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.

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