, large numbers of people sort of make me nervous) and I was still thinking I could just walk out on the whole deal.

Anyway, I slowly made my way into the conference room, and there weren’t a lot of people there. I saw a younger guy sitting down near the door, so I went right up to him (into the deep end!). I said hello, and he introduced himself.

He stuttered.

Since leaving high school, I have never talked to anybody in person who stuttered. Never even met anybody else who stuttered. 17 years.

Alright, so now it’s my turn. I stutter out my own introduction. I then sit down next to this guy, Mark, and we talk. We’re both stuttering. So this is what I sound like to others.

After a few minutes, more people walk in. They fill in the seats. Then I see Pam from Stuttering Rockstar and a few others get up in front of us. Pam talk to us. The others also speak. They’re all stuttering. They don’t seem to mind at all.

They tell us that the point is not for them to talk to us — we’re all here to talk to each other!

Do what now?

Maybe we could go up in front and have them read our name to the crowd? Then I don’t have to? Maybe?

No.

Ok, now they’re done talking, and we’re all standing up, and I’m looking around nervously.

I flew all the way from Saudi for this so … I’m stuttering and introducing myself. I’m forcing myself to make some small talk. I’m trying to remember who I meet. I’m looking and staring at name tags after they introduce themselves.

I’m not going to lie — I’m targeting people who seem to be about my age. I’m interested in talking to them after this and over the next few days. Also, I’m trying to figure out how long to talk to people. I try to make some small talk and then break away to search for others. Oh, social situations. Should I just bust into a group and introduce myself? Look for others who are wandering like me? I slowly move about, bumping into people, introducing myself, saying hello, exchanging where we’re from and what we do.

I’m stuttering a lot, and it’s bothering me somewhat. I know I don’t stutter all that much, but that might be because I’m so comfortable with my current batch of friends/colleagues. But here at the conference I’m really struggling. Maybe it’s because I’m not used to making this kind of small talk? It’s been a while since I’ve answered these kinds of questions. On the one hand, I want to talk and practice, but on the other, I want to listen and find out where other people are from.

Before I know it, this very first workshop is over. What? Already? There are so many people here who I haven’t met!

I really wished it had gone on for maybe another half hour or even hour.

Now that that was done, I was feeling a little better. The uncertainty was gone. I belonged here, and these are my people! I was excited for what the remainder of the conference. And it was easy to meet people. Everybody was patient. Everybody was welcoming.

Stuttering at the Conference Day 2

Alright, so another great day at the NSA conference. As I said yesterday, I’ll post a few highlights this week and then expand on them in the weeks to come.

1. At the end of the day, I’m pretty tired mentally. I’m spending all day thinking and talking about stuttering. I’m stuttering a lot, and that’s ok. But meeting people is exhausting because well, I’m not used to doing it, and I stutter like crazy when I talk to strangers. So I have to keep “moving on” from the stutter in the conversation. I can’t let a lousy introduction get me down — the listener doesn’t care — they stutter too!

2. I went to a workshop on bilingual stuttering. As in, people who speak foreign languages who stutter. This went ahead and blew my mind because one of the moderators said she speaks a foreign language for work. And she stutters. When I think about my top like, five fears in life, that’s right up there. And here she was, stuttering and speaking in a foreign language and getting paid for it. Damn!

3. As part of the same workshop, she said how we deserve to speak a foreign language. I never really thought about it like this. As in, yes, I do stutter, yes, it’s going to be rough when I speak a foreign language, but hey, the listener can be patient, and I can enjoy speaking to them in their native tongue. I have been afraid of speaking Arabic for a long time, but this may change my mind a bit … slowly but surely. I don’t have to be perfect with everything I say in a foreign language.

4. I did an open mic workshop. It’s a simple concept. People in the room take turns standing up in front of everybody and talking. No prepared material, no specific topic, no order of appearance. So to recap: SPEAKING IN FRONT OF STRANGERS. I did end up volunteering, and I did end up talking. I said what I wanted to say (no real time to prepare or practice anything) and stuttered all the way through it. But you know what? So what. I stutter, so these things happen.

5. I’m also meeting more people slowly. I definitely didn’t have any quota in mind before I came here. But it’s nice just being able to go up to someone, stutter like crazy to introduce myself and then be able to chit-chat for a while. I’ve talked to people who stutter, parents of people who stutter and speech language pathologists.

There’s so much more that happened, but that’s a good roundup for now.

Stuttering at the Conference Day 1

Well, today marks the first day of the NSA conference here in the DC. I’ll write way more about each workshop after I get back to Saudi, but in general, here are my thoughts so far.

1. After picking up my packet and checking into my room, I was still asking myself if this was the best idea. I could still walk out on the whole thing and spend a few aimless days in DC. I mean, for someone who stutters, going to a conference where you have to meet people is pretty intimidating.

1a. For those of you who don’t stutter, this is how things go down in my head:

Me: Let’s go to a conference and meet total strangers who stutter!
Self: No.
Me: Let me say it again: EVERYBODY THERE WILL STUTTER.
Self: Here’s what I heard: MEET TOTAL STRANGERS
Me: But they all stutter!
Self: But they’re strangers! I’ll stutter in front of them!
Me: Exactly!

2. Obviously I’m glad I sucked it up and went to the first workshop — for first timers. Still nervous, but Pam got up in front of all of us and put me at ease. She said she was in our shoes before. And felt nervous. But we’d meet people, we’d talk, and it’ll get better.

3. The main focus of the first timers workshop was to meet other first timers. So the hosts didn’t spend a lot of time talking. They let us mingle. This was scary for the first few minutes, but got way easier. In the end, I wished we had even more time.

4. I did introduce myself to the first person who I saw before the first timers conference. So for the first time in many years, I had a conversation with someone else who stutters.

5. I had a chance today to watch this documentary about stuttering. It was like a film about my own life. Damn. Definitely not alone at all.

Anyway, as I said, I’ll have way more on all the above in the weeks to come. For now I’m slowly taking in this conference. I’m hoping to meet more people … it’s only Wednesday today, so there’s plenty of time. Many of the other workshops also force social interaction which is pretty awesome.

Stuttering Ambush on the front lawn

Here’s the final ambush story of the week. Then tomorrow I’ll talk about what it all means.

After a rough day of work — getting ambushed during a meeting and then at lunch — you’d think the home would be somewhere safe to run to. Having to say your name twice in one day is stressful enough.
Once, several months after moving into our house, I headed out to get the mail. We lived on a cul-de-sac, so instead of individual mailboxes, they put them all in one location. As I was walking over there, I saw someone who I thought was maybe out for a walk (from another part of the neighborhood) or doing something with the lawn service company nearby. I said a quick hi thinking that’s all it would take.

No.

He stopped and introduced himself. He told me he also lived in the cul-de-sac. (When you stutter, you don’t bother introducing yourself to your neighbors unless you absolutely have to. Because, you know, it involves introducing yourself.)

Outside of my own house. Near my own lawn. Ambushed.

Sometimes when I’m taken off guard by a request for my name, I can say my name without stuttering. It’s rare though. And of course often when that does happen, I say it, they don’t quite hear it, and then I have to repeat it. Which never turns out well.

Anyway, so I’m shaking this guy’s hand, and I’m really trying to say my name. And he’s just waiting. And I’m still struggling. And finally yes, it does come out. He points to where he lives, we talk about how long he’s been there, I say how long we’ve been here, then go our separate ways.

What was his name again? This always happens. I’m so focused on my own anxiety and subsequent stutter that any chance of listening and remembering is thrown out.

Right, what was I doing out here? Oh yeah, getting the mail.

More tales of the Stuttering Ambush – Lunch

Yesterday I talked about getting ambushed at work. Today let’s just continue into lunch.

These days I’m going to the same place almost every day. Sometimes by myself. When I go by myself, sometimes I’ll meet someone else there, and we’ll sit and have lunch. Things are nice. He probably knows I stutter, and he doesn’t make a big deal out of it. I don’t have to introduce myself to him.

But sometimes disaster strikes.

It works like this. I’ll get to the restaurant (Subway) early, order up my food, and then sit down at a table. At about this time, my buddy comes in and starts ordering. I nod and wave. Then I notice that he’s brought along somebody new.

Great. Ambushed again.

So what are my choices — eat quickly, and then run out? Say I’ve got a meeting? Maybe not make eye contact and hope they’ll forget that I’m here? Hope that someone in front of them will take the chairs that are empty at my table thus leaving them nowhere to sit? Should I call someone up and have a long conversation over the phone? Spill my drink all over the place and take a lot of time cleaning it up?

The dynamics get me all worked up as well. I glance to see that my buddy is first in line, and the guest is second. Ok, so maybe he’ll introduce me, that’s good. But then something gets held up, and they switch places. No, no, no! Make it stop. They switch again. My buddy has paid, and he’s coming this way. He puts down his tray and shakes my hand, saying hello. Yeah, things are good. The tension ratchets up as he then leaves to fill up his drink, passing his guest who’s paying. He instructs his guest to sit with me at my table.

Well. Here we go, I guess.

Since there’s only one guy, I have to see what happens — yeah, he’s introducing himself. I don’t catch his name at all. I try to read his ID badge, but that’s pointless as well. I can’t think straight, and I’m certainly not breathing either.

Stutter, stutter, stutter, drag my name out. By now my buddy is done filling his drink and is walking back. This guy (who’s still waiting for me to say my name) is awkwardly standing with his tray on the table, waiting to leave to fill his own drink. I’m still trying to get my name out. Ok, finally that’s done.

New Guy goes to get his drink, and my buddy comes to sit down again. New Guy comes back, and there’s a good bit of silence.

What was his name again?

Tales of the Stuttering Ambush

Today I want to talk about getting ambushed. Maybe it’s too strong a term, but really, I don’t know how else to describe the feeling.

Here’s one example. I’ll write up a bunch for this week.

You walk into a meeting with your own people. These are coworkers who have been there a long time. They know your name, you know theirs. Maybe some of them have heard you stutter. Nobody says anything about, and life goes on nicely. After everybody sits down, you notice someone new. How did you miss this? There’s only like a dozen people in here. Who is this? Have I seen them before? What are they here for? To talk to us? You notice they’re chatting and laughing with one of your coworkers. How nice. The new person has made friends already. No, seriously, who is this?

The meeting gets started, and it’s just another staff meeting. Going through what work is happening now, and what work is coming up. Then the boss remembers, and …

“Oh, I almost forgot, we have a visitor from one of our offices. He’ll be here for two weeks doing …”

Ambushed.

You don’t hear the rest, because you know he’s about to say …

“So if we could go around the room and uh, just introduce yourself, what department you’re from. That kind of thing. Let’s start on this side.”

No, no, no. I was having a good morning. I had recounted some mundane activities from last night to a coworker this morning without stuttering much. I didn’t have any conference calls to join today that could have made me nervous. It’s almost the weekend. Heck, it’s almost lunch. And I was going to go my favorite place and order the same thing — heck, I don’t even have to say anything there! They already know my order!

And now this. Wow, are they going around the room fast. Why did I sit so far from the door? Do I have my cell phone? Maybe someone will call! Yeah, then I can jump up and … drat. Left my phone in my office.

Can everybody hear how hard my heart is pounding right now? Cause seriously, it’s really, really loud. I think it’s going to tear open my shirt. This is crazy. Think happy thoughts. Think happy thoughts. You know these people. Smile? Breathe? Yeah, breathe some more. Not helping? Wow, can my heart actually be picking up speed?

And now it’s my turn. All eyes on me.

Surely they can hear my heart now. It’s so quiet in here now.

…and I can’t say my name. Let me try again.

Nope.

Again? Again? Now it’s just dragging out. Still dragging.

Ah, there it is. Breathe. Remember you were supposed to do that earlier. Did you forget again?

I try to mumble out my title and department. That’s done. That’s enough for now. I’m silent. Yeah, next person now.

Unfortunately the cloud has formed over me, and I forget to pay attention to anything the new guy says. Well, whatever, I can figure that out later.

Long sigh.

I look at my watch. Only an hour til lunch. Glad I don’t have to say anything there.

Sixth Grade

Let’s get on to sixth grade. Just to recap, by fifth grade I was feeling very confident and smart. I had plenty of friends, didn’t understand the magnitude or consequences of my stuttering, and assumed life would continue to be all sunshine and kittens.

Not so much.

Our school district is made up of about a half-dozen elementary schools. These then feed into the junior high school, grades 6-8. They then feed into the high school, 9-12.

Sixth grade was divided into 18 classrooms. These were split into three wings. In each of these three wings, the six classes paired up. So you’d have half your classes with your homeroom teacher, then walk across the hall during the day for other stuff. Some classes were in the other wings as well, but most of your life was in just one wing.

I had a problem with both classrooms. First of all, there was no more coddling. Time to grow up and toughen up. My homeroom teacher was a tough guy named Mr. Shull. He could laugh and have a good time, but he was also very serious. The next thing was that I didn’t really know anybody in my class. This was pretty intimidating.

Every morning we’d all stand up and say the pledge of allegiance. To get this started, everybody took a turn saying “I.” Once the person said it, then the rest of the class would join in. I suppose we could debate the merits of this approach, but hey, this was life, so figure it out. Most of my mornings were consumed with counting kids. I’d see who was saying “I,” and then figure out how many more days I had. What made this more complicated is that we were seated in clusters — two by two desks facing each other, and then a fifth hanging on the end. How the counting got around each cluster always seemed to change.

Anyway, the day finally came. I couldn’t hide from it, and as I stood up and put my hand on my heart, nothing came out. I was trying. I didn’t have any breath to say anything, but I was still trying. I could feel everybody waiting. It felt like minutes even though it was probably only a few seconds. Everything was locked up, and there was nowhere to run. I didn’t know to stop and take a breath. Finally, I eeked out the quietest “I,” and the others in my cluster started in on the pledge. Afterward, Mr. Shull came up to me and asked if I had said “I.” The kid standing next to me in our cluster said yes, he heard it.

Across the hall, we’d have spelling class. This was pretty simple, but it turns out sixth grade was determined to show me the wonders of class participation. For each spelling lesson, a student would say the word, spell the word, and then (I think?) read a sentence. Oh what fun! And every week, a new list!

So we’d start off, and I’d look down the row (no clusters in that room for whatever reason), count the number of kids, and count down the list of words. Then I’d start panicking. It almost didn’t matter what the word was. I’d seriously try to calm myself down, but no, it never worked. Saying a word is one thing, having to utter so many more syllables just to spell it was even worse. And those vowels. And hard consonants. And seriously, we could all read, so what was the point of this again?

Cold calling strangers

Ah, the phone. How I hate you so. Since I can fill a week of posts just on the phone, I will. And again, these are just the basics — there’s plenty of nuance to this that I’ll get to as the months roll by.

I’d say about 99% of the time I stutter on saying my name, so I know it’s coming. There’s little I can do about it, so instead I slowly freak out.

Today I’ll start with the simplest pain — me, alone in my office, and I need to call someone who I’ve never called before.

Thankfully I’ve gotten to the point where I have an office where I can close the door. So that usually happens first. I suppose I could lock it just so nobody barges in. Then I start thinking — can I just e-mail this person instead? Do I have to call them right now, at this very moment? Can I get one of my guys to call them? If they’ve got a calendar that’s available, I might consider trying to call them when I know they’ll be in a meeting. That way they’ll have to call me, and I don’t really have to introduce myself. Or maybe I’ll call them during lunch. And actually, do I have to say my name at all? Can’t I just ask for something and then maybe at the end we can figure out how to say my name? I mean, really, how long can I put this off for?

Unfortunately, if I’m cold-calling someone, it’s probably urgent. So I suck it up and … the line is ringing. I’m silently hoping they don’t pick up so I don’t have to say anything. I’m definitely not leaving a message. (there’s one thing about leaving a long message and getting cut off, there’s a whole other level of frustration when I’m stuttering out six words and get cut off).

So the phone is ringing, and they pick up. Now, what I should have done (that I always, always, always) forget to do — is maybe write some sort of script and just barrel through it. But no. So since I’m panicking a bit, I introduce myself by way of my company. And maybe I don’t even say my name — just what I want. That way they are at least hooked. If I open with a stutter and my name, they might start talking and asking who this is, and can you repeat yourself and what do you want, and I can’t understand and … and … of course all of those interruptions really throw things off because now instead of just stuttering out my name, I’m in a bigger hurry. So I try to shut down that attempt and answer some questions, but the breathing is by now all messed up, and seriously, are they still asking and interrupting, can’t they just shut up for a second?

Anyway.

I get through it. Somehow. Sweating at my desk, stuck with tunnel vision, not remembering any sort of technique. Ok. Then it’s on to whatever is next — why was I calling again? At this time, I’m pretty defeated. I recognize the trauma, so I finally take a breath. I finally relax my shoulders. I finally think. I called because … they are waiting, but at least it’s my turn, and I start out slowly.

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