Monday, April 26, 2010

Upward Fluency Trend

I'm experiencing an upward trend in fluency at work...and I'm enjoying it while it lasts. In the evenings, I usually avoid putting the kids on the phone with their parents because it requires calling the parents, identifying myself and then telling them they have a call from their kid. You'll remember not too long ago, I was posting on being on a downward trend and was avoiding the phone like the plague.

Last evening, I handled all the calls and only experienced a few difficult moments. And those were very minor and I would bet my left arm that the parent didn't even notice. During these times of fluency, I get a little taste of what it would be like to be completely fluent and it's really a liberating experience and a very refreshing change from the usual. It's easy to be tempted to think it will last...but I will try not to think about that right now. For however long it will last, I will just enjoy it.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Shut Up, Already!

I hope I don't get hate for this entry...but have any of you stutterers noticed many non-stuttering people who say so much but have so little to say? There is this lady at work, she is a new nurse on the unit and she is "shadowing" our supervisor nurse until she learns the ropes...and this woman, I swear, never shuts up. Every single little detail in her life is a long-winded anecdote to share with anyone who will listen.

Almost every time I found myself in the nurse's station, this woman was boring everyone with some goofy story about her kids or her husband or about her Border Collie or about her horses or about the last hospital she worked in...all sorts of stories that, by all appearances from those listening, nobody wanted to hear. I want to scream at her, "Lady, nobody cares that your husband has a hammer toe or that your horse responds to your emotions or that your toddler son is the next Einstein! Shut up, already!" Let's face it: most of our lives are boring to other people and unless some monumental event takes place or you can contribute to some conversation already taking place where your story might add something to the discussion...can't you please save your insufferable daily anecdotes for a blog?

I rarely talk at work unless I'm consulting with another counselor about the next group session or talking about what's next on the schedule. Oh, we exchange funny stories about the unit when we all sit down for a break or at the end of the day when we are doing reports or other paperwork. We might even update others on our lives, things that others already know. But, for the most part, probably because of my stutter, I don't bore people with my life story. Perhaps if I didn't have this stutter, I would...who knows? Pondering this...perhaps, then, having a stutter is somewhat of a blessing to others?

I am reminded of a classic scene from the John Hughes film, "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles".  The relevant portion comes at about 52 seconds.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

You May Know Mark...

A few years ago, I happened upon a segment of Oprah Winfrey that immediately caught my attention. The reason it caught my attention was that it was about stuttering. I don't watch Oprah on a regular basis. Ordinarily, because I am a stutterer myself, I find it difficult to watch television programs about stuttering and I'll avoid them at all cost. It's like a big mirror being erected before me and the last thing I usually want to do is to see and hear what I look and sound like when I stutter.

This segment was different, however. It was about the famed SpeechEasy device. If you aren't aware of this device, it's a tiny piece of expensive ($4000+) hardware that the adherent wears much like a hearing aid. It feeds auditory feedback to the listener in such a way as to "trick" the adherent into thinking that he is speaking in unison with another person. This act, like the device, usually produces instant fluency in stutterers. And for Mark, the focus of this Oprah segment, that is almost exactly what happened.

I could not find the Oprah Segment, but Mark was also featured on Good Morning America in 2002...same year. You can see the segment for yourself right here. Have some tissues handy.

The segment touched me very deeply...but it also sparked my imagination. My stutter isn't as severe as Mark's, but I still wanted the device terribly. After years of struggling through failed speech therapy, a childhood filled with taunts and bullies and daily struggles even to this day, finally here was a device that appeared to promise instant fluency. Is there a stutterer alive who wouldn't want this?

To my dismay, I learned that just the consultation visit was over $300. The device itself costs upwards of $4000. And it's not covered by insurance. That was far out of my budget constraints. I blogged about it some time later and some of my readers offered to take up a collection and donate so that I could afford it. Now I am glad I never took them up on that offer.

Like many professionals and researchers who have decades of experience with stuttering suspected, it seems the device is only a temporary cure. For many, like Mark, the effects of the device wear off pretty quickly. And many, like Mark, are left disillusioned, embarrassed, ashamed and they often blame themselves for the failure.

Today, from a link on a stuttering website, I found that Mark has a blog of his own. I am linking to his post about the SpeechEasy device, but you can navigate from that page to his current posts. I'm glad to hear and read that Mark is doing well, has overcome the disappointment and self-loathing he felt when the device failed him and he has gone on to finish his education, get married and is living a happy and productive life. His blog should be advertised more so people can approach devices like the SpeechEasy fully informed and so those who, like Mark, were failed by the device, can be assured that they aren't alone and they do not have to live a life, laboring under feelings of failure and disappointment. Good for you, Mark, and thank you for sharing your story.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Low Birth Weight?

I was reading an older post on The Stuttering Brain Blog this morning about a study that showed there was a correlation between low-birth rate and stuttering...unless I read it wrong, the study shows strong evidence that low birth weight can result in a 2-3 times greater risk for stuttering. Tom summarizes one point here:

"There is now clear empirical evidence that children in the lowest ranges of birth weight are twice to three times more likely to develop stuttering as compared to their normal-weight counterparts."

This is an interesting find for me because I was born 2.5 months premature and weighed less than three pounds at birth. Could that have increased my risk factor for stuttering? According to this study...yes. I was told that I began stuttering at around the age of three and that it appeared after I was taken from my mother and was sent to live with my grandmother. I was told I was so traumatized that I stopped talking altogether for about a month and then when I began talking again during therapy with a child psychologist, I had a severe stutter. Over the years, I have read that some people stutter because of a traumatic event. Sometimes people get into a car wreck and survive with a stutter. Because of those stories, I always just assumed the traumatic childhood event was the cause of my stutter.

This new study doesn't change my mind about that. The study just makes me believe that because of my low birth weight, perhaps I was already predisposed to stutter and the traumatic event just triggered it. I'm not a PhD like Tom, so I can't speak intelligently about such things. But, it's one idea.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Texting as an Alternative?

**First, let me thank my devoted readers, some of who have emailed me to encourage me to update my blog. Thank you. I'm sorry for the absence.**

Some months back, my son and I had a conversation about why I don't call him as much as he thinks I should. It's true that I hadn't called him much, but in my favor, I text him all the time. At least once a day to ask him how he is or to just say I love him or some other brief message. In his favor, we hadn't had a meaningful conversation in a while and I guess he was feeling that absence. I told him that I just wasn't comfortable talking much on the phone because it tires me out greatly and I avoid it as much as possible. The problem was, I was avoiding it to the point that it was affecting my relationship with him.

Sure, I have to suffer a little when I call him. I struggle with blocks and hesitations...and usually by the end of the conversation, I'm worn out mentally. But, is that a worth price to pay to maintain my close relationship with my son? Of course, it is. There is a part of me that believes that he doesn't understand just how taxing it is for me to undertake a phone conversation...but will his understanding change the fact that fewer phone conversations will harm our relationship? And if it a good point? Probably not.

So, though I raised more than a few justifications for my lack of calling (or answering), at the end of the conversation, I had to admit that he was right. And that it was probably a good idea to just bite the bullet and call more often, even if it was difficult for me to do so.

Having said all of that, I must admit that, when my phone does ring and I see that it's him (or anyone)...I heave a big sigh and wish I hadn't heard it or that my phone was accidentally left in my car...but then I answer it anyway and, as usual, I struggle with fluency, become frustrated with the blocks and hesitations and wind up thinking at the end of the conversation that I surely must have come across as a stuttering, dysfluent asshole. I have a sneaky suspicion that it is not the way that I actually come across to those I speak to...but reality doesn't usually change how one feels, does it?

I still have bouts of self pity when I think about all of the people who use their phone all day long and enjoy lengthy conversations with loved ones and friends and wholly take for granted the ease with which they do all of this. But then I ultimately am pestered by my inner voice that scolds me, reminding me that I do not corner the market in pain and suffering and that millions of people struggle every day with all sorts of things, many of which are harder than what I have to go through. Blind people. Those suffering with missing limbs or barely-working limbs...people who are deaf...people who can't walk...people with Parkinson's Disease, Multiple Sclerosis...and many, many more.

In retrospect, I have to admit to myself that my struggle is minor when compared to so many others. And for that, I am grateful.

Incidentally, my son was recently accepted to Georgetown University with a full, four-year scholarship. I can't complain too much, I suppose. :)