Make Room For The Stuttering

Never Lose Who You Are

Posted on: November 5, 2011

I feel inspired to write this post based on two things I have encountered recently.

One comes from a discussion on the email list group Stuttering Chat. I have been a long-time member of this list. It is an eclectic mix of people who stutter, from all walks of life, different countries, different ages, and most of the regular contributors are male. Some of the comments get very . . . .  hmmm, how to say this politely . . . . .  they can get quite nasty.

To the point that any new-comer to the group might feel intimidated and maybe unwilling to post an experience, which then defeats the purpose of a stuttering support group, in my humble opinion.

Anyway, we often have what we call “lurkers” on the list, those who read all of the posts, but rarely, if ever post a comment of their own. For a number of reasons, including, I am sure, feeling somewhat intimidated.

This past week, we did have a young girl post for the first time, looking for support as to how best go about setting up a volunteer experience for herself to gain work experience while waiting to get into college. She laments that because of her severe stutter, she has a hard time phoning people and arranging things herself, so she is having her mom do it for her.

The young girl seemed to express remorse and guilt for “letting” someone else handle her affairs. She failed her entry exams for college and will need to retake them next year. She wants to become a doctor, but again, fears her stutter will hold her back.

She was looking for responses, which I interpreted as “she was looking for support.”

I wrote and suggested that she try to re-frame stuttering and see if she could see the strengths she has developed because of stuttering. Things like courage, compassion, effective listening, excellent writing skills (which she obviously possesses, based on her eloquent post.)

One person on the list responded to me, telling me how irritating it is for him to read posts like mine. That it is ridiculous to tell a young person that things will get better, to try to find some good from her situation and focus on her abilities rather than her disabilities.

He stated responses like mine “sugar-coat” everything and are not really helpful to young people. He suggested we tell young people how it really is – that stuttering sucks, that it is hard to be made fun of and feel like you can never raise your hand in class and make routine phone calls.

I admit, I was kind of stunned. How does that help a 17-year-old looking at her future and weighing options, based on things that have not worked for her yet? When I was her age, I was scared, lonely, and felt no one understood me. I would have loved to hear from someone older who had gone through the same experiences and survived, and had the courage to share some of that.

I think that’s important to do. To share our stories about our past with others. I have turned myself around to the point I barely recognize the scared, isolated and withdrawn woman I was merely 5 years ago. Who almost never talked. Who was content to let others do the talking, all because I hated my stuttering and feared negative reactions from others. I hardly ever risked getting a reaction of any kind from others, because I didn’t want to talk, and stutter.

Now, I could care less. A lot of things changed for me. I talk regularly now, (maybe too much) and stutter openly. And most people don’t care, because I appear confident. That’s what is different for me now. And I want to share that with others.

I don’t ever want to lose who I am or was. Because the lessons I have learned along the way can help other people who stutter, especially young people.

The other reason I was inspired to write about this today was that I went last night to see a magnificent, moving theater production of “The Diary of Anne Frank.

I had asked several people if they wanted to join me. Two said it would be too depressing, two had to work, so I went alone. In a way, I was glad I did. Because then I can feel my emotions unabashedly.

I knew the story: a 13-year-old Jewish girl and her family go into hiding from Nazi Germany. They live in an attic for over two years, and just before they are to be liberated, they are betrayed and captured. The entire family, except the father, perish in the Nazi death camps.

The young girl kept a diary, which was published seven years after her death, and has been produced in movie and stage versions since then.

In one scene of the play, young Anne is talking with 16-year-old Peter, and they are talking about what they would do once they became free. Peter says he would like to experience life not as a Jew, so he can experience freedom and life free of the hardships they endured.

Anne says she would never want that. She would not want to deny her roots. She said, “I would never want to lose who I am.”

That line profoundly impacted me last night, spoken from a young actress portraying Anne Frank, a young girl who left her legacy through words in her diary.

When I got up to leave the theater at the end of the show, tears were streaming down my cheeks. The woman seated next to me turned to look at me. She too had been crying. We just looked at each other,saying nothing. We didn’t need to.

(Writer’s note: I am in no way implying here that Anne Frank’s harrowing story of being a victim of the Holocaust can in anyway be compared to stuttering. There is no comparison.)

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8 Responses to "Never Lose Who You Are"

Pam, the post below was posted by Alan Badmington on our NS forum. THis is a sad post, and it echoes your post about importance of an unconditioned support, regardless of your agendas or beliefs. The kind of support you were trying to give this young girl.
Anna
“Hi All,

I was moved to read that 17 year old James Campbell (from Virginia, USA) felt unable to cope with his stuttering and tragically took his own life
A fund has been set up in his memory:
http://www.stutteringhelp.org/Default.aspx?tabid=932
The advent of Internet forums (such as this) means that members are able to communicate with others who understand the diverse challenges that they face. When someone is at a particularly low ebb (or requires guidance, reassurance or support), it is invaluable that they have the opportunity to share their thoughts/feelings with those who are experiencing (or have experienced) similar doubts, struggles, disappointments, heartache and fears.

Sadly, not everyone may be aware they need not experience the isolation of walking those challenging paths alone.

Kindest regards

Alan

Hi Anna,
Alan also posted this on another group, Stutt-L. It is very sad, and the very reason we need to be positive and supportive for others, regardless of how bad our own journey may have been. Sharing horror stories will not help a young person.
Thanks for sharing, as always!

Some people really dislike the name of my podcast, “Stuttering is Cool”. “I beg to differ!” or “Are you kidding?! It ruined my life!”. But that’s what we have to deal with since stuttering is quite an individual experience. That man on the list may have had a really rough time and decided to give up.

But to tell a 17 year old that it won’t get better? That’s just harsh and ignorant.

That’s why I always begin with “Stuttering will always be a challenge but things will get better”. Unfortunately, not everyone believes that.

Good for that girl who is taking the initiative to volunteer.

Thanks Daniele! It does no good to tell a young person that he or she will be doomed because of stuttering.
It’s about compassion and understanding what personal disclosure of yours might help someone else.

Pam, as ever you are so insightful and inspirational, its so sad that others feel so upset with their own lives they feel they have to tell a 17 year old girl that her life will always be s**t too! I apologise for the bad language but I feel so strongly about this! I too was sad, scared, lonely, depressed and really need some sound advice and guidance at that age. Life is beautiful and its only as good as you decide to make it. I have a stutter, always have had and always will do but it will never hold me back from being the person I want to be and I will not change myself to suit others either. There, rant over!!

Keep up the brilliant work Pam, you are helping so many people.

Yours ever,

Suzanne Tubman.

Thank you Suzanne. Feedback like yours is so important to get. It helps me know that it is the right thing to do, for me to continue to write and invite people to tell their stories.
All of us need to know that we are not alone, and sharing our stories is the way to do that.
~Pam

@Pam This is a brillant post. With the recent tragic death of Jack Cambell, it’s even more important that those people who stutter who have got over the sting of stuttering reach out with positive messages of encouragement and inspiration to younger people who are struggling.

@Danny, people disliking the name ‘Stuttering is Cool’? In my opinion this name is one of the most powerful re-frames about stuttering possible.

In general, I believe those who decide to continue living in a victim mentality will continue to send negative messages to those who need help. But with the Internet being such an open platform, it’s difficult to prevent this.

Hi Pam,

I recently wrote the following article which (inter alia) touches upon some of the points that you make in your blog post. If you have a moment, you may wish to check it out.

‘The value of Internet discussion groups’

http://www.masteringstuttering.com/articles/the-value-of-internet-discussion-groups/

Fear and self-doubt figure prominently in the lives of many people, not just those who stutter. They can sabotage hopes and aspirations. When left to our own devices, it is possible that we may never summon up sufficient courage to confront the issues that are impeding our progress. However, as a member of an online forum, some people gain confidence and encouragement by leaning upon the knowledge, camaraderie and collective support that are present within that group.

I have witnessed this on many occasions, particularly in two of the forums to which I subscribe. Those who invite guidance and suggestions from others in advance of an upcoming event (maybe a job interview or public speaking engagement) report positive outcomes. But, of course, prior consultation does not always guarantee success.

Following a highly successful work presentation, one member wrote:

“Thanks for your very kind messages. Not being alone is very important. Of course, when we are in speaking situations, it’s up to us and we are the only one who can do something. But I believe in the effects of “coaching” and positive speech. You know, for this oral presentation, I feel I was prepared like an Olympic athlete! Best coaches (and champions) in the world had provided me the best advice. I have been very lucky.”

Reading about the lives of other PWS can provide an interesting insight into how they deal (or have dealt) with their respective difficulties, as well as offering reciprocal inspiration. It can also alert us to possibilities of which we were previously unaware – in relation to therapies, techniques and opportunities that allow us to unearth our true potential when we are prepared to expose ourselves to uncertainty and change. In effect, it can open our eyes to possibilities that we could never have imagined.

As a result of these online interactions, and the revealing evaluations that we retrospectively conduct (while composing posts) in relation to past (and more recent) events, many of us now possess a far greater understanding of the issues that shape our lives. We are also better informed about how we (and others) react to the diverse challenges that confront us, and can discover that there are exciting and fulfilling paths available for us to tread. But, perhaps, most importantly, we know that we need never again experience the isolation of walking those unfamiliar paths alone.

Pam, I know that the negative comments posted on Stuttering Chat will not cause you to shrink from the positive and supportive role that you so generously fulfil.

Kindest regards

Alan Badmington

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