Monday, October 31, 2005

PFSP-Day 11-Telephone Transfer

In the spring of 1998, a friend asked me to go skydiving with him. The topic of had come up previously, with me telling him how much I wanted to go. But when he asked for a firm commitment, to go in 2 weeks, I quickly realized that although I had once “really wanted to go”, I had since become a bit more reserved and didn’t currently want to do it. I turned him down, but when he went, I felt like I let myself down.

So the next time he went, I was with him. Before my jump, I had a 6-8 hours of instruction, then I geared up and climbed into the airplane. Once inside, I realized there was no turning back, and the tension mounted as the propeller started, the plane started down the runway, we lifted off, we gained altitude, and then the door swung open with a rush of wind raising the decibel level. My stomach was a knot by now, but all that was nothing compared to climbing out … there is nothing quite as scary as climbing out of a moving airplane.

Instead of jumping out of the airplane, as commonly portrayed on TV, this company found it easier for the student to climb out of the plane, standing on the wheel, and holding the strut from the planes body to the wing. Then you would step off the wheel, arch your body and release your hands. This allows you to maintain the arch shape needed to fall chest first, preventing your parachute from getting tangled in the lines. They also found that almost everybody could release their hands, where as many couldn’t jump.

So, I’m hanging out on the wing of an airplane at 3500ft, the instructor says “GO” … I of course say “WHAT?” … “GO!”. So I release my grip and as I see the wing of the airplane slipping out of view, I think “I did it! Oh my god! … I can’t believe I did it! …. Was that such a wise move?”. I swear, those were my exact thoughts.

I don’t remember anything else until I saw the last 2 cells of my chute filling with air … meaning that I was safe. The instructor told me it was not uncommon for people to not remember that part. Is that true? I don’t know. But I did know that I was so terrified from the jump, that I was compelled to go back a few more times and jump until I brought the fear down to a manageable level. Then I quit. It’s just not me.

Well today at the clinic, we started transferring our new skills. Via the telephone!

To put this in perspective for the non-stutterers who may be reading this, there have been times in my life, where I would have felt the same level of fear as I felt on my first skydive. It’s not currently that bad, but there is always at least a bit of anxiety.

Today, knowing that the phone was being passed around and would soon reach me, caused my anxiety to build. It reminded me a lot of the slow trip to 3500ft that I took years earlier.

And when I did finally get the phone, my initial phone call, was a quick stuttering mess. I didn’t even remember what happened. It reminded me of how I have no recollection of what happened between the time I let go of the airplane and chute fully inflated.

In spite of the early anxiety, by the fourth attempt I was using my targets fairly proficiently. By my tenth transfer exercise on the phone, I was having visions of actually talking on the phone in my business. Actually, I’m a pretty optimistic person who sets goals a little to high sometimes, so it wasn’t long before I was even thinking about cold calls! Although, that last part may have been slightly euphoric.

When I got home from the clinic, I had to fix my voice mail. When I went to leave a message, I did it on the first try! What the heck? Holy smokes! This usually takes at least an hour!

Things are really starting to happen. And judging by my willingness to use it in the real world, this time the transition may not be the insurmountable obstacle it once seemed.

Not meant as advice, please find a qualified therapist if you are interested in similar therapy.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

PFSP-Day 10-Slow Normal & Shaping

Friday we moved from the ½ second Stretched Syllable to Slow Normal.

Slow Normal is our new speaking voice. If you’ve been reading this blog, you will have noticed; we started with 2 second Stretched Syllables (SS), moved to 1 sec. SS, then ½ sec. SS, now Slow Normal.

How fast is slow normal? It’s the rate at which I can maintain control and feel my targets execute properly. For me right now, it’s probably about 0.4 seconds per syllable, roughly half the speed of normal speech.

We should not speak faster than our Line of Safety, as Lori, our therapist, put it. Basically the Line of Safety is the speed at which we can accurately use our targets and feel in control. Knowing my Line of Safety will be critical in executing my new speech pattern long term. However, there is the temptation to trade long term control for a short term relief in awkwardness, since just beyond the Line of Safety is spontaneous fluency, in which I can speak fluently without “sounding funny”. I expect staying slower than the Line of Safety will be very difficult with the constant temptation to push beyond it.

Saying my speech is spontaneously fluent just beyond my Line of Safety, is not totally accurate. I expect with the completion of this course, my fluency just beyond my line of safety will be spontaneously fluent. However, as I lose control of my new skill, and time passes, my fluency beyond this line will only become increasingly random.

We also talked about speech chains again. With Slow Normal, comes the ability to emphasize certain words, in order to add tonality. This is HUGE for me. When I did the program in 1993, I was released into the world with a very monotone voice. This caused a few bad experiences when attempting to use it in public. This is something I had planned to do differently, by practicing my tonality, but I hadn’t expected it to be incorporated right into the program. Just another example of how the program has been improved over the past 10 years.

The method we discussed for adding tonality is to give the syllable or word to be emphasized a longer duration than the others. The big trap is not to shorten everything else, as I immediately started doing unconsciously, but to expand the syllable or word to be emphasized.

We also discussed Shaping. Shaping is our daily practice, which we will be using every day for the next Year. We need to do it just before our speaking day begins, and periodically throughout the day if necessary. It’s 20 minutes and goes like this:
1 minute spent monitoring our Full Breath target
3 minutes spent reading out loud at 2 second Stretched Syllable
4 minutes spent reading out loud at 1 second Stretched Syllable
6 minutes spent reading out loud at ½ second Stretched Syllable
6 minutes spent reading out loud at Slow Normal

Then we should immediately engage in a conversation for 5-10 minutes using our targets.

Because my new voice “sounds funny”, I expect it to get some strange reactions from people when I use it. I started using it with my family as soon as I got home on Friday, and although I felt comfortable using it in my “safe” environment, my 3 year old son kept asking me to stop talking funny and to use my “daddy” voice. I started explaining, why I was talking funny, but he was quickly distracted with a balloon and took off. So, I guess it didn’t bother him that much. ;-)

I also attempted to use it in the real world a few times, but none of my attempts were successful ... not that, I’m discouraged. I mostly mention it for the record. In the post-therapy part of this blog, I expect there will be plenty of times where my transfer fails and / or I receive less than accepting reactions from others. I intend to blog about these experiences. Actually, the post-therapy part of my blog will probably be the most interesting.

I am eager to master this skill and refine it to the point where it doesn’t sound “that” funny, and use it regularly. On the other hand, perhaps I should embrace the odd sounding voice. Powerful people throughout history have had oddities about them, which only intensified their persona. But then again, I don’t know if I have the character to back up an oddity. ;-)

Not meant as advice, please find a qualified therapist if you are interested in similar therapy.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

PFSP-Day 9-½ Second Stretch

Today we moved to ½ second stretch. It’s pretty darn close to normal speaking speed, and I can feel that a real life, usable skill, just around the corner.

Believe it or not, moving up to ½ second syllables was difficult and felt too fast after the exaggeratedly prolonged syllables performed during the past week. It actually took me about 40-50 minutes to execute it in a manner I was happy with. But it’s still less than half the, 0.2 second syllables, in regular speech.

Other than that, it was mostly practice via; the gentle onset testing monitor, paired dialog, or group dialog. It was actually pretty relaxing and enjoyable.

One thing I did notice about today, I really feel good. I mean, I’m really tired since I got up early this morning, but otherwise, I’m on top of the world. I contribute this mostly to the lack of fear about looking like a fool if I need to communicate with anybody. I’ve even spoken to a few people I didn’t have to. It was pretty cool.

Tomorrow we move to slow normal, where we will be using our targets at near normal speaking pace.

Not meant as advice, please find a qualified therapist if you are interested in similar therapy.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

PFSP-Day 8-Amplitude Contour & Full Articulatory Movement

Do you know who Mel Tillis is? I sure do.

When I was a kid, it was constantly pointed out to me that the popular 1970s country singer, Mel Tillis, stuttered. Good ole Mel would go on talk shows and stutter just like me, but when he sang, he was as fluent as the next guy. As a result of this, I was often, and occasionally now, advised to just sing it.

So why can Mel Tillis sing without stuttering? Because most stuttering happens when you are starting your voice, and when you sing, it never stops, so there’s no stutter.

[After reading one of the comments on this post, I asked my therapist about the singing relationship. She basically told me that while there are similarities, the above text may be misleading. I am leaving this in the blog, to emphisize that this is not an educational blog, but a record of my experience in therapy. It includes my understanding, limited-understanding, and mis-understanding.]

On Monday, we learnt a target, which is similar in nature to singing. Unfortunately, I was so excited about the insights I had with regards to Plosives and moving to the 1 second stretch, that I forgot to mention it.

The new target is called Amplitude Contour, and it’s basically, chaining your syllables together so your voice doesn’t stop. You may notice this came with the move from a 2 second stretch syllable to a 1 second stretch syllable. Since the pattern is; 2 seconds speak, 1 second inhale, 2 seconds speak, 1 second inhale, etc…, it is necessary to join the 2, 1 second, syllables. And in the spirit of the program, a controlled joining target only makes sense.

So with the Amplitude Contour target, we lower the volume, but never stop our voice. We only turn our voice off to inhale.

The target we learnt today is called Full Articulatory Movement (F.A.M.). Essentially FAM is fully articulating our vocal tract in pronouncing the syllable sounds. Some stutterers deal with stuttering by reducing their articulation, this target helps to deal with that problem. I don’t believe FAM is part of the original program, and Dr. Kroll of the Stuttering Centre, added it.

Also, remember the video Dr. Kroll made of us the first day of the program? Well today we got to watch it and analyze the missing targets in our (soon to be) old speech pattern. This is a great idea, as it gives us that personal touch of dealing specifically with the problem areas each of us has.

Fortunately, I’ve seen myself on video before, so the stutter was not that much of a shock.

Not meant as advice, please find a qualified therapist if you are interested in similar therapy.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

PFSP-Day 7-Homework

There isn’t a whole lot to talk about today. We practiced with the Gentle Onset monitor for a while, then we were quizzed on our retention rate for the course so far. Reviewing the quiz took the rest of the morning, since every item was discussed in 1 second, stretch syllable.

By the way, all interaction in the clinic now is using targets and the 1 second, stretched syllable. I find this pretty exciting, as we are getting closer to being able to apply these skills to our daily lives.

Today, however, I would like to discuss my weekend homework though and attempt to project the enormous undertaking of this course. I glossed over this in Sunday’s post, but I failed to do it justice. I was tired and frustrated, and could have done a better job. I didn’t even discuss the Gentle Onset test box, of which I uploaded a picture.

Above is a picture of the Gentle Onset box. Pretty unassuming, I know, but it’s a frustration machine! ;-) It’s simple, with 2 items being the most important; the microphone, and the Gentle Onset indicator light. You speak into the microphone from about a foot away, and if you perform the Gentle Onset target correctly, the light comes on.

The trick to getting the light on, is to start your sound almost silently, and gradually increase your volume. If you start above a certain (unknown) volume, it won’t light. If you increase the volume too fast, it won’t light. If you don’t increase it fast enough, it won’t light. If you change your pitch, it won’t light. If you have any kind of break in your volume, it won’t light.

But just getting the light on is not enough, you need to keep it on. The light should stay on until you have achieved full volume in the practiced sound. And if you are practicing multi-sound syllables, the light should stay on, until you have stabilized the last stretchable sound.

So, if you have the word ‘SOON’; ‘S’ is not stretchable, and should be articulated as lightly as possible. ‘OO’ should be started with the Gentle Onset with an increasing volume until the light comes on. The ‘OO’ should then be slowly changed to the ‘N’ sound. If the change from the ‘OO” to the ‘N’ is too fast, or unstable, or the volume is not maintained, or your pitch changes; the light goes out.

It’s very frustrating when the light doesn’t come on. And no matter how accurate you believe your articulation is, it still doesn’t come on, or keeps going out on you. Very frustrating.

To put this in perspective, over the weekend, my homework assignment consisted of:
1.Monitor exercises for Class II sounds (stretchable consonants)
2.Covert (mental) practice for Class II sounds
3.Tape the reading of 4 paragraphs, then listen & correct
4.Have 2 conversations with somebody outside the clinic while monitoring my targets.
5.Monitor exercises for Class III sounds (air consonants; s,sh,f,etc..)
6.Covert (mental) practice for Class III sounds
7.Time my covert practice of a 50 syllable paragraph. Do this 3 times to check my timing.

Most of this isn’t that big of a deal, but 1 & 5 consisted of 273 and 180 sounds respectively. Each was performed 5 times, for a collective total of 2,265 repetitions assuming I made no mistakes. And I made plenty of mistakes.

So there you have it, this is no small undertaking by any means, and the hard part of transferring my new skills to the real world is still to come.

Not meant as advice, please find a qualified therapist if you are interested in similar therapy.

Monday, October 24, 2005

PFSP-Day 6–Reduced Articulatory Pressure & 1 Second Stretch

After yesterdays, massive homework frustrations, I really wasn’t very excited about the program this morning. But in discussing our homework, I found out I was too far from the box, and was ramping back down just as I was approaching the appropriate volume. I tested this, and indeed that seems to have been my problem. There are so many things to remember and focus on, that sometimes the obvious eludes you … not that it’s that obvious.

We also discussed Plosives and their targets; the usual; Stretched Syllable (SS), Full Breath (FB), Gentle Onset (GO), Slow Change (SC), Reduced Air Pressure (RAP I), and a new one Reduced Articulatory Pressure (RAP II).

Reduced Articulatory Pressure is basically using as little force as possible in your vocal tract. So, when you make the ‘P’ sound, you only gently put your lips together and allow your voice to blow them apart. I was skeptical until I did it, but it sounds exactly the same as forcing your lips together. Then the first stretchable sound after the Plosive is stretched and started with a Gentle Onset. Missing the first stretchable sound, may lead to blocking later. Also, RAP I is implied with RAP II, so reducing the articulatory pressure will coincide with a reduction in air pressure.

Have you ever flattened a penny on the railway tracks as a kid? You put the penny on the track when you hear a train coming, then stand back. After the train passed, you are left with a flattened bit of copper the thickness of a blade of grass.

Well, my strategy for breaking through the ‘B’s, and ‘P’s of my life, has always been to attempt to crush my lips together with as much penny crushing force as possible. I realize this doesn’t make sense on a logical level, but when you are trying to get through the block, that’s what usually ends up happening.

Lori explained this type of Plosive block today. She said I am really blocking at the voice box level, and our vocal tract just continues the course it was on, until the voice shows up … which it never does. So I end up jamming my lips together, along with having all the other facial pressures, which accompany it. You know … I’ve had problems on ‘P’s and ‘B’s for 30 years, and always assumed my problem was at the lips! It wasn’t until she told me this, that I realized it was just another block!

And again, my shallow breathing was pointed out. I am not breathing with my abdomen, but instead am relying solely on my chest and shoulders. This comes up everyday, but I just keep repeating the same mistake. It’s really something I should work on. Perhaps I should add it to my nightly practice.

The highlight of my day was when we moved from the 2 second stretch to a faster 1 second stretch. I believe the sequence goes; 2 second, 1 second, ½ second, then slow normal. The faster I get to slow normal and get to actually start using these skills, the happier I will be. But if I get to a regular speed again, without maintaining the targets, then it’s all for nothing.

Not meant as advice, please find a qualified therapist if you are interested in similar therapy.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

PFSP Week 1-Frustration

I’ve heard a saying to the effect of “You should welcome frustration. Because when you get frustrated, you’re about to learn something”. Well, if that’s true, I’m about to make a major breakthrough! Possibly even discover a strategy for world peace, or a way to reverse global warming!

I am SSSSSSSSOOOOOOO frustrated! And I’m tired! I feel like I’ve spent the entire weekend in front of that Gentle Onset test box! And I’ve still got homework left.

I slowly grind away at the exercises, checking off each sound as I do it correctly, then, when I’m almost finished a particular sound group, I’ll get stuck and spend 20 minutes on a single check. Some times this may be the last one, and I just need to say it one more time, but it takes me 35 minutes.

I haven’t done it (yet), but I bet that test box has been thrown across a few rooms in it’s lifetime. ;-)

Overall the week has been good. I learnt a lot and picked up a few insights about my problem. The fact that I’m not breathing properly is HUGE!

It’s also ironic that most of my problems with speech, has to do with the ill conceived strategies I’ve adopted over the years to try to push through the stutter. If I just stuttered the way I did when I was 7, I’d be fine.

I was hoping to summarize what I learnt this week, and possibly add something insightfull, but really; I just want to get to bed before 1am. So, back to my homework.

Not meant as advice, please find a qualified therapist if you are interested in similar therapy.

FYI-Day 3 has been updated

Please notice that I have posted the activities for Wednesday.

Thank you for your patience,

Not meant as advice, please find a qualified therapist if you are interested in similar therapy.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

PFSP-Day 5-Slow Change and Reduced Air Pressure

Thursdays practice with Gentle Onset was only with vowels. But what happens when the first stretchable sound is not a vowel? What happens with constricted sounds? And Fricative or Popping sounds? Well they can be a little different.

For this we learnt 2 new targets; Slow Change and Reduced Air Pressure.

Slow Change is the slow, controlled, articulatory change from one stretchable sound to another stretchable sound. For example; the word ‘NO’ has 2 stretchable sounds, you will use a gentle onset for the ‘N’ sound, slowly increase the volume to full, then slowly change your vocal folds and vocal tract constrictions into the ‘O’ sound positions. Vocal tract constrictions changes would include lowering your tongue from the back of your teeth, slightly increase the parting of your teeth, and forming a circle with your lips.

Notice words ‘stretchable’ in that last paragraph? They’re there for a reason; you can’t do a slow change from a Fricative, because you will lose all of your air before getting to the next letter.

Reduced Air Pressure is for the Fricatives. By reducing air pressure on these sounds, you have air to perform the Gentle Onset with the first stretchable sound.

So, if you have a word like ‘SNOW’, the first sound is a Fricative and should be approached with minimal air pressure as to keep the sound audible.

Hear it

Two things I’ve learned by stretching my voice for the past few days is; a) my voice jumps wildly in pitch and volume, and b) I can’t seem to differentiate between raising my pitch and volume.

Lori, my therapist, often walks into the clinic test room when my gentle onset test box doesn’t appear to be working correctly. She knows immediately what my problem is and always says the same things; “You’re raising your pitch, not your volume”, and “Talk like a robot”. I do it, and sure enough it works.

She has also pointed out that I keep trying to rush through the tests and as soon as I do that, I lose my ability to perform the targets correctly. My god, is she a mind reader? How does she know this? ;-)

Lori also pointed out a major thing on Friday; I don’t speak until my natural exhale has completed, and I am getting all of my air from forcing left out the remaining air. Now, I’ve noticed that I will speak long past the point where common sense tells me to breath in. This is not uncommon for stutterers who block. The rational goes something like “I only block when starting, so if I can get it all out now, I won’t have to restart, and I won’t block”. But I had no idea this was my standard speaking protocol. So basically, even when I’m spontaneously fluent, as I’ve been this week, my speaking method is defective!

This is a major point of information … it’s a freak’n epiphany!

Lori is very observant.

Not meant as advice, please find a qualified therapist if you are interested in similar therapy.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

PFSP-Day 4-Gentle Onset

Last night, as part of our homework, which we receive an ample supply (3 hours per night), we read a paragraph without the stop watch to check our Stretched Syllable timing. I was pretty close, going over on a few, and truncating others.

The stretched syllable started with single syllable words, moving to multiple syllable words, small sentences, paragraphs, reading without a watch, and non-written dialog. Today we even did a 3 minute speech in class. You can’t say too much in 3 minutes with a 2 second syllable, but it was an interesting step in the transfer process.

Speaking of the transfer process, when I did the program in 1993, we first learned and mastered the targets, then started the transfer process with a baptism by fire approach. We would visit the Eaton’s Center walk around to shops and ask questions with our speech pathologist hanging about and listening. Now, the transfer process starts to build with baby steps from the second day, with a homework assignment of calling another student and practicing our targets together. We have since done some sort of transfer activity everyday since Tuesday.

We learnt the third target today; Gentle Onset. This is to prevent and/or deal effectively with blocks.

Basically, when we speak, we force air out of our lungs, through the vocal folds, restricting them in order to make the desired sound. When we block (me anyway), the focal folds close before the air starts to pass through. So rather than closing the vocal folds on the air, we are trying to force the air through the vocal folds … which is not as effective to say the least!

The more we block, the more force we use, causing the folds to squeeze together harder, making us block even worse. This is the exact opposite of what we should be doing, and possibly a good example of how trying not to stutter actually increases our stutter. Personally, blocking has been my biggest problem, and if I never tried to blast the air through, I would never have blocked as bad as I did in my early 20s … and I would probably be better off now.

Anyway, the point of the Gentle Onset target is to start the sound off very slowly at first, then increase the volume. This is equivalent to driving up a ramp, instead of into a wall.

There are 5 steps to the Gentle Onset target :
1. Take in a slow, comfortable, full breath in.
2. Start voicing gently (quietly).
3. Increase loudness gradually.
4. Reach full loudness.
5. Decrease loudness in the same gradual fashion.

If you charted, your vocal volume, you would have a bell curve, if done properly.

Because of the highly objective and testable nature of the Gentle Onset target, we can use mechanical tools to provide us with immediate feedback. So today, we were given a little box with a microphone and a light, when we do the target correctly, the light turns on and stays on as long as the volume is increasing.

However, this target is not as easy as you might expect it to be. In 1993, when I took the program, I remember getting very frustrated with the little box. Today started off well for me, but when I went into practice, I lost the ability to just ‘turn it on’ with every vowel sound, and quickly got frustrated again.

Tonight I have about 7 pages to read into it, and I just hope the box makes it back to the clinic tomorrow. ;-)

Not meant as advice, please find a qualified therapist if you are interested in similar therapy.

PFSP-Day 3-How speech is formed & Full Breath

On Wednesday we spent a lot of time discussing how speech is formed. It really is amazing the miracle of it all, and how quickly we adjust our vocal tract to form new sounds. I’m not even going to speculate at how many vocal tract changes we make per second in a fluent conversation.

As we exhale, our vocal folds begin to open and close, resulting in varying vibrations according the frequency. The vocal folds open and close about 150 times per second with men, and slightly faster for women since their voice box is smaller. The vibrating vocal folds cause the surrounding air to vibrate, and it’s this vibrating air, which eventually makes it to the ears of our listeners.

The vibrating air, then enters our vocal tract where it is shaped into our final speech sounds. The vocal tract is essentially everything after your voice box. If you are pronouncing a vowel sound, your vocal tract will be largely unrestricted, but all consonants rely on vocal tract constrictions of one type or another, including stopping the speech completely for one class of sounds.

The chart below gets a little more specific with these sounds, breaking them up into 3 classes for consonants and 1 class for vowels.

Basic ClassVowelsConsonants
Vocal TractOpenConstrictedConstrictedClosed
TargetsStretched Syllable
Gentle Onset
Stretched Syllable

The Class II sounds are called Voiced Continuants, and are voiced, stretchable consonants. For me, they are what you think of when you think of consonants.

The Class III sounds are called Fricatives and are not voiced. These are sounds like ‘S’ or ‘Sh’. Personally, I did not even realized there were sounds in our vocabulary which did not involve our voice box. These sounds cannot be stretched need to be treated specially.

The Class IV sounds are called Plosives. These sounds are actually stopped, then released. Sounds like ‘P’ or ‘B’, these sounds have caused me enormous problems over my lifetime. The vocal tract on these sounds are actually closed versus constricted with other consonants or open as with vowels.

Plosives also have the unique characteristic of half being voiced and half not being voiced. Not only that, but if you add a voice to the voiceless Plosives, you will get a matching voiced Plosive! So :
‘P’ with a voice. becomes ‘B’
‘T’ with a voice. becomes ‘D’
‘G’ with a voice. becomes ‘K’

This kind of blew my mind.

I asked why the voiced and unvoiced plosives would be grouped together, and was told that for our purposes they use the same targets. I get the feeling the grouping can become a lot more granular, and we are only seeing an upper layer.

You may also notice that only 27 sounds are listed on the chart, where as there are approx. 45 sounds in the English language. Most of the remaining sounds are vowel combinations and are implicitly included.

As a point of interest; Toronto is the most multicultural city in the world, having 52% of the population from a very dispersed, non-UK, country of origin. So it only makes sense that non-English languages were discussed and sounds from relevant languages were classified. I’ll spare you my rant about how tolerance and fresh perspectives by a diversified culture drives economic prosperity.

As for Targets, on Wednesday, we continued with the Stretched Syllable target, moving on to un-written dialog.

We were then introduced to the Full Breath target. The full breath target is essentially diaphragm breathing. Basically, we can breath by extending our shoulders, rib cage, or diaphragm, but diaphragm breathing is the best, because it’s deeper and more natural. The only problem with this, is with our super fat conscious society, we’ve all been conditioned to suck in our gut all the time.

So for a little while we put our hands on our belly and our hands on our shoulders to watch our breath. What we were aiming for was a belly which would be extending and contracting regularly.

My breathing is definitely causing me problems. It is shallow and jerky. Although it’s such a simple thing, I believe this is a going to be a valuable target for me.

Not meant as advice, please find a qualified therapist if you are interested in similar therapy.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

PFSP-Day 2-More Stretched Syllable

This afternoon some things came up which I could not control, and as a result, I lost 5 hours of my day. Therefore, this will not be as in depth as I would like.

Basically today we continued our work on the Stretched Syllable target. We moved from multi-syllable words to sentences, and finally paragraphs. When you get into paragraphs, it’s easy to stop examining every syllable, thinking you can wing it effectively. But I believe this is where I had a problem when I took the therapy in 1993, this is something I quickly lost track of, and I started stretching the non-stretchables. Which, of course, causes problems. I mentioned this to the therapist today, and she said she believes, forgetting the first syllable to stretch may be the leading cause of remission.

Other things to touch on include :

  • When you are going to block on a vowel, you may be able to overcome it by very lightly, even inaudibly, pronouncing an ‘h’ in front of it.

  • Sometimes words like ‘IS’ is tricky to figure out what to stretch since S’s are not stretchable. However, in this case the ‘S’ is pronounced as a ‘Z’. ‘IS’ sounds more like ‘IZ’.

  • You can have multiple non-stretchable sounds in before the first stretchable sound. Take ‘STRETCH’ for example; both the ‘S’ & ‘T’ are non-stretchable before the first stretchable syllable ‘R’.

  • Self correct ASAP. And don’t go back to the start of the sentence, or even the start of the word. Just go back to the problem syllable, and correct it.

  • Errors in practice will create errors in the pattern. So accurate practice is important.

As part of our homework this evening, we had to practice the stretched syllable on 7, 4 word sentences, and read 2 short paragraphs (one over the phone). This took an excruciating 90 minutes, even though I had few problems!

Not meant as advice, please find a qualified therapist if you are interested in similar therapy.

Monday, October 17, 2005

PFSP-Day 1-Intro and Stretched Syllable

Today was my first day of therapy. And the first thing I learnt, is that I live too far away. I got on the GO Train at 7:00am into Toronto, then I got on the subway, then I had to switch trains. I just caught every train as it was leaving, so I couldn’t have gotten there any faster, and I got to therapy at 8:35. 95 minutes in transit, one way! Tomorrow I have to catch the 6:30 train.

My therapy is at Speech Foundation of Ontario’s, Stuttering Centre. And as you might expect, today started off going around the room, talking about who we are, and our personal challenges with regards to stuttering. It is a small group with 6 available spots open, one therapist (Lori), and Dr. Kroll who runs the center.

Lori, the therapist introduced the program, and had us fill in questionnaires, while Dr. Kroll took each of us aside to video tape our current fluency. I was speaking clear as day .. which is quite aggravating. It’s not going to make much of a before / after comparison is it? I must say though, that I’ve never complained about fluency before.

We then discussed speech mechanics. There are 2 major sound groups; Vowels and Consonants. With vowels, the vocal tract is open as the sound moves from your vocal folds and out your mouth, while consonants restrict the flow in order to shape the sound. I have been familiar with vowels and consonants since elementary school, but I was not aware of this distinction, so I was pretty happy that I learnt something so fast.

Lori added that consonants are vowels with vocal restrictions applied to them. At least that was my understanding of what she said. For example; if you start off with the ‘A’ sound ‘ahhhhhhh’, then gently close you lips, it becomes ‘mmmm’. I could not think of an exception to the rule (not that she said it was a rule), and I would be interested in hearing if anybody thinks of one.

All together there are 2 major sound groups in human speech, 45 classes of sounds, and 8 targets to deal with these classes. What is a Target? A target is essentially a mechanical speech technique for dealing with a certain sound group. Non-stutterers do this naturally, it’s built into their motor activity.

We were then introduced to the first target; Stretched Syllable. The Stretched Syllable is essentially stretching each syllable in a word to 2 seconds, which is 10 times the usual 0.2 second syllables. So basically it’s talking in slow motion. This is necessary in order to isolate problem speech patterns and incorporate the new speaking techniques, also it allows the speaker to feel the speech mechanics.

The four rules of the Stretched Syllable target are :
1. Every syllable is stretched to 2 seconds
2. The first stretchable sound is 1 second
3. The remainder of the syllable is 1 second
4. Stop for a breath between syllables

The Stretched Syllable target is important because :
1. It reduces force
2. Provides time to feel the mechanics of speech
3. Provides the opportunity to control what is happening
4. Provides a foundation for the other targets

While practicing with the Stretched Syllable target, I will be monitoring :
1. Duration accuracy
2. Stability of sounds
3. That sounds are being completed

In order to implement this target properly, we are beginning to use our stop watches to measure duration accuracy.

So, how do you stretch a syllable? Well, you simply apply the above rules to a word.

Lets take the word ‘ON’ for example. ‘ON’ is a single word composed of 2 sounds; the ‘O’ and the ‘N’. So :
Rule 1. - 2 seconds for the entire syllable
Rule 2. – 1 second for the first stretchable sound; ‘O’.
Rule 3 – 1 second for the remainder of the syllable; ‘N’.
Rule 4 – Not applicable

Seconds per Sound11
Seconds per Syllable2
Hear it

Don’t confuse letters with sounds. The above example says the sounds in ‘ON’ are ‘O’ & ‘N’, but really, those are just the letters representing the sounds. I was going to say it’s composed of ‘awhhhhh’ and ‘nnnnnnnnnn’, but I didn’t want to confuse the issue.

What about ‘MY’? it’s the same thing.
Rule 1. - 2 seconds for the entire syllable
Rule 2. – 1 second for the first stretchable sound; ‘M’.
Rule 3 – 1 second for the remainder of the syllable; ‘Y’.
Rule 4 – Not applicable

Seconds per Sound11
Seconds per Syllable2
Hear it

How about a 2 syllable word? How about ‘NORMAL’?
Rule 1. – Break up word into syllables (‘NOR’ and ‘MAL’). Stretch each for 2 seconds
‘NOR’ Rule 2. – 1 second for the first stretchable sound; ‘N’.
‘NOR’ Rule 3 – 1 second for the remainder of the syllable; ‘OR’.
‘MAL’ Rule 2. – 1 second for the first stretchable sound; ‘M’.
‘MAL’ Rule 3 – 1 second for the remainder of the syllable; ‘AL’.
Rule 4 – 1 second pause between each syllable.

Seconds per Sound11 11
Seconds per Syllable212
Hear it

Well that’s great isn’t it? Simple rules without exceptions.

Not so fast. There are sounds which should not be stretched, like ‘S’, ‘F’, ‘H’, ‘SH’, ‘CH’, & ‘TH-‘. These are voiceless sounds, or air sounds. Basically, you don’t use your vocal chords when creating these sounds. You CAN stretch them, but if you do, you will run out of air and will not be able to continue. What is ‘Th-‘? This is the ‘TH’ sound without a voice (think), as apposed to the ‘TH’ sound with a voice (the).

There are a few more sounds which cannot be stretched, these include ‘P’, ‘B’, ‘D’, ‘T’, ‘K’, & ‘G’. I believe these sounds are called popping sounds and you can’t stretch them if you wanted to.

So how do you deal with these sounds? You don’t stretch them. Notice in rule 2, it says the first ‘stretchable’ sound is 1 syllable. So the first stretchable sound, may not always be the first.

Let’s look at the word ‘TIME’:
Rule 1. - 2 seconds for the entire syllable
Rule 2. – 1 second for the first stretchable sound; ‘I’.
Rule 3 – 1 second for the remainder of the syllable; ‘ME’.
Rule 4 – Not applicable

Seconds per Sound-11
Seconds per Syllable2
Hear it

PS-If you like my blog, please pass along the URL to anybody you think might also be interested. Thanks.

Not meant as advice, please find a qualified therapist if you are interested in similar therapy.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Pre-Therapy Wrap-up

Over the past month, I have been writing about the effects my speech problem has on my life. As a result, I have given more thought to it, than in the previous 30 years combined.

When I started the blog, I thought starting a month in advance would be too much, but I started anyway with the fall back plan of commenting on stuttering FAQ questions, if I ran out of topics. I don’t know if I give my self too little credit for not trusting I could come up with enough topics, or too much credit in believing I would stop talking when appropriate. ;-)

I covered most of what I planned to. I did want to do a “day in the life” post, but my life doesn’t currently support such a post. I am working from home on one project, and when disciplined enough, may not leave the house for days. This would make for a very boring post, so I left it out. This might make for a very interesting article if another Person With a Stutter (PWS) did it.

Over the years my problem has changed physically, emotionally, with derivative behaviors, and how others react. But it hasn’t been all bad; for example, I no longer feel the gut wrenching stress of knowing I will need to speak while I wait in line at the coffee shop.

And last summer, I gave a speech at my buddy’s wedding. All the non-stutterers chickened out, and there was certainly no obligation for me to say anything, but I felt an internal obligation and refused to allow my problem to override it. If you’re interested, while the speech was good, the delivery was painful, but everybody laughed at my jokes and I got a few very positive comments afterwards. However, my wife and daughter, got to hear a not so nice remark from a lady at their table who didn’t recognize them as my family.

The one thing I really wanted to talk about is the derivative behaviors. I started to talk about this a few times, but when I started looking for a name for them, I would get bogged down reading while searching for it. Then I would abandon it. I still don’t know the real name, “derivative behaviors” is something I made up.

Basically, for me anyway, the derivative behaviors are HUGE. For me, these behaviors include, have included, but are not limited to; grimacing, facial ticks, foot stomping, head jerking, extreme facial gestures, painful facial gestures, speaking after my air has run out, punching my leg to shock my way out of a block, and terror or suffering in my eyes while speaking.

The derivative behaviors occurred initially with the false belief they would help me get through a block, but at the end of the day, they are 10 times worse then the stutter itself. Perhaps the derivatives are something I should concentrate on.

Anyway, I start therapy tomorrow, and am planning to blog about each day. My current schedule indicates late evening will be my most common post time.

Wish me luck


BTW-If you like my blog, please pass along the URL to anybody you think might also be interested. While I’m spending time doing this without expectation, it is pointless if nobody is reading it. Thanks.

Not meant as advice, please find a qualified therapist if you are interested in similar therapy.

The dreaded telephone

Yesterday I received a letter from the phone company. Inside, on one of their marketing brochures, there was a picture of a woman smiling gently while she spoke on the telephone. The woman seemed relaxed, enjoying her telephone conversation in a leisurely way. Granted, this was an ad with a model and she wasn’t really speaking to anybody. But, in my limited understanding of how non-sutterers speak on the phone, I don’t feel it was that far fetched.

I bet a non-stutterer has about as much anticipation, stress, exhaustion, and anguish with regards to the telephone, as I have putting on my socks.

For me, as every stutterer I’ve ever met, using the telephone has a very large amount of anticipation, stress, exhaustion, and anguish. For me, at certain times, the intensity of those emotions would be comparable to telling me a month in advance, that I would be stripped naked and tied to a float in the Christmas parade in one of the largest cities in North America. Then leaving me to dwell on it for the next month, knowing I have no escape.

They say communication is only 10% is verbal, with the other 90% being nonverbal. When it comes to the phone, I assume the non-verbal aspect is tonality and pitch, which I have almost no control over. And therein lies my problem, since I don’t believe most people can interpret my rendition of normal tonality and pitch. “Are you OK?” in the midst of a pretty mundane, factual, type of conversation occurs often enough to not be out of the ordinary. It may not be obvious here, but I believe I may have the emotionally charged and traumatic voice one might expect in a 911 call.

In order to avoid this, often I will go to great lengths to avoid the phone. Sometimes I’m better than others, but as mentioned in a previous entry, I have driven for 2.5 hours (return) in order to avoid a 15 minute phone conversation. Also, that 15 minute phone conversation could have easily been done in person with, another company, within a 10 minute drive from my office, if I was willing to spend another 5 minutes on the phone calling around. So really, I lost an entire day of work to avoid 5 minutes of embarrassment! However, while this example is extreme, I don’t think anything else on this page will be out of the ordinary for many stutterers.

On a related note; a couple months ago I changed my voice mail message, and it took over an hour! I’d block somewhere every time and have to rerecord. So I started practicing without the phone, then when I got it, I’d try to get it in the phone. But every time, I blocked. So then I just started repeating my message nonstop, so I’d have flow, but as soon as the “leave your message BEEP” would sound; I’d freeze. I could do it for 10 times in a row, but that BEEP stopped me cold every time.

This got me thinking, is this some kind of panic attack? Because it really looks like one to me. I mentioned the incident to my doctor one time thinking he would make the connection, but he just told me to record it next time, then replay my recording. And after a previous incident of an exploratory searching ended badly, I didn’t want to press it.

One funny thing that happened to me on the phone one time though; I was speaking to somebody who dropped something and told me to hold on. So I waited, and they didn’t say anything else, so I waited a bit more. I started to think that while they were picking up what ever it was, they got called away on something else, so I waited patiently. Finally the person said “John, are you still there?” Turns out they thought I was blocking! We were probably in deadlock for a good 10 minutes and I wasn’t even stuttering!

You know, different people are happy and content with different things. For most these things are usually pretty large, but for me, it’s simple. I would be pretty happy and content if I could speak on the phone without anticipation, stress, exhaustion, and anguish.

Not meant as advice, please find a qualified therapist if you are interested in similar therapy.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Great Quote

Great quote from Another Path Toward Recovery by Russ Hicks where he is talking about the hope of his stutter eventually going away.

"Now many decades later, I still cling to that hope because I know dead people don't stutter!"

Not meant as advice, please find a qualified therapist if you are interested in similar therapy.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Dealing with the “normals”

Over the years I’ve noticed peoples reaction to my speech problem change. When I was a kid, they mothered. As a teen, they accommodated. In my 20’s; they pitied. Now into my 30’s; they sneer.

During the past 5 years, I have seen a major decline in other’s reaction to my problem. Fast food restaurants and coffee shops are the biggest problem, where I am mocked and sneered at religiously. I usually dawn the attitude that I am the customer, and I expect to be treated like any other customer, and I’ll demand respect if I have to.

But, in one particular incident, I did something different. My young son had just fallen asleep in the car, so I was forced to go through the drive through at Taco Bell. Well I got up to the speaker and couldn’t talk and / or spoke so poorly that I was unintelligible.

Well the girl was obviously confused, and started becoming hostile toward me. I was there so long, all the cars in front of me were gone, so I just drove up to the window. Well, I got a few sneers and I think every person working there came to the window to see what kind of freak they were dealing with. This time, I was extremely embarrassed, needed the food, and didn’t have the energy to fight for respect.

So I decided to sweet talk her … I apologized.

I said “I’m sorry, I have a severe speech problem. Normally, I would never go through the drive through, but my son just fell asleep. I’m sorry I had to put you through that.” She was kind of stunned still, and just took my order.

“What am I doing?” I thought while waiting for my order “Would a blind man need to apologize to get respect? This is insane!”

When the girl came back, she had a warm smile for me. She gave me my food and was friendlier than anybody who has served me in a while. And when I got home and opened the bag, not only did they get my order right for once, but she actually threw in extra stuff!

“Wow, that was effective.” I thought.

I went back to that restaurant about 2 weeks later, inside this time. The same girl recognized me (everybody does), came up to the front counter, said hi, and when I left; again I found extra stuff in the bag!

At the time, I thought perhaps she just feel sorry for me. But I think it may be more than that. Perhaps the negativity I’ve been receiving over the past few years is a result of my assertiveness.

Here is what I think is happening; because my problem is not obvious, to an on looker,, a relatively uneventful interaction is expected. But, when I block, it catches them off guard. They were not prepared for such a huge deviation from the norm. The twitches, ticks, painful facial expression, and distorted tonality only increase the shock.

Now at this point growing up, I would act frustrated, dawn an embarrassed smile, possibly laugh, and roll my eyes with a shrug of the shoulders. This would indicate that there was a problem, I’m sorry I had to put them through that, but hey … I’m helpless.

However, into my 30’s I’ve taken the attitude that I should not have to apologize, and I refuse to play the apologetic charade any longer. . So the shock and fear isn’t relieved. Perhaps my refusal to apologize for such an outrageous defect is mistaken for arrogance, so the shock and fear morphs into some kind of self-righteous disgust, which helps them to feel better about themselves.

Who knows? I’m not a psychologist.

Perhaps the negative trend I’ve been experiencing, in how people react to me is a result of my unwillingness to defuse their initial shock.

Not meant as advice, please find a qualified therapist if you are interested in similar therapy.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Stopwatch & pre-therapy spontaneous fluency

For my therapy, I need to purchase a non-digital stopwatch with a rotating second hand. Try to find one of those at Sears, they don’t sell them any more, nobody does. There is only one known place in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) which sells them, Marathon Watch Company (no affiliation). I’m sure there are other places, but they are difficult to find.

I was on their website a while back (August 22nd), and found one I like. I like it, because it has the largest seconds (at least I think those are seconds). But the price wasn’t listed, so I requested information, only to find out that watch was not currently available. The sales person recommended a more conventional 60 second watch.

So I’ve been sitting on it for a while, because I prefer the other one, and time is so elusive for the non-urgent tasks. Also, I’m living the illusion that the one I bought 12 years ago will magically reappear.

Monday, I emailed the sales person, but haven’t received a reply yet, and was forced to make a phone call today.

You know what? I find as my speech therapy gets closer; my spontaneous fluency is increasing. The phone call was a breeze. Don’t get me wrong, I stuttered on about 15% or my words and had 2 or 3 blocks. I was also talking 100mph, trying to get it all out before I blocked. … But I felt a heck of a lot more fluent than normal!

It’s not just that one phone call either; I find I am becoming more fluent recently. Perhaps it’s the psychological effect of this blog … who knows.

Hopefully the sales person will call me back this afternoon, so I can go pick it up before Friday. I also have to figure out why my tape recorder isn’t recording, before I have to go out and buy a new one.

Not meant as advice, please find a qualified therapist if you are interested in similar therapy.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

An exploratory search for a cure gone bad.

Although I have taken the initiative to start a blog about my therapy, I really have not done too much research into stuttering. I didn’t know the Stuttering Homepage and National Stuttering Association even existed until I started my blog. Actually, I learnt more about the resources available on my first day blogging, than I had in the past 30 years.

I’m sure anybody who has found this blog, knows more about stuttering and stuttering resources than I do.

Also, contrary to the impression possibly given in this blog, my problem is not something I spend a whole lot of time thinking about. I have daily frustrations and don’t go a day without feeling the effects, but that’s usually it, I rarely dwell on it. The past month of this blog is mostly a summation of it’s effects on my life.

However, I will occasionally look into something off the beaten path, in a vain attempt to obtain spontaneous fluency. I already mentioned the hypnotherapy in my previous post, this caused me to lose 1 hour of my time and $75. No big deal. But once I pondered if this could just be the side affects of a mild form of another more serious illness and the effects of this questioning may come back to kick me in the behind for the rest of my life. What is this ‘more serious illness’? Don’t let your imagination get carried away, it’s nothing really bad, and besides, I don’t have it.

Once I pondered; Could it be that I have a mild form of this illness, which originally brought on my speech problem? And due to the mismanagement of it and my speech as a side effect; my problem has snowballed into it’s current state? If I have this illness, and it was brought under control, would my speech problem go away?

OMG!!!!!!! It would be like winning the lottery!!!!!! :-D

So I explained my theory to my doctor, who told me I did not have this illness, but he would send me to a neurologist to rule it out if I wanted to. I told him yes, and he arranged an appointment for 8 months down the road. I scheduled it on my calendar, and pretty much forgot about it.

So about 2 months before my appointment with the neurologist, I become aware of the risk of being self employed without disability insurance. So an insurance broker came by to sell me some. I signed over my medical records when I applied. No big deal right?

Well, the insurance company saw I had a neurologist appointment coming up for diagnosis of this illness, and refused to sell me the insurance until a doctor ruled it out. Which was understandable.

When I finally saw the neurologist, I wasn’t even interested in pursuing this any farther … it was a long shot from the get go, and now it was starting to adversely affect me. But now that the ball was rolling, it wasn’t going to stop.

The neurologist told me he didn’t think I had any problems, but he would send me for an MRI, and to this specialist and that specialist. Eventually, after about a year of this, I got fed up with the endless referrals to every specialist on the planet.

When I refused to go to any more specialists to find out about an illness nobody even thought I had, the insurance company refused to sell me the insurance. Even though the MRI had eliminated any risk of me having any unknown problems in my head … like a tumour.

Now, this entire episode resides in a shared insurance industry database. No insurance company will ever sell me disability insurance and I will be unprotected if anything ever happens.

Hence the dangers of self-diagnosis and searching for a long shot cure.

Not meant as advice, please find a qualified therapist if you are interested in similar therapy.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Past Therapy

My therapy started in elementary school. I don’t remember the first time, but out of the blue, I started getting called to the principal’s office over the intercom. I was about 7 at the time and getting called to the principal’s office sent shivers down my spine. Once at the office I met a nice lady there who took me to a small room that I didn’t even know existed, it may have been a converted broom closet. By the way; every speech therapist I’ve ever had has been an exceptionally nice lady. I had a few different therapists, but the one I remember the most was Ms. Mosher.

Ms. Mosher would have me read a list of words and take home lists of words to practice. I’ve got to say, I don’t remember having this benefit me in any way. A classmate was having the same therapy, and he didn’t feel that it benefited him either. We both felt that we were doing nothing more than practicing our stutter.

I don’t remember any pattern to it, but it seemed to start randomly and end randomly. It might last weeks or months, then stop. Then the next year it would start again. I really didn’t like it, and when it stopped, I was usually pretty relieved. This continued through elementary school until about grade 5.

Then in high school out of the blue, I was once again getting summoned to the office, where Ms. Mosher would be waiting for me. This went on for a little bit then stopped. I really didn’t feel I was benefiting from it, and may have told her that. I don’t remember too much about it.

Then in my early 20’s, my blocks got so bad, I could not talk at all. At one point I went to a hypnotherapist. The hypnotherapist went to work putting me under, but he was under the mistaken impression my problem was caused by a low self esteem and being easily intimidated.

Once the hypnotherapist put under, he suggested I would speak as naturally as I would speaking to a good friend. I told him I stutter with good friends. He said ok, I would speak as naturally as I would speaking to a family member. I told him I stutter with family members. Then I would speak as naturally as I would speaking to a baby. Same thing. Dog? Nope. Talking to your self? Nope. .. still stutter. Then he just went on trying to wing it so I wouldn’t ask for my $75 back. An hour later, I was out $75 and didn’t ask for it back because it was not worth trying to get through the block.

A few months later, I asked my doctor if he could do anything, he sent me to a neurologist and more speech therapy. Again the speech therapy showed no results, and the neurologist put me on a few different drugs. I have a personal bias against taking any kind of medication, which combined with the cost and lack of tangible results, caused me to stop going.

While in therapy, I volunteered for some research testing for auditory feedback combinations. I went in every Saturday morning for 4 or 5 months, they stuck me in a sound proof booth, wired me up and had me speak. They would alter the delay and distortion of my voice coming back to me, then count the fluent and non-fluent words. After each run they asked me if I felt more fluent, and I believe I said no every time.

They also video taped it. I will try to get a video tape of these tests to put up on this blog. This may prove difficult since I don’t even remember the name of the place where I did it or any names of the people involved..

When I moved, my therapist in Halifax referred me to a therapist in Toronto. I thought it was more of the same, but when I did my assessment, I was pleasantly surprised when she told be about the Precision Fluency Shaping Program (PFSP).

I did the PFSP therapy jam packed into 3 weeks of hard work, and saw tangible, non-subjective results. For the first time ever, I saw results!

My therapy starts in 1 week. So in 4 weeks / 1 month, I will be fluent. And this time I will not stumble bringing it into the real world.

This is very exciting.

Not meant as advice, please find a qualified therapist if you are interested in similar therapy.

Friday, October 07, 2005

When did I start letting this run my life?

For anybody who does not know, stuttering can cause emotional trauma. Is trauma too strong a word? How about pain? Stuttering can cause emotional pain.

When I call a business to place an order or make an appointment, and they mock my problem and/or hang up; it aggravates me.

When I answer a phone call from an uninvited telemarketer or friend of my daughters, who snickers and mocks me, it bothers me.

When a car pulls up beside me asking for directions, only to quickly lock the doors & take off when I block; I feel like a freak.

When somebody calls my cell phone and I am in line at the bank/coffee shop/store/etc.., and I stutter and everybody turns around and stares at me; I’m embarrassed.

When I call a wrong number, and hang up on the first ring, then the person calls back demanding to know who I am. Then threatens to call the police when I stutter; I feel like a lunatic.

When a wrong number calls me, then asks me what my problem is when they don’t like how I sound, I feel angry.

When a potential employer/client calls and hangs up, I feel like a loser.

When I speak in public, and the 3 year old in front of me stares at me with a look of disgust, I resent him for his honesty.

When I go for a walk at night and pass somebody who offers a friendly “hi”, only to jump back in terror when I block, I feel like I’m considered a psychopath.

When I attempt to tell a joke only to lose my listener because I always mess up the punch line, I want to throw up my hands in despair.

When people, I am with, are embarrassed to be with me, I feel rejected.

When the front line hospital workers in emergency, mistake me for having a stroke, I feel even the educated misunderstand me.

When the girl cutting my hair is scared when I tell her what to do, I feel like a fiend.

When it takes me over an hour to change my voice mail message, I feel frustrated.

When I am so engrossed in attempting to speak, that I don’t even notice what is going on around me; I feel like an idiot.

When a stranger starts a conversation with me, not caring about my problem, but I can’t hold up my end because it’s been so long since I’ve had a conversation like this; I feel like a social imbecile.

When somebody holds the door open for me, and I stutter while thanking them and they look at me in disgusted confusion, I feel like scum. But when I don’t thank them, I feel arrogant.

… and on … and on … and on …

Are you still with me? That was a long list. ;-)

Most of the above, I can deal with, but what bothers me the most is that people are starting become scared of me. I don’t know when this started happening, but it’s gotten worse. I may be doing something else that I don’t even realize, but I would like to be able to fix this. It could be caused by my facial expressions & voice, which has become distorted in an effort to break through my blocks.

As human beings, when we feel pain, we will avoid the pain causing activity. It’s a survival tool and part of our psychological make up. It helps to protect us.

The problem is, that gradually, I have taken on some pretty abnormal behavior, such as :

  • Not calling around to source competitive pricing.
  • Not answering the telephone. Even when looking for a job … especially when looking for a job.
  • Not offering assistance to people who need it. Including the lost or blind.
  • Not calling people who I need to call.
  • Avoiding eye contact with strangers, because they might be friendly and say hi.
  • Not going to non-self-serve stores.
  • Not giving out my phone number on my professional website.
  • Avoiding any female stranger in a non-busy place (like a parking lot).
  • Not going anywhere that I need reservations.
  • Not taking advantage of paid for resources at a high priced resort.
  • Not ordering the food I want.
  • Replacing the right word with one that I can say. Some times I do this even when it doesn’t fit … like I’m making up my own language. ;-)

The most I’ve ever gone out of my way was for car insurance. In 1997, I got my first car in Ontario, and went shopping for insurance. Now of course I did not want to use the phone, so I looked on the internet. The only broker I could find in the Greater Toronto Area, was in the nearby city of Hamilton. Since they were on the internet, I thought I could handle it all by their website, mail, and/or email … I was wrong. The form I filled out thinking that would be it, was only a contact request, they wanted to speak to me on the phone. They probably suspected that I was running some kind of scam since there are brokers closer to my home in Toronto. So instead of speaking to them on the phone, I took the day off work and drove all the way to Hamilton (approx.75 minutes each way not including traffic).

My insurance was hardly a deal, it cost me $2,500.00/yr on a $900 car. I have not been happy with their service, and have been their client from 1997 up until about 6 months ago (9 years and $23,000 later). I only switched because my wife called around and got me a price of less than half of what they were charging me.

Over the past 9 years, I have made the journey to Hamilton any time that a conversation was necessary and I wasn’t feeling up to using the phone.

When exactly did I unconsciously decide to allow my problem to run my life? When did I decide to allow my fear become the basis of decisions?

I don’t know, but with increasing frequency, I am allowing my decisions to be determined by my speech problem, or specifically the fear of the emotional pain. And these decisions have begun to turn me into a negative, anti-social outcast.

This was illuminated the other day when I went to a stuttering support group. When I was originally invited, I didn’t plan to go, but did, thinking I could at least flog my blog. The reason I don’t go to support group meetings, is because I always find there is at least one person, who dominates the group with stories of how their life sucks because of their problem.

Well the other day, it was me.

During my long drive home, I had time to reflect on how this could have happened. I wasn’t always like this. I used to love people and go out of my way to be with people. I used to be very positive and see the silver lining on the darkest cloud. Insults, giggles, sneers, and snide remarks would just slide off my back without a second thought. It would be considered more of a reflection of my antagonist than myself.

I guess the pain and fear just started chipping away at my confidence and self respect for so long, and before I realized it, I respected their comments. And it’s gotten me to an emotional state where the fear runs my life.

Not meant as advice, please find a qualified therapist if you are interested in similar therapy.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

As promised the fishing picture

This picture is in regards to a previous post .. as promised. If you scroll down far enough, you will find the explaination of it's relevance ... but I will repost it here to save you the time.

From Effects upon my family roles

"The fact that fluency is random only confused them more. When I was about 8 or 9, I caught my first fish. Because fresh water fishing in the area I come from doesn’t yield a lot of fish, combined with the fact that I suck at fishing; I had been fishing for years without catching anything. So when I finally caught my first fish, I ran up the hill to my parents screaming that I caught a fish. They congratulated me, set me up for a picture, the small fish turned so the narrowest side was facing the camera, and we got a picture of me holding up what looks like a baited fishing rod with a big grin on my face. (I’ll try to get a copy posted before the blog is over)"

"This fishing story is relevant because I spoke fluently between the time I caught the fish, and the time the picture was taken. The fluency was logically determined to be proof that I didn’t really have a problem at all and that I had better stop it immediately."

Not meant as advice, please find a qualified therapist if you are interested in similar therapy.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

WARNING-Pre-therapy posts may be negative.

It has been mentioned that my blog is predominantly negative. Actually, I have noticed this, and was planning on mentioning it in a post. But, since I didn’t know where to fit it in, I’ve been sitting on it for a while.

At first when I noticed this, I thought about posting more positive comments. But after thinking about it, the first part of my blog is how stuttering has effected my life. And perhaps I’m being overly pessimistic, but I really don’t feel it has affected my life in a very pleasant way.

Also, when I started the blog, I really did not consider who my target audience would be. My goal with the pre-therapy phase of the blog, was to explain my problem to a non-stutterer, who may not realize just how much such a simple problem can limit me. Had I realized the obvious, that only other stutterers and speech therapists would have any interest in finding and reading a blog about speech therapy, I don’t think I would have bothered with the pre-therapy phase. I mean the information is hardly new. I’m actually kind of embarrassed.

I do plan to keep up the pre-therapy part of the blog, and it may stay relatively negative until therapy begins. Once therapy begins on October 17th, I expect the blog will become predominantly positive.

Thanks for your patience.

Not meant as advice, please find a qualified therapist if you are interested in similar therapy.

Precision Fluency Shaping Program (PFSP)

The Precision Fluency Shaping Program (PFSP) is a full time, 3 week, intensive speech therapy program. The different classes of speech sounds are introduced, a set of techniques, and which to use for each class of sound is taught. When I learn the techniques, I will start speaking at 2 seconds per syllable to integrate the targets, then slowly get faster in measured intervals (2 seconds, 1 second, half second, slow-normal). By the end of the program; I will be speaking in a slow voice using the appropriate targets when necessary.

Again, I want to point out that I AM NOT A SPEECH THERAPIST and am not teaching anything in this blog. All information presented is based on my understanding, limited understanding, and/or possible misunderstanding of the subject. Please do your own research.

This may shock some people, but I have already gone through the program in 1993. Now you may ask; why take it again since it obviously did not work? Well that’s a good question albeit a loaded one. First of all it did work … sort of, when I finished the program in March of 1993, I came out knowing my targets, and able to speak with controlled fluency.

What is controlled fluency? Controlled fluency is using you controlled speech techniques to speak without stuttering. You are always conscious about the way you speak and do not use your speech motor skill.

At the other end of the spectrum is spontaneous fluency. Spontaneous fluency is when you speak fluently without thinking about it. This is how the rest of the world speaks. It’s a motor skill, like maintaining your balance.

Here is the problem; not only was I able to speak with controlled fluency but I was also spontaneously fluent. The program was too successful! So at the end of the day, I was left with a crutch (my targets), which I didn’t need.

Now there is a cost to using and maintaining controlled speech. The costs are; getting up early to practice every morning for the rest of your life, and speaking slower than you would normally speak with a tonality, which seems dull and drab to your listeners. Some listeners find this annoying and will point it out to you.

What invariably happened with me, is that I would use my controlled speech until I got a couple sneers, either by themselves or with comments like ‘Why are you speaking like that?’. I would quickly revert back to my spontaneous fluency, which was working like a charm thanks to the program. ‘Just for now’ I’d tell myself.

Then eventually I would be extremely tired and convince myself that I could squeeze my practice in even if I woke up later. But when I got up, I couldn’t fit it in … but it’s just one day … any body who has ever stopped going to the gym can probably figure out the rest.

Ultimately the spontaneous fluency came to an end, and when I grabbed for my trusty targets, they were gone. And when I went to practice them again, I wasn’t practicing them properly anymore.

So the program did not fail me the first time, it was me that failed the program. I take full responsibility for it. I had controlled fluency when I left, but was seduced by the delusion of spontaneous fluency. Exactly what my therapist warned me about.

One thing I plan to do differently this time is to practice adding emotion to my speech on top of my regular practice. The one big problem I had last time transferring my new skills into the real world was the monotonous tonality problem. I was actually considering hiring a voice coach to assist me with that, but thought I should ask my therapist first. She told me not to … I’m glad I asked.

I’ve heard that fluency should not be my goal. I disagree, while spontaneous fluency is not my goal, controlled fluency is. Quantifiable goals include; putting my phone number on my website, demonstrating a software product in front of a large group of people, and joining Toast Masters, I’m going to a meeting Wednesday. I would love to end this blog with a video of me doing a demo in front of a large audience.

My therapy is a huge investment of time, money, lost income, and effort. It will be an up hill climb for the rest of my life. I’ve made the commitment to control my problem, and am sure of its eventual success.

Wish me luck.

Not meant as advice, please find a qualified therapist if you are interested in similar therapy.