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).