Make Room For The Stuttering

Posts Tagged ‘feelings about stuttering

This really needs no words – it’s a great short animated film that perfectly captures what stuttering is.

Ahhh, the phone. A simple electronic device designed to make our lives easier. But for people who stutter, the phone can be our nemesis.

Talking on the phone can be a struggle, even a nightmare for those who stutter. The time pressure and being unable to see our listener often adds to our anxiety, which in turn can increase our stuttering.

Over the years, I’ve had my hiccups with the phone. For a long stretch, I can remember never answering the phone. I would always let the call go to voice mail, and I would return the call when I was ready. For some reason, I was (and still am) more comfortable when I initiate the call.

I’ve had my times when I re-record a message I have to leave on someone’s voice mail if I think there was a stuttered word in my message. And I’ve re-recorded my own personal greeting on my voice mail numerous times until I got it “perfect.”

These days, on my voice mail, I allow a repetition so that I’ve left a cue to callers that I stutter.

At work, I often have to pitch in and answer the main phone lines in the office. For the most part, I am alright with it. I always say the same greeting and always stutter the same way when I say, “May I he-he-help you?” Usually, I’m fine with that. Sometimes I find myself wincing, wishing I could say it without stuttering.

I covered the phones for a bit on Friday. When I answered in my usual way, the caller immediately said “Hi Pam.” I winced. I felt like she recognized my stuttering and therefore knew right away it was me.

Now, maybe that wasn’t true at all. Maybe she just recognized my voice (although I don’t think so, as I don’t answer the phones often enough to have my voice recognized.) Whatever was the case, I felt uncomfortable and a little embarrassed. Which bothers me, because I shouldn’t be feeling embarrassment anymore because of my stuttering. But I do.

What about you? Is the phone (still) difficult for you? Or have you found a way to just take it in stride?

I am so lucky! I had the opportunity to talk to middle school kids on Friday about stuttering. I was invited to Tamarac Middle School to talk to their 6th, 7th and 8th grades about stuttering, as it ties in to their character education theme of the month – compassion.

I spoke at this same school 5 years ago and the coordinator looked me up and asked if I’d be willing to come back. I was thrilled and said yes immediately.

I taught the kids about what stuttering is and isn’t, we discussed myths and I showed them some famous people who stutter. I also had several activities for the kids to try, so they could experience first hand what stuttering feels like.

I had grapefruits and asked several young volunteers to come up and try to hide a grapefruit somewhere on their person where it wouldn’t show. This was to simulate covert stuttering.

I had Chinese finger traps that the kids used to experience getting stuck. We also did a writing exercise where several volunteers were told to write their name over and over as perfectly as they could. Then a kid would poke and jiggle their writing arm, making them mess up. This simulated knowing what we want to say but having something interfere.

I also had some volunteers take a deep breath, hold it and try to say their name. Laughs erupted when the kids squeaked out their name. The volunteers told us how their chest and throat hurt and how they felt they were running out of breath.

The kids asked great questions and competed with each other to get chosen to volunteer. At the conclusion of each talk (I gave three separate presentations) we ended with a stuttering contest and then talked about how learning about stuttering builds empathy and compassion.

It was a great experience. I am so lucky.

A great blog piece came out last week, written by Madeline Wahl  for The Huffington Post. Her piece is called “What It Actually Feels Like To Stutter.”

She uses such descriptive language to nail the feelings we have during stuttering moments. She describes stuttering as “dashing to make a connecting flight but being too late.” And “making it to the subway just to have the doors close in your face.”

She describes fluent conversation as a back and forth volleyball match, with the words flowing just right, until an “out-of-bounds” is called when stuttering emerges.

Wahl’s descriptive language and imagery perfectly describes those stuttering moments where we feel helpless and out of control.

The article has been shared numerous times in the stuttering community via social media posts, garnering lots of “likes” and comments.

Wahl writes that over time she has come to terms with her stuttering. She knows she is going to stutter every day. Yet she doesn’t focus on acceptance. She focuses on the moments when she is able to execute her words fluently.

She writes about “the exhilarating, skydiving-through-the-air moments (that) occur whenever (she) says a sentence without stuttering.” She practices tongue twisters in front of a mirror in order to perfect her speech and not stutter.

I don’t think she has really come to terms with her stuttering if she is celebrating her fluent moments and endlessly practicing to not stutter.

I would have liked to see her say something about acceptance.

What do you think?

As people who stutter, we often worry about how listeners will react to us when we are stuttering. Are they going to hang in there with us? Will they maintain eye contact?

Or will they get “the look” and avert their eyes and look anywhere but at us? Or will they become impatient and finish our words or sentences for us?

There was an interesting thread about this on Facebook, where a group member asked what we as stutterers should do to make our stuttering more acceptable to listeners.

The response was mixed – with many weighing in that it is not our responsibility to alter our stuttering in some way to make it easier for a listener.

I happen to agree with that! We stutter – most of us have lived with stuttering our whole lives, since we began talking. It can be very difficult for us – shameful and embarrassing. Why should we add to the mix by also assuming the responsibility of how a listener might feel?

In this day and age, with so much diversity, a listener should listen to us exactly the same as they would to anyone else. With respect and patience.

It might make it easier to disclose or advertise that we stutter, but that generally is for our own sake, to lessen our own anxiety. When we do that with confidence, it often provides a cue for the listener to react in kind.

But we should do that for ourselves – not the listener. That’s not our responsibility.

What do you think?

Today is International Stuttering Awareness Day, a day that recognizes the 1% of the global population that stutters or stammers.

Stuttering is a complicated speech disorder that involves so much more than what (or what does not) come out of our mouths. Stuttering is defined as the involuntary disruption of the normal flow of speech.

It can be characterized by sound repetitions, hesitations, prolongations and blocking, where no sound comes out when the speaker tries to speak. A person who stutters may also exhibit struggle behavior, such as tension or facial grimaces when trying to get their words out.

Stuttering also involves the feelings that go along with not being able to speak fluently. People who stutter often feel enormous shame, fear, guilt, and inadequacy. People who listen to those who stutter often don’t know how to react – and may react negatively, such as roll their eyes, laugh, mock or mimic or walk away.

When those negative listener reactions happen, a person who stutters may feel humiliated or demoralized.

Very often, people who stutter will try to do everything they can to not stutter, because of poor social reactions and those complex feelings under the surface.

Sometimes, people will choose not to speak. They may avoid speaking situations purposely. They may feel they shouldn’t burden others with how they sound or how long it takes for them to speak. They may feel so ashamed that they feel they don’t deserve to speak.

I stutter and have for many years. I have experienced the complicated feelings of fear, shame and embarrassment. I have purposely avoided speaking situations and missed out on life opportunities. Fortunately, I don’t do that anymore.

Don’t you do that either. Whatever you do, don’t choose silence. When we’re silent, we are not connected and engaged with the world. Use your voice and make it be heard. Use speech tools if it helps you, and talk to other people who stutter. But just don’t choose silence. The world needs your voice.

There are many resources available for people who stutter. Here are just a few.

National Stuttering Association

FRIENDS – The National Association for Young People Who Stutter

The Stuttering Foundation

The British Stammering Association

Again, whatever you do, don’t choose silence. Choose to make your voice heard.

Stuttering requires a degree of fearlessness. In order to stutter openly, at some point, we have to lose the fear we have of being made fun of, or laughed at, or getting “the look.”

For most of us, letting go of that fear is hard to do. The fear of stuttering may indeed be more debilitating than the actual stuttering is.

I can well remember how worried I would always be of other people’s reactions if I stuttered. It goes back to childhood – of my father yelling at me when I stuttered, of the teacher who reprimanded me for stuttering, as if I was doing it purposely.

Those early experiences made the fear intensify. I feared the negative reactions more than the stuttering. The stuttering came and went. My perception that people thought there was something wrong with me stayed.

Fear drove me to hide my stuttering for a very long time. Even after “coming out” a few years ago, I still have moments where I try to hide it, or realize that I unintentionally hid it.

In one of the stuttering groups on Facebook, fear has been a recent topic. It never ceases to amaze me how many people are dealing with their “firsts” with stuttering. First time talking about stuttering openly, first time confronting emotions, namely fear.

These days, myself and other “stuttering veterans” are in a position to share our past experiences and hopefully help others with their first attempts at owning their feelings and fears.

It’s never easy. In fact, fear never really goes away, does it?


Episode 102 features Samantha Agan, who hails from the San Francisco Bay Area of California. Sam is originally from Philadelphia.

Sam is a full-time college student studying psychology and also works full-time as a care giver for the elderly. Sam is planning to pursue her Master’s degree in psychology, with a long-term career goal of forensic psychology.

Sam and I “met” on one of the online stuttering forums. She has been an active and positive contributor to the Stuttering Arena group on Facebook.

Listen in as we discuss all things stuttering – early speech therapy experiences, stuttering as a disability, self-esteem and confidence. Listen to the part where we talk about confidence and you’ll see where the title of this episode came from!

This was a great conversation. It was fun getting to know Samantha and getting to know the person behind our social media postings.

Be sure to leave comments for Samantha when you listen, or just let her know what a great job she did.

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

My friend Burt from Belgium posed the question on one of the stuttering forums about how should one react when someone says our stuttering is cute. He wonders if people are just being nice by saying that.

Quite a few people weighed in with their comments and insights. Some say it’s never happened. Some say people refer to stuttering as cute when they don’t know what else to say. Some say they’ve heard stuttering said to be cute when the listener really feels sorry for the person stuttering.

One person indicated that she thinks that there are people out there that are genuinely attracted to flaws in people. I somewhat agree with that. I think when people let their true self shine – imperfections and all – they allow themselves to be vulnerable.

I am attracted to people who allow themselves to be vulnerable. To me, it signifies confidence. The person is confident enough to just be, and let the world see their true self.

I don’t ever recall anyone saying my stuttering is/was cute, but I do remember a friend commenting a few years ago that he found my stuttering was beautiful. I remember being so floored with that, as I’ve always hated my stutter. How could anyone possibly find it to be beautiful?

When he said that, it made me feel really good. I’ve never forgotten it either. Now, looking back (and it’s only been 4 or 5 years,) I think what may have been beautiful was the fact that I was being true to myself and stuttering openly and being vulnerable.

What do you think? Can stuttering be cute? Or attractive?

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?


Episode 98 features Danielle W, who hails from the Bay area of California. Danielle is 17 years old and a senior in high school.

Danielle is currently applying to colleges, and hopes to double major in musical theater and either business or psychology.

As you will hear in our chat, Danielle is passionate about musical theater. We discuss how stuttering impacts Danielle when she performs, and what it’s been like for her on auditions.

Listen in as we also discuss family support, speech therapy and the need for a good sense of humor. Danielle is a fighter and doesn’t let her stuttering hold her back. “Just because someone hasn’t done it, doesn’t mean you can’t.”

Danielle is an inspiring young woman with a great attitude and outlook on life. It was such a honor to get to know her more. Danielle and I met at the FRIENDS conference last summer in Colorado.

Feel free to leave comments for Danielle in the comment section. Remember, feedback is a gift. Music used in this episode is credited to ccMixter.

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?

I consider myself to be a fairly well adjusted, confident stutterer, after many years of hiding my stuttering, and denial that hiding it bothered me.

These days, I stutter openly and talk about my stuttering often. I understand the complexity and variability of stuttering. Many of my friends remark often how cool it is to see me so comfortable in my skin.

So why then do I still have moments when I get so frustrated? Yesterday, I was talking with a colleague, someone with whom I am now sharing an office. He knows I stutter – its not an issue.

When chatting with him, I was repeating more words than usual, and experienced more blocking. To the point that in one really good block, I broke eye contact, said “geez,” looked away and struggled mightily to get the word out.

Why does this still happen to a well adjusted, desensitized stutterer? Thoughts?

My friend Evan shared his thoughts without me even asking. We both shared almost identical stories today on our blogs. See Evans post on his blog “I Stutter, So What!”

I was asked this week during a meeting to introduce myself and tell my “story” to a new team I will be working with. The Director wanted to know our work and personal backgrounds, and essentially what makes us tick and our values.

I chose to include some discussion about my stuttering journey, as how I handle stuttering impacts just about everything I do.

Reflecting back on what I said in that discussion and some questions asked, here is my list of how you should care for and feed your stuttering.

1. If you stutter, stutter. Don’t just say you stutter and then not stutter – you don’t look credible then.

2. When talking about it, relax, maintain eye contact and smile. It really does engage listeners.

3. If someone asks a question, answer it honestly. I was asked, “I don’t know much about stuttering, can you tell me a little more about it?” Do that!

4. Voluntary stutter periodically, especially if you are having a really fluent day. Sounds counter-intuitive, but that’s part of caring for your stutter.

5. Be sure to feed your stuttering – don’t be afraid of blocks or signs of tension. If you have disclosed, it will be expected. Your stuttering will eat that up and relax.

6. Acknowledge feelings you have about stuttering. Know that shame and fear of judgement still creep in from time to time. That’s why it’s so important to care for your stuttering by being good to it and not hiding it.

7. Don’t spend precious time and energy trying not to stutter – it rarely works. It’s more efficient to just stutter and move forward.

8. Thank others who take an interest and ask questions.

9. Thank your stuttering when it has a particularly good day. Say, “Thank you stuttering!”

10. Share these care and feeding tips with others – people who stutter or not.  It gives your stuttering more confidence.

Episode 90 features Briana Pipkin who was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. Briana is 21 years old and currently a senior at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas. She is studying to become a speech language pathologist.

Briana decided to study speech language pathology after ruling out other career paths and remembering a positive experience she had as a child.

Listen in as we discuss stuttering choices, disclosure and fear of judgment.

We also discuss covert stuttering as it relates to choices and the responsibility of educating others so they know how to respond. We also talk about the rise of on-line stuttering forums and support groups.

Feel free to leave comments for either Briana or me in the below comment section.

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

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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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