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I am not a fan of using fluency shaping techniques. When I participated in speech therapy about 6 years ago, I was really resistant to the traditional techniques that would theoretically make my speech more fluent. I felt like the therapist was trying to “fix me” and I didn’t need fixing, then or now.

But lately, I have been feeling quite self-conscious when answering the phone at work and stuttering on the same word, every time. I’ve been helping to answer the phones more over these summer months because we are short staffed and we all pitch in to help.

When we answer the phone, we state the name of our school building so that the caller knows they have reached the right building. It’s a three word name, and I always stutter on the third word. Every single time. And it’s been bothering me that I stutter like that identifying our school name.

I can’t quite identify why it’s making me feel uncomfortable, because if I stutter later in the conversation, it doesn’t really bother me. It must just be something about those introductory words that I want to be able to say smoothly and confidently. Maybe it doesn’t feel confident to stutter on the same word every time.

So, I’ve been using a prolongation technique on the first letter of the third word, so I can slide into it without repeating the letter/sound. It’s working, as long as I concentrate and remember to do it. I am not feeling as self-conscious when answering the phone.

What I am feeling like is a little bit of a hypocrite. I have not wanted to use fluency techniques because I am comfortable with myself as a stutterer. But here I am, feeling uncomfortable and resorting to a technique.

Hopefully, I’ll get over this quick. Have you ever experienced conflicted emotions about using fluency techniques?

The Mighty did a nice piece, in conjunction with the National Stuttering Association (NSA,) on truths people who stutter want people who don’t stutter to know.

The NSA asked the question on their Facebook page and asked people to respond. The Mighty used those quotes in the piece they wrote up. They even created graphics and attributed the quotes to the people, like me, who responded.

Check out the piece here – Eight Truths People Who Stutter Wish Everyone Understood. They did a great job!

I had a good experience last week with someone who was meeting me for the first time. During our conversation, I was stuttering quite well.

After several moments of really good stuttering, she leaned in and asked me how did I want her to respond when I was stuttering. She said, “you don’t want me to finish your words, right?” I said no, that I preferred to finish my own thoughts.

We talked about that for a moment. I told her people often guess wrong when they try to finish my thought and it’s just more respectful to let me finish. After all, it only takes a few extra seconds.

I thanked her for asking and bringing it up. I let her know I also appreciated her keeping good eye contact and staying present with me. I was so pleased with her interest and willingness to talk about stuttering.

Have you ever had someone ask you so directly how best to respond while your stuttering?

People who stutter tend to be very good at avoiding. We avoid speaking situations in which we fear we’ll stutter. We avoid certain words and switch to words we can say without stuttering.

For a long time, as I’ve written before, I was extremely covert and avoided situations where I’d be vulnerable and exposed as a person who stutters. I always had the fear of being negatively perceived or judged or labeled.

As I’ve gotten older, I find that I don’t care as much about my stuttering and am largely open about it. I stutter openly, without apology, and feel I am living a much more authentic life, at least as far as stuttering goes.

But what I’ve found is that avoidance has seeped over into other parts of my life. I’m sure many of you have found this as well. How could it not? Practicing stuttering avoidance for many years becomes such a strong habit that it almost seems to become default behavior.

What am I talking about? Well, I find that I avoid difficult conversations. I avoid conflict. I sometimes avoid change. I sometimes avoid making decisions. I sometimes avoid being too assertive at work, for fear of rocking the boat and being perceived or judged negatively, much like when I was covert and avoiding stuttering.

I’d like to say that I have transcended all of this now that I am overt with my stuttering but I can’t. I keep noticing pockets of avoidance that I am positive relates to my stuttering. This is something that I am continually working on. I am mindful of when I seem to be avoiding something big and acknowledge that it’s happening.

Acknowledging avoidance is only half of the battle. The other half of the battle requires action and courage. I’m working on both. How about you?

I’ll never forget the time at a Toastmasters meeting where we had a visiting “dignitary” with us to install new officers. It was the beginning of a new Toastmaster year and it is tradition in Toastmasters that a leader performs an induction ceremony.

I was so surprised when our Area Governor, whom I had not previously met, started speaking and I realized he stutters. In a way, I was kind of excited to realize there was another person in the room and in Toastmasters that stutters like I do.

I have often heard that people who stutter have a sense of radar when we hear other people who stutter. We can hear the repetitions, the breaks in speech, the blocks, all signs that a person stutters. I found myself hanging on this person’s every word as he completed the induction. He spoke slowly, deliberately, with repetitions and blocks.

After the meeting, I went up to introduce myself and congratulate him for a job well done. I also decided to disclose that I stuttered too, and that I was pleased to see a fellow stutterer do so well in Toastmasters.

Well, he became quite defensive and denied that he stutters. I remember this like it was yesterday. He got a little red in the face and adamantly let me know that he does not stutter. I felt foolish, as I had “outed” him when he clearly did not wish to be identified as a stutterer. I remember apologizing quietly and hurrying away, feeling embarrassed that I had embarrassed him.

Has this ever happened to you? How did you handle it?

Another time, I was at a networking meeting and heard a woman talking about her organization and clearly stuttering. I remember having self-talk with myself, again excited to hear another person who stutters in a professional environment and feeling conflicted if I should say anything to her.

The negative experience I had at the Toastmasters meeting still hung over me and I felt it was best that I not “out” another person. Disclosing that you are a person who stutters is a personal choice that needs to be respected, despite the overwhelming inside urge to yell, “hey, over here, me too. I stutter too.”

I remember being introduced at a Toastmaster meeting where I was to be a featured speaker. A fellow Toastmaster was responsible for introducing me and I thought he would share my usual bio which I had provided to the club, as we were all asked to. He ad-libbed a bit and added some extra things to his introduction of me.

He included that I was a proud stutterer and an inspiration to the club. I remember feeling embarrassed that he said that about me. There were people in the audience who were new and didn’t know me and now knew something about me that was very personal. It didn’t bother me that I stutter because I do and am open about it in Toastmasters. What bothered me was not being able to disclose it myself – I felt like I had been “outed.”

Now I knew what I felt like to be outed, even in a very well-intentioned manner and in a moment of pride. Ever since then, I have been very cautious about going up to anyone I hear stutter and saying anything, even the “I stutter too.”

It’s a slippery slope, outing someone as a stutterer or being outed yourself in a way you didn’t expect.

What do you think?

I just returned from the annual National Stuttering Association conference, held in Baltimore, Maryland this year. I spent a week at the conference site, catching up with friends for a few days before the actual conference started.

To say I had an outstanding experience would be an understatement. It is hard to put into words what it is like to be immersed in the stuttering community for 5+ days. It is a time filled with connection, bonding, laughter and tears. Even though it had been a year since I had seen most people, we picked up as if it had only been a week. That’s the beauty of community.

It is also the time each year where stuttering is normalized. It is freeing to stutter openly with hundreds of people who share and get the otherwise isolating experience.

I was very involved in first timer activities at this conference, hosting the first timer’s orientation workshop and welcome luncheon. It was great to meet new people just coming into the community who have not been in an environment where stuttering is the norm.

Everywhere I turned, I heard people stuttering. It is almost magical to hear the different types of stuttering and to see people thrive in a patient, non-judgemental environment.

One first timer I met in person after having “met” him online in Stutter Social hangouts was Shane. He kept looking around in wonder and exclaiming how unbelievable it was for him to be there and to hear so much stuttering. He kept saying “thank you” to us “old timers” he met, as he was so grateful for the experience to be in a normalized, inclusive stuttering environment.

The sense of community at a stuttering conference picks you up, holds you up and surrounds you with love and support. People meeting each other for the first time hugged in greeting, as if they were old friends. Sharing something as personal as stuttering is an almost instant bond. Lifelong friendships are made at conferences and people eagerly look forward to the next one before the current one is even finished.

On my last day, I became overwhelmed with emotion as I was saying goodbye to new and old friends. As I hugged people, tears flowed and I got choked with emotion so strong it surprised me.

I guess I figured after 10 years of attending stuttering conferences, saying goodbye would be easier. Not true. I felt sadness and a yearning to stay with the community rush over me like waves crashing against a shore. It will be another year before I see most of these people and get to experience the magic of the stuttering community again.

Now, I am transitioning back into a world where fluency is the norm and I am in the minority. But I take the love and support of my stuttering family with me and I will remember the power of support and community. I can’t help but remember – it flows through my veins.

I’m a huge fan of the Netflix series “Orange Is The New Black,” about the lives of women in prison. It is well written and has great character development. In season two, and now in season three, we learn more about major characters through flashbacks.

We learn why Norma is mute in season three. This is a spoiler alert – if you’re a fan and are not up to season 3, episode 7 yet, don’t read any further! :)

Episode 7 reveals in a flashback scene that the reason Norma doesn’t speak is that she is a stutterer. We see her attempt to speak in a scene from her youth to a cult leader. When she stutters, the leader tells her she doesn’t need to speak around him – that he hears her. We then understand that she chooses not to speak thereafter.

Several times in season 3 we also see Norma pull out a notepad and write the words that she chooses not to speak.

What do you think? Has anyone ever considered selective mutism as a way to deal with stuttering? Or using a notepad to write what you want to say?

I’ve read that the famous James Earl Jones chose to be mute when he was a child because he stuttered. I believe he didn’t speak for a number of years. It wasn’t until a sympathetic high school English teacher encouraged him to recite poetry that he began speaking again. James Earl Jones credits reciting poetry with helping him manage his stuttering.

I heard James Earl Jones perform at a local venue here in Albany, NY about 8 years ago. He read from his own poetry and wowed the audience with his booming voice and his heartfelt words. He stuttered openly several times during his reading. It was a wonderful night that was in sharp parallel to his choice to silence his own voice many years ago.

I’ve never considered choosing to be mute to manage my stuttering. I want to be heard too much. What about you?


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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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