Something small

I think too often for those of us who stutter we focus on the losses. Moments that we stumbled, interactions that went south in a hurry because we couldn’t say anything. And they last a few seconds, and we think about all day. And over time they add up.

Part of moving toward a different attitude — that of acceptance — at least for me, is focusing on the small wins instead of the small losses. I want the small wins to add up. I want to ignore the small losses.

The other day the kids and I were walking out of a store toward the car. I noticed an SUV backing out of the spot next to mine, and the tailgate was slightly open.

Decisions, decisions. You could drive off in that. You could stop and do it yourself.

I walked up to the side of the SUV and motioned to the driver. He rolled the window down, and I said his tailgate was open. I didn’t stutter. I walked quickly to the back and closed it.

That was it.

The old me would have said, nope, no, no way, stuttering. No need to interact. It’s not life or death. Don’t even bother.

The new me is trying to ignore all that crap. What would I be doing — how would I be acting — if I never listened to that stuttering negativity? I’d be making more small talk. I’d be more engaging. More helpful. Less fearful.

Sleeping in my seat

A few months ago I was on a plane and having to speak in order to make things more tolerable. The other day I was on a flight and had to speak just to get my phone back.

I was on a small plane, two seats on each side. After we reached cruising altitude, it was time for a bathroom break. When I got back, someone was sleeping across both of my seats. I looked at the guy in the row behind me who just put up his hands. It was pretty odd, and pretty funny. Fortunately the plane wasn’t full, so I went to the back and found two empty seats and sat down.

But my phone was still in the seatback pocket of my original seat. On the window side. Meaning I’d have to reach over a sleeping stranger to get it. That would be the course of action for Old Stuttering Me. New Stuttering Me decided to flag down the flight attendant. She knew about the seat change. Ah, but could you please try to get my phone for me?

I suppose I could have left it go until the end of the flight. But then I thought, what if I get up there and it’s gone? I don’t really even know what the sleeping person looks like. And besides, it was a good chance to speak and, if need be, stutter through it. I did fine, bumbling through some words (planes are kind of loud, actually) but ultimately conveying my needs.

Nice camera you got there …

So today is a special blog post – number 300! As most of you know, this blog started out strongly, started to wane, completely waned, came back somewhat strongly and is now on some sort of steady schedule that I change every month.

But 300! I’m guessing I’m well past 120,000 words on stuttering by now. I am, of course, still stuttering. I’m trying to get more brave, trying to experiment here and there, and trying to speak up when I can. I’m also not being bothered by my stuttering as much, even if it’s in front of a dozen+ people in our office.

Today’s post is about a spontaneous chat I had with someone the other day on the soccer field. I coach my son’s team, and as we were walking to the field, I noticed someone with a huge Canon lens. They’re easy to spot since they’re white — and since I’ve got one as well. He wasn’t using it, just had it down and was chatting with someone. After our game was done, and we were walking out, I spotted the camera man again. He was talking to someone now, holding his camera by his side.

I seriously didn’t think about my stuttering the entire time. I was genuinely curious why on earth he had this lens — who did he shoot for? It’s a pro-grade lens, so he couldn’t be a hobbyist like me, right?

I walked up to the pair and said excuse me, and asked if it was a 400. Yes, sure was. Then some small talk about the camera, I also have the same setup, who do you shoot for, oh, just for myself, some other small things, and then that was that.

On the outside, it would almost seem like a pointless conversation. What was I hoping to learn? Did I learn anything of value?

That didn’t matter to me at all. I had an opportunity to talk to a complete stranger about my hobby, something I know quite a bit about. And I got to practice my speech for free.

So as far as I’m concerned, no conversation is ever pointless if you stutter.

Thanks for the call

I had to send out some documents to several different companies a few days ago. I sent them all two e-mails — one with a smaller PDF, and then one that had a link for an FTP of a larger file. I knew the e-mail addresses that I had were good, and I could have followed up the next day with yet another e-mail asking if they got everything.

Well, no. I decided to suck it up and call them all. I waited about two hours and started to make the rounds. This is something I never really had to do, and I never really saw the point of. I mean, e-mail, right? Always seems to work.

I called up the first one, introduced myself, stuttered a bit, and then said I had sent some documents across about two hours ago, and well, did you get them? Yes, we have, and we’re looking at them. Then I just … started talking. Telling them more about what was going on, the project at hand, and reiterated some points. Again, points they could have read in the documents.

But none of them seemed to mind.

They all listened, asked a few quick things, agreed with others, made comments.

Then I remember at least two of them said at the end of the call, “thanks for calling.”

Wow.

Ok. So let’s recap — I didn’t die because of my initial stutter. I confirmed that they received the e-mails. I got to sort of introduce myself as the point of contact. And, they were even grateful for me reaching out.

So there we go. Positive experience despite the stuttering. I’ll definitely be doing that again if it comes up.

Chatting and riding

This morning I rode my bike into work. It takes about an hour depending on how I’m feeling. I follow a paved trail here in town until just a few blocks from the office. At various points along the trail I can always count on there being more people — joggers, walkers and other cyclists. Since I don’t bike commute every day, I’m not familiar with specific people who may. And on the days that I do, I often leave at different times depending on my own mood and when the sun is set to rise.

I’ve never met up with anybody for any kind of chat on the trail. Other cyclists are either too slow for me or too fast. And I may only see a half dozen commuting any morning.

This morning was different. I got passed early on in my ride by a cyclist who was moving only slightly faster than me. I usually take it easier in the mornings than in the evenings — need to save something in the morning for the ride home! Anyway, I thought ok, let him go, whatever.

For the next half hour or so, I saw that he hadn’t created a huge gap. And after a few road crossings — where you often have to wait for traffic — I caught back up to him.

He made a comment about the traffic. I returned a comment about the traffic.

He asked me how far I was going. I did the same. And coming from.

Small bursts, keep on pedaling. It’s nice, though. Conversation makes the time go by faster. The nice thing about chatting on the bike is that the stress of stuttering is cancelled out by the enjoyment of the ride.

I got stuck when I was telling him about my coaching for my son’s soccer. He tried to finish a word for me. I took no offense. He was an older gentlemen. We talked a little about this and that, and soon it was time to head our separate ways.

I was genuinely anxious when I first realized I could start having a conversation with him on the bike. And it’s complicated — I’d have to speed up a lot to avoid the conversation. And stay away. And then when I did start chatting, I had to resist the temptation to speed up and end things.

But overall it was nice — nice to chat and make the ride go by a little faster. Nice to engage with a stranger. Nice to stutter out loud and not let it bother me too much. Nice to be on the bike where I’m forced to breathe before opening my mouth.

Stuttering Tournament, Round 1, Match 3

1.

Cold-calling a senior person at a company – this requires all sorts of painful things — introducing myself, quickly explaining why I’m calling, and then answering some unknown questions. And then if I don’t plan it well enough, having to face the reality that I’ve forgotten to ask something, and I can’t very well call again.

vs.

8.

Speaking to parents of your students (if you work with students) – a close stuttering friend offered this up, and I can only imagine how stressful it’d be. Especially considering how much detail you want to explain. And then feeling that maybe they’d like to ask you something but then don’t bother because they don’t want to hear you stutter any more.

Another win for the number 1 seed. A lot of this has to do with the singular nature of the event. How often are you calling someone senior at the company? Once every six months? Once a year? Once a career? That adds so much to the pressure and the strain.

With both circumstances I can prepare, prepare, prepare. But both will throw out curve balls — questions I couldn’t even have imagined. Having to give an explanation. Or having to leave a message explaining why I’m calling.

But with the company call, there’s a feeling that it’ll trickle down to you … eventually the tale of your stuttering on the phone will reach your boss, and they’ll pull you into their office.

With parents, it’s ok to forget to tell them something — you can just e-mail them later on. But you know the senior person has a lot going on — and a full inbox. If you forget (because your boss will remind you) then you’re screwed.

Next project

Yes, I know, I’m still working through my Stuttering Tournament. But I have a quick project that I’d like to knock out in the next few days.

I’d like to start collecting YouTube videos of … famous people who stutter. Not famous people who said they have stuttered, but people who go out on tv today and aren’t afraid to stutter.

I get the whole thing about famous people who used to stutter. Overcoming it. But for me and millions of others, it’s not a reality that we’ll ever have. I’d rather show people that look, you stutter from the time you wake up until you go to bed, and so do these other people on tv, and it just feels much more relatable.

So what I’ll do is add a page just for the videos and start compiling with updates on the front page if there’s a bunch I’ve just put on.

Please send any along in the comments.

Stuttering Tournament, Round 1, Match 2

Food

1

Ordering for a noisy car full of people at the drive-thru — I hate the drive thru enough, and now we’re adding a bunch of people, talking, being indecisive, not having enough change, and probably being pushy as well. Oh, and then I have to repeat my order a few times since I can’t hear over the ruckus.

vs.

8

Asking for a menu clarification — don’t recall the last time I’ve done this, either. If I don’t understand it or think it might have something that tastes odd, move on to the next item! Now is not the time to experiment with fancy burger toppings.

What we’re at here is what is worse? What would you rather not face at the end of a long day at the office? A long day, period?

Another win for the number 1 seed. There are so many ways out of a clarification. So many alternate words that you can use. And if since you’re not sure, and you’ve opened your mouth, and you’re pointing to it on the menu, the waiter will see your confusion and start filling in the blanks. Your friends will offer up their experience with the food. They will tell you it sucks or doesn’t. What to include or not.

Even if you know you’re going to stutter on the word “gluten,” then just continue down the menu till there’s something non-bread.

Now let’s say you’re determined to say the word. Awesome. You stutter though the question. You can probably get your stuttering in one-on-one with the waiter while your friends strike up their own conversation. Hell, you can even chase down the waitress after she takes your order and do the clarification in private!

The drive through is pretty horrible, really. With just yourself you’re facing randomly timed questions, having to repeat your order, items that aren’t available, custom changes, confusion as to which drive through window is open and where to pull up to, and really, just park and walk in. Or order through an app. Or cook your damn self.

Now let’s take all that and multiply it by the four other people in your car. Doesn’t that sound awesome?

Stuttering Exhaustion

Ah, so there is some evidence as to why I feel so drained when I’m having a long hard stutterific day:

Forming emotional and mental responses to the stimuli around us, too, takes physical work. Here Reisinger refers to the work of Lisa Feldman Barrett, much of whose work centers on the premise that our brains create our emotions by forming predictions based on past experiences.

This is from an article about why we feel so tired after sitting all day at work.

The article goes on to talk about running through various scenarios in our heads and how they’ll play out. Ah, sound familiar? I probably spend 90% of any conversation doing this, looking ahead to word choice and trying to figure out the next essay question to ask so I’m off the hook for speaking.

I think most of us who stutter know this all intuitively already, of course. But it’s a good reminder when we have a speech-heavy day looming on the horizon. May be good to dump whatever else we can, work-wise, to alleviate the stress and reduce the overall levels. It’s a good idea to plan as much as we can so whatever failure points we have in our control are thought through. For example, having an extra laptop charger handy for our boss, our presentation on a spare USB stick, or printouts handy in case the projector won’t connect. It may all not be necessary, but at least when something happens we can keep talking and calmly handle our business.

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.

Flashing Lights

I was on a flight a few weeks ago late at night. Two seats on each side, but I didn’t have a partner. I happened to be sitting just behind the wing. It was a short flight, just over an hour from Indy to the east coast.

I was trying to close my eyes and sleep. Even for just a half hour. I wanted some rest.

No luck. Flashing lights.

The strobe from the wingtip was going off. Not only could I see it through the window across the aisle, but it was reflecting off of my window. The person by the window was somehow passed out, though. I thought that maybe I could get up and close it. But then it would get super awkward if I woke them up. Like, what the hell are you doing in my personal space on this airplane?!

Drinks were coming by. I got a Diet Coke. I had to do something. Old me would have said, look, it’s only what, a half hour more? 45 minutes? Close your eyes tighter. Look down. Look away. Lean your seat back. Get a shirt from your carry-on and wrap it around your head if that’s what you need. Check if there are empty seats in the back.

No.

“Excuse me, could you close that shade?”

“Oh, the light from outside?”

“Yes, thanks.”

They finished with the drinks, but didn’t close the shade. Should I get up? Risk that awkward situation? Should I be a full-on weirdo and open my carry-on and–

One of the flight attendants came by, leaned over to the window, didn’t wake up the person there and quickly closed it. Done.

I closed my eyes and was able to relax.

I’m a medium?

I went over to Duluth Trading Company over the weekend since I had seen a bunch of their ads … and wanted to see what it’s really all about. They have nice stuff! It wasn’t too busy, and they had a lot of staff walking around and helping. The first person who asked me if I needed help I turned away. Just looking, thanks.

I then started trying on some dress shirts. They looked big. I tried on a medium first. I should note that for a long time I’ve been a traditional XL. Pretty much ever since I can remember. I’ve recently tried to move down to a large since I don’t want to be swimming in my shirts. Anyway, the medium fit well although the sleeves were a little short. Someone came up to ask if I needed help.

“Do these shirts here have the same fit as those ones?” I asked, pointing to the ones hanging on the wall.

I’m trying to get better at just talking. Even when I don’t have to. I mean, he’s asking if I need help, and he doesn’t have anything else to do that’s more important than help customers. So it’s a nice situation even though I already knew the answer. He tells me yes, they do, and that the shirts were designed for those in the trades, so the sizes are bigger than you’d normally see.

I could have just said thanks at this point and that would be that.

But I need the practice.

“It definitely made me feel good being able to fit in a medium,” I said, smiling. He agreed, saying that he had a similar experience when he first started working here. I thanked him, and that was that.

I think to any onlooker it would seem like a simple exchange. But as those of us who stutter know, it’s a lot more than that. It’s saying what I want to say, being who I want to be.

Stuttering Tournament, Round 1, Match 1

Audiences

1

Being asked to make a speech on the spot (including introduction) – Ah, yes, introducing myself. So not only do I stutter through my name and role at the company, but now you’re asking me to do something unrehearsed. At least with a  take or two I’d be somewhat smoother. But nope.

vs.

8

Responding when called on directly in front of a group (class, meeting) – Well, sure, there’s a debate here of, should I stutter through the actual answer, or just say I’m not sure and let them call on someone else?

What we’re at here is what is worse? What would you rather not face at the end of a long day at the office?

I’m going to give this to the No. 1 seed. It’s far worse because you have no choice. You’re on the spot, you’re expected to perform, and you’re going to recall all those times before when you were put in the same situation and stuttered through the whole thing. Not only that, but you have to start with your name which is always the worst part. Once you’re totally out of breath, frustrated and trying to avoid eye contact, the rest of the speech has to happen. A speech. A spontaneous speech. Sure, you could run through some canned material, but you’ll be so flustered that it’s likely to be filled with stutterific transitions.

We’ve all been called on in class and feigned ignorance. Tried and true. The teacher quickly moves on, or someone else just chimes in. Sometimes, hey, bonus, the answer is easy to say, so it pops out in a confident hurry. The no. 8 seed, to me, can result mainly in either a neutral or positive feeling with adequate management. The no. 1 seed? Seems destined for the negative.

Ah, life

Life. You came up again and took me away from my precious blog. Does that mean I’m not prioritizing it as I should? Probably … I was supposed to be doing a day-by-day, match-by-match analysis of the tournament that I conjured up.

I still will.

Let me do my taxes first!

And here’s some stuttering news at least. I started coaching my daughter’s kindergarten soccer team. This is a lot less involved than the basketball that I did before. It’s mainly organizing everything and then making sure things stay civil on the field. However, I did slip in a little stuttering during the first few days.

I told all the parents, via e-mail, that I stuttered.

I didn’t ask for anything in that e-mail, so it wasn’t a big deal that nobody responded. But then a few days later when I met them all in person, nobody said anything. So I could take this as, “nobody cares,” or “nobody was bothered.” I didn’t die. Life went on. I ran around trying to figure out who’s who, which kid is which, and where they should all be. It was slightly stressful with regards to the stuttering, but it was also fun running around on the field with the kids.

All in all, it was a positive experience. And now it’s out there for the parents if I stumble while trying to speak to them.

Remaining Tournament Details

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

Food

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

One-on-one

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

Stuttering 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.

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