Make Room For The Stuttering

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Like most people who stutter, I often find myself feeling self-conscious and vulnerable when I stutter publicly. I do a lot of public speaking for my job, and this is my busy time of the year. I have been conducting tours and presentations to prospective students interested in applying to our school.

Sometimes, I find myself hoping that I’ll be mostly fluent in my presentations so I don’t encounter teens snickering when I stutter during my talk. That’s happened often, as my fluency has been very inconsistent and teens don’t quite know how to react when they hear an adult unexpectedly stutter.

Today, I had a big group that was touring. I make a 15 minute presentation at the start of the visit and then take questions as we walk around on the tour. Sometimes, I find myself very fluent when giving these presentations, as I have to project my voice to a big group and that really helps with my control.

I was very happy today that I had a great speech today. What does that mean, a “great speech day?” For me, it means that I felt comfortable and in control while speaking and took the stuttering in stride. I had a few moments of stuttered speech but felt so comfortable that I didn’t let it bother me. I did not feel self-conscious or embarrassed and I did not experience any physical tension or blushing.

Being able to take the stuttering in stride is what it’s all about. We need to remember that good communication is about the message we are conveying, not whether we stutter or not. We can be excellent communicators and stutter.

When I was younger, I never believed that. I thought my stuttering meant I was doomed to be a poor communicator. Well, that is so wrong. I stutter and I’m a great communicator. Take it in stride.

What about you? Can you take your stuttering in stride and just be OK with it?

 

This morning I was involved in interviewing high school students for a competitive, accelerated health and scientific research program for next school year. The teacher and I had a standard list of questions that we were asking all of the candidates.

These students are juniors in high school and most of them were quite nervous.

We asked questions geared to discover whether the students would be a good fit for a demanding, rigorous year-long program that requires a lot of reading, writing and public speaking.

One of the candidates shared that she is very shy and one of her weak areas is “talking out loud in front of people.” She went on to say that when she does, she often finds herself stuttering and stumbling and feeling embarrassed.

I mentioned to her that many people have a fear of public speaking and that practice is key. The teacher commented that I probably had a lot more to share on that. She knows I stutter.

So that opened the door for me to share with the student that I stutter, but I don’t let it stop me from public speaking. I shared with her about my involvement with Toastmasters and my years of practicing and honing my communication skills.

I could see the student visibly relax as I briefly shared with her about this.

After her interview was complete and she had left, the teacher and I talked about perhaps me coming into her class sometime and doing a presentation on stuttering, as it’s a fascinating subject that has research implications and the students spend a significant amount of time in this class on research.

We talked about genetics and the different brain studies that have been done. I was already beginning to flesh out in my mind what such a presentation to accelerated high school seniors would look like. We agreed to schedule a date for me to present in May. I’m going to try to make it during National Stuttering Awareness Week.

You never know when you might get a chance to talk about stuttering, so be ready!

Last night, in my bi-weekly Stutter Social Google+ Hangout, we had a great conversation about whether stuttering is part of human nature. There were varying opinions among the eight people involved in the discussion. Some felt pretty strongly that stuttering can’t be part of human nature since it only affects 1% of the population.

Others felt pretty strongly that it must be part of human nature since differences in height, vision and intelligence are part of human nature.

We got into discussing nature vs. nurture and whether stuttering is environmentally based.

And we discussed what is normal vs. abnormal, as somel felt that stuttering is abnormal speech.

Towards the end of the conversation, people pretty much decided for themselves personally whether stuttering is part of their human nature.

Stuttering is part of my nature. And I’m human, so I’d say stuttering is part of my human nature. It is a part of me that makes me ME. It’s in my makeup, part of my being, part of my brain. So, yes, I believe that stuttering is part of human nature.

Let’s continue the conversation. What do you think? Is stuttering part of human nature?

This comment was left on my blog last night. I wanted to share it with readers, because, it has to be shared. This could be any of us!

I am considering joining Toastmasters, something I’ve been advised to do for years, but am now getting nervous because I’m finally going to do it. So..I’m here researching what to expect from Toastmasters and I came across your blog.

I have been a closeted stutterer most of my life and the fear of being exposed as a stutterer is often greater than the actual emotional pain of stuttering. Your blog is very inspiring to me and I hope that one day I can reach your level of acceptance. I think you make great points about how choosing not to hide your stutter can open up a new world for you.

For some reason, when I was approaching middle school, it didn’t bother me to tell people that I stuttered when they’d ask (usually with a grin or impending giggle on their face) “why do you talk like that?” It was nothing, back then, for me to respond by saying “well, because I stutter!”..a year later, my stutter went away for some reason.

I remember volunteering to read aloud, always thinking that my stutter might present itself–but I didn’t care, I spoke freely. I joined the Spelling Bee, I could show my classmates and teacher just how articulate I really am; I was confident, for real, for once. Then, for whatever reason, my stutter and all of its insecurities came back the next year.

I began stuttering when I was 9 and throughout the course of my life, thus far, my speech impediment has gone away 3-4 times in my life. I have finally reached a point, now that I’m pushing 40, that I am not trying to ‘make it go away’–I am merely trying to be the best person I can be. I am finally ready to eliminate my fear and conquer what I have allowed to hold me back in so many ways throughout my life.

I will not allow this to control me, instill fear in me or take hold of me any longer. I’ve “dumbed it down” and relaxed myself in slang because it proved to be an easy out for me. I could navigate that, and all the persona that comes with it much easier than I could master working on speech techniques and trying to overcome the only thing I needed to overcome–my fear of being laughed at. My fear of being pointed at. My fear of being rejected for something that is a part of me.

Your blog gave me the validation I needed to go ahead and join a Toastmasters chapter and work toward becoming that articulate person once more. Thank you!

 

“Are you sure?”

I was covering the phones this past Friday afternoon in my office for colleagues who were in a meeting. We answer the phones by saying good morning or afternoon, and state the name of our school building.

One call I answered I stuttered pretty good on all three words of our building name. The caller laughed and then said, “Are you sure?” and laughed again. I so wanted to say something to her, but didn’t.

She went on to introduce herself as being from the department of social services. I wondered if she laughs at clients who might sound different than she does on the phone.

I wasn’t in the mood to hear a sarcastic “are you sure?” that day. I politely and professionally helped her and then cursed at myself when I got off the call.

Would you have said anything to her about laughing?

I had a situation this week that brought back all the bad memories of reading aloud in school. Oh, how I hated to do that. Like many who stutter, I attempted all kinds of strategies to get out of reading aloud, as I always stutter when I can’t switch words and feel the pressure of others listening and watching.

I remember counting ahead to when it would be my turn and frantically trying to read the section and rehearse it in my head before my turn came. Or when there was only two people ahead of me, I would suddenly have to go to the bathroom or get sick and ask to see the school nurse.

I still have a piece of pencil lead in my hand from when I stabbed myself with a pencil so that I could go to the nurse’s office. Just to get out of reading aloud in class and feeling humiliated.

I sit on the Board of a non-profit literacy organization. We had our board meeting this week. The Director wants to introduce sharing the profiles of some of the individuals we serve at every meeting.

She had a list of about six paragraphs, each describing the profile of an individual on the waiting list to get literacy tutoring services. She thought we should share the wealth and each of us read one of the profiles aloud.

My mind went right to panic mode. My first instinct was to somehow figure out a way to opt out. I did not want to stutter in front of my fellow board members. I was new, so several of them did not know that I stutter. I didn’t want them to find out about my stuttering when I’m at my best with it.

After a quick moment of pondering how I would explain that I didn’t want to read aloud – sore throat, laryngitis – I realized that it would be worse for me to opt out. I just needed to do it like everyone else and be as smooth and confident as possible.

So, that’s what I did. When it was my turn, I read my paragraph and stuttered on about every other word. During the stuttering moments, I felt my face flush and felt embarrassed. But it was over quickly and we moved on to the next item of business on the agenda.

No one reacted. I didn’t sink into the floor or get hit by lightening. The worst that happened is that now everyone there knows I stutter. It’s out there now, so I won’t have to worry about it anymore.

How do you react when something like this happens?

I was interviewed by a friend last Wednesday for an article she wrote about how people who stutter use the internet to form communities. The article is called “The way we talk when we talk about stuttering” and it was published this Sunday January 18 in my friend’s home town of Austin, Texas.

Talking to my friend was a great opportunity for me to reflect on all the different ways I use the internet to form communities.

I have the community that follows this blog, which is still going strong after almost 6 years.

I have the community of women from all over the world that have been part of my podcast “Women Who Stutter: Our Stories” for almost 5 years.

And I have the community that has formed from being a Stutter Social host every other week.

Read the article. It’s great, thorough and mentions me. What more could you ask for? :)


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© Pamela A Mertz and Make Room For The Stuttering, 2009 - 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Pamela A Mertz and Make Room For The Stuttering with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Same protection applies to the podcasts linked to this blog, "Women Who Stutter: Our Stories" and "He Stutters: She Asks Him." Please give credit to owner/author Pamela A Mertz 2015.
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