Stuttering after work hours

I said a few days ago that I’d be out at a workshop for work. Well, there wasn’t much speaking to be done at the workshop for me. Afterward though, we all headed to the bar (and then to another) for socializing.

I talked a good bit with my colleagues — one-on-one, and sometimes to someone across our table — so everybody could hear me talk. Nothing I said was prepared beforehand. I didn’t have an agenda. I’d just be listening, realize it’s a good time to interject something, and then started speaking when appropriate. The group was made up of people at my level and above. Some very senior people from the company.

How did I do?

I stuttered. A lot.

This goes back to what exactly is stuttering? What do you think, in your mind, is success?

To the casual observer, they’d see me open my mouth, start speaking, and start stuttering. I’d finish saying what I wanted, and then be quiet. For the observer, I stuttered.

For me? I don’t think so. I said what I wanted. I used the words that I wanted. I took the time that I needed. I engaged the person who I wanted. I occasionally got the response that I wanted. I’ve conveyed (maybe not fluently) information. That’s success.

What else does the casual observer see? They see me standing there, quietly listening to the conversation. To them, I’m not stuttering. They think that’s ok. I’m just taking it all in.

What’s really happening? Well, I’m standing there, and I’ve thought of something to say. I’ve quickly analyzed the words that I need to utter. I’ve gauged my audience, the dynamic that’s going on, the likelihood of being interrupted by the waiter, a few other possible distractions, and decided that since I’m going to stutter so much — and not even get out the first few words, that I won’t say anything at all. That’s failure.

And what’s the sum at the end of the evening? More success than failure. Simple as that. If I wanted to say 10 things, did I hide behind my inabilities on more than 5 of them? I failed. Did I just throw it out there and get through it, judgement and stuttering be damned? Success.

I think overall I’m starting to “get there.” I’m maybe at like 60/40. I’m uttering what comes to mind, but I’m still holding back a lot.

Some stuttering bits for today

A few things today:

First:

I wrote a lengthy guest post over at westutterandwedontcare. It’s about the worst stuttering experience I’ve ever had. So if you’re having a lousy day, by all means, compare and contrast!

Here’s a little bit from the story:

The organizer then said he’d introduce the speakers, and started to give a short background on each of them. So this is what they meant by introductions. I leaned back in my chair and took another sip of soda. I had gotten away with one. Just as I started to think about other things, the organizer asked that the finance people at the plants stand up and introduce themselves. A microphone was being passed around.

I started to worry.

You can read the rest of the story here.

Second:

Another thought exercise and/or experiment — what would our speech be like if we were told it’s not that bad? We’re hardest on ourselves, but what if someone recorded us, reviewed it, then told us it’s not as bad compared to someone who’s fluent? (Note — I do mean in a deceptive way). If we didn’t know it, would that boost our confidence and help our speech? Would that help break down negative associations we have with speaking?

A little more — let’s say they recorded us giving a short speech. And they also recorded some fluent people who are maybe not as confident or are afraid of public speaking. Then we sit down with the videos. We are only shown the fluent parts of our speech (maybe a stutter here and there) and for those who are fluent, we are shown only the bad parts. If we are “trained” in this way, would that help us out over the long run?

Third:

There’s this story about writing every day and its benefits. As someone who tries to journal every day, I can certainly attest to having my head organized a little better, and feeling better overall.

Reflective writing, particularly in a journal, has been shown to have health benefits both physical and emotional, like increasing control and creativity, decreasing anxiety, depression, and rage.

I usually scribble down things about work (lists, phone numbers, meeting notes) but also longer thoughts on stuttering, including good experiences and bad ones. I’d be interested to know if others are doing the same thing — what are you focusing on when you write about your stutter in a journal?

Stuttering and the Robot Invasion

I mentionned this bit of news yesterday on Twitter:

So.

It’s happening. Slowly the robots are taking over. We’re headed for that Terminator-like future.

But seriously, there’s a lot of automation going on these days.

I talked before about how technology helps those of us who stutter. And using it to sidestep a day of human interaction.

Today though I wanted to talk about the other side of it — when those of us who stutter may have to interact with the robots — with few other options.

Take this Lowe’s robot for instance. I’ll admit it’s pretty cool. On a good day I’d love to interact with this thing. But I’m like you — I spend an hour walking up and down the aisles of the Big Box just to avoid asking someone where something is. I can find it myself! But you can’t do that with kids (I seem to say this a lot) — because they’ll keep bothering you about asking someone for help. Or they’ll have to go to the bathroom. In which case you’ll at least go to a part of the store you haven’t been to before.

Actually, now that I think about it, kids are the answer, aren’t they? Why do I have to talk to the robot once it accosts me in the store? Why not have the kids do it? And while they’re being distracted by Shiny and New, I’ll sneak off and look at faucets.

The robots in the Big Box stores do make sense. And where else can they go? What about the Big Box Bookstore? I wonder if they only do voice recognition, or if you can just start pushing its touchscreen. So you could search a book on it, and then have it take you to the book. (I’d of course never do this because the point of going to a bookstore is to wander around aimlessly).

At the airport? For check-in? I don’t see why not. It’d scan your documents, scan your face, and then take your luggage. I suppose you could get around telling it where you need to go because it’d already know. But what about answering questions like other passengers traveling with you, or about paying extra fees? Or if you wanted to change your ticket at the counter? I once showed up at the Detroit airport to find out that my flight to Baltimore was cancelled. I sought out a sympathetic Delta employee who got me rerouted. I could sort of do that on my own terms — find an agent who was by themself, away from a large crowd, no line. So take a deep breath, stick out your boarding card, and start talking. But what about doing something like that to an automated system? With a line of people behind you? In a noisy airport?

At a hotel? Either for check-in or carrying your bags up to your room. You could be searching through your bag for a paper when the robot tells you what time breakfast is. You miss it. Can you go to a screen to get the information again, or would you have to ask it to repeat itself?

If you go to the doctor’s office, a robot could conceivably take your vitals (stick you arm in this …) and then ask you what’s wrong. Transcribe that and send it to the doctor’s tablet computer. (Which of course would be funny/horrifying the first time. You start stuttering, and it prints out directions to the nearest SLP.) That’s assuming of course it wouldn’t insult you by asking you if you’re having a stroke …

There’s so much opportunity out there for a lot of things to be automated. My concern would be whether they are looking out for people with disabilities or not. I mean, just talking to an automated phone system is stressful enough. I hate being in a room with people while on the phone with a computer and saying things like, “YES … NO … BILLING INFORMATION … DISPUTE BILL …”

(I don’t know about you, but once that crap starts, I just start pushing 0 over and over again until a human comes on. Usually works.)

I think what anybody who stuters really wants to know about this Lowe’s robot — and any other “helper” robot is this — can I just text it what I want?

Summing up a Day of Stuttering

For the past three posts, I’ve outlined a hypothetical day in the life of a cover stutterer. I wanted to show how easy it can be to hide your stuttering from coworkers and friends. By “easy,” I mean doing things to minimize talking and interacting. All the mental planning to do so is certainly not easy and quite exhausting at times.

Here’s the Morning, Afternoon, and Evening.

Let’s review some of the actions from the entire day. Most of it was probably pretty obvious. For those of you who stutter or are covert, you can laugh and nod along. For your friends and family, I hope they see how sneaky we are really being. And what might seem like a “quiet” person may in fact be a covert person who stutters…

After about an hour, his buddy comes by and asks about going downstairs to the cafe for some coffee. They both go down, and when his buddy orders, he follows up with “the same.”

The nice thing about having a work buddy is familiarity. For me at least it’s easier to talk to them, and I don’t stutter as much. But then again, the pressure is also on in speaking situations to not stutter in front of them … even though they probably already know. The interesting thing about a drink order is that after a while, you’ll justify to others why you like it so much — even though several months ago you didn’t want it in the first place. It’s all you could pronounce. Small stores are also nice because you can just collect your snacks and drinks and put them on the counter, quietly giving cash or a card.

Back at his desk, he pulls out the power bill. Thankfully he sees that there’s a Web site on there.

Yeah, it’s 2014, and this is certainly possible. But not necessarily for every utility company. In the past, depending on the fee or problem, I would just let it go instead of calling to correct it. This is of course is annoying because on just about every personal finance page they talk about calling your credit cards and asking for reduced interest rates. Or calling your cable company to ask about a different package to save money.

Before going to the staff meeting, he prints out the spreadsheet that his boss will review during the meeting.

For me being prepared and comfortable with a situation reduces the stuttering possibility. I’ll know what I’m talking about. I can say, and hold up a piece of paper, yes, it’s been done. The other good thing about being organized is being able to bail out a coworker who isn’t.

He’s got a dentist appointment on Wednesday afternoon. But he’ll just send an e-mail to his boss who should be cool about this.

Yeah, because saying a “d” word during a staff meeting would have been pleasant …it’s also easier to e-mail a reason, date and time than say it.

“Can we talk about this?” The other person responds, “Eh, well, I’ve got a meeting in a few minutes, so …”

I don’t do this that often, but there’s the cousin of this action — checking a calendar, finding someone busy, and then calling them to leave a voicemail. (painful in and of itself, but maybe you just hang up and then they’ll see your number.) The evasive maneuvre above is high risk, high reward, though. The person could easily just have said, “yeah, let’s talk. I was going to go to a meeting, but they cancelled it.”

Our PWS offers up the fast food place, “I ate healthy over the weekend,” but his buddy turns it down, “I didn’t.” Ok, well then how about no. 4 — we can get sandwiches there, and it shouldn’t take too long.

Ah lunch. A special kind of social pain. Again, this is a high risk, high reward tactic. Ordering fast food is also pretty nerve wracking. So his buddy could have agreed to it. But remembering what they did last week (maybe a lot of fast food) and maybe a text or two from the weekend about his buddy’s activities, he figured it was worth a shot. The restaurants were definitely not a viable option — having to talk to people — unnecessarily. And option 4 — I’m looking at you, Wawa and Sheetz, with your glorious touch-screen sandwich-making awesomeness.

Our PWS dials the number. As it’s ringing, he swings his chair towards the side of his cubicle and begins going through some folders.

The other option of course is to let the person who you called pick up, and then not say anything. And just look at the other person in the room like, “um, if you want to start talking right now, that’d be super helpful …” The best part is they’ll often say into the phone who they are as well as who you are! One less time of having to say your own name!

Our PWS whips out his iPhone and pulls up the pizza place’s web site. He puts in an order and hits submit.

Our PWS could have pre-empted this by asking on the invite call — should I stop by somewhere and get anything? Or, can you order pizza/sandwich for me? I’ll admit that no, there aren’t too many pizza-ordering apps out there. And maybe the local place doesn’t have an app after all. What our PWS would do in this case is maybe search around online for coupons to the local pizza place (but not call). Then when the buddy comes back from his errand and asks what’s wrong, say, oh, nothing, just looking for a coupon. Or do you have any? No? Then push it onto the buddy to call because it’s his place and he knows his own phone number and address …

Our PWS quickly gets up from the couch and walks to the kitchen to talk.

He’s being polite! He doesn’t want to interrupt the tv-viewing experience of his buddy.

They do this off and on for the second half of the game.

By doing this, he’s staying connected to his family without the added stress of the telephone. And it’s become such a regular thing, that his family doesn’t make a big deal out of it.

So there you go. Day after day, week after week … and so on. Pretty soon you can avoid having to talk to people without too much effort.

An Evening without Stuttering

After work, our PWS goes back home with not much to do but watch television. He gets a call from another buddy asking if he’d like to come over to watch the Monday Night Football game. Sure thing.

He heads over, and it’s just the two of them. His buddy asks about food. “Just call and order a pizza. I gotta run next door to my neighbor’s house to pick up his keys. He’s going to be out of town for a few days.”

Alright, no problem.

Our PWS whips out his iPhone and pulls up the pizza place’s web site. He puts in an order and hits submit.

During the game, our PWS doesn’t say too much about what’s happening on the field. He’s keeping an eye on his fantasy football team on his buddy’s iPad. He remembers an article he read about one of the coaches that was very interesting. He pulls it up and hands the iPad to his buddy. “This is crazy. Check this out.” His buddy reads the article and starts commenting on it for a few minutes.

At halftime, our PWS gets a call from his dad, whose favorite team is playing that evening. Our PWS quickly gets up from the couch and walks to the kitchen to talk. “Yeah, things are good. I’m just at a friend’s house. Yeah, we’re watching… I know, right? I can’t believe it either…That guy is incredible… Uh-huh… Yeah… Ok… Yeah… No.., work’s fine… It’s fine. Alright… I’ll talk to you later.”

Since he knows his dad isn’t a big texter, he texts his younger brother who is still living with his parents. They do this off and on for the second half of the game.

After the game, our PWS says goodbye and heads home.

In the next post I’ll go through what our PWS did during the day and point out all of his covert actions.

An Afternoon without Stuttering

We continue following our person who stutters from the morning into lunch. After tomorrow (when I talk about what he does in the evening) I’ll go back and review his actions and what manner of sneakiness he showed through the day.

For those who are covert, none of this is new. But if you stutter and your friends wonder what it’s like (or don’t think you stutter) then you can show them these posts.

Just before lunch, our PWS has a list of questions about a project he’s working on. He needs to talk to someone in a different department. He opens up Outlook and checks their calendar. He sees that it’s 11:15 now, and the person has a meeting at 11:30 for an hour. He gets up with his list and walks up a floor to meet them. “Listen, I’ve got a bunch of things I wanted to know about this project,” he starts, looking at his page of questions. “Can we talk about this?” The other person responds, “Eh, well, I’ve got a meeting in a few minutes, so …”

“So maybe it’d just be better if I e-mail them to you?”

“Yeah, that’d be awesome.”

“Alright, cool.”

And that’s that.

Next up, lunch. The same coffee friend comes by and asks about lunch — where do you want to go? The options work out basically to: 1. Sit down place where the waiter takes your order. 2. Counter place where you order, 3. Fast food place and 4. Electronic ordering place.

Our PWS offers up the fast food place, “I ate healthy over the weekend,” but his buddy turns it down, “I didn’t.” Ok, well then how about no. 4 — we can get sandwiches there, and it shouldn’t take too long. “Ok, that’s good. Let’s go.”

After lunch is done, our PWS continues working quietly at his desk. He doesn’t get too many phone calls, but maybe the occasional visitor stopping by to ask something. Here comes someone now.

“Hey, how are you? Listen, for this report, it’s got this spreadsheet as backup. Where did you get these numbers from?”

Our PWS replies, “Oh, it’s from another department. Then I just check them against our information.”

“Ok, but there are a few things here that don’t add up. Can you get this resolved? I need this as soon as possible. Can you call them?”

“Yeah, sure.”

Our PWS dials the number. As it’s ringing, he swings his chair towards the side of his cubicle and begins going through some folders. “Let me see what we did last time for this.”

The phone picks up, and the person who stopped by sees that the PWS is busy rifling through folders. He begins talking to the person on the phone about the problem. Our PWS swings back and pulls up the spreadsheet on the computer and listens to the phone conversation intently. They work through the issue over the phone, and the person walks away satisfied.

Before leaving for the day, our PWS gets an e-mail from the electric company — the extra charge has been resolved and will be reimbursed.

A Morning without Stuttering

So for this thought exercise, we’ll be making a bunch of assumptions about age, career, education and so on. But you’ll see the concepts are the same — there is a possibility to avoid speaking in this day and age.

Starting with the morning, our fictional person who stutters wakes up. He gets dressed and decides to try something new for breakfast. Instead of cereal, he wants to cook some eggs. Not just regular microwave-scrambled eggs, but something with more flair on the stovetop. He had this idea last week, so this morning, he fires up his iPad and pulls up a Youtube video. He could have casually asked a coworker last week. No need. When he’s got a question or concern about how his egg is turning out based on this particular Youtube video, he searchs for another. Then finds out what he was doing wrong.

Since our person who stutters got home late last night, he didn’t notice the envelope from his power company on the floor by the front door. He picks it up and opens it. He sees that there is an extra charge on the bill. He folds it and puts it into his pocket and heads out to work.

He drives to work trying to think of what’s on the menu for today. Is there a staff meeting? I think so, it’s Monday. So that’s at 9. Once he gets to work, he smiles at a few people, saying hello. Let’s make him an engineer who works on datasheets and specifications for an engineering company. His company has an open-plan cubicle arrangement. After about an hour, his buddy comes by and asks about going downstairs to the cafe for some coffee. They both go down, and when his buddy orders, he follows up with “the same.”

Back at his desk, he pulls out the power bill. Thankfully he sees that there’s a Web site on there. He brings it up and searches for an e-mail address or help page. He finds it, enters in his information, and quickly types out his issue briefly.

Before going to the staff meeting, he prints out the spreadsheet that his boss will review during the meeting. It’s got a list of activities for the team members, and what progress is expected this week. He also looks at what was supposed to be done last week. It’s all done.

During the meeting when his boss calls on him, he quickly nods his approval “yeah” when his boss asks about last week, and then when asked about the next five days says, “no problem.” He knows that there is a problem, but it’s pretty small. He’s got a dentist appointment on Wednesday afternoon. But he’ll just send an e-mail to his boss who should be cool about this. Then just stay an extra hour or two to finish the work.

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