Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The SpeechEasy (with ramblings)

We're coming down to the wire for my first semester of grad school. Finals are next week and then it's home for Christmas. I'm treading water right now but I know it will turn out fine. It's hard to shake old study habits, but I'm putting my nose to the grindstone, taking the bull by the horns, and any other expression that fits there. I've got 2 real finals, a take-home exam that I can bang out pretty easily, and a bunch of KASA stuff to finish. Sometimes it feels like I have too much to do, other times I don't feel too over-burdened. In any case, it will all get done before next Thursday for my artic final.

My life has been boring as hell without work. It was nice at first to be able to wake up at a reasonable time and not have anything to do, but I think I'm going crazy. If I'm not studying or writing a paper I watch SpikeTV all day or my Simpsons DVDs. I've been looking for another job, preferably one that would require me to interact with people in some way so I can get more experience. I'd be lying if I said I had worked at golf courses my whole life for any other reason than I was afraid of stuttering. I was told about an assistantship that would pay for my tuition plus a big stipend, but it looks as though that has fallen through, leaving me with my pockets turned out. I've applied to Bally's, thinking I could cancel my membership and work out for free, plus it would get me to the gym and I could stay late and lift, because the hardest part for me right now is just getting there. That could be a possibility but I'm not getting my hopes up. If nothing happens, I'll probably just find some hospital or clinic to observe. I would love to see an early intervention clinic. I always talk about how that's what I want to do, but I've never been to one and I don't really know what happens there. It just sounds cool.

Speaking of early intervention, my personal philosophy for speech therapy right now is: get them in EI before they know what's going on, or don't bother offering services until they are self-referred and actually motivated to do something. I started thinking about this after we read an excerpt from the book "Me Talk Pretty One Day" by David Sedaris in artic class. Sedaris is an angry gay man with a lisp who wrote about his experiences in speech therapy. The chapter we read did not speak very highly of my field, but I understood everything he was talking about. He had the mentality of "Why do you want to change me?" and how his SLP wasn't friendly and didn't develop any rapport. When you're working with someone who doesn't necessarily want to change, you will make ZERO progress. I like to think that as an SLP, it will be my job to show my clients what they need to do to progress, but after that it's up to the client to follow through. I think the percentage is 20% "How"(from the SLP) and 80% "Why" (from the client). Most of the time I spent in therapy was passive on my part. I didn't practice outside of my sessions(while lying and saying I did), nor did I really put forth any effort in the real world. So I've definitely been in the position that Sedaris was, and I still feel that way sometimes. I get spurts of motivation to improve my stuttering depending on my situation at the time, but then I almost feel a sense of guilt as to why I'm trying to change "who I am". Everyone wants to be loved for who they are, right? Unfortunately, the reality is there is a social stigma against people who stutter, so if I want to do well socially, I'm going to have to change somehow. I try to remind myself that this is important in how I present myself, but sometimes it just doesn't feel that way. What makes i so hard to change is that it's a physical feeling, not a mindset at this point.

I go to a lot of message boards for people who stutter, and one I saw was from a man who brought up the "stuttering gene" and if at some future point they could fix it before birth, it would create a "master race" of fluent speakers and ruin the whole idea of stuttering, saying this is "who we are" and we should "have fun with it." I responded to him telling him using the term "master race" was inappropriate, and if they could eliminate stuttering, they should. I don't necessarily think there's anything heroic about going through life stuttering. If it's what I've been dealt, so be it, but if there was a pill, shot, DNA transplant, or device that could fix it instantly, I would do it in a heartbeat.

Speaking of magic devices, I got my SpeechEasy back from the supplier the other day, and I'm excited. I wrote about the SpeechEasy in my first blog, but to review, it's a tiny earpiece that looks like a hearing aid and with its microphone it takes my voice and repeats it in my ear a fraction of a second later, changing the frequency to make it sound like I'm speaking along with someone else. When I first got it in September of 2003, my expectations were very high. I told myself it wouldn't cure my stuttering, but I still had that thought in mind and even if it didn't fix it 100%, it would still change my life, my friendships, and my relationships because it would allow to be free with whatever I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it. It worked well at first and I was happy with it, though there were many problems.

First, there is a lot of background noise because the microphone picks up every sound--not just my voice--and amplifies it. I found it very difficult to wear in loud environments, such as bars, parties, restaurants...and all the social settings I wanted to be able to speak fluently. The earpiece goes in my left ear, so it also gave me a hearing loss from the outside which is what we in the biz call the "occlusion effect". It's the reason why if you plug your ears you can hear yourself louder. The other thing is, you don't just put it in and the stuttering magically goes away, it takes a lot of focus and practice. I have to pay attention to the altered voice in my ear and my speech just flows from there. So if you think about it, I have to listen to what I just said a nanosecond after I said it, while continuing to speak....yea, that's real easy. The technology definitely works, it's a matter of focus, and like I've explained, it's not easy to focus all the time. After a few weeks I started wearing it less and less, and at some point I just stopped wearing it altogether. Because of my expectations and lack of discipline, I was very dissapointed in the SpeechEasy.

I didn't even think about wearing it until earlier this year when I realized the microphone was broken. I sent it out to get repaired and after a month it returned good as new (actually, the more I look at it, it looks completely brand new, which is nice at no repair charge). I've worn it all week and it's helped. I'm happier with it now because I realize it will not cure me, but I do get a benefit from it, especially in conversations. I've found myself talking more, and in my artic presentation yesterday I think I did pretty well considering I was nervous (until the end when I really didn't know what the hell I was talking about). The background noise is actually enjoyable for some reason, it's like hearing everyone talk like a Chipmunk and I think it's hilarious. I have to keep myself from laughing. I'm much happier with the SpeechEasy now, and I love wearing it.

Of course now if I need some social (preferrably dating) settings to use it in. I don't plan on barhopping alone because I just feel creepy. This apartment is big and could use a woman's touch. I was just thinking how I really dropped the ball over the summer by not asking that girl Caitlin out again. We went to dinner and the movies and I had a really good time, but after she dodged my goodnight kiss I wasn't sure if she was interested anymore, so I never asked her out again, wondering if she would ask me instead. I'm kicking myself for that, because she was really hot...

Seems like a good place to stop. Till next time.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Under Pressure...

Better loosen up your schedule if you plan on reading this whole blog...

So I haven't written in this for a while because I've had more work than ever before. Grad school is hard, I'm not doing as well as I thought I would be and I'm having to work harder, which will pay off, but I'm still stressed out. I was home in Plymouth for the past 10 days which was really nice, and though I was getting bored at the end, I'm back here and kind of wish I was home again. Seriously, it's lonely here. There really aren't many people around to talk to, and now that I'm done with work I won't have much to do other than study and work out (which I haven't exactly been diligent about lately) until I go home for Christmas. As much as I enjoy the privacy and independence of living alone in a pimped-out apartment, it gets very, very lonely, and I miss having Ethan, Andy, and Mike around to hang out with. I wish they lived down the street or something. It sucks going to bars alone, and since none of the girls in my program are exactly peaking my interest (save for that one uber-hottie, but I don't know her name and a girl that fine has got to have a boyfriend or two...), I don't feel like pursuing anything there. I'm done with work until March, which is both good because I have more time to devote to finals, but also sucks because I won't have any money coming in for a while and I'll get bored easier. I wasn't accomplishing anything meaningful at Tatnuck, but at least it was some kind of movement. (My biggest regret about UMass was not having a part-time job at any point there, I would have had more money and wouldn't have felt lousy about sitting around bored all day, which lead to a boatload of new problems. Hopefully I'll be able to curb my spending and keep busy in other productive ways.)

Anyway, I don't want to complain, things just feel very weird right now. I got back today and I immediately felt homesick. Physically, I just feel different. I'm groggy and my eyes are unfocused, but that could just be from the stress and that fact that I haven't been to the gym in 2 weeks and ate nothing but junk and turkey for the duration of my time home. I haven't found a rhythm for practicing my speech and have had no motivation to even though I haven't been able to get a word out for a few weeks. My breathing is way off and I'm talking too fast, and even though I was home with my family and wanted to be fluent with them, I did not put a full effort in and only practiced once. I have had a really hard time answering the phone lately which is odd, because that's something I can usually do. I let Molly pick the phone up a few times, which I'm not proud of. At Thanksgiving we passed the phone around to talk to my cousin Pam who just had another baby (Colby Griffin Hartman...He's cute, but I guess we're just throwing the name Griffin into first- and middle-name slots now, apparently), and when it was my turn to talk I could barely say anything, and even though it was just my family it was embarrassing. I've been trying to figure out what to do.

One of the things I am mostly interested in right now is the psychology of why people do or do not do anything. If anybody has heard of the success guru/motivational speaker Anthony Robbins, that is what most of his stuff is about, and I've taken to it quite a bit. At the end of last year I was looking on Limewire to find audiobooks to listen to rather than just music all the time, and his name popped up. I had seen his infomercials on late-night TV and he looked wicked corny, and the whole idea self-help looks tailor-made for losers, so I kept it on the DL. But I figured, I've found it for free, a bunch of athletes and business moguls co-sign him, might as well give it a shot. I downloaded all of his programs and listened to them. Each mp3 is about 30 minutes and has lame super-hero-type music at the start, which is just embarrassing to listen to. However, the verdict is, yes, it's corny , too idealistic, and over-the-top, but he also makes a ton of sense about how the mind works and has a lot of effective ways on improving your life, and the guy is incredibly motivating. His biggest points are basic and common-sense, but he puts them in a way that actually makes you believe and apply them. He talks about things like gratitude for what you have, accountability, goal-setting, having a clear idea of what you want, giving to others instead of asking from them, contributing to society, growing and maturing, managing your emotions, positive thinking, continually raising your standards, and finding your purpose. His diet-and-exercise plan is complete bullshit and I haven't had a chance to really apply any of the financial stuff yet, but other than that, I've enjoyed listening to him.

You have to figure most people in life dislike where they are, as shown by obesity, depression, the divorce rate, drug addiction, alcoholism, suicide, and things like that. If you look at the characteristics of the few people who are happy and fulfilled, they live by most of the principles that Tony Robbins talks about. If you don't think that way naturally, he is a great way to start. Sometimes I don't like where I am, though I am getting the ball rolling. I've made some changes since starting to listen to him, though not as many in my behaviors as in the way I think. I've learned to appreciate what I have in the moment rather than always waiting for something good to come along to be happy. Some of the changes I've made include this blog, the future website and podcast, finding the golf course job myself, working on my stuttering, and treating people better. I think my biggest goal is to be a significant voice in the stuttering community, much like Marty was. I want to go to the conferences and have people know who I am and gives keynote speeches and let people know that I am working my ass off to make a difference for other people who stutter. That's why I want my podcast to be as good as possible and why I promote the hell out of these little projects. These are all things I wouldn't have thought to do before. I also have a lot of other smaller goals that I wrote about before, such as learning to play piano (I'm big into Coldplay right now), learning how to work on my car, and giving change to the homeless people in Worcester I see every day. Little things like that add up and make me feel like I'm contributing even if it's on a small scale. My goals list is always changing, but the point is I'm at least thinking in the right direction even if I haven't physically shook the world yet (my book will be good though. Hell, this entry is probably 3 chapters worth).

Anyway, I brought this up because the all-encompassing issue he talks about is that people basically operate based on what gives them pain and what gives them pleasure, and will live their lives accordingly. But pain is more powerful than pleasure, so people will avoid the pain more often than pursue the pleasure. If a person is overweight and wishes they were thinner but does nothing, it's because they associate more pain to actually dieting and exercising than to staying the way they are. They only truly make the change because it hurts more to stay overweight than to lose it. I felt that personally in high school when I finally decided to lose weight after years of wanting to. People procrastinate because it is painful to do their work right away than to do anything else, but the night before the paper is due they realize it will hurt more to not do the work, so they cannot procrastinate any longer, another thing I've felt personally. I will not approach a girl at a bar, because I'd rather go home alone than go through the whole ordeal of possibly being rejected, even though she could end up being my wife and the rejection will only hurt for a few minutes. If you look at situations in your own life, there are probably similarities. I feel like the reason I do not practice my speaking as much as I probably should is because my stuttering does not hurt as much as actually putting forth a full effort. The times I am very diligent about practice are when the thought of stuttering really hurts, such as in class or in the future with a client. I'm going to tie in the the loneliness paragraphs because I spend most of my time here by myself. Since I am alone all the time, there is not often a reason to practice speaking. Sure, I could make times to practice in the real world, and occasionally I do, but it isn't that simple. Everyone knows how important it is to exercise and eat right, but does everyone do it? Of course not. A lot of guys bulk up in the winter and cut down in the summer, because there's no pressure to be really trim in the winter, so we can eat more and pack on more muscle and fat. However once summer arrives it's time to start getting leaner for the beach. It's why girls go nuts to try to lose weight for Spring Break. If you don't, there will be consequences. If you want to really accomplish something there has to be more pain to not doing it than to following through. So by and large, making time to apply practice in the real world will not stick because for me, if it doesn't feel authentic I won't do it. I have a job where my speaking does not matter and once I'm out of work I fly solo for the rest of the day. If I had a job where I needed to deal with people, such as being a salesman where I'm selling something and it's important how I present myself, there is pressure and motivation to speak fluently. I will feel the pressure when I start clinic and I am working with actual clients and want to practice what I preach. Right now I'm comfortable, just like I feel comfortable being a little doughy because it's winter and I'm not going to the beach any time soon. I get little spurts of motivation, but they leave within a few days.

The easy answer would be to find situations where I have no choice but to follow through, such as finding a salesman job, but the golf course job is so conducive to my grad school workload that it's not worth it to rearrange everything. I'm hoping that once I start the podcast, Toastmasters, and the NSA meetings this week that I will feel the pressure again. Being comfortable feels good, but in the grand scheme of your life, you will only be happy if you feel the pressure to move forward. I'm too comfortable...

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Accountability and Voluntary Stuttering

Good news, I've purchased www.patsstupidmouth.com, so that is officially mine. Look for that over the winter.

This past week I've been thinking about the concept of my accountability for my stuttering. I was at a message board and I posted a question about how nervous I get when I approach someone, and how it just "happens to me." Without even considering that someone would disagree with that thought process, someone responded by asking me why I "choose" to stutter. The person (who does not stutter) brought up how people who stutter are responsible for the way they talk and have somehow brought it into their own lives subconsciously. My immediate reaction was "what does this guy know? he doesn't stutter, he doesn't know how it feels, how dare he..." and so on. I decided not to respond to allow myself to cool off and think about what he was saying before I put my foot in my mouth.

After thinking about it for a couple days, I have realized I am much more accountable for the way I talk than I would like to think. I have said that my stuttering does not necessarily mean that I am nervous, and it hurts when people immediately assume that and write me off as a nervous, bumbling idiot. The more I think about it, that isn't entirely accurate. When I am nervous, I stutter MUCH more than normal, and since there are situations where I always seem to stutter more than others, there is a connection to how nervous I am whether it is conscious or subconscious. I have a lot of trouble approaching someone, male or female (which is why I hate to do it), making phone calls to places I don't know (calls to places I know are much easier), and asking a favor of someone (which I absolutely hate doing. I was having a conversation with my friend Jillian in class and because of my comfort level my fluency was very good, but I wanted to have her call our friend Kate to get me a coffee before our next class, I had a hard time asking that. After she told me to make the call myself with her phone, I cowardly sent a text-message to Kate, because I was nervous about her not realizing it was me calling her from Jillian's phone. However now that Kate has my number I would be alright with calling her myself), approaching an authority figure (boss, teacher, etc), being put "on the spot" (ordering at a restaurant, being called on in class when I don't expect it) and other situations like that. In the past I have described it as an unconscious anxiety when I don't feel any normal nervous feelings like a fast heartbeat or sweating or anything like that, but it is still nervousness. I try to think about the times when I am most fluent, and they have been when I am hanging out with friends talking about sports and life in general (though not always, there are times when I can't get any words out at all with friends sometimes and I don't know where that comes from). Once I reach a comfort zone with someone and we are just talking, I rarely stutter (the person I probably stuttered the least with in my life was Jaylynn. At most, maybe a handful of times.) If there are times when I am expected to talk or in somehow "impress" someone on a minor level (such as telling a good story or a joke with a punchline) it is very hard because there is some amount of pressure on me, but when we're just shooting the shit or talking about the weather or how a local sports team blew a game (or the whole damn franchise, Lucchino...bastard) , I am fine. I have a lot of my problems with new people because I am afraid of how they will react when they are caught off-guard by my head movements and such, but after it happens and they see it, I am more relaxed and the anxiety goes away and so does the stuttering.

So the moral of the story is, if I'm stuttering, I am either nervous or subconsiously nervous, forget all that other "it just happens for no apparant reason" business. I am going to believe that it's not my fault that I have a neurological (and in my opinion, hereditary, though some people claim it's not proven. Hey, I've got a father and a close relative who stutter as well, I'm comfortable saying there is a genetic link in my situation) predisposition to stutter, but I am accountable for how I handle it and how my thoughts and emotions contribute to it, as well as how much effort I really put into correcting it. If I focus my thoughts on "what will this person think of me and how will they react" I am going to get nervous, but if I think "I am in control of this" than I will be. The problem lies in that it's not that simple to actually put into action, and this is where desensitization and voluntary stuttering comes into play.

Voluntary stuttering is a technique used a lot by people who stutter, especially in the first stages of therapy, in order to desensitize his or herself to the shame and hatred of the stuttering. I'll put it this way: STUTTERING SUCKS! There is nothing fun about it, it's embarrassing, it's tiring, and it just plain sucks! END OF STORY! My life has clearly been very affected by it in every possible way. If I let it, it completely controls me, as evidenced by my younger years and some of the residual shame and anxiety that I still have today. The theory behind it is that if WE are controlling the stuttering, not the other way around. WE will make people wait as long as we want by intentionally prolonging what we say and creating repetitions. Once you have gotten over other people's reactions, the nervousness stops coming and you will not stutter as much. What happens with me sometimes is that I know how to control my stuttering, but in the moment of speaking slower and stretching out syllables and taking my time, it almost feels like a hassle to others because I am intentionally making them wait. I find that this entire thought process happens in a split-second and in the heat of the moment I would rather just FORCE it out than apply what I know how to do. Since it happens so fast, it feels like I'm on auto-pilot and have no say in the matter. I think that's why so many people find it difficult to apply techniques in real life because they haven't addressed that. It's easy to say it just happens and you can't control it, but it's a matter of will and practice. If my goal was to completely stop stuttering than I could do that with enough practice, dedication, and direction. The problem is, that's not my goal, and I'm not exactly sure what my goal is. Right now I am trying to walk the line between "being comfortable with myself no matter what" and "I want to improve the way I speak" which is hard, because if am truly comfortable, what drive do I have to change? I have been reading more about voluntary stuttering from yahoo! group message boards and the like, and people say it REALLY helps. I tried it a few times in therapy last year when I would make phone calls, and I didn't really like it. Sure, it did give me a little rush and was not as bad as I thought it would be, but I still didn't really like the feeling of intentionally making someone wait. I hate to make someone wait intentionally. I don't like to be late for dates, class, work, or anything where people are depending on me to get there on time, and this includes talking. I do not mind actually stuttering in front of people because, at least according to my old way of thinking, "there's nothing I can do about it" so I don't worry about it in some situations, but if I have to do it intentionally, I HATE it (have you noticed me CAPITALIZING to show emphasis?). The thing is that this is all about being in control and making people wait, which is a new concept to me. I am going to decide to give it another try--at least on a small level--at first and the more I read about it and if I do have success with it, I'll continue to use it.

In other news, I've decided to get my SpeechEasy fixed, so it's been sent out and I should find out when I get it back and how much it's going to cost me, but the good thing is I'm getting it fixed on my own dime, not my dad's. He has already spent too much money on my stuttering that I haven't put the effort into, so it's on me now to take care of myself (more on that another time). I anticipate being both more willing/able to use it here as opposed to UMass because of the background noise factor and the motivation factor, so I will let you know how that goes.

Enough for now, peace.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Hustler's Ambition

This isn't a real entry, just updating a few things. Since I'm a bigger self-promoter than P.T. Barnum and Vince McMahon combined, I'm on the verge turning this into a full-on website, at PatsStupidMouth.com in a few months, complete with links, Q&A's, interviews, pictures, and stuff like that. I've been sending this link out to stuttering message boards and Yahoo! groups with a lot of positive feedback so far, which means my audience is both growing and changing from initially my friends to other people who stutter as well as SLPs, so I'm excited for that. Also, podcasts being the new craze in communication (I think I listen to about 20...), I figure that would be a good forum (what better way to talk about stuttering than to talk about stuttering?) Once I figure that out I'll have one of those up (it would be awesome to actually be listed on iTunes). Look out for both the website and the podcast by February 2006...I seem pretty happy that I finally found my niche in life, huh? Stay tuned...

Friday, October 21, 2005

International Stuttering Awareness Day

**For those of you who don’t know, Saturday, October 22nd is International Stuttering Awareness Day. As a person who stutters and a future speech-language pathologist, I feel it is my duty to promote awareness of the fluency disorder that affects upwards of 2.6 million people in the United States alone. Please show your support by sending a blank check made out to “cash” to:

Patrick L Griffin
14 Randolph Road, Apt. 2B
Worcester, MA 01606

Thank you. Your donations will be put towards a new plasma television for my apartment, a pair of subwoofers, and a tricked-out exhaust system for my car.

I've decided not to write about hip-hop in this because I wrote the draft and it made no real sense, so that has been scrapped.

Today, under the suggestion of the graduate program, I had my fluency evaluated. I was found to have "very mild" stuttering, and in addition to refresher sessions in fluency they suggested that I attend NSA meetings to work on becoming more comfortable with my stuttering to alleviate the nervousness that I feel sometimes. At first I thought "well I'm comfortable with it, so I don't really need to," then realizing that I'm comfortable talking about it, but not necessarily feeling it when the heat is on.

Today's evaluation, plus the DVD from the National Stuttering Association about covert stuttering that I watched today, has made me realized that I am not nearly as open about my stuttering as I would like to think. I have been trying to promote myself as someone who is comfortable and overt, but I realize that I still have many aspects of a covert stutterer. I avoid making more phone calls than I admit to here. My phone "conveniently" does not get reception in my apartment, so if I have to make a phone call to some place I don't know, I have an excuse. I've sent emails to people that I could have and should have called back (including to the clinic). I've driven to pizza places and ordered in person rather than call (I could call Wings because I knew the order of questions they asked, so I was comfortable). All of these things I have found other reasons to avoid them rather than because of stuttering.

No more. I'm calling to order pizza tonight, I'm calling to find out where my loan check is, and I'm calling to get my iPod fixed. I'm going to go to Toastmasters for their next meeting. I need to find a job that forces me to deal with people, not just hide at a golf course because "the hours work for me". I'm going to answer the phone at work when it rings (even though it will just be my boss telling me he's going to be late). I'm going to go to NSA meetings and cookouts and meet people who have shared things I've been through, and all of the shit I said I wouldn't do last week. If any of you call me for any reason and I don't call back, yell at me.

One of the things I've learned from reading material about psychology, if you want to make a change in your life, you need to associate enough pain to staying the same and enough pleasure to changing. When I got back into therapy in high school, it was right after I had watched a video tape in English class of a presentation we had made, and I had seen myself stutter for the first time. That was one of the worst experiences of my life. I went home that day, cried, and told my mom I wanted to try therapy again. Right now, I feel miserable because I've been avoiding things I've acted like I haven't because I rationalize other reasons not to do them. So now I feel like a fake. Hopefully this combined with being more involved in the stuttering community (which still feels weird to say) will make me embrace it more. I've been talking a big game with little action so far, because I feel so conditioned to being afraid of what people will think when I talk. This is something I will need a lot of support with, so please give me a kick in the ass.

Also, here is a link to the Iceberg analogy of stuttering that should explain a lot of what it is like to stutter: http://www.russhicks.com/iceberg.htm.

For next time, if anyone has any questions they want me to answer, or has a topic they want me to bring up, please ask.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Support Group

Today I'm writing about the concept of the stuttering support group. I have a ton of work I need to do including writing a research paper, reading, studying for two exams, and getting some more hearing testing done (graduate school is hard, kids), as well as 35 hours a week working for Idiot & Co. at Tatnuck Country Club. So though I usually put a lot of time writing these out, editing, et cetera, this entry won't be as long.

While at UMass I attended the local chapter of the National Stuttering Association, which met once a month on campus. I attended these meetings off and on because my attitude about the concept of a "support group" fluctuated fairly routinely. I don't know about anyone else but when I think of a "support group" for anything, I picture a group of people sitting around sobbing about their problems, like in Fight Club. After my dad had his gastric bypass surgery, he had to go to a support group to talk about his new diet and how he was dealing with it to make sure that he lost as much weight as possible. He had the same feelings that I had about attending a group like that, there are stereotypes about a support group that imply weakness. The stuttering support group I attended was not like that at all, but I still feel hesitant about it sometimes. The meetings were open to anyone in the area who stuttered and to any graduate students who wanted to observe and learn more about stuttering. We talked about our experiences and how we deal with them. They were very refreshing to meet other people who had dealt with the same difficulties that I have been through. Outside of my father and my cousin Griffin (who, now that I think about it, don't think stutters anymore. He might just have had normal childhood disfluencies that most children have, but I'm not sure), I have never met anyone in the real world who stutters. Marty Jezer, who's book I mentioned earlier, was one of the leaders of the group before he got sick with cancer and passed away. It was always fun to hear his stories, and again, his book Stuttering: A Life Bound Up In Words is a great read.

(One thing in the book that made me jump out of my chair was when he talked about being a guinea pig for an experiment about a stuttering theory at the time. The theory at the time was that the brain wiring crossed at the wrong point, which confused the mouth, tongue, lips, and all the other articulators. The reason for the theory was that Marty had the very rare attribute of being able to throw a baseball left-handed but swing a bat from the right side of the plate. I flipped at that because I do that, too and Marty is the only other person I have met who does that. I remember as a kid I would look through all of my baseball cards trying to find one that said "Bat: R Throw: L" and after looking through the thousands of cards I had, the only player who threw and batted the way I did was Rickey Henderson, and he might even be a switch-hitter. As much as he talks, I would noticed if Rickey stuttered or not, and no such luck, so that theory goes out the door, but it is still amazing that Marty and I share that trait.)

I guess my problem with it was that I sometimes don't like the idea of a "stuttering community." If you look at a population like the Deaf community, they are a group of people who are born deaf and take a special pride in the fact that they communicate a different way. They have an entire culture that is just for them. I don't look at stuttering the same way, so it felt weird for me to hear about stuttering conferences, associations, cookouts, and even those LiveStrong knock-off bracelets that say "Be Heard." Maybe it is because there were no other people my age at the group meetings, or maybe it's because I'm 22 and still think I'm cool. Sometimes I would go to a meeting while at UMass and tell my roommates I was going to a "meeting for my program" just because I don't like the feeling of saying "Off to the stuttering support group! Welp, see you later!" I still enjoy going to meetings on occasion and since a chapter meets at Worcester State I plan on attending the next meeting, but I'm not going to any conference or cookout.

This is another conflict for me because as much as I consider myself to be very open about my stuttering, I hate being one of those people who brings up their problems for no reason, but maybe that's my 22-year-old male pride. This blog is the ultimate way for me to talk about it without feeling too forward. Some people have complimented me for the blog about how I am finally ready to talk about it, and while I appreciate it, I have always thought of myself as willing and able to talk about it, I'm just not in-your-face about it, so unless you ask me, I won't talk about it. The metaphor I use is that my stuttering is a tattoo: It's a permenant mark on my arm, right there to see if you just ask me to show it to you, but it isn't something I wear on my sleeve. As embarrassing as it can be, I do not like to hide it. It's one of the first things I want people to know about me because it eases some tension and confusion right away and frankly I think it makes me more interesting. If I talk to someone I don't know and they ask me if I am alright, start laughing, or have a confused look on their face, I just say "I stutter" and they understand.

..So this still ended up being pretty long. That's just how prolific a writer I am. I'm the Jay-Z of blogs, it just comes to my head and I spit it real. One-Take Hov? Try One-Take Griffty. Speaking of rap, next time I'm write about the fact that I love rap and hip-hop so much and how my stuttering might be a reason for that. Maybe it's because I don't even have to try to say G-G-G-G-G-G-Unit!....Christ that was a bad joke...Till next week

Saturday, October 01, 2005

"Everybody knows, it sucks to grow up."

So I’ve spent the first few entries beating my chest talking about how different I am compared to my childhood and teen years and how much I want to help other people in my position. It makes it seem as though I am completely unphased by my stuttering anymore, which is not true. Though I have made a lot of progress, there are still situations and environments that will always be painful for me, and I hope to shed some light on some of the pain that I have experienced. This entry is not as concise as I would like it to be, and it will skip around a little bit because I can’t decide what I want in and what I want to take out. (When I write my book as Dr. Patrick Liam Griffin, Ph.D., I’ll be able to afford an editor.)

My biggest fear is approaching someone. Approaching anybody for anything is rattling. I would rather give a speech in front of 20,000 people than walk up to a random person on the street and ask for the time. However, I am willing and able to approach people who would expect to be approached, such as people at information desks, fast-food lines, and situations of that ilk. I mentioned that I did an independent study about stuttering and I had to give out surveys to 100 people. One of the reasons I chose to do the study was because I thought it would help desensitize me to that type of situation. Of course I waited all semester until there was no time left to get most of them because it was so painful to go through with it. Even after psyching myself up and mustering the nerve to ask a person to fill out a survey and later thinking, "that wasn't so bad," it never got any easier and I hated every minute of it. I found it easier to approach a girl in that situation than a guy, because during the surveys girls seemed more understanding of what was happening. The look from the guys was more “dude, get away from me.” Though, approaching a girl at a bar is completely out of the question, but I just think that's a ridiculous concept anyway. Even if a beautiful girl is sitting at the end of the bar grilling me the entire night, I’m not going anywhere. I love going to bars, but when I’m there I just like to hang out. Hitting on someone just seems so awkward. Luckily sometimes the girl will get tired of waiting and come talk to me, and I like it that way. It is difficult to tell if that particular situation has anything to do with my stuttering, because I am a reserved person and there aren't many times I would do it regardless of fluency or not. In Swingers, Trent would always tell Mikey to be money and smooth-talk the girls at the bar, even though it just wasn’t in his personality to present himself that way. Though being Trent would be more fun, I’m more like Mikey. Besides, “smooth-talking” is literally the polar opposite of “stuttering.”

The most painful time of my life was when I was eleven years old. I attended a very intense (and very expensive) fluency clinic in Woburn, MA, called Fluency Shaping. The program lasted for 3 weeks, 8 hours a day during the summer between fifth and sixth grade. I had learned to take control of my stuttering by using all of the strategies that I wrote about in an earlier entry, to the point where I was 100% fluent the entire summer. I was so excited about my new future, and assumed that since I had learned what to do, I would never stutter again. When I went back to school in the fall, the new atmosphere of middle school caused me to completely fall apart. Since I was stuttering again I thought I had failed, and that made me feel terrible about myself and the way I spoke. It was such a letdown to think I was in control only to have it fall apart like that. I went into a shell in middle school that I didn’t come out of until the end of high school. Looking back, I wish there was more of a focus on the mental aspect of stuttering and being comfortable, especially at the age of eleven. I have heard that Fluency Shaping has modified their program to include more of mental strategies and confidence-building. It would be interesting to see how effective it would be now that I am older, confident, and more mature.

Another problem I face is the fact that it is not possible to focus on my fluency all the time, and what people will think of me if I continue to have problems. There are times when I am very motivated to practice and improve, but there are other times when I just want to be a regular guy and not worry about it. Think about how often you talk throughout the day, and try to think about what I said about how often you would need to speak slower and how important breathing is. Seriously, try it some time. Try it right now. It is impossible to focus 100%, 90%, or even 75% of the time, at least that is my experience. Sometimes I just want to talk like everyone else and be “normal,” because that’s what I am. The way I speak helps define who I am, but it is not the sole reason. If I am constantly thinking about the way I am talking, I am not listening to anyone else or pay attention to anything except that. I can fall into the trap that even though I am practicing all the time, still stuttering sometimes will be a failure. I feel that fluent speech can sometimes be a letdown because so much success can raise expectations and lead to perceived failure if you have a setback. When the Patriots lost to a very good Carolina team two weeks ago, I nearly jumped off a bridge. They have played so well the last 4 years that the loss was devastating. I had to remind myself of the great things they have done and not get wrapped up in one loss. That is what happens when a person who stutters puts so much emphasis on the physical act of being fluent and forgets that they will have setbacks. As I said before, stuttering has cyclical tendencies, and for me that cycle seems to be every two weeks. Do you ever wake up on a Monday and the week just has a different feel than the week before? For me that changes every two weeks. Maybe that’s my brain shedding its meninges or something, but it feels like every two weeks I am a different person. I can’t say it’s in direct relation to my fluency but I know my mood, my thoughts, and my schedule will affect it.

An SLP needs to understand that fluency is much different from other communication disorders such as voice or articulation problems. I have heard that professors here at Worcester State have been worried that my stuttering will affect my performance in class and in the clinic. I have to be careful not to immediately get defensive, because it is a legitimate concern. I would like to think that my openness about my disorder and my past will help them understand me better and realize that my stuttering will not be a problem at all, but an advantage. A 10-year-old male fluency client is going to respond to me more than he would for anyone else, and that is a guarantee. My favorite part of Good Will Hunting is when Will and Sean are on the park bench (before Will has opened up to him) and Sean smokes him by saying:

“…If I asked you about art, you could give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo, you know a lot about him: life’s work, political aspirations, him and the Pope, sexual orientation, the whole works, right? But I bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling…”

Now I don’t quote that to be negative towards anyone (again, trying not to be defensive, here), I say it to reiterate my earlier point that my understanding of stuttering goes far beyond any book, any class, or any degree because I go through it every day. From my experience and the experiences of others who stutter, therapy is not always the best measure of progress, despite what any report says, and an SLP should not put as much emphasis on percentages and test scores as they would on a client’s self-confidence and emotional progress. I will be more proud of a fourteen-year-old client who has the courage to ask a girl on a date than I would if he is able to fluently produce some spontaneous speech sample to meet a behavioral objective. That’s just paperwork. With that said, I’m going to go watch Swingers and Good Will Hunting again.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Beautiful Struggle

First, I'd like to thank anyone who has taken the time and effort to IM me or leave comments. I really appreciate that people are taking the time to read and respond and I'm glad that people have enjoyed it. I'd also like to thank John Mayer for giving me the idea to re-name my blog "My Stupid Mouth." Why did I take four years to like John Mayer? The guy is one hell of a song writer. Anyway, thanks again to everyone. I know I said I was going to write about the difficulty of speaking in the real world as opposed to practice and clinic sessions, but I am going to talk about something much more important that I've been thinking about for a couple days.

I email back and forth with my friend Joe Klein, a professor at the College of St. Rose in Albany, New York, who I met at a support group meeting last year. He is an SLP who stutters and I recently asked him what his practice routine is and whether or not he felt more pressure to be fluent since he was an SLP. I figured he would have a very structured and detailed plan to make sure he was on all the time, but this is what he said:

"I guess my point is that, no, I don't have a routine. Other than to remind myself everyday that I am smart, capable, competent, and understand one communication disorder (stuttering) better than 99% of the SLPs in the world. And because of that, I need and deserve to be able to speak whenever and wherever I want to, and that if someone has a problem with the way that I speak that is their problem and not mine, and that it is up to me to educate them about it. The only time stuttering is truly a problem is if it is keeping you from saying what you would normally say."

His answer reinforces the truth about everything in life, not just the way that Joe and I speak: nothing is a problem unless you make it a problem. Stuttering only becomes a handicap if you let it affect your life. Everyone has a cross to bear, but the way to build character is if you can use the challenge you have been given to drive you to be a better person. That is where the beauty of life comes from. It is sappy and cliche, but a cliche becomes a cliche because it is a core truth about life. My purpose in life is not to speak fluently, but to overcome the fears and shame about the way I talk and to become a better, stronger person who will help others in my position to realize their own challenges. If I can enhance my communication and be a good role model of how to apply therapy in addition to changing the attitude, that’s even better. I continue to practice every morning and my speech has been up and down, but better than if I had not been practicing. I make sure to raise my hand or add comments at least five times a day during class. Toastmasters (the public speaking club) isn't going to happen this semester with my schedule the way it is, but over the winter I will make the effort. I've decided to try new things that don't necessarily have to do with speaking, but just to become a more well-rounded person (my bright ideas lately have included rapping, producing, learning sign-language, learning piano, learning how to box, and the big one: gathering enough material to eventually write a book. I figure between this blog and whatever else I write I can put something together in a few years to get to publishers. I know I'm a good enough writer. That's down the road but a good idea to start thinking about it now. You better pre-order it now because by 2012 it's gonna be out of stock).

Another concept that drives me is the fact I will have a son someday and he will most likely stutter, and I don't want him to go deal with stuttering the same way that I dealt with it. My dad gave me all the support, I just chose to ignore it. One of the things I admire the most about my dad (who also stutters) is that he has a very public job and is on TV all the time and doesn't seem too phased by his stuttering to let it stop him. He is known as the best town manager in Massachusetts, and keeps fixing town after town, probably yours next. I brag about my dad all the time, but it's only because I look up to him so much. I'm saving more on that for another column about why he is my hero.

Enough for now, stay tuned...

...extra point: I just spell-checked this and it said that "blog" is not a word....on blogspot.com...go figure.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Say What You Say

Today's column is going to be about the way I physically manage my stuttering. There are other parts that I feel are more important in dealing with it, but this is probably the easiest to explain (plus I don't want to run out of things to write about this early) (I'm also going to try to break the record for use of parentheses to throw in asides in a single column, held by The Sports Guy in 2001):

Everything I do starts with diaphragmatic breathing. I hold my hand on my belly button and make sure that I am breathing slowly. In Dr. Mercaitis' Intro and Counceling classes, she would often start the hour with a 4-minute mini-meditation to the frustration of many. It's definitely not something I want to do in the company of other people. Corny? Yes. Weird and new-age? Yes. But a waste of time? Absolutely not. Correct breathing is the most important part of fluent speech. If I start off tight, I am not getting a single word out. Of course this is also a difficult thing to do in a real-life situation. I have to prepare thouroughly, so for phone calls and class presentations I have more time to relax and focus on my breathing. On-the-spot situations are much more difficult and therefore can be the most frustrating.

Breathing correctly is a difficult thing to do all the time. As you might have noticed, even if you don't try to breathe, your body will do it for you, so unless you train your body to breathe in a certain way you will go back to whatever you were doing. I try to take a couple minutes a day to focus on correct breathing in order to train myself to do it the right way. Of course, this is especially hard for me because I have been holding in my gut for the last 5 years to create the illusion of abdominal muscles. I can't decide which is more necessary. After all, if I'm cut up like Usher, who needs to talk? (Speaking of which, since I'm not stealing Ethan's food or ordering Wings every 4 hours, the washboard is coming along nicely...)

(That also reminds me of a quote from my friend Marty Jezer's book Stuttering: A Life Bound Up In Words, in which he talks about an anti-stuttering pill that he was testing that could have sexual side effects. He wrote, "What's more important: to not stutter, or to fuck?" This was one of my favorite quotes, especially for a book with minimal cursing. It is a great read for anyone, not just for people like us. Marty used to help lead the stuttering support group meetings at UMass that I attended, but he died of cancer several months ago. He was a great guy and a personal role model and he will definitely be missed by anybody that knew him. If you read his book you will know why.)

The other strategies I use regularly are called reduced rate and easy onset, and all that means is I talk slower in order to stay in control. If I can time both of these with breathing correctly, everything goes well. There is a diagram I look at to make sure that I am using good form. Picture a basic drawing of a mountain, so the two top lines of a triangle (If I could figure out how to put pictures in this damn thing, I'd draw it for you). The incline of that first line is inhaling, and the decline of the second line is the exhale. I am supposed to start vocalizing about a half-second down the decline to make sure that I have an open airway. When I practice I do that very slowly and focused to make sure I am using proper form. Just like a basketball player takes 100 foul shots during practice (well, a good player, like Larry Bird, not somebody like Charles O'Bannon). As in anything in life, practicing the fundamentals is the most important part. I practice by using recorded tracks I made on my computer where I just read sentences and random words (especially with sounds that I have the most difficulty with, such as /d/). The things I am saying are very basic, but it doesn't matter if I'm reading See Dick Run (hehehehe...), as long as I am using proper form.

So basically, that's what I do. There are other techniques that are out there, but as of now this is what works best for me. These are tried and true. Next time, on a completely different note, I'll talk about what situations are the hardest for me to transfer these techniques in to (and just how frustrating that can be).

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

"I wouldn't go to a physical therapist who couldn't walk."

I have never understood how other people picked their career. I know people have interests and those lead to careers. Others go where the money is, and still others just have talent and intelligence in a specific area (because who could be legitimately interested in organic chemistry or physics? Seriously...). Sometimes I wish I had chosen something else, such as journalism or sports management (I can turn the Arizona Cardinals into Super Bowl champions in 2 years with roster moves alone in Madden), but ultimately I know I am in the right spot.

I think I am very fortunate to have a career choice that meets all three of those criteria: interest, talent, and the dollars. I have a legitimate personal interest in the field, I will be paid more than adequately for my services, and I believe in my heart that no other speech-language pathologist (outside of a person in a similar situation) would be a better candidate for a job than I would. In my situation, that's the level of confidence I need to have: nobody is going to be better qualified than me. I have the empathy necessary to understand the agony that a child can go through, but have enough sense to not let them dwell. They have to know that they will have slumps where your mouth, tongue, and chest feel tense and you can't get anything out no matter how much you practice. These slumps could last a day or a week, the important thing is to not give up because the results will come. Even if you have a rut, you need to keep stretching your comfort zone. I know enough to understand that the clinic environment is so sterile that it can be a trap because during a session, fluent speech comes so easily. I certainly know enough not to say "well, maybe you just aren't practicing enough." Empathy is the most difficult thing for someone to have, because you can never be in their position no matter how much you try. I have heard that in the graduate course on fluency, one of the assignments is to go out and stutter voluntarily in a public place in an effort to gain some understanding of that pain. A fluent person doesn't understand how it feels to be laughed at by a girl you are trying to talk to, or how much it hurts to be be hung up on while trying to make a phone call. I don't say this in an effort to gain sympathy or to make people feel bad for me, but those are situations that people take for granted. I am anxious to see how others respond to that, because believe me, it can be very, very painful.

The most difficult thing I am anticipating is how much of a role model I will have to be. I am in the unique position of having to practice what I preach every time I open my mouth. This is difficult because I am not 100% fluent all of the time, or any of the time. In high school, I practiced every morning with a tape recorder, a mirror, and a newspaper article to read aloud. I definitely reaped the benefits of the practice as my speech improved drastically. In college, I never practiced because of being in the vicinity of roommates and I have never been comfortable with that. That, and being caught up in college life took all of my motivation away. My lack of effort showed a lot because of the amount of trouble I had. I would use so many excuses as to why I wasn't fluent, including "I just haven't practiced lately," "I'm comfortable with my stuttering, that's the important thing," "As soon as I get home for the summer I'll practice," and so on. As my fluency showed, I never did. The typical goal for any type of speech therapy is 90% success, because 100% is not realistic. Lately I think I have been around 80-85%. That means I have to step it up and put more effort to get to that 90%. I practice every morning in the car on the way to work, and as soon as I start mowing fairways, I'll have my headphones and my home-made practice tracks and I can practice more at work. I also have to do things I would never have done in the past, including making more phone calls, taking more initiative with friends, and not avoiding any possible speaking situations. To think back to the point where I used to be, where I would have Ethan order my Wings, have Jaylynn order my coffee at Dunkin' Donuts, or have somebody lean over to talk to the drive-thru at Wendy's are depressing thoughts, and those are only changes I have made in the last year-and-a-half. I still have miles to go in regards to risk taking. I make all (well, almost all) of my own phone calls with little hesitation. I do all my own ordering in person and on the phone (just ask my Dad and he'll show you the credit card bill for Wings.....God, I haven't had Wings in a while....do you think they deliver to Worcester?) I am planning on joining the organization called Toastmasters which is more-or-less a public speaking club, I would like to be an officer for NSSHLA, and I would even like to do readings at church (assuming I start going to church up here).

Of course, these are all plans, and time will tell if I actually follow through with them, but I am trying my best, and I need support. I need to actually DO IT rather than talk about it. I cannot be static in terms of my progress. I have the blueprint in my mind of the kind of person I want and need to be in order to be successful in this field, and I'm lucky to have it figured out so early. I have no more excuses.

Thursday, August 25, 2005


I've decided to start writing a blog again....and no, it won't be like last time (don't worry). This is mainly going to be a forum for me to talk about a part of my life that many of my friends know about, but don't fully understand: my stuttering. Most people know that I just graduated UMass with a degree in communication disorders, and that I am attending Worcester State College to get my master's in Speech-Language Pathology. I am often asked about my decision to get into this field. People ask me how I plan to help people who stutter (and other disorders) if I have one myself. As one person said to me, "If I had a broken leg, I wouldn't get physical therapy from a person in a wheelchair." Of course this is a valid question and one I anticipate having to answer often. It's a difficult thing to understand, and it something I struggle with. But I am going to try to answer as many questions about stuttering as I can, to hopefully shed some light on what I and others like me go through every time we open our mouths to speak. Here are some of the basics to get us started:

The cause of stuttering is unknown. There is no concrete theory about the cause of stuttering, despite theories about psychological damage, physical trauma, abusive parenting, or any of that bullshit. Most recent research shows that the brain is not wired correctly, but nothing is proven. However, a recent study in England has shown some evidence that the part of the brain known as the central sulcus is different in people who stutter than people who do not. Hopefully there will be more research into this new theory. There are also genetic factors (for those of you who do not know, my father also stutters, as does my cousin Griffin) that play a role.

Stuttering has no (negative) effect on a person's intelligence. I did an independent study for some credits last year about students' opinions on stuttering. At first I didn't think anything of it, but upon getting the results I was shocked to see how little people really know about it or how to react to someone who stutters. The most unexpected response I recieved concerned stuttering lowering a person's intelligence. The is something that couldn't be farther from the truth, as Charles Darwin, Winston Churhill, King Charles I, Isaac Newton, and I can attest. That is just stupid. Do you have any idea how fast I can do the Collegian crossword puzzle?!

I am not necessarily nervous. While it is very common that my stuttering increases when I am nervous, it is not always the case. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE don't tell me to "relax" or "take my time". I know you are just trying to be polite, but to me it as if you are saying "don't be nervous, there's nothing to be afraid of," which presupposes that I am actually afraid. This can lead to actual nervousness and a self-esteem hit. I understand that is the stereotype, but this weblog is my first step to changing that. If you speak to me or any other person who stutters, be patient and maintain eye contact. Thanks.

Stuttering cannot be cured, but it can be improved. There are many techniques to improve fluency, several of which I use regularly. There are techniques for diaphragmatic breathing, reducing the rate at which I speak, and lengthing the first syllable of a word can all be useful. Unfortunately there is no magic pill yet. There are several devices on the market which claim to improve fluency, including one I own called a Speech-Easy. The Speech-Easy uses two types of technology called Delayed Auditory Feedback (DAF) and Frequency Altered Feedback (FAF) in an ear piece that resembles a hearing aid. It works by using a microphone that picks up your voice and replays it a fraction of a second later with either a higher or lower frequency. This works because of the "choral effect" which is the reason why a person who stutters will not have trouble while saying the Pledge of Allegience, for example. The Speech-Easy is useful for many people, but for others it is not as effective. It works better for p-p-p-people w-w-w-who s-s-s-stut-t-t-t-er i-i-i-n a rep-p-p-petit-t-t-t-ive m-m-m-m-anner because it keeps the speech flowing. However, for someone like me who has trouble at the start of a sentence before I can even get a sound out, it is not as effective. Therefore, my Speech-Easy sits unused for the most part (especially since it needs to be repaired). Other bugs include the constant background noise and feedback that can be distracting. Since the microphone picks up all sounds, not just my voice, there is constant noise in my ear. After I first got my device 2 years ago, I was lying in bed with my girlfriend when she sneezed. She had a very high voice, so when she sneezed and the microphone picked it up, my head nearly exploded. Needless to say, the Speech-Easy is a work in progress and I am optomistic.

So, those are some basics about stuttering. I plan on writing frequently in this to talk about more. In the meantime, whether you are a friend of mine or just a random person reading random blogs, I encourage you to comment on this entry and share your thoughts. Also, if somebody out there is clever I need a good title for this. This is not just an excuse to harness my unused writing talent, this is the first step for me really trying to promote awareness about stuttering, and I have many ideas in the works (maybe a podcast in the future?...) I am a future speech-language pathologist and if I am going to be a good one, I need to start doing my job now. Thanks for reading, and tell your friends.