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.