Michael, Bayan, me, Tim
FYI: This blog is stupidly long, and I’m not sure if anyone would want to read it. I’m also not going to grammar/typo edit. I’ll be blogging more on the actual highlights and lessons learned later. This one is more for funsies. And my mom.

Before I launch into the entire weekend, quick background:

Female stutterer. Twenty-somethings (exactly: 24). Found the NSA only recently. Went to one regional conference last year but did not socialize much. Started regularly attending chapter meetings in April 2015. Have not been to a National conference, but hope to go next year.

“Halloween Whopper” – Bayan with his crown
Our trip to Arizona started off in a carpool that some of the guys in my chapter organized. I was riding to Arizona with Tim and Bayan, who are both 27, and Michael, who is 17. We were to leave Thursday after work. A bunch of boys and me. Yipee. I was the last one Tim picked up, so I got stuck sitting… I mean got to sit… in the back with Bayan. I should have known how this quick road trip would go when our first stop for gas and food was in Lakeside and we all ordered Burger King.

Bayan got the Halloween Whopper, which I will never let him live down… and Michael decided to opt for a Burger King crown (obviously Bayan and I followed Michael’s idea.) Anyway. Back to the road. Despite promising Tim that I would let him know if I hated the choice for what he played on the stereo, I ended up attempting to read as they listened to a comedian I found horrible. After 3 hours of my ears bleeding, I voiced my mind and we got to listen to lots of 90s punk rock.

Yes, the first thing I did when I got to this amazing room was tear it apart and make a mess.
We made bad jokes as we drove past the creepy Arizona State Prison at night. We learned that I know a lot about prisons and that Bayan takes jokes way too far. Michael somehow survived with all of us horrible adults, and we made it to Tempe, Arizona.

Tempe, if you don’t know, is the college town for ASU. So it’s pretty nice, but we were even more impressed at our hotel. We arrived at about midnight and checked in. I, like a pro, did not have a room yet as my roommate did not arrive til Friday. So I asked for discounts, the guy told me there were none, and I checked into a room regardless. He upgraded the room for my one night stay to king sized bed with a couch, and made me promise not to be disappointed later. I tried really hard to get my phone to charge when my room phone started to ring. Which was impossible because I gave no one my room number.

I answered and it was Tim. Him and Bayan were about to go out and meet up with a couple other guys (AT 12:30?!?) and wanted to know if I joined them. I agreed, put some clothes back on, and ran downstairs to meet them. We went to this bar that was borderline club and I was introduced to David and Elliot. I really never go out when I’m at home, so I spent most of the night trying to figure out what the heck was going on and why it was so popping for a Thursday night and why was the DJ SO TERRIBLE??? We left at 2, when the bar closed.

12122818_10153904042667345_6789393039534660919_nFriday I woke up to a text from Vanna, who I had the awesome privilege of rooming with the next two nights. I took my stuff to her room, checked out, and we went out to breakfast and CVS. Later I got lunch with Bayan and Michael, and the three of us got to CHECK IN to the conference. They made fun of me because my nametag had “Vista” on it, and they told me that I was not really from San Diego. šŸ˜¦

Soon it was Friday’s Meet-And-Greet. I got to meet Annie, who I had spoken to over facebook, and then so many other people. Since no one is going to read this whole blog, I’ll take a moment to be honest. I got really overwhelmed trying to meet so many people… especially stuttering people. Despite the inclusiveness of nearly everyone I spoke to, I started to feel like an outsider. I hide in the bathroom for a few minutes, regained composure, and went back out. I sat down at a table (telling Bayan he would *not* get his seat back) and spent the rest of my time there. I laughed a LOT and met several people who made their way to this particular table. I also met Bob, and this will be important to note later. Bob is hilarious, and he added Michael and me on facebook before our time was over. A large group of guys, Vanna and me went to get dinner after…. but after taking WAY too long to get going and then not really wanting pizza, Vanna and I snuck away from all the guys and got Chinese food. We ended up having a hilarious and amazing conversation with our waitress, whose husband was the cook, and we found out that her husband and Vanna’s father probably went to the same school in Laos. I was lucky to have met Vanna at the first regional conference, and she has a special gift at being friendly, confident, and putting people at ease. It was like being around an old friend.

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The Hotel
When I got back to the hotel, I went up to my room to charge my phone and chill by myself. The conference hadn’t really even started yet, and here I was… feeling amazing. I read somewhere that it’s one thing to know other people who stutter are out there, but it is another to meet them. I agree completely.

I’ll skip the details of the next story, but let’s just say that I became “creepy window girl” to two of my new friends. Oops… I established my creepiness real quick. Alex, our San Diego chapter leader, showed up right before this and got to laugh at me. I feel like I have an already established “Classic Jaymie” with my San Diego chapter, which has pros and cons.

That night I went out with Elliot and Tim, and I mostly helped them try to flirt with girls. It was hilarious, and I was once again out until 2am.

Birthday Bob with his “I stutter” pin on Yoda’s eyeball.
Ok, actual conference time: The workshops for these regional ones do not have as many options since there are so few people, but it’s a great way to get to know everyone.

Workshop One on Saturday morning for the Adults/Parents was “Rock Your Inner Speaker” with Annie and Pam. It involved getting up in front of crowds and speaking or even just being silent. I had a lot of fun watching people get up and face their nerves. I went up and I didn’t like my table topic, so I decided to point out that it was BOB’S BIRTHDAY, as facebook so kindly told me. I got to embarrass him on the spot, and I did not have to talk about a desk for 45 seconds. Nice.

12108304_10153904213552345_1936248519028343223_nI got breakfast during the break, and then went to “Inhibiting Anger & Transforming Self-Image” which was led by David. I try not to have favorites of things, but this was my favorite workshop. David had so much wisdom and insight to share on the topic of hurt and anger when it comes to stuttering. My absolute favorite thing he said in my three or four pages of notes was: “Let your initial reaction be just that: initial. And then move on.” He said we couldn’t do much about having an initial reaction. Just like when our phones buzz and we have an urge to check it and see what is going on. It was OK to feel anger, to feel hurt. But he said that we could change what happens after that initial reaction. We could learn to let the phone ring without letting it distract us. We could learn to let go of the anger or the hurt, and get to know someone who may have teased us without realizing that we even have a stutter. David lent me his workshop notes, where he basically wrote out every word he said. I was amused to see that his initial reaction statement was not in his notes. It came out on some kind of impulse, and I’m so thankful for it. He ended the workshop with self-image transformation statements, and how he was able to work on his own self-image. Part of his daily mantra includes: “It is OK if I stutter today.” 

I honestly have so much on David’s workshop. At one point he shared (paraphrasing as I didn’t write it down quick enough): “The way I judged my effectiveness in communication had nothing do with the content. I made it completely about how much I stuttered. It would become such a negative-fest. I had screwed it all up – or at least I had in my mind.” I thought this was such a revelation of how many of us judge our communication effectiveness by our fluency, when really it has nothing to do with that. I’ve learned over the last year that I can be a very effective communicator. It isn’t my stutter messing me up. He changed his mindset to the following: “I’ll worry about the content. If I mention my stutter right off the bat, maybe that would help get it out in the air. So I tell them, ‘If there’s anyone who knows this topic, it’s me… it just may take me a little longer to say it.'”

Part of the self-image portion also included… even when you are so acceptance-orientated… “Let yourself have days where you hate your stutter and you feel like it’s ruining your life. That’s OK. Love yourself. Don’t let those bad days define your view of yourself.”

IMG_0951Then it was time for lunch, and a few of us went to Ike’s. I don’t remember when I took this photo, but I remember taking it because I was bummed out that no one complimented my new dress. The cashier girl at Ike’s did, so that makes it all OK. OH WELL.

Our next workshop was by Bill Smith on “Reclaiming Control of Your Speech”. I took a bunch of notes on this one too, even if I didn’t completely agree with all of his opinions. He did have a very effective method of getting us to notice how awkward the “elephant in the room” can be when it’s something personal, and why we really shouldn’t just be hiding those things. He said on people who stutter: “You have this group of typically high intelligent people who are so incredibly hard on themselves. Smart, and kind, and beating themselves up at every turn.”

There are certain things about stuttering that are true… it is unfair, it can be inconsistent, it can drain you. But there comes to a point where you can’t let that rule you anymore. He spoke on desensitizing yourself to stuttering, and also on not needing to perfect every conversation… maybe just a couple a day. Coach yourself; don’t beat yourself up.

Next was the favorite. Open mic. We laughed. We cried. We breathed together. I can’t share too much about open mic and what people said, only enough for me to realize how much I do not want to ever be alone in my stutter again. I posted a whole blog about this when I got home and you can check it out below this one. Parents spoke, other people who stutter spoke, my friends spoke, people I had not seen yet spoke. When one particular person spoke, he seemed to wonder if it was worth it to get up there and stutter. He questioned his own worth, as we all do on difficult days. Do people care? Am I just annoying people with my voice? unnamed (1)I wrote this when he did that:

When I remain silent instead of stuttering out my thoughts, I feel like I am doing others a favor.

As I begin to value myself and my thoughts more, I realize the opposite is true.

Remaining silent is not only hurting myself, but also doing others a disservice. What I say may – or may not – add value to the conversation. But it’s better to try.

He brought those words out of me, and inspired many others as well. We understood. The easy thought is to stop caring what others think. I don’t think it’s terrible advice. But the truth is that is not easy. It’s also important to realize what VALUE we have with our words. Stuttering and blocking and ticks and noises… no matter how long it may take to say, we have value in who we are, so our words have value.

One woman, a retired police officer who said she was less afraid of “bad guys” or danger, and more afraid of speaking over the radio said: “Our stuttering does not get better, but we get better. It does not change, but we do, our lives do.” Profound. I can’t add to that.

Pam and me!
After that, almost everyone went bowling. Despite being the only person in my San Diego Chapter to prepay for it, I was the only one who didn’t go. I stayed back and ended up getting dinner with Pam and Cora, who I met after Open Mic. Both girls were SO sweet and included me, even though the two had been friends for years. We talked about stuttering, our jobs, being girls, and church. It was super rad, and I knew by mid-dinner that I had two new friends.

After dinner, I didn’t feel well so I relaxed alone for awhile. I eventually made my way down. My anxiety started back up as everyone who went bowling hung out at the bar, and I wondered again if I belonged. I almost went back up, but ran into David by the REALLY SLOW ELEVATOR. He shooed me into the bar with everyone else and walked off. A big group was going out again for the night. I was unsure about going, and voiced like 30 excuses to a slightly-amused looking Tim. I asked him, “You know I’m just making up excuses, huh?” and he said, “Yep!” So I was honest about my anxiety, and he understood. But he also encouraged me that I could either go out and … find a way to get it to relax… though a liquid courage… or I could stay alone in my room and hide away. Those were my options. He walked off and I talked to Adarsh and Rahul… who were of COURSE VERY NICE AND INCLUSIVE… and before Bayan joined the conversation and swept us all out, I knew I was going out with everyone.

I won’t mention what I did as soon as I got to the bar, but let’s admit that my nerves faded and I got to bounce around and be dumb with everyone. I talked, laughed, and “danced” (if you can call it dancing.) I cheered on the guys as they successfully danced with random girls (while also laughing my head off the whole time). We went to another bar, and then they started to go back to where I had spent the previous two nights when I decided to head back early, at 1:15 or so. I walked back to the hotel with Marcus and got to talk to him about his own experiences growing up, which was fascinating. Right after I got back to my room, Vanna got in, and we laughed and joked and talked for awhile before falling asleep.

me, Michael, Adarsh, Bayan, Tim, Alex
The next morning I was late for our conference wrap-up, but it was lovely. We took some pictures, and then my San Diego group got lunch with Adarsh. I am surprised to admit that Steak and Shake had amazing burgers. There was more laughter and stories swapped before we walked back to the hotel and parted ways. We said some more goodbyes that felt much more like “See you soon”s, and then Michael, TIm and I got into Tim’s car for our long drive home.

unnamed (3)The drive home, though long, was filled entirely with jokes, stories, and laughter. I also spent most of the drive tweeting all the dumb stuff the guys, but mostly Tim, kept saying. (To credit Michael, he’s hilarious, but more of a context hilarious. Tim has incredible one-liners, which are easier to tweet.) I felt at home sitting in shotgun with these goofy people, and all the deserts and cactuses had nothing on the richness of what we had all just experienced.

Overall, I clearly had an amazing weekend. I wish I could do this all the time.