This AIS Blog post was contributed by Elizabeth Wislar, author of The Stuttering Teacher Blog. Elizabeth is a special education teacher in Athens, GA.
A few weeks ago I was in line at a small independent grocery store that has a nice selection of healthy, prepared lunch items-- soups, pastas, salads etc. It was one of the days before the children started back to school and we teachers were able to go out and grab a quick bite.
I picked out a TLT (tempeh, lettuce and tomato) sandwich and a container of watermelon chunks. I had a plan to eat it at a picnic table outside while I looked at my social networks.The lines were long and most people waiting had similar containers of food. In front of me in line was an older woman with a basket full of nail polish and beauty products. I didn’t anticipate her taking too long so I stayed in line behind her even though another opened up.
However, when it was her turn to be rung up, she unloaded each item one at a time and discussed them with the cashier. She had numerous questions. Were the nail polishes xylene free? Were the colors the ones young people like? Would the purple go with an off-white bridesmaid’s dress? Was the shampoo tested on animals? Did the sunscreen leave a residue?
She continued her barrage of questions despite the fact that the cashier knew very few of the answers and also despite the fact that there were people in line behind her with food for their quickly dwindling lunch hours. She fully enjoyed the process of asking questions about each purchase and showed little concern about wasting anyone’s time. And while those of us who were waiting perhaps wished she would hurry up and maybe groaned internally, we didn’t say anything and for the most part, waited patiently.
This experience has stuck with me as I have been forced to ask myself why I care so much about taking a little longer to speak than other people. Although I'm pretty comfortable with stuttering openly out in public, I still go into a low key panic mode if I have to give a lot of information, especially if I feel there is a time limit. For example, I get anxious at the pharmacy when they ask for my name and birthdate. This is frequently made much worse if there's a line behind me. The anxiety that comes with time pressure is something I have been working on in my therapy at The American Institute for Stuttering.
I want to be clear that I am not being asked to ‘slow down’ to increase fluency. In fact, one of the assignments I’ve had is to intentionally stutter more and longer. I am to essentially waste people’s time. As a kind of desensitization I am supposed to take longer than I need to get out what I want to say. This usually takes the form of either letting a block or repetition last much longer than it normally might or adding a few voluntaries. I have to admit this assignment has been really hard for me. I like to get my business done quickly. I don’t want to be that woman talking about all her bottles of nail polish! I hate the idea of people getting annoyed by me taking up more than my allotted amount of time. It’s not surprising that we feel rushed all the time. What Larry Dossey in 1982 termed time-sickness has become a national epidemic. People regularly go over the speed limit, or get frustrated when web pages won’t load instantaneously. Likewise we multi-task in order to accomplish more in less time. After all, time is money. How many lunches have we eaten while checking email or paying bills? We are part of a culture that celebrates overachievers and ambitious high flyers. This obsession with doing more in less time has made us ill. Chronic stress has long been linked to attention loss, elevated blood pressure and increased risk of cardiovascular health and other health problems (Reference - Psychological Stress and Cardiovascular Disease).
I love the idea that extending a block or prolonging a stutter might push against this notion that we should always be racing against the clock. In terms of my anxiety, I have already benefitted from it. Recently, I had a long block while ordering a dozen donuts for my class. Even though there was a line of people behind me, I didn’t get panicked. It also didn’t ruin my day like it might have a year ago. But taking time is not limited to the experience of stuttering. There is so much good that can come out of slowing down in all aspects of our lives. Along with better health, we can improve our relationships. We can connect at a much deeper level with others by really listening to what is said and not planning out a speedy rebuttal. When we slow down and take all the time we need, we begin think more deeply and clearly and we open ourselves up to the wonder of the world around us.
If you enjoyed Elizabeth's contribution to our blog, you might also appreciate this TED Talk by Carl Honore.
The American Institute for Stuttering is a leading non-profit organization whose primary mission is to provide universally affordable, state-of-the-art speech therapy to people of all ages who stutter, guidance to their families, and much-needed clinical training to speech professionals wishing to gain expertise in stuttering. Offices are located in New York, NY, Atlanta, GA, and Minneapolis, MN and services are also available Online. Our mission extends to advancing public and scholarly understanding of this often misunderstood disorder.