Make Room For The Stuttering

Posts Tagged ‘blocking and stuttering

I was at a meeting earlier in the week to begin planning for an upcoming large event. There were about 10 people on the committee and we all did not know each other.

So, we did the round robin of introductions, with people saying their names and which building or department we worked in.

I shared my name and then started to say which building I was from, but blocked as I was saying the first word. The block lasted only about 5 seconds, but was long enough to be noticeable.

A woman across from me laughed and said, “what, did you forget where you work?”

Ah, we’ve all heard this or been asked the equally ridiculous “did you forget your name?”

I’ve been so good over the past few years in not letting this bother me as it once did, but on this day, it did. The woman who laughed is a special needs teacher.

I didn’t expect for someone who works with people with differences and disabilities to be so quick to laugh and make such an offensive comment. I expected her to be more sensitive and professional.

That’s what stung the most. The expectation that someone “in the know” would be the last person to laugh and be rude.

I shared this with some friends in a Facebook group and they asked me how I responded. I didn’t respond – I said nothing as I didn’t want to draw any attention to how embarrassed I felt.

I wish this stuff wouldn’t happen but it still does. I’m an adult who stutters. Imagine how a kid would feel if they had been laughed at like that.


Episode 114 features Courtney Luckman who hails from Virginia, and presently lives in Chicago, Illinois. Courtney is a research intern at Lincoln Park Zoo, working as a primate behavior monitor. She is doing Great Ape behavioral research.

Courtney also has a part-time hostess job at an area restaurant and for fun enjoys reading and working on a memoir of her stuttering journey.

Listen in as we talk about why Courtney chose her career path. She never felt connected to people because of her stuttering, but could talk fluently to animals. She always knew she wanted to work with animals for her career.

Courtney also talks about pushing out of comfort zones, stuttering well, advertisement, control and the National Stuttering Association.

Courtney was influenced in different ways by John Harrison and Alan Badmington, who both were featured on my “men who stutter” podcast!

We also talk about the journey Courtney is taking by writing her book and how she realizes that she has had many moments that have shaped the person she has become.

The podcast safe music used in this episode is credited to ccMixter. Feel free to leave comments below. Feedback is a gift.

At a recent Stutter Social Hangout,  I had the chance to witness a powerful moment of courage. It was two weeks ago, but the impact still resonates.

Real quick, a hangout is a virtual group video chat where up to 10 people can talk with each other about stuttering, or anything for that matter.

I host a Hangout every other Sunday, which lasts for 90 minutes. People are free to “come in” when they can, and stay as long as they wish. There are no time pressures.

As a host, I try to welcome people as they come in, and if they are new, facilitate introductions, just like we would at a real-time support group.

As we know, introductions can be very stressful for those of us who stutter. The pressure may be magnified for some because we use microphones and video.

A newcomer, Sydney, joined the hangout and during a lull, I welcomed her and asked her to introduce herself to the group of about 8.

Sydney found herself in a mighty, stubborn block as she attempted to say her name and where she was from.  We could see her effort and struggle as she stopped and started several times. The darn block was digging in its heels. Sydney stayed with it, for several minutes, and maintained eye contact and a smile.

You could feel the energy of the 8 of us who waited  for Sydney. That energy seemed to fuel Sydney as she stayed courageously in the moment and waited out the block and she told us her name and where she is from.

Sydney smiled, we all smiled and we carried on in conversation.

What a moment of courage! Maybe not to the average person who doesn’t stutter, but it was. A powerful moment of courage and self-truth.

It would have been so easy for Sydney to give in and not stay with it.  But at that moment, Sydney showed the rest of us a quiet moment of grit, persistence and courage. And she won – not that darn block!

I was glad I was there to see it. Go Sydney!

(Author’s note: Sydney gave me permission to write about this and to use her name.)

From the Free Online Dictionary, the meaning of the word interrupt and it’s different forms.


v.  in·ter·rupt·ed, in·ter·rupt·ing, in·ter·rupts

1. To break the continuity or uniformity of: Rain interrupted our baseball game.
2. To hinder or stop the action or discourse of (someone) by breaking in on: The baby interrupted me while I was on the phone.

I think about the times I get interrupted. In the middle of a block, someone interrupts and fills in the word they think I was going to say. I sometimes feel disrespected when that happens.

I also think about how many times I actually interrupt another person who stutters, as it’s not always easy to tell when a person who stutters is done speaking or if they are in the middle of a block. It seems to happen a lot when I am chatting with someone over Skype for the podcast.

I usually wind up just apologizing and acknowledging that sometimes it just hard to gauge if the person is done speaking or indeed in a block.

Sometimes it’s hard to establish a rhythm between two people who stutter who are engaged in good conversation and good blocks.

Has it happened to you, that you accidentally interrupt someone who stutters while they’re in a block? How does it make you feel?


Episode 112 features Rachel Dancy who hails from Saginaw, Michigan. Rachel works as a job coach at Do-All, Inc. which is an agency that supports people with developmental disabilities.

Listen in as we discuss how Rachel chose her field of work and the importance of having a supportive work environment. We talk a bit about negative reactions to stuttering and the best ways to handle them.

We also hear from Rachel’s boyfriend, Rick, who shared his point of view on being the partner of someone who stutters. We discuss interrupting and why that happens from time to time.

This was a very honest and insightful conversation and it was great getting to know both Rachel and Rick.

The podcast safe music clip used in this episode is credited to DanoSongs.

I had one of those intimate stuttering moments today. You probably know what I mean.

I got caught in a block on the “k” in the word “keep” – came out something like “ki-ki-ki-ki-ki-ki-kiiiiii-eep.”

I say intimate in that I was looking at the person I was talking to as I blocked and we maintained eye contact through the block.

Neither of us averted our gaze. Our eyes just kind of locked, until I was able to finish the word and then move on.  I then glanced away for a second and then glanced back, which I think is normal eye contact. The other person did too.

So why is this a big deal?

Well, stuttering can be very intimate. In a Google+ hangout recently, David, a co-founder of Stutter Social, discussed his view of the “intimacy of stuttering.” It’s my view too.

Getting locked up in a block for a few seconds and sharing that with another person is very personal. I showed my “imperfection” in a vulnerable way.

And to have the other person share that with you, as in maintaining eye contact, until the block is over, is extremely personal.

I appreciated this person’s willingness to stay present with me, as she could have easily averted her eyes out of embarrassment or discomfort. Or even to give me a moment to “collect myself.”

Staying with me in the moment was also a deep sign of respect.

We shared that very personal moment that was important enough to me to write about this today.

What do you think? Can you relate?

I’ve noticed that on days when I have very little opportunity for speaking that my stuttering is more pronounced when I do finally speak.

Has anyone had that experience?

I’ll notice it when I have to make a telephone call, that I’ll trip or block on words that I hardly ever do. It must be the lack of practice!

My friend J has a similiar experience. He works from home every other week, so does not have that social contact and interaction that you usually find in the workplace.

He then has more silent blocks when he gets back to consistent talking.

I have suggested that he try voluntary stuttering in these situations. He doesn’t always take my suggestions.

I have tried voluntary stuttering myself, when I want to claim more control or even to advertise when I think I’m going to stutter a lot.

What do you think?

My friend asked me to raise this question on Facebook. Do people who stutter tend to stutter more when talking with people who talk very fast?

The question got a lot of responses. Many indicated that the pressure to speak faster increases anxiety, which then increases the stuttering.

Some said they know they can’t keep up, so they just don’t say anything, hoping the other person will notice eventually and invite them to respond.

Some said they speak even slower to encourage the fast talker to slow down.

Some said the pressure to keep up brings on more blocking.

I sometimes wonder where in the conversation it would work for me to jump in, as I worry I might block at that moment when I try to break into the conversation.

What do you think?

On this last day in December 2012, I looked back at some of the many posts I’ve written since February 2009. It’s wondrous to me that I’ve kept up with blogging for almost 4 years.  Not everyone can say that. It’s easy to start something. The hard part is sticking with it, and sustaining it.

Writing takes effort, time and persistence. We write in the hopes that other people will read and be moved. We’ve either inspired them, given them something to think about outside of their experience or have called them to action.

Writing about a pretty narrow topic for four years also takes something else – the ability to know when I have something to say and when I don’t. And to not force it when there’s nothing there. I learned that the hard way. When I first started blogging, I thought I had to write everyday.

Then I began to question that. Who said I had to write everyday in order to be a success? Being a success in my book began to mean sticking to it – persisting with writing good content. And how did I know I was writing good content? Because people were reading and leaving comments.

That was good enough for me.

Now, I see that “Don’t force it” also applies to my topic itself – stuttering. When I have something to say and I am having a particularly “stutter-y” day, the best thing to do is not force it. When caught in a block, I try to remind myself (as hard as that can be) to not force myself to push through it. Sometimes it makes the block worse.

The best thing is to stop, compose myself and breathe through the block. Taking a moment to just breathe, and not force anything, seems to help me to move forward, freely.

So it is with writing. Don’t force it – write when there is something to say. And don’t write when there is nothing to write about.

Oh, if only stuttering, and life, were so simple.

What does the actual moment of stuttering feel like to you?

Yesterday in a training, we were talking about metaphors and the trainer was asking us to apply metaphors for things we were feeling.

We were then to dig deep to see if we could identify the feelings behind the metaphor we chose. No one volunteered, so I took a chance.

I shared that a common metaphor for me is that I often feel like I’ve fallen off a cliff and no one has even noticed. As this was a work training on change, everyone believed I was referring to a work situation. I was not. I was referring to how I sometimes feel when I get caught in a good stuttering block.

However, since it was change we were refferring to, I let the trainer dig deeper with me and allowed her to think it was a work issue. It could have been.

She asked how it feels when I fall off the cliff. I said it feels scary and helpless. She asked if there was anything that let me know I was about to fall of the cliff. I said anxiety usually triggered it.

She asked if I knew why I was falling. I said because I wasn’t in control. Everyone was believing this was a work situation. She asked what I could do to prevent the fall. I said I could talk to someone about how I feel before the anxiety tips me over the edge.

She asked what kept me from talking about the way I felt. I said it was fear of being laughed at. She asked who was my direct report. I told her the guys name – he was right in the room. She asked what could I do to feel comfortable talking with him.

I told her I felt comfortable talking with him – that wasn’t it. She kept pushing for me to dig. I didn’t want to admit I was talking about stuttering. She asked again what was I really afraid of, still thinking I was referring to work.

I finally surprised myself and said judgement. There, I had said it. I feel like I am falling off a cliff when blocking and I fear someone is negatively judging me.

But the metaphor surprisingly fit into a pretend work scenario too. I get anxious when I feel someone at work is judging me.

The trainer felt good that I had risked and shared and felt my colleagues had learned from my share. She encouraged us to dig deep when we are feeling the impact of change in our lives. And to use metaphors to help us dig deeper.

I thought long and hard after the training and was happy that I shared this metaphor that I often feel – even though I didn’t come out and directly say I was talking about stuttering. I didn’t have to – it still related to a general fear of judgement, which is a universal fear. We all want to be accepted and not seen as different from the norm.

What about you? How do you feel in the stuttering moment? Is there a metaphor you could use to describe that feeling?

Have you ever thought about ordinary people who are uncomfortable with silence during a conversation? I remember an English teacher talking about how it’s important to pause while speaking and give people time to process what was said.

But she also said that many people can’t bear a long silence and will rush to fill in that silent space. I certainly can recall this. I have heard people rush to fill in that silence with anything, even if it doesn’t relate at all to what has been said.

I have been thinking about silence, specifically about that silent space we have when we have an unusually long pause or block.

I am usually panicking during that silent moment! Lots of thoughts have gone through my mind: “Oh no! Not again!” “Why now?” “She’s going to think there’s something wrong with me!” It’s amazing how many thoughts can go through one’s mind in a matter of seconds!

I have wondered what goes on in the mind of the fluent listener during that silent space? If they know us, are they aware we are stuttering? Are they giving us that space to stutter, and straining to not fill the space?

If they don’t know us, what might they be thinking?  I’m curious – but apprehensive to ask someone! 

What about you? Is that a conversation worth having?

Yesterday I had a really big blocking moment while talking with a co-worker one-on-one. I had facilitated a staff training earlier in the day, for six hours, with a group of about 15.

For most of that time, I was fairly fluent. Meaning, I had some stuttered moments, but they didn’t bother me and I continued to move forward with my speech. Just once or twice, I was aware of blocking, but I didn’t let it bother me, as everyone in my group knows I stutter. I don’t make any efforts to hide it at work.

Afterwards, I was in my office, winding down, catching up on emails and voice mail. A co-worker came in to chat for a few minutes and ask about a meeting we have been trying to schedule.

While talking, I attempted to say something that began with “r” and couldn’t get it out. I got stuck like, “ruh-ruh–ruh-ruh-ruh-ruh . . . . . ” for what seemed like at least 60 seconds. I maintained eye contact with her, as did she, until I broke and looked down. It was then that I managed to forcefully push the word out.

I was so conflicted by this! I felt bad, like I had given in by breaking eye contact. But it didn’t seem natural to maintain eye contact for that long. Kind of like the staring game, who is going to give in first.

I’ll give my co-worker credit – she hung in with me, stayed in the moment and didn’t try to finish my word for me. And she maintained eye contact.

Once I broke contact and finally got the word out, our conversation continued. Neither of us made any reference to what had just happened.

It was one of the longest blocks I have had and I felt very self-conscious, which makes no sense. She already knew I stutter. It must have been because I felt so vulnerable.

Has this ever happened to you?

Episode 67 features Georgia Stephens, who hails from Minneapolis, Minnesota. Georgia had a career as a choreographer, writer and dance performer for about 30 years.

She is currently enrolled in the Master’s degree program at St Mary’s University, studying Counseling Psychology.

Georgia is interested in perhaps using dance to help people who stutter, and hopes to combine traditional talk therapy with dance therapy.

Georgia shares how she came to experience that most people think that we can only communicate using words. She realized that is not true, that we can also communicate through dance and movement.

Listen in to a fascinating conversation about dance and movement, covert stuttering, blocking, and the energy we use when trying not to stutter. We also discuss beating ourselves up, shame, disclosure, and support.

The podcast safe music used in this clip is credited to ccMixter. Please be sure to leave comments for Georgia or just let her know what a great job she did! Feedback is a gift!

I got stuck in a good block today. This has not happened in a while and it made me feel very self-conscious.

It was Orientation Day at school and all the staff were in the building readying classrooms for next week. People were visiting with each other and sharing details about summer vacations.

As staff in my wing were leaving, two women walked out together, one of them calling out, “have a good weekend.” I called out the same.

Except it didn’t quite work like that. My reciprocal first three words,”have a good” came out fine. When I went to form the “w” to say “weekend”, nothing happened. No sound came out, but I felt my mouth “tremble” three times as the “w” got stuck and went nowhere.

I didn’t finish my thought! The two women were already out of the office, as I could hear their voices trailing away.

And I felt so aware that my voice too had trailed away, with an unfinished thought hanging heavy in the air.

The two women probably had no clue what had just happened, but I felt so uncomfortable. I felt my jaw and mouth tremble as I “pushed” for the “w” to come out.

It didn’t. I thought about it all the way home. “Why did that happen?” “Why did it bother me so?”

I am glad I was in my office and no one saw me. And I didn’t like feeling glad about that.

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© Pamela A Mertz and Make Room For The Stuttering, 2009 - 2014. 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 2014.

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