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.


At Friday, October 14, 2005 7:35:00 AM, Anonymous Geoffrey said...

I would say that while you are certainly under no obligation to acknowledge that you have a speech defect, there is nothing wrong with doing so. You bring up the analogy of the blind man, and while a blind man would not need to apologize or acknowledge anything while ordering at a drive through (if he could drive!), perhaps he would need to mention his disability at other times. For example, if I was about to play chess with a blind man, and it was not apparent that he was blind, it would be helpful if the blind man said something, so that I would not be shocked when he started touching every piece on the board, including mine.

That being said, face-to-face, I think any reasonable person will figure out right away what is going on. (I am shocked that the people at your coffee shops and fast food restaurants are either clueless or rude. I suspect it is due to a lack of maturity.) On the telephone or at a drive-through, on the other hand, there are no visual clues, so it may be more appropriate to say something then, so the other person does not think there is a bad connection or some kind of prank is going on.

At Friday, October 14, 2005 12:19:00 PM, Blogger John MacIntyre said...

Agreed. The drive through and phone is so difficult because listener is confused with no way to figure out what is happening. So I generally try to avoid them, as I'm sure most stutters do.

In person, I used to advertise my problem, but found that one of 3 things would happen:

1. I block on the 'I have a speech problem' advertisement, so the initial shock was still there.

2. I would be fluent with the advertisement, then stutter, confusing the listener since I 'obviously' did not really have a problem. Why was I pretending I did?

3. I would be fluent with both the advertisement and the content. With the listener then telling me ... 'You don't have a problem'.

The third reason is just funny. The second is slightly frustrating. But I mostly stopped doing it because of the first reason ... it didn't do anything to relieve the initial shock.

Also, I want to point out, I don't s-s-s-stutter w-w-w-when I s-s-s-speak. I hated it when that was what I had, but now, my stutter more closely resembles somebody with a mental illness and lack of body control.

I don't feel that I even look like a stutterer any more. I don't think it's obvious to most people just what my problem is. One minute, I'm a face in the crowd, the next, I look like I'm having a seizure in their face! lol

BTW-The video in my second post, is a reflection of my stutter on a REALLY good day.

At Friday, October 14, 2005 7:10:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interestingly, in my stuttering history people's reactions to my speech changed quite in the opposite direction than in yours: from mockery at primary school; to mostly ignoring in my later teens; to rather normal in my twens. I think one reason for this is - though also my speech got better - that I got more assertive with age. I believe some assertiveness is very useful if there's somebody around who'd like to make fun of you.

Then, I just watched your video in your 2nd post. I understand this was on a very good day. Still, I think what you do is not an unnormal way of stuttering. I've seen others who do similar things. I did similar things earlier in my life. Your stutter is rather severe, though. I hope your speech will improve a lot after PFSP.


At Friday, October 14, 2005 9:22:00 PM, Blogger John MacIntyre said...

Thanks, I think it will improve. I have no doubt, the therapy will work wonders. The challenge will be my ability to transition it to the real world. It may make for some interesting blog entries. ;-)



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