Stuttering Tournament

Well, it’s NCAA Tournament time, and since my alma mater isn’t in it, I’ve got the mental capacity for my own tournament. (And was rather amused by being able to autofill in a dozen brackets on ESPN).

So here’s what we’re going to do. Since 64 is going to end up being a long list (and it’s my blog and I’ll do what I want) I’m going to list 32 stuttering circumstances, and we’re going to find out the most unpleasant one. Now I understand about acceptance and testing the waters and putting yourself out there, but this is for fun, and this is looking back on what life was like growing up — and about a lot of the feelings that have been burned in. I also know there are a lot of things I didn’t/couldn’t include. There’s a lot of mental blocks that could probably be in their own tournament.

So of course we’re going to have four regions, and then 8 circumstances. Our four regions will be:

Phone, Audiences, Food, and One-on-One

In my view, here’s the seeding for each. This is based on how uncomfortable I’d be for each. Your circumstances may certainly differ! In the coming days I’ll describe each of these more in a paragraph, and then the tournament will get going next Friday with the first matchups. By the end of next weekend, we’ll be down to the last 8.

If you have comments or think a seeding should be different, let me know!

Phone

  1. Cold-calling a senior person at a company
  2. Making an urgent phone call
  3. Calling in a food order to a busy, noisy place
  4. “Going around the room” on a conference call
  5. Phone interviews
  6. Cold-calling a business to ask them detailed questions
  7. Ordering a new service (i.e. cable, new gym, etc.)
  8. Speaking to parents of your students (if you work with students)

Audiences

  1. Being asked to make a speech on the spot (including introduction)
  2. Giving a wedding speech
  3. Reading religious text aloud at a service (church/mosque/temple)
  4. Meeting and speaking in front of the family of your partner
  5. Fielding questions from a group
  6. Presenting at work
  7. Running a meeting at work
  8. Responding when called on directly in front of a group (class, meeting)

Food

  1. Ordering for a noisy car full of people at the drive-thru
  2. Saying grace/prayer for a meal in front of family
  3. Ordering food at a bar when the bartender is busy
  4. Complaining about food or service at a restaurant
  5. Giving a custom order at a busy lunchtime
  6. Ordering while at a business lunch
  7. Speaking in a dark and/or loud restaurant over other people
  8. Asking for a menu clarification

One-on-one

  1. Going on a blind date
  2. Confronting a neighbor you’ve never spoken to before
  3. Interjecting / trying to interrupt someone
  4. Getting pulled over and speaking to an officer
  5. Being interviewed while being recorded
  6. Immigration official at an international border crossing
  7. Meeting friends of friends
  8. Answering detailed questions about your work and personal life when getting to know someone

Final Basketball Thoughts

Basketball season is over, and I have a few stuttering-related thoughts on it … and what I’m thinking for the next coaching experience … I previously wrote about coaching fourth grade boys basketball here and here.

  1. At the end of the season, my co-coach printed up awards for each of the kids, made a little speech at the post-season party (at a parent’s house) and handed them out. I didn’t know he was going to do this, and didn’t offer up any words while he was doing this. The kids and parents were happy to get the team awards, so if I’m a coach for another sport, I think it’s something I’d want to do. I think if I wrote a little script and practiced it a few times, I could pull it off without any issues. I might get stuck on the names, but instead of focusing on that, I’ll focus on my breathing, standing up straight, making eye contact, and projecting to the back of the room.
  2. After each game, my co-coach would gather the players around and talk about the one thing we did well, and one thing we could improve on. I need to have a think about this. I saw some of the other coaches doing this as well. I think I’d have to really think about the message and make sure it’s clear when I’m conveying it.
  3. Over communication is definitely key. Sending out e-mails to the parents, being clear on what the schedule would be and what they needed to do certainly made life easier. We had a few times when people didn’t show up on time, but overall it wasn’t too bad. Re-iterating what was said in an e-mail after practice also helped.
  4. Volunteering to coach was a simple and small thing — and it made a huge, huge difference in terms of my confidence. To go back to the stuttering angle — I spoke and didn’t die. I also learned all the simple things that I wrote about above — how to organize, how to direct, and how to keep kids engaged.

I wrote before that if my daughter wants to sing up for softball, I’d coach. Well, that didn’t happen. She wants to do soccer instead. And my other son wants to do soccer as well. I’ll try to do both since they need volunteers.

Before, when I didn’t accept my stuttering (as much) I would have run from these things. I’m not saying I’m running toward them now, but I’m walking. I’m still choosing to engage on my own terms.

I think it’s important to write about these things because many people may not know what they’re getting into, and they shy away from it because they think their stuttering will just take over. It won’t. And even if you ask someone (who doesn’t stutter) what they got out of it, their experience will be totally different than yours.

Boxed in and Stuttering

The other day I had to go visit a client at their site. They’ve got several buildings and parking lots, and although my boss had the power to park in a visitor lot a few weeks back (and have the guard inside not care) the guard was not so welcoming to me. He instructed me to head to a totally different lot. Fortunately I had gone there early enough that I wouldn’t be late for my meeting.

I drove around to the other lot. I think this is the lot? It had a gate. Oh boy. I have a badge. I took out the badge and waved it at the reader. Nothing. Again. And again. Nothing, nothing, sorry. I had to get to this meeting, and I had to park in this lot — the campus was big enough that the other lot would have made me late.

I pushed the call button on the keypad. I could hear it dialing. And then getting to a wrong number and switching and … dialing again and … connected. I looked in my rearview. I was being That Guy. I was boxed in. I couldn’t just back up and leave and give up (and hustle to the other lot).

I told them, without stuttering, that I was a contractor, and I had a meeting in a certain building. I had a badge that I held up to the camera. Right after they raised the gate, they asked me my name.

Seriously?

I started shoving my name out as I nervously looked again in the rearview. Ok, ok, gate’s open, can I just go? I finished saying my name (wasn’t too bad) and drove through.

I’ve had bad experiences with toll booth operators, border agents and drive throughs. This parking lot call box was a nemesis I hadn’t faced in long, long time, though. I think what I’m going to do next time is either park in a different lot or just go find out from security (in person, of course) what’s wrong with my badge.

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.

 

Do we have to talk?

The other day I was at a Starbucks, and there were two men outside speaking Arabic. I wanted to sit outside. I passed them on the way in, obviously, so in addition to thinking about having to say my name for my coffee, I also got to think about going up to them and telling them about my Saudi experience.

I shoved my name out to the barista, whatever, that was done. I wanted to sit outside and read since it was a nice day. There was a table near these two gentlemen. I went outside.

As those of you who stutter know, there’s timing with all of this, and things “expire” pretty quickly. If you don’t go up to them when you first get out there, the window closes pretty quickly. Then you’re just being creepy and weird.

I thought about this. I thought about the stuttering. I thought about what I wanted to say. Then I thought, am I just being too hard on myself?

Yes, I’ve been getting better about speaking up. At work, at basketball practices, whatever. Do I have to do this everywhere? Am I obligated to practice? Aren’t I allowed to look at it form a non-stuttering perspective — maybe they just want to be left alone, my experience was boring, and really, are we somehow going to become best friends if I go up to them?

I didn’t talk to them. Yes, the stuttering did have something to do with it. But it was also about picking my battles. Challenges? And also the social picture. Maybe sometimes you just don’t want to talk to someone else.

Well Said: Toronto Speech Therapy

One of the things I wanted to try to do a long time ago was to have guest posts and interviews with SLPs. So! Finally after a few years, here we are.

Melissa James, B.A., M.H.Sc. (Reg. CASLPO), was nice enough to send along a post. She is the director at Well Said: Toronto Speech Therapy.

From their site:

We are Toronto’s speech therapy clinic for adults where you can work with registered speech-language pathologists to improve your speech, social or communication skills. Our work focuses on practical, real-world outcomes. From a lisp to social skills, our registered professionals help you develop the confidence that you need. Our services are always founded in research-based approaches that have helped thousands of others.

From Well Said: Toronto Speech Therapy:

Top 6 Tips for Letting Go of Your Feelings About Stuttering

Stuttering is painful, not in the stub your toe kind of painful, but a deep, chronic worry and frustration, emotional kind of painful. This leads many adults who stutter to a speech therapist’s office to help reduce their stuttering. In the past, you would expect to work on slowing down, using voicing, breathing, and other tricks to help you speak more fluently. While this type of therapy has research efficacy, a significant proportion of adults find that this therapy works only as a temporary fix. And another common complaint with this type of tools therapy is that people feel like they’re putting on a mask. Masking the disfluencies can be a great thing for someone who feels neutral about their stuttering. Unfortunately, most adults who have an emotional history with their stuttering that is far from neutral. For someone who has struggled with stuttering their entire life the feeling about their stuttering: the anxiety, negative thoughts, avoidance of situations are worse to cope with than the actual stuttering.

For these people who stutter a new approach to stuttering treatment has been developing steam in the speech therapy community. This type of treatment focuses on healing the psychosocial and emotional aspects of stuttering. Years of coping with stuttering certainly does take a psychological toll and this approach to new stuttering treatment is designed to alleviate the emotional pain rather that the stuttering itself. This new approach (let’s call it a counseling approach) to stuttering therapy has some good research behind it. Research has shown that not only were people who stutter feeling more accepting of their stutter and positive about themselves after working with a speech-language pathologist who used this approach AND –  the frequency of stuttering decreased and gains were still evident three months later. This means that working on your stuttering with a speech therapist who uses the counseling approach will help you feel better and decrease the number of stuttering moments at the same time. Are you surprised to hear this? Probably not. As someone who stutters, you know that when you are having a bad day when your mind is cluttered with worry and negative thoughts, your speech is less fluent. And, when you are feeling care-free, like during a relaxing vacation, your speech becomes your most fluent. This research does well at capturing something you already knew: your mood affects your fluency. And so, now speech therapist’s can work with you on helping you reduce anxiety, increase vulnerability, feel more positive, and more accepting of your stuttering which together will reduce the stuttering.

Here are the top 6 tips for letting go of your feeling about stuttering:

1. Journal – Journalling has life-changing powers to develop your self-reflection, emotional processing, and insight. When you journal about your experience with stuttering, you are reorganizing your feelings into thoughts and confronting them in a safe way which will allow you to get all the “feels” out and down on paper rather than ruminating over how you should or could have said it better.

2. Practicing Gratitude –  Getting into the habit of noticing why you are lucky or what you are grateful for has been demonstrated in research to improve one’s wellness. For adults who stutter taking a few minutes to take perspective on what you have going for you can be very helpful in improving your feeling about stuttering.

3. Mindfulness – Mindfulness is a hot topic in the psychology disciplines right now. Several articles are written on a daily basis on the benefits of mindfulness from depression to anxiety, to anger management to stuttering. Mindfulness is essentially taking time out of our modern 2017 lives to disconnect and focus gently on our being without judgment. I personally like yoga as a mindfulness practice. Some people really like guided relaxations. You can find guided relaxations on the internet here.

4. Envisioning your goals realized – I often ask clients to collect images and put them together in a collage that represents how they want their lives to look in 5-10 years. This task of visualizing the future for my clients who stutter has been helpful in shifting the focus away from speech and on to the real values. By focusing on how you want your life to look in five years, we can at a glance see what is important to you. And from there, we can work backward and formulate a plan for how we get there with stuttering.

5. Checking the evidence – See if you can challenge your own thinking when you notice a negative thought passing through your internal dialogue. For example, did you just think to yourself – oh, she probably thinks I am incompetent – stop yourself and ask ok, wait a minute this thought is unhelpful and what evidence do I have to prove this is true? You may want to read more about unhelpful thoughts if you think this strategy would work well for you.

6. Most importantly, you shouldn’t feel bad about stuttering and you shouldn’t call your a dysfluency a “mistake” or a “mess up” We have to change our language about our stuttering to make it neutral. When we describe something using neutral language, our minds are less likely to associate it with a negative emotion.

Do you have any strategies that you used to deal with the unhelpful feelings and thoughts around stuttering?

Moving on quickly

I had to make a phone call first thing Monday morning at work. I thought about what I wanted to say, what point I wanted to get across. The good news was that I was calling someone at our own company. I’m pretty sure my name showed up on her phone. But still. Basically a cold call.

I was a stuttering mess. She didn’t say anything about the stuttering at all. I slowly made my way through the information. I tried not to get frustrated since I was doing so badly. But the good thing was that she remained professional about everything.

I needed a minute after to just take a deep breath. I consciously decided not to let it affect the rest of my day. I knew it was just a bad moment — cold call, phone, etc.,

Then someone came by my cubicle.

I had to ask him something about the same project. This is someone who I talk to frequently and have a friendly rapport with. I was still feeling the hangover from stuttering and having a hard time with my words. But I kept talking, and he kept listening. I slowed down a little to catch my breath. And thought about breathing. I took a breath and then let the words run out. And I did it again. And again. And the stuttering started to melt away, and I got back to what I’m used to with closer associates.

By the time we were done, I once again had gotten my point across. And I had completely forgotten about the phone call from earlier.

Forgetting the pressure

My wife and I had an appointment earlier last week with an immigration officer. It was an official interview, something that would decide status. We knew about this for several weeks, so I had time to gather all the necessary documents.

I didn’t know exactly what to expect other than maybe having to tell the story of what we had been doing overseas and how the status had changed.

I consciously decided not to worry about my speech. In the past, I would have gone through every thing that could have been said, everything that I could have said, thought about all the words, all the combinations, all the avoidances …This time, no. Just deal with it when it came.

I was a stuttering mess. It was on camera and all that. It was official and in a small office.  But of course it was on the usual stuff — name, DOB, kids and their DOBs. Stuttered through it all. The immigration guy didn’t say anything, simply smiled and continued on. I got through my part, and she got through hers, and things were approved.

I’m glad I didn’t waste energy worrying. Sure, I stuttered a lot, but I didn’t die. I got the information across.

NSA Conference 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will you be going?

 

Talking to talk

This morning I went for my quarterly botox appointment. This is always less than fun. I mean, it’s a bunch of needle sticks to the face. A very tiny, skinny needle. But still. It doesn’t hurt necessarily, but it’s just uncomfortable.

Anyway, the point is that I usually have problems talking to strangers … just to talk. And no, my doctor isn’t necessarily a “stranger” because I’ve seen her a few times now, but still. Not very often. Normally when I go to the doctor I don’t talk that much. Or when I go for any procedure (donating blood) there’s not too much chitchat. But my botox doc is very open and nice, so it’s easy to talk to her about what’s going on with my face and a few other things in life.

So she started sticking me with needles while chatting, asking me about the kids. I kept on talking as much as possible. Nothing hard to say, but there was some stuttering. But the talking definitely kept my mind off the needle getting stuck in my face. And she didn’t mess around, one part of my face to the next, quickly and efficiently. Also helpful.

There are people who talk when they’re nervous or want to kill time or just … talk to talk. I’m not like that, and I’d say very few people who stutter are. But sometimes it helps. Stuttering isn’t always as painful as having an actual medical procedure!

Stuttering at Starbucks

So this happened a few days ago:

A Starbucks barista has been suspended for allegedly ‘humiliating’ a man with a stammer by penning his name as ‘RRR… ichard’ on his takeout cup. Richard Procter says his speech impediment was openly mocked by the worker, who wrote the cruel jibe round the lip of the container – even adding an ellipsis to show how the company owner struggles to say his name.

 

Ah, Starbucks. My delicious nemesis. I was thinking how I’d react if this happened to me. I think I’d also be plenty pissed. It’s enough that I get that smile or laugh (at Starbucks and others) whenever I’m trying to stutter out my name. It honestly hasn’t been too bad the past few times — either they haven’t asked me for my name or I’ve been able to push it out with brute force. Or I just spell it out for them from the get-go.

I don’t think I’d want any sort of compensation — drinks or otherwise — from this, though. I’d just want to know that they’re going to change their training program to address it. And want to see it documented and follow up.

I see that fluent folks are giving false names because they’re tired and/or annoyed by the name policy. What a luxury! I suppose I could always do that, too. But that really feels like surrounding to my stutter. I might as well just face it. I mean, if I’m going to treat myself like that, I might as well work for it.

Stuttering name recall

I read this article and thought, oh, hey, great, a way to recall names when I’m meeting people — I’m pretty terrible at it.

“It’s a major faux pas to forget someone’s name — it makes people feel like they have been slighted or marginalised or unimportant,” says Kethera A Fogler, an assistant professor in psychology at James Madison University in Virginia in the US. “Their name is so uniquely them, which exacerbates that feeling, but it’s what makes it so easy to forget.”

I had heard about this technique a long time ago — focus on the name, say it again, associate it, say it again in conversation, but it’s really hard to practice and implement. The stuttering is so strong — the distracting thoughts, that is. I am always so, so, so focused on freaking out and what it’s going to be like to say — or not — my own name. And then when the other person starts talking, I’m so drained to pay attention.

And then, and then! What happens? Oh, right, I’ve stuttered out my name, so after a bit the person comes back and asks me what it is again. We went through this!

So, instead of thinking about this article for myself and fellow people who stutter as a technique to learn other people’s names, let’s share this article with our own friends in the hope that they send it around so much that our names are actually remembered the next time we spend so much energy stuttering them out.

Stuttering Saudi Thoughts

Today, January 17, marks the six year anniversary of when I landed in Saudi. I’ve since moved back, but a lot of those early dates and activities really stick in my mind.

I think back on all the stuttering changes that have happened since then and because of my time in Saudi.

1. Just getting there required a lot of talking and getting out of my comfort zone. I had been in the same role for over 3 years. The office and lifestyle were fairly comfortable, and we had bought a house, too.

2. Going from Rehan with a long “e” to the Arabic pronunciation — and feeling the stuttering just disappear. Once that name-saying came out fluently, it made conversations so much easier. I still stuttered, but I thought about it much less.

3. Finally speaking French. I had learned so much French in high school but never used it. During my time in Saudi, I met French people and even traveled to France, confidently using what I had learned. And I didn’t die!

4. Starting up this blog. I had been thinking about it for many, many years. I had journals, slips of paper, marked up printouts, everything. But nothing out in public. Then one day I said, alright, what’s the worse that could happen. Sure the first year saw tons of posts, but the feelings are still trickling out.

5. Going to the NSA Conference. Along with the blog and being “out,” I could afford to go to the NSA Conference and meet so many others who also stuttered. And I made a great group of friends who I still talk with.

I know that everybody’s stuttering journey is not the same — maybe you went through the same stuff I did at age 16. Or 46. But for me everything felt right. Do I wish I had come out about it earlier? Maybe. But then maybe in some ways I wasn’t prepared for it as much. I had other things going on, other distractions. Saudi gave me a no-travel, stable, well-paying job for 5.5 years that allowed me to focus on stuttering. And for that I will always be grateful.

Stuttering Basketball Update

I wrote a few weeks back about coaching boys basketball this year. So what happened is that they put the first time coaches together, so I’m a co-coach. Which is fine with me obviously. My co-coach is a great guy who’s very much into it which is great. I’ve ended up doing most of the backend stuff — sending out e-mails to parents and putting together the line-ups for the games. And then during practices I help out with the specific drills that we’ve come up with. My co-coach actually played (I played a little intramural during high school but was obviously terrible) and so he’s got a solid idea of how moves should be done and what skills need to be worked on.

I didn’t expect the co-coaching thing to happen, but I’m honestly happy it did. It’s a better transition for me. It’s easing into it vs. being thrown in (which I’m accustomed to). I can see what is working or isn’t, what should be said or not, and adjust.

I’m having a very positive experience and not letting any stuttering get in the way. Now they are talking about spring sports and needing volunteers. And I’m not even hesitating to volunteer. If my daughter wants to do softball, I’ll happily sign up as a coach.

My 2017 Stuttering Plan

That’s right! I have a plan for how much I’m going to stutter this year. Not really. I looked back at the beginning of 2016 — what were my resolutions on this site for stuttering? Avoid less? Engage more? Sadly it turns out I didn’t blog at all in January 2016 so … guess I didn’t have anything to work on!

If you’ve somehow managed to read this blog for enough months, you’ll notice my enthusiasm (maybe that’s not the right word) for posting has dropped off a lot in the past few months. It was great in the first year (as expected). I talked about all this with a close friend, and it was suggested I just set a simple goal and work toward that.

So let’s do that. Two posts a week.

There’s no shortage of what to blog about — my own life, movies, pop culture, articles out there, international conferences, and of course the annual NSA conference.

What works for everybody? Tuesdays and Fridays?

Curious about Stuttering

Am I curious because I was just born that way, or did stuttering have something to do with it?

A close friend recently pointed out to me that I am very curious and take great interest in things I don’t know much about as they are explained or shown to me. And that it’s a genuine interest. Yes, it certainly is.

I think back to when I was young, getting absorbed in books for hours and hours. And not just fiction (we’d be given 1″ thick books with all the year’s stories in them, and I’d eat through it in a week). I’d go to the library and check out books on airplanes (Time Life Series!) and read them again and again.

Given the stuttering, I think it’s to be expected, really. It’s a choice — read, or have to … talk with people. I’ll choose the former every time, thank you very much.

But as I grew older, the approach changed. I didn’t have to rely on reading. I learned that I could ask open-ended questions and just let people talk, occasionally prodding them with another query. And if the tables were turned, I could give short to medium answers which always seemed satisfactory. Even if the listener wanted an essay out of me, I’d avoid it all costs. So now it’s become the norm, and something I actually enjoy — conversations are maybe not 50/50, but I do enjoy prodding and poking and finding out more. And I’m getting better at asking all of my questions — not just the ones I can say fluently.

Stuttering in the Cold

It’s getting cold here in Indiana. We have this townhouse, and it’s tall and narrow. So on the ground floor it’s always a lot colder. The air gets in under the front door and a little bit on the sides. There’s a simple and cheap solution to this. One of those long stuffed tubes. It’s like a weighted sock, really. You sit it there, and it keeps the cold out. Easy.

So let’s go to Bed Bath and Beyond for this. Makes sense that they would have it. And that part way through December they’d have them out. Walking, scanning, dismissing sections. A store that’s not that busy, so employees around. I’m back with my old habit of walking a lot and talking not at all. My oldest son is with me, and after the first lap, he thinks maybe they don’t have it. After the second, he thinks we should ask someone.

Alright. Let’s. Ask.

I find an employee easily and ask him if they’ve got the tube thingy. That goes at the bottom of a door. I don’t stutter. I was worried, of course because I didn’t really know what anybody really calls this thing. He instantly knew what I was talking about. And of course — of course — they don’t have them out yet. He goes to the back and gets one for us. He says they’re not put out yet, but will be soon.

So had I not asked anybody, I never would have found it. I would have probably gone to another store (Kohls?) or just online and then waited.

But now we have it, and it’s keeping the temperature in check.

Stuttering Small Business

(The nice thing about close friends is that they remind you that you haven’t posted in a month … so no, I didn’t actually push publish on this post as I thought I had!)

I hope everybody had a lovely holiday. Filled with family time and stuttering. I did! But it wasn’t all that bad. I spent the holidays in Pennsylvania with family and friends. There’s a really nice bike shop there, and despite the cold weather, I brought my bike along for at least a ride or two. (I did two — and they were under an hour each. At least I got out!)

I learned that I’m not the biggest fan of cold weather riding. Temperatures below 50 confound me. You put too much on or not enough. Your top is too warm, and your legs are cold. You go faster which makes more wind and more cold. You go slow, and well, going slow sucks, too.

Back to the bike shop. Small business. Small business Saturday! (but this isn’t directly about that.) I knew that I wanted to ride, but I also knew I didn’t have a long-sleeved jersey or tights to wear. So off to this shop where I had bought kit before. I got the best, most patient help before, and I wanted it again.

I wasn’t disappointed.

The thing about stuttering is that while there’s a “base” of stuttering — just carrying on with our daily lives — there’s often outside influence that … doesn’t exactly help. Pushy sales people. Being unsure of yourself. Feeling rushed.

All this melted away in this store. I could remember to breathe. I could ask questions, and there was just minutes and minutes of patience. Answering questions, pulling things off the shelf and hangers. She wasn’t in a hurry to do something else, and I wanted to take my time and buy the right thing. I thought of questions — and then just asked them. When I was about to make a final decision on something, I said, “is this the only brand for that?” And it turned out no, there was something else, and I tried that on as well, ultimately buying it.

I know every shopping experience won’t be like this. In person or on the phone. But I did want to stop, breathe, and give thanks for this one exchange that made me think less about stuttering and more about getting exactly what I wanted — by communicating.

Stuttering and Politics 2

I spoke yesterday about introspection after the election. Trying to see the world from someone else’s eyes and understand that I can’t just shove my views down another’s throat. I have to stop and listen and really digest. And you’d think that would come naturally to me as someone who stutters. I’m not often judged by my speaking, but when I am, I obviously hate it, and I wish others would sit in my shoes for ten minutes and understand my journey.

Today I want to expand on politics and my stuttering. Asking myself, ok, so if you want a particular candidate to win, what are you willing to do? And the answer is, other than speaking to my like-minded friends and family, not much. And yes, I know that’s sad and pathetic.But again, stuttering.

To me, my view of helping a candidate revolves around calling people on the phone or knocking on doors. Talking to people. I understand that campaigning is much, much more than that. There are jobs that don’t involve speaking. But for a long time that’s how I saw it, and that’s burned in. Talking to strangers is potentially confrontational and scary. I’ll stutter — and then I start thinking — ok, the stuttering is fine with me (now in life) but wouldn’t that reflect on my message and my candidate? Hopefully not. 

I’m not sure what I’ll be doing over the next few years, politics-wise. And I also have to ask myself, maybe I’m just not the kind of person to do that, period? Maybe I’m content sitting on the sidelines like so many others. 

I can see how an impassioned voter would be angry at me. I get that. But being angry at me and leaving me doesn’t do anybody any good. I think too often we do that. We need to dig in and find out what the “block” might be. Fluent people can be anti-social, too! And surely there are those who stutter who are saying screw it and cold calling households.

Stuttering and Politics

I’ve been thinking a lot today about the election and the past few months, and the media, and the polls, and the enormous support that came through for our next president. I thought about how I was lulled into thinking it’d go one way and it really didn’t. I thought it might even be a landslide, an early night.

But what do I know? 
Well, that’s the point. What do I know? And how do I know it? I stutter, so I’m inclined not to talk as much to people. To really dig in, to get into the details. To not only make small talk, but then get into taboo topics like politics and religion.

That means I have my bubble. My immediate family (I can influence my kids, so what) and then on facebook a lot of like-minded friends who I grew up with or have gone to college with. We pass around the same stories and memes and whatever else. Read the same polls. I assume they are going through the same things I’m going through, and feeling the same things.

But they’re obviously not.

What one person hears and what they think isn’t what I hear or think. Could we talk about it? Yeah, we could, but again, there’s distance, frequency and then the stuttering. And why would I want to talk politics on the phone with someone who I haven’t talked to in months? There are other things to catch up on.

What’s outside of my bubble? Different experiences, different influences. If I talk to a close friend, they might eventually tell me about a parent who’s recently lost a job or is going through a medical issue. They might tell me about a college roommate who is struggling. And these points have influence. They become more important. They take precedence over character and get to the heart of one’s station in America.

But again, that’s a lot of talking. And I’m inclined to be more comfortable (and more fluent) with “the choir.” So when you tell me about the majority of Americans who are frustrated and angry, I don’t have a direct connection. I may read it here and there, but it’s not my daily.

It’s easy for me to be dismissive about our next president based on his behavior thus far. But what I really should be doing is reaching out to others, stuttering-be-damned and find out what’s making them so dismissive about politics as usual.

Stuttering basketball

So apparently the deal with being a father of young children and wanting them to play sports and do activities is that well, sometimes you have to volunteer. And that requires a little trip outside of the Comfort Zone.

It’s still early, but I’ve signed up to be a basketball coach for my fourth-grade son’s team. I have zero coaching experience. This has more to do with opportunity than stuttering, though. I have a feeling that coaching a bunch of 9 and 10-year-olds is more about getting them organized and moving in the right direction than drawing up plays and wanting to win.

Based on my stuttering experience and apprehension, how am I approaching this?

I don’t know how to run a practice, don’t know the rules inside and out, and don’t know anybody else.

Running practices: The guy who organizes the league recognizes that there are others in my same position. He’s got drills and practices already outlined and available to use. I’ll get a whistle, read up before hand, picture how it’ll play out in my mind, and should be comfortable.

Rules: Obviously the rules are available online, and then it’s about asking the guy in charge of the league what differences there might be.

Knowing others: This is the hardest part. There’s a coaches meeting in a few days, so I need to push aside my fears and try to introduce myself to others. Not sure if there will be a round of introductions or what, but I don’t want to leave there without meeting anybody.

I’ll post updates as the season goes on. I’m looking forward to a new challenge and new people.

 

Stuttering and fitting in

So yes, the International Stuttering Awareness Day Online Conference is over, having ended on October 22. But I’ll still post about it if I want to! Today’s post is More Than Just Stuttering Pride by Elizabeth Wislar.

She talks about speech therapy in school:

…I definitely received a message that my stutter was bad and something that should be fixed. I felt like a constant failure because I could not seem to apply the techniques I learned in the outside world.

Thinking back on my own experience with therapy in school, I realize now how much everything was also at odds with each other. And how much “fitting in” was important:

1. My class participation was crap because I didn’t want to raise my hand and stutter, but my friends all laughed when I made jokes on the side fluently.

2. My class participation grades were good despite occasionally stuttering when having to give an answer.

3. My speech outside of school was still stutter-ific despite going to therapy. I didn’t understand that therapy was just that — therapy — and not meant to be a permanent fix. So I thought that with enough therapy it would just go away.

Elizabeth speaks about going to the NSA conference and getting hoarse there from speaking so much. I do the same. Nobody judges! Nobody’s in a hurry! They want to listen to what I have to say. It really is liberating.

And better yet, she speaks about how stuttering is something that goes against the grain of what is normal — so let’s be disruptive and make people uncomfortable.

I want to allow blocks to go on longer than I have to if I see the person I’m talking to looks annoyed or put out. Or better yet, I want to let blocks or repetitions go on longer because I find them enjoyable. Isn’t true subversion finding power and pleasure in the things society finds defective? Let’s do it.

This is who we are, and this is how we speak. I need to be better about this, I think. Just letting some blocks or repetitions go on for a little longer. Make it obvious. Do it often enough to become even more comfortable with the sound of my stuttering voice.

Stuttering and Resilience

If you didn’t already know, those of us who stutter are a rather resilient lot. We have to be. We have to get up every morning and know perfectly well that we haven’t been cured magically overnight. Nor will we ever. We have to pick up the phone again and again, cold calls, strangers, onlookers and prompts for voicemails be damned. And we have to interview for jobs again and again and again and again. And before we interview in person, it’s always a phone call.

So yes, we know very well about bouncing back.

So this is an article about learning to become resilient.

This sums up a lot of what we all know:

Resilience presents a challenge for psychologists. Whether you can be said to have it or not largely depends not on any particular psychological test but on the way your life unfolds. If you are lucky enough to never experience any sort of adversity, we won’t know how resilient you are. It’s only when you’re faced with obstacles, stress, and other environmental threats that resilience, or the lack of it, emerges: Do you succumb or do you surmount?

The article also gets into stresses — the size and duration. Some are affected by a single large event. Others — like us — get the small, repeated kind. (And yes, I know it may not be very small …)

They go on to talk about what we should really take to heart — we are in control, and it’s our reactions that will shape our outlook and stance on life. I’ve always felt an internal locus of control. I don’t blame anybody else for my mistakes or station in life. I’m calling the shots, and thus, I’m living with the consequences. If there are others who are speaking negatively about me or trying to hurt me, then I either just cut them out of my life or ignore them.

Perhaps most importantly, the resilient children had what psychologists call an “internal locus of control”: they believed that they, and not their circumstances, affected their achievements.

They then talk about perception:

One of the central elements of resilience, Bonanno has found, is perception: Do you conceptualize an event as traumatic, or as an opportunity to learn and grow?

More stuttering goodness here. Ok, yes, I had that oral presentation in front of my class, and I stuttered through the whole thing. But will I take that singular event (and be able to remember it 20 years later) or ask myself, ok, for the next presentation, what can I do better to prepare? Did I do everything I could have this time? Rehearse it with myself in the mirror? In front of peers? Did I practice the breathing and other techniques that I went over with my therapist? Did I relax my shoulders and focus on my best friend sitting three rows back, or the salty looking kid in the front row who I don’t like?

I was definitely not good at this growing up because I didn’t have a lot of tools to use for stuttering. I just sucked it up and kept pushing on. Hence my ability to recall a lot of specific events from the past (just read through this blog. No, really, there’s stuff from elementary school in here.)

And this is consistent with the article later on:

Human beings are capable of worry and rumination: we can take a minor thing, blow it up in our heads, run through it over and over, and drive ourselves crazy until we feel like that minor thing is the biggest thing that ever happened.

So resilience can go both ways — we can build it up or tear it down. It’s our choice with how we react. And with stuttering, we face that choice every time we dare to open our mouth. And every time we don’t, too.

Stuttering and being charged up

So this is a funny piece about introverts. I was reading it thinking, hmmm … I do some of those things but it’s because I stutter (but less and less). I don’t consider myself as introverted at all — although I can see how people would think so.

But the reason I posted about this article was for this part:

The difference is that while certifying deeds gives energy to extroverts, certifying deeds takes away energy from introverts. Yep, we introverts have to find other ways to recharge besides authenticating documents.

I never really thought about life like this, but really, it is. Moments either take away from us, or add. Is it fulfilling or draining? And so as someone who stutters, I usually focus on all those moments that are taking away, those that are draining — or going to drain. And I never think about how fluent moments are adding. Or other activities.

What else is fulfilling to me? What can I enjoy that will help put me at ease, relieve stress and help build me back better for tomorrow? And shouldn’t I structure more of my life around those things?

Do they have to be “easy” speaking things? Like reading a book to my kids or talking to them? Talking to very close friends? Or is it ok for my stuttering stress to be eroded by a bike ride?

I think it comes down to how much does my stuttering really stress me out these days? I’m on much, much better terms with it now. I can have a bad moment and not let it eat at me all day. There are other things that “take away.” I think having it so stuttering has less and less power to “take away” is really the goal.

Fluency as a curse word

Today’s ISAD 2016 paper that I’m going to comment on is

Is Fluency a Curse Word? (Frank Stechel)

“Nonetheless, when I challenge myself and use fluency enhancing techniques to be able to say a word fluently, where I previously anticipated problems, I prefer to think of my success as achieving or approximating fluency rather than stuttering more easily or differently. Why does it make a difference? Because – and this is simply my own feeling – when I’m speaking essentially fluently, even with some repetitions or prolongations, I feel in control and can feel the flow of my speech, which is not my experience when I’m stuttering with more tense blockages.”

This article makes me think of fluency as “control.” There are definitely times when I’m stuttering and my speech is just all over the place. My breathing is totally off, my pacing isn’t right, my thoughts are quickly going off track, and there’s no control in sight. Other times when I’m stuttering — maybe at a work meeting, or with friends, where I’m getting through the dialogue, but it’s not exactly smooth. But I’m getting the message across, and I’m using the words I want. I’m slowing myself down enough to remember to breath and pace my speech, and thus achieving more fluency.

Walking and talking

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

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

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

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

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

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

Online Stuttering Conference

International Stuttering Awareness Day Online Conference, 2016 has kicked off. Usually what I do for this is say that I’m going to read and comment and articles and then … don’t. This year will be different! And to get things started, I’ll start at the top of the articles list:

The first article is
Detained But Not Held Back (Kylah Simmons)

I worked overseas for more than five years, and I can honestly say that going through customs and immigration was stressful every single time. I wasn’t doing anything dishonest or shady, but I always thought, well, if I start stuttering, they’re going to suspect something is up, and it’s going to be a very long airport stay. And unfortunately, this is what happened to Kylah.

I have been notoriously bad at advertising, so I have never told an immigration official up front. But I’d like to think if things started going downhill, I’d come forth quite quickly.

What adds to the stress is that line. It’s like when you’re in sixth grade and they’re going around the room, each kid has a spelling word from the list. So they have to say it, spell it out, and then use it in a sentence. And you count the kids, and you count the words, and you’re like … yeah, I’m going to stutter on that.

So you’re standing there in the long immigration line, and there’s a few officers up there. And you look them all over, trying to figure out who looks the nicest. And then start hoping you get “that one.” And then realizing how ridiculous that is. And then focus on other things like, ok, let me start trying to calm myself down. Let me breathe. Let me get my story straight (it’s short and easy). And then trying to remember what they asked last time but then forgetting and then having the stress take another spike.

I try to get back to calm when I approach the officer thought. A strong “hi,” or “hello.” Eye contact. Relaxing my shoulders. Patience. Having my passport ready to hand out quickly. Breathing. Trying to appreciate the space behind me — there’s nobody breathing down my neck waiting to go next. Answering the question to the point. Taking a breath and answering the question. No looking around or fidgeting.

I had an officer in London ask me how long I’d be in the country. I said 6 hours. He asked why. I said I had an 8-hour layover and that his city is beautiful, so I wanted to go see it. He laughed and said, “yeah, I’d do the same thing.”

Stuttering on the cargo bike

I wrote a long while ago about how I faced my stuttering with regards to bike riding. And connecting with people even though it scared me to do so.

It’s happened again.

So I’ve got this bike, a Larry Vs. Harry Bullitt. It’s a cargo bike. It’s plenty of fun here in Indianapolis — taking the kids around, running an errand or two. And just riding it around with my oldest kid. The other day he and I were out, and we saw someone else with a cargo bike. This guy was about 50 feet away at a restaurant next to the trail. He yelled and pointed to his cargo bike. We continued down the trail and …

…turned up a road. And ultimately turned all the way around, heading into the parking lot of the restaurant where he was. As I pulled up to where he had parked his bike, I asked myself, wait, what on earth am I doing? What am I going to say? I’m going to have to make small talk or something with a total stranger. I don’t have to do this!

Too late! He walked up and said hello, introducing himself. I stumbled slightly on my first name. We made small talk! Then talked about our bikes and what we did. I was as calm as I could be, trying to breathe. Why rush? Why stress? It was a nice night out. I was out with my son. We were on a bike ride. No need to overthink it.

Our chat was good, and I met someone new in the community. He gave me his business card, and I’m sure I’ll connect with him again. More importantly, I learned again that talking to strangers won’t kill me, I won’t necessarily stutter a lot, and I can make my way through a conversation without any awkwardness.

New town, new faces. Getting there.

Getting through it

As I said in my last post a long, long time ago, we moved to the States. This involves a lot of time on the phone, apparently. You have to call a bunch of people and give them a bunch of information. Over and over and over again. And of course it’s the basic stuff.

Name? Telephone number? Social security number? Wife’s name? Wife’s telephone number? Address? Last four digits of your social? Previous address?

And then, with a few calls to the doctor’s office for the kids, it’s all the above … for three kids.

But I’m getting through it all. It’s a once and done thing, mostly. And those on the other end of the phone have been patient. What I haven’t been good about is simply having a planned thing to say before making the call. I usually just call the doctor’s office … oh, right, I need to ask about an appointment. New patient, sure, soon as possible, stutter here, stutter there.

We ordered some furniture online and after a few days, I checked its status. It was something very vague, and we were hoping to get the stuff before some guests showed up. Pick up the phone. Make the call. They didn’t pick up, but they said I could press one to leave a message for someone to call me back. Ummm … I’d rather not … but I need this stuff! Ok, fine. I pressed one, and they didn’t ask for a message! Hurray! But then they asked for my phone number instead. Boo … And yes, they called me back and then it’s having to say a 16-digit order number to get service. At least they asked the address and had me confirm instead of me giving the address.

But the majority of the calls are done now, I think. I may need to call the BMV (bureau of motor vehicles) to ask them about where my vehicle registration has gone. But otherwise the doctors are mostly set up, furniture is all here, cable is ordered, and the power is on.

As a whole moving back and having to make all these calls wasn’t something that I was afraid of, stuttering-wise …and that’s simply because I never thought of how much there actually would be. But then I took it one call at a time, deep breaths, didn’t let a bad call get to me, and let the necessity push me to pick up that phone again and again and again, making it easier and a lot less scary.

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