Summertime Stuttering

Well, what a summer it’s been. We’ve moved from Indiana to Pennsylvania, moved into a house we bought, and got the kids sorted out with summer fun. This includes season passes to Hersheypark which is pretty awesome. I could sing its praises all day long.

I’ve also started up the National Stuttering Association’s Lancaster-York-Harrisburg chapter. We have been meeting at Speechcare, a local SLP office. Our host actually ran the group many years ago, so she was happy to help get it going again. I felt very comfortable starting and helping to run the meetings after going to a years’ worth of meetings in Indianapolis. The biggest lesson to learn was that it’ll start slow, and that’s ok. If you spend a year with just a half dozen people, that’s completely normal. So I’m pleased to say we’ve got at least four of us who stutter as well as our host.

As part of the big move back to Lancaster — where I grew up — I’ve had to call a lot of companies for medical, dental, addresses, etc., It’s been quite a grind. I didn’t have the luxury of a lot of houses to choose from, so of course we ended up on a street that I have trouble saying. And we live in Lititz, not Lancaster … not that Lancaster is any easier to say anyway. But I’m getting through them. Trying to ignore them once I hang up and it’s gone rough. Focusing on the wins and moving forward with getting things done and set up.

I’ve been at the new job for six months, and I’ve become very, very comfortable speaking with everybody here. We just got a new plant manager, and during our one-on-one, I did advertise up front that I’m someone who stutters. I made a point to tell him that I’m not someone who gets nervous, so don’t think it’s that.

The start of school is next. Everything will begin near the end of August. I have a goal to get more involved with the schools here — the same ones I went to as a kid. So I’m very excited about that. I also need to inquire about any coaching opportunities since that’s something I did in Indiana.

More to follow.

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.

Rehearsal

I mentioned having to do a presentation at work. Well, after my colleague said he was nervous, I told him I wasn’t at all — but the stuttering was just annoying. We then joined the others and did a run-through.

Rehearsal? What a concept. I have thought, for the longest time, that I don’t need such a thing. That I can just get up there and talk, and I’ll be fine. I know the message, I know the audience, I know I won’t be nervous. And yet, time and time again, no rehearsal always has me getting up there and stuttering, which causes quite the downward spiral.

I know there are benefits to rehearsals. But I just think I’m above that. However this time our group wanted to run through it, so I didn’t have a choice. So I stood up in front of my four colleagues, held the paper in my hand (I only had one slide) remembered to take that first deep breath (but none after that) and talked through it.

I stuttered. Here and there. It was only 3-4 minutes, no big deal. After we were all done, my colleague who said he was nervous said he didn’t even know I stuttered until I told him (ok, so maybe I’m still being a little covert … or not really talking to him that much … we are in different departments). And asked if I only stuttered when I had to speak in front of people. Ah, no, I have 30 years of experience doing this. But it was all very supportive and encouraging. We encouraged the others, and that was that.

And you know what? I felt totally different after that rehearsal. I didn’t think about the presentation or stuttering on words at all. I was calm. I knew what I had to say. I knew how fast I had to talk. When to pause, what questions I might get. Prepared. Confident.

So, presentation time. Our group got up, it was my turn to talk. The heart beating in my chest so loud that I couldn’t think of anything else? Not there. The sweating? Nope. The tightness in my throat? Nope.

I stood up, took a breath and started talking. I stuttered. But not too hard, and not too long. I got through the slide, and even got a good rhythm going. I was asked questions challenging our points. I answered them. We all talked about them. I stood up there, not feeling worried about my speech.

After it was done one of my other colleagues remarked that I had done a good job. I think this was a combination of content and presentation praise.

So it turns out that for me and my stuttering at least, rehearsal is a very useful tool. I had an extremely positive experience with it.

 

Fine, thanks.

It’s been a while. Not since I stuttered, of course. But a few things have been happening, and I’m still struggling with this blog, a direction, and everything else going on.

Someone came to my desk the other day and asked me how I was doing. It was one of those “good morning” kind of greetings. The one where you’re just sort of expected to say, “good, how are you?” and get on with it. But after I told him I was “fantastic,” he said, “your face tells a different story.” I made a joke about how “dammit, it’s not working any more,” and we moved on. But it really got me to thinking about these quickie exchanges that we have all the time in offices.

I’ve never been one to give a long, detailed answer to “how are you doing,” when it comes from a coworker. That’s not what they want. That’s not the protocol. But then there’s a spectrum of colleague — from person you don’t know at all to person you’d consider a close friend. Although how does someone you don’t know become a friend? Or even get closer? Through these kinds of interactions? I’m wondering if I’ve been subconsciously keeping people at bay because I want to keep the numbers small, or if I just don’t want to talk to them because I know I’ll stutter.

I think there’s a lot of pressure in those small exchanges, too. It’s a fast, straight-forward query. Same as when someone asks you your name. You’re expected to give a quick answer. If you’re not doing well, then yeah, maybe a long sigh and a “well, it could be better,” is fine. Followed by a laugh, because well, let’s not get into why. This is why I always say “yeah, good,” or whatever I can feel is going to be fluent. I never thought to get my facial expression in line as well.

So what’s the path forward on this? Should I slowly give longer and longer answers? Feel out how much time we have to talk? How much I can get out of them as well? I’ve gotten really good at asking other people questions (even though they start with “w,” and I usually stutter on it). At least for me when I get to know people better, my stuttering decreases because my comfort level rises. (not always, but often).

Minding the Gap

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the gap. There’s that space for all of us who stutter — between who we are now and who we think we should be. It covers everything — our job, our spouse, our friends, our relationships, our outlook on life. There’s a gap to be found in them all. How would life be different if I didn’t stutter? If I had been more confident during that interview for the job I didn’t get? If I had asked about a different neighborhood or apartment when I moved into a new town? If I had spoken with my guidance counselor or friends of parents about career choices?

Even people who don’t stutter have these gaps as well. They’re constantly comparing themselves to this that or the other.

Career-wise, I’ve been very good about not ever doing this. It wasn’t terribly hard. My friends who I grew up with basically didn’t have the same college degree as me, nor did they have the same kind of job. They didn’t have the same upbringing, and didn’t have the same goals. We are different, and that’s fine.

But things always change. You find out someone at work is the same age as you, someone who is more charismatic, outgoing, talkative, and ambitious. And you start to wonder. You think that you’ve got all the same tools, all the same opportunities. The same amount of experiences in similar projects, and are now in the same office. So you start to wonder. Is he slightly ahead of me because I’m not more outgoing? Because he can talk a good game? Because people find it easier to talk to him?

This has thrown me off lately because it’s entirely new. I’m trying to handle it by breaking it down into smaller pieces and rationalizing my way out of it. Asking myself, well, sure we’re here in Saudi, and it’s easy for him, but I want to move back to the States sooner than later. And maybe doing the sales thing instead of engineering isn’t really my thing. Maybe a technical job again would be nice.

And even bigger than all of that is how much importance I’ve placed on work. Is that really necessary? Sure, there’s going up and doing a good job and all that, but there’s also extracurriculars to focus on — like this blog, more writing, and doing more stuttering-related things when I get back. It’s all been helping. The gap is getting smaller. I’m going back to, his goals are different than mine. We want different things out of life.

I suppose this proves a point

Been a month since I posted! I suppose this proves a point, though. As I’ve said before, I get more comfortable in situations — new city, new job, new people. I moved into this job back in January. It’s been nearly 10 months, and yes, I’m pretty comfortable.

What was intimidating and a bit nerve-wracking at first (speaking up during some meetings, making a call here and there, explaining things to strangers) has become a normal routine.

And so, since I’m not thinking about stuttering as much (but still, of course, stuttering) I think my mind is off of the blog.

That being said! I still have plenty of conference stuff to go through as well as the ISAD on Oct 22 and the ongoing online stuttering conference. And of course the twitter feed on the right is always a good source for stuttering articles.

I think I need to still find a good balance between posting and living with my stutter. I’m thinking a 2 or 3 times a week thing would be good. Daily was definitely too ambitious, but it did work out for a while when I had stuttering on my mind more.

The other thing that’s been happening is simply the busy of work. The days are passing by very, very quickly now. The weather in Saudi is changing (for the better) and the days are heinously short.

And what am I stuttering on? Well, I did have to make a few doctors appointments this evening. I did that in person. And I felt comfortable. Took a big deep breath, explained what I needed (checkup for the daughter, Botox refresh for me — yes, it’s already worn off!). And it was sorted as I hoped. I even managed to stutter only a little bit on the “one” in my telephone number. Nice win.

Burned in deeply

The next workshop that I went to was about genetics. But I’ll talk about that in a few days. First a quick story about something that happened at work.

I’ve been trying over the past year or two to really move on from being afraid of speaking due to my stutter. I’ve been stuttering more because I’ve been saying what I want to say instead of what I can say fluently.

But as those of you who stutter know, it’s very, very hard to change if you’ve been covert for so long. Those feelings of anxiety become automatic.

The other day someone from another office came to visit. He sat down right in front of me, and he knew others in our little work space. And even though I didn’t have to worry about who he was or him “taking my job” or anything like that, I was still nervous about the introduction. I was thinking about it way too much. What’s even worse is that I didn’t even have to say my name — I knew that one of the other guys would introduce me. I would hardly have to say anything either other than hello.

But still. It’s burned in very deeply. The anxiety. The reactions. The feelings.

I know that it will take time and many more interactions to break. And I’m looking forward to that day when I don’t have to think about it. But I’m not there yet.

I think this is important for anybody looking to go to therapy. You can feel some change after a month, maybe, a quarter, maybe, six months, maybe, a year, maybe. But don’t think it’ll be a big change. It doesn’t have to be. As long as it’s a step forward.

What are you after?

I’d venture to say that those of us who stutter listen to not only what people say, but how they say it a lot more than someone who is fluent. The fluent person will hear the message; we will notice speed, accent, pauses, filler words, word choice and facial expressions.

I say this because in a given office, over the course of a given day, there are a lot of conversations. And we tend to fixate on the people who are the most confident, the fastest, and the most coherent. We want to be them! Our televisions — dramas, comedies, sports commentators — are filled with fast-talking, eloquent people. They barely stumble, they always have something to say, and they never stutter.

But isn’t life on a bell curve?

Listen to everybody else. All the presenters during a team meeting aren’t the best speakers. But they are all communicating. Some are speaking slowly, carefully choosing their words. Others are neither fast nor slow. Some people know how to think on their feet, others don’t.

I’ve often looked at my boss (past and present) to hear how they’re speaking and what they’re saying. I use it to sort of gauge whether or not I’d be able to eventually do that. But that’s not a good approach. Because people around the world have the same title as my boss; I don’t know how they talk. I don’t know how they communicate. And the same for his boss or other senior folks at the office — they have counterparts across the globe who have different ways to speak and still get results.

The point is also that the smoothest talking people aren’t always the ones getting the results. You don’t have to be the most polished speaker to move on and move up. If we stutter, we should continue to work on our acceptance and our message.

Learning more about Toastmasters

As I mentioned last week, they had an intro to Toastmasters at the office today. I went, sort of knowing what to expect, but not really.

Stuttering has shaped me in very fundamental ways, particularly with regards to initial reactions to social situations. Let me explain first what my feelings were, and then what I thought of afterward.

There were probably about 50 people there. Most of them were coming to learn about Toastmasters (free lunch!), and there’s even another meeting tomorrow because of the high demand. I saw one or two people who I knew, but in an office of over a thousand, it was mostly new faces to me.

When I first sat down and looked through the agenda, I could already feel myself getting nervous — and this was before I even read or understood what was going to be presented. I have such a strong negative association with presentations and agendas, that I automatically assumed I’d have to participate (and thus stutter) somehow. It’s a hell of a conditioned response to have. I also noticed that they meet every week which also seemed very intimidating.

The presenters started going through what Toastmasters is all about, and it was very nicely done. They basically said they’d demonstrate a typical meeting with a guest speaker, table topics and evaluation.

When they began the table topics, the idea was to pick one of the topics blindly and speak about it. They asked for volunteers. I started to panic a little. What? I didn’t sign up to talk on my first day! I’m not ready for any of this! I looked down, reverting to my usual avoidance behavior. They ended up picking some people who were already part of Toastmasters, and they did an admirable job.

Again, my initial reaction to hearing people talk about various topics was to hear the words they were choosing, and then tell myself that no, I couldn’t say a bunch of them because I’d stutter. I even tried to think of how I’d try to breathe or avoid some of the words that were used during table topics. The stuttering … it’s burned in pretty deep.

I’ve known about Toastmasters for a long time. I’ve also known about speech therapists and help groups. Have I ever bothered looking any of them up? No. And why? Because I never thought I needed them. If I did those things, it’d mean that something could be improved about my speech. And if that’s the case, then I’d be acknowledging the stutter. I never wanted to. I wanted to just ignore it for the longest time and do my own thing.

But for those of you who have been reading for a while, you know things have changed. Time to face the music. I want practice. I want to face the fear. I want to tell people.

Had I done this Toastmasters meeting three years ago (if someone had dragged me along) I’d have gone, been scared out of my mind, and then vow to never go again. Things are vastly different now. The covert stuttering phase of my life is over. People who stutter go to Toastmasters. People who stutter are successful at speaking in front of groups. People who stutter are going to stutter anyway, so why not get more comfortable doing so.

I know people reading this who stutter will think, no, no, there’s no freakin’ way I’d do that. And I get that. I really do. Everybody’s journey is different, and everybody may or may not be ready at the same age or stage in their life. It’s the time for me, though. I’m not getting too crazy with the speaking challenges, but this is a good start.

Hitting a Fluency Stride

The “beauty” of stuttering is that you never really know what you’re going to get when you wake up in the morning. You could have a day of misery (even though it’s all in your head — and you shouldn’t be discouraged through the whole day anyway … but, yeah, I know, reality) or you could just start with a fluent ‘good morning’ and carry it all the way through an engaging dinner conversation.

I’ve casually noticed now in the last week or so that I’m starting to hit a “more fluent” kind of stride, particularly at work. The funny thing is, I knew this would happen.

It certainly took longer than a few weeks, but hey, it’s under six months. I’m still not perfect every day (never will be, never expect to be), but I’ve been letting it bother me less and less, and I’ve been trying to speak more and more. For whatever reason, it’s producing a bit more fluent speech, and it’s been noticeable to me.

What can be the cause? I’d say more comfort. Same people every day, same level of patience from them on stuttering. Same meetings every week, same types of things to say. Also I’ve gone through meeting most of the people who I’ll have to talk to, so there’s less stress about introductions and small talk.

I’ve also started thinking about my breathing more and more. Like, take a breath, think, relax, speak. Breathe. Breathe! And a moment of fluency in the morning on something I was stuttering on a few weeks ago lends to more confidence later in the afternoon.

Stuttering at the Races Part 2

The second part of my “stuttering awareness” at the Bahrain GP this past weekend has to do with photography. When I was growing up, I’d get F1 magazine and spend hours going through its pages, particularly the photos in the front by Darren Heath. They’d include all the exposure information. And they weren’t just shots of cars — they were art. Early morning, late evening shots, practice, during races, the whole bit.

I was getting into photography in college, and I thought that sports photography was something that I could do. I could eventually take those kinds of photos!

But like the engineering for a team, it didn’t come to pass. The stuttering really held back any networking or asking or trying to intern someplace. Or even asking professionals who were at the college sporting events that I did shoot at. I thought I knew what I was doing, so why ask them? But just tagging along for a baseball game or whatever else would have been invaluable.

The thing about stuttering — and being covert — is that it really confines you to your tiny slice of life. You’re afraid to venture out, to ask around, to take big risks. You’ll have to talk and expose yourself! So the regrets are even bigger.

At the race I saw some of the professionals toting around their giant lenses. While I don’t have one myself, I have been able to get a decent camera and lens thanks to the job here. So I got a few decent shots off. But nothing even close to being Darren Heath-esque.

Like I said yesterday, it’s always tricky about reflecting and wondering what could have been. Those photographers also travel a good bit and put in very long hours. How long could I really have done that?

Now, the thing about this post and yesterday’s isn’t to say “woe is me, I stuttered, and my life turned out terribly.” Not at all. My life has turned out fine. I’m able to do a lot of the things that I want. The point is for the younger people out there who stutter. You should recognize how stuttering is subconsciously holding you back from exploring your dreams. Not necessarily pursuing, but hey, at least ask about it and try it out a little to see if you like.

Otherwise you’ll be sitting on the other side in 20 years wondering what if.

Stuttering at the Races Part 1

Missed a few days, but hey, still stuttering even though I might not have posted!

This past weekend (starting Thursday, really) there was the Bahrain Grand Prix — Formula One — over in Bahrain. I’ve been a fan of F1 for 20 years, and this was my first race … finally!

On Thursday they had an open paddock walk for about an hour. It was for three-day ticket holders. I took the camera, took a bunch of photos, and loved every minute of it. Not all the teams were out, and only a few drivers showed up, but hey, still worth it.

Friday was practice, Saturday qualifying and Sunday the race.

Since everything was so well organized, there wasn’t a need to ask around for directions or information. And thus, not a lot of stuttering. But I couldn’t stop thinking about my stuttering the entire weekend. My explanation will come in two parts — today and tomorrow.

The first part is that I’ve got a degree in mechanical engineering. When I was in college, I was an F1 fan. I knew the deal — you had to start small and work your way up (F1 being at the peak). The internet was new in those days, but I managed to find a listing of “minor league” teams in the States. I think back in those days they had CART, IRL and then the smaller series where the talent was coming from.

I’m not sure if I e-mailed the guy, or just cold called him, but I remember distinctly talking to a team manager on the phone. He was out in California, and he said, yeah, sure, there’s something here, but you’d have to help do everything. I wasn’t a great communicator back then. So I didn’t talk about this opportunity with my parents — who could have supported me. Or friends who might be headed out there. I should have also called around to more teams — but again, more phone time.

Based on my success now at my current job (and having progressed through various roles) I think I would have done well in the racing industry. I think those of us who stutter probably have more regrets than most — fluent people make a decision just because; we make one because we can’t say what we want.

On the other hand, I did move to Saudi because my Stateside job at the time required a healthy amount of travel. And being on a racing team is mostly travel for the majority of the year. So who knows how that could have turned out.

It’s just something I was thinking about a lot as I watched the various mechanics working over the weekend.

Your virtual stuttering reality

The other day I mentioned stuttering and speaking and Google Glass. There is some recent research on this, and Shelley Brundage talked to Stutter Talk recently about it.

There were no significant differences in the %SS across audience conditions, suggesting that the frequency of stuttering is similar in virtual and real world conditions. These findings suggest that similar responses occur after speeches to virtual and live audiences.

You have to listen to this interview. It’s great. They discuss safety, control and repeatability with regards to virtual reality usage. Also how this technology can be used in therapy. It’s probably still a few years (hopefully months) away, but it’d be nice to see more customizable virtual reality apps for the masses. Of course there’s Google Cardboard which is a good start…(I’m tempted to order this).

How else can this help those of us who stutter? Well, a lot of what I’ve been seeing on Facebook groups lately is along the lines of, “I have an interview tomorrow, what should I do?”

I suppose you could find a friend to practice with. But there’s a lot of effort in that, and the interaction may not be helpful. I know there are a lot of us who become very comfortable with close friends and find we don’t stutter with them as much. (And yes, it can sometimes be the total opposite). Also, how you react to a smiling man may not be the same as a frowning woman.

But if you had virtual reality at your disposal, you could run a bunch of different scenarios in the week leading up to the interview. The thing that I’ve found about interviews is that you tend to get better at interviews the more you do them. But the problem is getting the interview in the first place. There’s applying, waiting, e-mailing, more waiting, maybe a phone screen, more waiting, an e-mail, more waiting, and then the buildup to the big day. That’s a lot of time to worry yourself into a total mess.

The paper talked about speaking in front of groups. You don’t always have days and days to prepare yourself for a presentation. Maybe a day or two. And sometimes you’re put on the spot. So what about practicing at home? You go to work and see your boss give a presentation. Go home and practice it yourself. If you did that every day for a half hour, some of the barriers to public speaking would be removed. Too often when we’re put on the spot we forget about everything — breathing, pacing, eye contact, hand movements — and just focus on trying to get those words out in some coherent fashion. Virtual reality would allow us to practice all of these things.

Even at the most basic level — using the phone — virtual reality would be useful. All I’d need to see is an image of a phone with that “mute” light on and off. And someone asking who’s on the call. I’d really love to be able to reprogram my brain to get past this (assuming that’s possible).

Stuttering Call Plan

I think for a lot of people there’s a tendency to “check out” from work at 5:01, or when you set foot in the parking lot to go to your car each evening.

You’ve been staring at a computer all day, or in meetings all day, or running around pulling stuff together. You want to go home and just forget.

And that’s reasonable. But occasionally there are some things from work that can help us after work.

What someone brought up the other day here is making a “call plan” before calling a client (potential or existing). It’s simple, it’s quick, and it instills some confidence. I know for me when I pick up the phone to call someone, I have a pretty vague idea of what I’m going to say. Sometimes I’ll have the first question or two in my mind, but nothing beyond that. And then I’ll be talking to this person and start stuttering, and then forget what I wanted to say. And then I have to call again. Not good at all.

So what goes into the call plan? Let’s say I want to call a local company here and ask about my satellite dish options. So I’d just write down, “Your name? Your hours? Eurosport? Packages? Monthly cost? How to pay? Install time? Your location?”

Notice I didn’t write down entire sentences or questions. The last thing I need to be doing is staring at questions with words I know I’m going to stutter on. All I want are concepts (reminders). Basically a list.

I know if I don’t make a list, I’ll be left stumbling and stuttering for words. Will I stutter on questions I make from my list? Of course I will. That’s fine. But at least I don’t have to do it over multiple phone calls. If I mess up the first one enough, I’ll likely not bother calling back (which may cause other problems).

Stuttering Moments

Yesterday I talked about a really hard moment I had speaking. It was one of the worst in recent memory, and I let myself dwell on it for a few hours afterward. Not really completely getting me down, just in awe of how bad it was and what happened during and after.

What I’ve noticed on Facebook posts lately is people refer to having a “bad day” with regards to stuttering.

I’ve certainly been guilty of this myself, but I’ve changed my attitude in recent years. I don’t have bad days. I have bad moments. That’s it. A few minutes, an instance, an exchange. Nothing that should cloud the next question, the next conversation.

I think it’s so important to have this mindset. Since I’ve started this new job, there are discussions all day. Meetings all the time. I can’t let something at 9 a.m. cloud events at 11, 2 and 3:30. I’d be a total mess. And I have to talk when I have to talk. I’m not going to hide anymore.

I think one of the ways to keep moving on is to see your speech from your listener’s viewpoint. Especially at the office. They probably won’t dwell on it. They probably won’t say anything about it later that day, or week or month. So if they’re not thinking about it, then why are you?

What happens to me is that I might stutter hard with someone in the morning, and then have another meeting with them in the afternoon. I can’t be shy about speaking up if the need arises.

Stuttering Experimentation

So I posted a few days ago: How much do you consciously experiment with your stutter and speech? Do you do funny voices while alone? Speed things up? Slow things down? Does any of it help?

For me? I don’t do the funny voices or accents, but I do slow things down. This is very different than people simply saying, “you should slow down.” We get that crap all the time. This is a very conscious effort — monitoring your breathing, relaxing the shoulders, maintaining eye contact, stuttering but moving on, and controlling the pace.

I’ve found some success with this, but it’s difficult to remember all the time. Too often we jump into a conversation and are pinned to its pace. But why? Why not just take a breath?

I was in a meeting the other day and had to present some information. I was under the impression (thanks, fast-paced world!) that I needed to get it out as quickly as possible. So I did. And I stuttered. I wasn’t too fazed, but it was still annoying. Then what happened? Well, someone else had to give some information. And you know what? They’re fluent. And they took their sweet time. Why didn’t I just do that? Because I thought me, the most junior person there should hurry? That the meeting was already going long enough? That speaking slowly would somehow mean that I wasn’t sure of the information I’m presenting? Lesson learned.

I think I need to think of some kind of clever mnemonic before speaking. I’m sure there’s something out there already.

And what about talking faster? I tend to speak faster in the late evening after having a lot of diet coke (usually while at dinner with friends). And I do pretty well, fluency-wise. But I’m not sure if it’s the tired mixed with the caffeine, or being with friends, or the louder music, or what. During the day, it’s not something I’m convinced would work.

Listening to my Stutter

What would make all the feelings go away — fear, loathing, shame, embarrassment — if the stuttering never goes away? A perfect listener? What would I want?

The important thing to remember is that it’d have to be a blanket deal. I mean, everybody at once would have to do this, and I’d have to know that everybody is on board. So what would I want?

Patience. Don’t finish my sentence, no matter who you are. Don’t look at the person standing in line behind me. Don’t look away like I don’t know what I’m talking about. Don’t start on some weirdo-smile and try to stifle laughter. Don’t sigh heavily and look down at the ground.

Like I said yesterday, I know, deep down, that this isn’t “special treatment.” Because it’s how I treat everybody who I talk with. So I’d just want the same thing.

If I know that people are never going to react negatively to my stutter, then I create a positive feedback loop. The stuttering happens, I don’t feel bad, they don’t say anything, and I get my message across. That will give me the comfort and confidence to engage people in the future on speaking occasions.

Will we ever spend interaction after interaction with our perfect listener? Nope. If you can string two in a row, that’s quite an achievement. So we’re left with educating. Advertising. Sending links.

A few months ago the ice bucket challenge was going around. It was to raise awareness for ALS. Did you know anything about ALS before the ice bucket challenge? I didn’t know a thing. A cycling buddy explained it all to me on a ride during the height of the challenge. Do we need to do something similar with stuttering? Maybe. Maybe not. The King’s Speech certainly helped when it came out, but we have to keep on reminding people. Because we have to keep on talking. Every day.

Even though the world won’t wake up tomorrow and become perfect listeners, we can work toward surrounding ourselves with them. We can slowly make inroads to our family, friends, and coworkers. Our instances of embarrassment and fear will lessen. We can come out more if we’ve been covert. We can brush off a stumble here and there.

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.

What I’m Stuttering on Lately

A few quick things that I’m stuttering on a lot these days.

1. Last week I had a workshop for work. So I was telling a few people that I’d be out of the office for this workshop. And of course I stuttered all over workshop. So I’d occasionally call it a “thing,” or “conference” or whatever else I could muster.

2. I have a colleague whose name I can barely say without stuttering every time. This is pretty rough considering how closely we have to work together every day. It’s really bad because I can say the first syllable but then get stuck on the second. The alternative is just to get up from my desk and walk over to his — it’s about 20 feet away.

3. I’ve moved to Al Khobar from Yanbu. I lived in Yanbu for four years, and have trouble saying that as well. It’s annoying only because people ask me where I was before I came to Khobar. I was on a program that had offices in Jubail (easy to say!) and Yanbu (impossible to say!). I’ll occasionally defer to the name of the client, but that doesn’t really help in the long run.

As you can read from the above, there are some pretty fundamental things that I’m stuttering on lately. I feel to some extent that it’s dragging the rest of my speech down. But since I know this (and that it could happen) I’m trying to brush off all the stuttering instances above. Just because I stutter on certain words, doesn’t mean I’ll stumble on the next one.

And while I’m stuttering on the above stuff maybe 90% of the time, I need to focus on celebrating the 10% of the time they do come out fluently. I’ll get more comfortable with my audience at work, and it’ll get easier. It always does. I’ll get the 90% down to 80%, and then down below 50%, and then I can focus on whatever else is bothering my speech.

Dreaming of a Stutter

I’m assuming it’s because the last few days I’ve been updating this site, looking for other stuttering sites, seeing what blogs are there, and trying to think of where to take this thing that well, I had a dream about stuttering.

And I’m not happy about it.

What happened? Well, in the dream a bunch of us were in a room. It was an office-like environment. An older gentleman was making a comment, and I wanted to say something. But I knew if I said something, I’d stutter. So I didn’t. All the same feelings were there. It was in my head. It was in my throat. I could feel the tension.

Avoiding avoiding. Not exactly a dream come true. Yet.

Stuttering more at work

I haven’t been keeping formal records or anything, but I have a strong feeling that I’m stuttering a lot more at work. A lot.

Obviously it’is because of the new job, new people, new experiences. Before I’ve been living a few stories, and everybody around me already knew them, too. But now, for entertainment purposes, I have to retell some stories. And since I’ve not run through them a bunch of times, they’re all coming out pretty rough. But I’m just stuttering on through them.

I’d say I’m getting out about 75-80% of what I want to say. (As in, talking vs. keeping silent) Remember the irony here is that stuttering has taught me over the years to not say a lot. Not saying a lot does tend to help when you’re starting a new role and need to feel out what’s what. So I’m using that to my advantage. (See? Stuttering gives you some gifts).

But otherwise, there’s blocking, dragging out sounds, repeating, the whole lot. It’s in front of friends, subordinates, supervisors, their bosses, and their bosses. But nobody is giving me a hard time about it.

And here’s what that’s doing for me:

1. I’m not hiding any more (well, as much)
2. I’m not wasting energy on being covert/avoiding
3. Maybe I’m educating people (not a lot of advertising being done, though)
4. I’m saying exactly what I want to say so there’s no confusion (most of the time) over what I want
5. I’m gaining confidence and getting more comfortable with my new environs.

By the way, I stutter

A few days ago I had an all-day off site workshop with three other people. Two Americans, and one Saudi.

I mostly listened while they talked through a project we’re working on. I added a few comments here and there, stuttered, pushed through, and I said what I wanted to say. I didn’t think too much of the stuttering since things were pretty informal, and the guys were all very casual and open about things.

At the end of the day, one of the American guys, who had been calling me ‘ray-han’ asked me if it was ‘ray-han or ‘re-han.’

I should probably explain something now that I’ve not talked about yet.

I’ll discuss this in detail more, but my name is an Arabic word. It means something like “sweet smelling flower” or “nice fragrance.” The way that I grew up saying it in America is “ree-han.” With a long e. But the Arabic pronunciation is different. It’s a “ray” instead.

Amazingly, I can introduce myself most of the time with the Arabic pronunciation. And since I’m here, people are used to the pronunciation. However, it’s not a sound that a Western tongue is used to.

Hence, my colleague asked me about it.

I told him that here in Saudi, I pronounce it differently. And because I stutter, it’s hard for me to say it the way I grew up saying it. He said, “wait, because you stutter, you can’t say your own name?” I said yeah, most people who stutter can’t. But for whatever reason I can say it a different way.

But of course there were some other distractions going on at this point – the other getting packed up, a phone call coming in, etc., so I didn’t have time to explain it all at book-length. You all know how this is – you find a warm welcome to explain things, and suddenly the door closes, and you think, well, that’s done yet, I won’t get another chance without being awkward about it. And I suppose they know enough, and it’s not making a big difference to what I need to work on … so … I’ll be happy with the small victory.

I’m pretty sure that advertising your stutter is supposed to be a “pre-“ activity and not a “post-“ one. But I’ll take it.

My stuttering for the week

I haven’t done one of these posts in a while, so I thought I should summarize what I’ve been stuttering on in the past few days.

1. As a cycling fan, I’m excited for this year’s Vuelta a Espana — the tour of Spain. The problem is the word “vuelta.” That v going right into a w. Oh man. I drag out the v a bunch, and then run into a block on the “w” sound. And it confuses the listener when you say it’s the Tour of Spain. It’s La Vuelta — so let’s just call it that!

2. The usual “w” sound on what. It feels like these days I’m asking a lot of questions, and I’m always getting stuck on the “what” part. Everything after that is usually fine, though.

3. One of the Saudis who I talk to regularly here refers to his “family” all the time. But it’s just him and his wife. I thought that was interesting. So he’ll say that he and his family went here, or went there. I’m always stuttering on “wife,” so maybe I should just refer to her as my “family” as well … at least I’d be including the kids, too.

4. We stayed in a hotel a few weekends ago, and for the first time ever, we were in Room 101. The room number (in most countries) is usually trivial, but the big thing here in Saudi are the included breakfasts. So you go down to the restaurant in the morning, and — you guessed it — tell the guy your room number. More w sounds! Awesome! I decided I didn’t care about my stutter and stuttered it out for both days — “one oh one.” It was rough. And he just stared and waited. A little smile came out. I could have very easily said “a hundred and one” which would have been faster. But that would be doing the covert thing which I’m trying to avoid little by little.

(Note: what I’ve done in the past if I get a really hard room number is just hand them the little card-holder thingy that the guy at reception wrote my room number on. If you’re not someone who stutters, and you saw this gesture, you’d think nothing of it. But it’s an old covert trick …)

5. I spoke up at a meeting the other day without stumbling and stuttering too much. I knew exactly what I wanted to say, and I had a good command of the room — there were only a half dozen people in there. I had met them all before. The thing about being a consultant is that you’re expected to talk and lead. So just sitting there isn’t doing anybody any good. I knew they were looking to our team for an answer, and being the manager, it was up to me to take charge and let them know exactly what we were going to do, and when it was going to be done. They had a concern which I also addressed, and the meeting was over in less than 15 minutes. I wasn’t thinking about the stuttering that much. I was focused on the message, and it really helped me drive through the stutter.

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