Make Room For The Stuttering

Over the last few weeks, I have had the opportunity to do some talks about covert stuttering and how hiding an integral part of me has shaped me.

I co-facilitated a session for the Canadian Stuttering Association in early November and one last week for the NSA global research conference.

And today I spoke to a small female only group of women who stammer.

In all of the talks, I emphasized how stuttering covertly essentially hijacked my personality which lead me down a rabbit hole of avoidance in all areas of my life, not just stuttering related stuff.

I shared with a friend that I had given several of these talks all in a relatively short time period. He said, “well, you’re not covert anymore, you do know that, right?” That gave me pause, as I suppose he’s right. What I’ve been sharing has been the journey I’ve taken to embrace my true self and become open with who I am and how I speak. One of the presentations I gave was aptly called, “Dropping the ‘C’ in Covert Stuttering.”

People who stutter and those who interact with people who stutter seem genuinely interested in how going from extremely covert to truly open is done and why.

At today’s talk, the topic of small talk came up, in relation to a comment that someone made about finding it hard to make friends as a person who stutters. I mentioned that many of us really never learned how to “make small talk” because we were always so busy hiding or rehearsing what we might be able to say fluently is we absolutely had to talk.

One woman asked me if it has become any easier to make small talk now that I stutter openly. I shared that it absolutely has become easier. I am more spontaneous now than I’ve ever been because I just stutter and get on with it. I don’t care as much as I once did and I didn’t worry so much about being judged.

And I shared that my fear had always been fear of rejection. I really think that’s what it boils down to – being rejected, not being liked, not feeling that sense of belonging that we all crave and need.

I’ve come to realize that indeed I’m not covert anymore and that I can enjoy spontaneity in conversation and really feel present in a conversation.

I’ve heard myself time and again these past few weeks mention that I truly feel that authenticity invites reciprocity. And that we all yearn to allow ourselves to be vulnerable, as that is the foundation of real belonging.

 

I had an amazing opportunity last week to be a guest panelist for an event hosted by the Peruvian Stuttering Association. For International Stuttering Awareness Day, they held a week long festival for all things stuttering. I thought that was so wonderful, to intentionally raise awareness of stuttering for an extended period of time.

The organizer invited me to participate in a panel session on Friday October 23, from 7-9pm. I started off a bit intimidated, as I was the only woman who stuttered on the panel, and the only one who did not speak Spanish. It felt so weird. I had a translator assigned to me and when I realized he knew his stuff, I relaxed and began to enjoy the experience.

The first part of the panel was for each of us to give a brief overview of our country’s stuttering association. I spoke about the mission and vision of the National Stuttering Association. I spoke 4 or 5 sentences at a time and the translator repeated what I said back to the audience in Spanish. Then the other two panelists, from Argentina and Columbia, gave their overviews in Spanish and the translator typed in the Zoom chat box what was being said.

The second part of the panel was a 90 minute Q&A with audience members, who asked questions in Spanish on the live feed as the whole event was held on Zoom and then streamed through Facebook Live. I did not know that it was going to be live streamed until about 30 minutes ahead of the event.

I had the rare opportunity to possibly feel like the lone person who stutters in a large room of many fluent people. I felt alone in a crowded space. I imagine that’s how people who stutter feel until they are welcomed into the space they are in.

And that’s exactly how it played out for me. Once I got over the initial nerves of not knowing the language and realized that my translator wasn’t going to leave me hanging, I actually enjoyed the experience.

I was able to talk about the NSA’s vast network of support chapters across the USA, and how they are like a lifeline to people who stutter. For many who stutter, attending a local NSA chapter meeting may be their very first introduction to others who stutter and the empowerment felt when around others who stutter.

I was able to talk about how support meetings are facilitated, the role of the chapter leader, inviting everyone to speak and give permission to just listen. When I talked about the importance of honoring silence among people who stutter, I could see that definitely struck a chord with the panelists because they felt when that happened they had failed as group leaders. So we talked about how facilitation is more like guiding a group discussion rather than actually leading and feeling that every space must be filled with words.

I also had the opportunity to talk about inviting women into the stuttering spaces that we create. The South America stuttering leaders really valued that part of the conversation and pledged to explore that further and look at opportunities to find and welcome women who stutter.

We also spent time discussing initiatives to promote better career outcomes for people who stutter in the employment process. I was able to share what the NSA has done with our “We Stutter @ Work” program.

This experience was a major leap away from my comfort zone but as I reflected on it, it was a real honor and privilege to represent women who stutter in a traditionally male oriented space.

I hope to be invited and participate in more of such opportunities.

Episode 224 features Gim Dhee who hails from Sri Lanka. Gim always saw challenges as opportunities and tried to push boundaries to achieve her dream goals. Gim is working in neurology and wishes this to be her specialty as she hopes to one day help with the causes and treatments for stammering.

Listen in as Gim shares her journey of fear and shame, and how she managed stammering. She tells us that being extremely focused on her work helps because then stammering is not so much an issue.

Gim also shares that stammering is quite stigmatized in Sri Lanka, mostly due to preconceived notions. She says raising awareness is critical in under resourced countries and she hopes to inspire others to not limit themselves.

Gim talks about her experiences with the McGuire Program which provided her with tools to combat both the physical and psychological elements of stammering.

I asked what message does she wish to share about stammering. Gim wants parents to know that they should accept their child who stammers as they are, so kids who stammer will have an easier time growing up.

This was such an inspiring conversation.

The folks over at the British Stammering Association, now known as Stamma, have launched a brilliant campaign to change the language used to describe stuttering or stammering.

Very often, stuttering is described using negative, derogatory language, resulting in personal and public perceptions that stuttering is bad and something that must be overcome.

Check out this wonderful brief video to see what they did to “find the right words,” and reduce the stigma about stuttering.

 

Episode 223 features Alexis Keiser, a 20 year old college junior. She is from New Jersey, but is attending Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, CT. Alexis is majoring in Hospitality, and declares herself a real “people person.” Her dream job is to work for Walt Disney Company in Theme Park Operations.

Alexis is super involved and busy in college, actively participating in leadership positions in several clubs. All of her involvement includes lots of communication, which she acknowledges is not easy as a person who stutters.

Listen in as we discuss speech therapy goals, meeting other people who stutter, feeling towards stuttering, the journey to acceptance and finally, learning to be unapologetic about stuttering.

Oh, and Alexis is a huge podcast fan, and never could have imagined even two years ago that she’d be a guest on one of her favorite podcasts.

I wrote this paper for this year’s International Stuttering Awareness Day online conference.

I’d love your thoughts and feedback.

“She stood in the storm and when the wind did not blow her way, she adjusted her sails.” (Elizabeth Edwards)

I love this quote above. It gets to the very core of resilience. For a long time, I allowed stuttering, which I perceived as a flaw, to hold me down and prevent me from living my best life. I did not think it was possible for a stutterer to live a life of meaning and purpose. I was so smothered in shame that I never even considered that I could do something about shame, that I could get up when knocked down.

I was knocked down a lot due to stuttering. I remember times I was laughed at, mocked, dismissed, and excluded. I remember how I reacted when these things happened. I cried and ran away, careful to not let others see how much it affected me. 

Stuttering began taking control of me in many ways that I was not consciously aware of. I did not raise my hand, volunteer to speak or even allow myself to be out front. I always hid in a corner, sat at the back of class, and avoided eye contact so that I would not be called on to speak. I had convinced myself that when I spoke, people would laugh and not take me seriously. It took me a long time to realize that I was the one leading the shame parade.

I have shared my story of hiding my stuttering many times. I have written articles for past online conferences such as this, I have made videos, I host a podcast about stuttering, and I have blogged about stuttering for more than 10 years. But it took me a long time to get to this point where I now willingly share my story and stutter openly.

I had a pivotal event in my life that paved the way for me to stop automatically equating stuttering with something bad, or believing that I was bad, flawed, or imperfect. Prior to this event, I did not know what resilience was.

I was fired from a long-held job because of stuttering in 2006. As you can imagine, that rocked my world. It was such a blow to my identity and self-esteem, for I had carefully constructed myself as someone who did not stutter, even though I do. I had successfully hidden my stuttering for so long that not many people in my world knew that I stuttered. 

In the process of crafting this “self who did not stutter,” I had unwittingly compromised my real self and tried to pretend that I was OK with being perceived as nervous, shy, quiet and a wallflower. I had created a “Fake Pam,” which I let the world see but I was totally unhappy with. 

Getting fired for stuttering was the beginning of shedding “Fake Pam” and letting “Real Pam” out. The whole process of reconciling the two vastly different versions of myself was the very definition of resilience. I just did not realize it in 2006. It took me a few years to say goodbye to “Fake Pam” and to welcome “Real Pam” to her forever home. 

Once “Real Pam” was out, there was no stopping me. Not only did I shed the fake persona, I also became real in other parts of my life. I learned that while hiding stuttering, I had also been hiding any open expression of emotions, which had suffocated me. If you have ever read the book “The Velveteen Rabbit,” you know that the stuffed rabbit became a real rabbit, which was very much like my own transformation.

Being resilient means facing pain, and choosing to walk through it, instead of around it or choosing to go down a different street. As I became real, I began to recognize powerful moments of resilience in my life. 

After getting fired, I had to go on interviews again to find a new job. I faced the fear of being judged because of stuttering by choosing to openly disclose that I stutter during interviews, for the first time ever. I quieted the inner chatter in my head that said I was not being hired because of stuttering but rather it could very well have been true that I just was not the right fit.

When I did get a job, I openly shared with supervisors and coworkers that I stutter and was still liked and accepted. I learned that I had worried about stuttering far more than anyone else did. Being real and true to myself was such a new and triumphant feeling. I wanted more of that. I wanted to take chances. I wanted to start living my best life.

I joined Toastmasters, attended stuttering support groups, and even found myself hosting a virtual stuttering support group for almost six years. I found myself doing lots of public speaking and making efforts to normalize stuttering as much as possible. I was asked often to speak to college graduate classes about covert stuttering, being asked to come back year after year by the same professors. I was afraid of rejection each time, but I persevered and let “Real Pam” come out and be heard. I liked her voice, my voice, the one that I had always thought no one could ever like because it shakes and shudders and stops and blocks. But I was at a point in my life where I could say “so what?”

I have learned that I can sail in a storm and adjust the sails to another course when I must. This is no longer fear but strength. And a belief that “I can do this.”

I have always had the resilience necessary to meet life’s challenges head on. I just did not know it for such a long time. “Real Pam” did the proper thing and introduced herself to “Fake Pam,” and “Real Pam” said “Nice to meet you, but you are not needed anymore. Get out of here.” And “Real Pam” never looked back.

 

 

 

Episode 222 features Aisha Haynes, who hails from Columbia, South Carolina. Dr. Aisha Haynes is the Assistant Director for the Center for Teaching Excellence. She teaches two online courses at the university. For fun, Aisha enjoys traveling, trying and eating new food, and adventurous activities.

Aisha had been a covert stutterer for many years. She shares that it’s only been over the last 5 years or so that she has given herself permission to “stutter really well.”

Listen in as we discuss disclosure and advertising, not being able to hide stuttering anymore, and being more comfortable in her stuttering skin. The title of this episode comes from an article that Aisha was featured in at her university, which she describes as her “coming out story.”

Below please find a video of Aisha and colleague Dr. Charley Adams discussing stuttering at the university.

We all are probably lining up to kick 2020 to the curb as soon as we can. It’s been an awful year for everyone. Lock downs, quarantines, social distancing and wearing masks. All of it has been relentless since early March 2020 when the USA joined other countries trying to battle the Covid pandemic. Most of us alive today have never experienced such a year of grave losses, of people, employment and our basic interactions with each other.

I am a hugger and I have not been able to hug anyone for 6+ months.

Almost all of our interactions with others has been virtual, using the many options for video chats. That’s been a great way to at least talk to people.

The stuttering community has felt all these losses, some more acutely than others. I’ve heard countless stories of people who stutter experiencing difficulty when masked up and trying to speak. But we’ve stood and fiercely showed our resilience.

The stuttering community has stepped up and many of the stuttering support groups have hosted quite a few virtual sessions to help people feel connected.

This brings a nice transition into my announcement. Every year in October, a small by mighty team coordinates a 3 week online conference that runs from October 1 – October 22, which is the annual “International Stuttering Awareness Day.” This is a day that people from all over the world celebrate stuttering in their countries to raise awareness and educate communities.

I want to draw your attention to the annual online conference. It is interactive, meaning people will have the chance to interact with authors of papers, videos, poems and other media platform. This is the one a year that people come together for a global conference.

This year’s theme is “Resilience and Bouncing Back,” a theme that many people who stutter can relate to. We have around 50 submissions, submitted by PWS ourselves, SLP’s and other professionals, and family members of a person who stutters.

It’s a great theme – I was excited to find out about the theme and I enthusiastically wrote a meaningful piece that speaks to me about my journey of resilience.

The conference will go live on September 30 at noon, since it will be October 1 somewhere in the world. Check it out – you’ll be happy with the many superb contributions and you’ll so many different things about stuttering.

The online ISAD Conference begins October 1, 2020.

Episode 221 features Aashka Shah, who hails from California, but is presently in Cleveland, Ohio in college studying chemical engineering. Aashka is interested in eventually attending medical school.

Aashka shares that she and her parents never made her feel that she was in any way at a disadvantage because of stuttering. As a result, Aashka had very high expectations of herself.

Aashka also talks about how she believed she was in denial for a long time, not recognizing that there were hurdles presented for her regarding things that fluent people found to be easier. She found herself having to constantly prove herself to others, and to herself.

Self actualization has to come from an internal place, not from what others say about us.

Finding the National Stuttering Association really helped Aashka get closer to acceptance and helped her become a better ally for others.

Episode 220 features Cathy Olish Maciejewski, who hails from Grosse Ile, Michigan. Cathy works in Human Resources at Ford Motor Company. Her job entails recruiting and on-boarding senior level hires, which requires a lot of communication. Cathy does a lot of her “point of contact” work with new hires via email.

Cathy is, and always has been, a person who stutters covertly. It’s fascinating to hear her story of the extremes she takes to hide her stuttering. She has been attending National Stuttering Association (NSA) conferences since the year 2000 and never tells friends or coworkers where she is going “on vacation.”

We talk about a number of things in this eye opening and inspiring  conversation about covert stuttering.

Listen in as we discuss the self taught tricks and techniques Cathy uses to appear fluent, the preparations she undergoes a few days ahead of a speaking situation, the iceberg analogy of stuttering, and her admission that sometimes she’s OK with appearing less intelligent than she really is just to appear fluent.

I met Cathy at my very first NSA conference when I attended her workshop “Covert Stuttering Exposed,” which was the first time I heard a word describing what I had been doing for so many years to hide my stuttering. Cathy shares that long time NSA member Russ Hicks approached her and two others and pegged them as covert and encouraged them to run this first of it’s kind workshop.

Cathy has two young children, both of whom stutter. She recalls one time when an acquaintance commented that her son, Luke, had a speech impediment. Cathy explained, “oh, that, he stutters, I do too,” which was a big moment of being open for Cathy.

Cathy also wrote an article many years ago that resonated with me, called, “Hello, My Name Is Cathy, But You Can Call Me Anne: A Story Of A Covert Person Who Stutters.”

This was a great conversation with someone I’ve always wanted to know better. Cathy “tells all” in this episode. I am so grateful.

Today I bring you a short episode with no guest, just me, talking about what is has been like during the pandemic lock down.

My last “solo conversation” was in late March, so it’s been six months. I figured it was about time that I bring you another rambling monologue about stuttering. In this episode, I talk about giving our stuttering way more “head space” than we should. And I also talk about how we are affected by constantly seeing ourselves on screen in a little box when we are doing so many video chats.

It’s an unnerving time right now. Most of us are isolated at home, many working, and maybe tending to childcare since US schools closed in March. And there are some, like me, who don’t have a job and find it quite challenging to be home alone, with not much to do. That can be depressing.

How are you managing? Feeling? What are you doing to keep your sanity?

In my last post, I wrote about the 13 year old boy who contributed to the USA Democratic Convention last week. Brayden let his stuttering shine in a joyful and triumphant moment that one does not see much at political rallies or conventions.

Brayden has since been invited to participate with and speak to groups of teens virtually with the National Stuttering Association and Friends.

To my delight, I was contacted by a reporter in my local community to reflect on stuttering and offer some perspective from my point of view. My piece aired on my local news channel on Tuesday evening August 26.

You can see my news piece titled “Advocates Hope Increased Interest Means Change for Those who Stutter.”

This teen’s openness was a great moment for the stuttering community.

Millions of people around the USA and world had the opportunity to see a courageous 13 year old kid who stutters to speak at a major political event. The Democratic National Convention in the USA ended on Thursday night. The theme of the convention was to paint a picture of empathy and compassion that the USA needs right now.

The four days of the virtual convention wanted to contrast Presidential nominee Job Biden with the current sitting president. Biden is known to be a lifelong stutterer. We often hear that he gives his personal cell phone number to young people who stutter.

There were a lot of emotional moments at the convention but a 13 year old kid stole the show. He spoke for two minutes on the national stage. I was overwhelmed with pride when I saw this kid. I could never have done something like that at his age.

See for yourself here.

 

 

 

Episode 29 of the very occasional series of male podcasts features Alex Reynolds, who hails from Eugene, Oregon. Alex and I met a few weeks ago in a Virtual Lounge session presented by the National Stuttering Association. Alex works for an assisted living facility, wear he wears many hats. He enjoys being in the food and hospitality sector because “food brings people together.”

Listen in as we discuss dealing with impatient people, his experiences with virtual speech therapy, and his first involvement in virtual events with the National Stuttering Association. Alex looks forward to when he can attend an in-person stuttering event or conference.

We also explore how it feels when blocking and the importance of breathing to help unlock blocks. Alex also offers the advice: “Be yourself. Everything else will fall in place.”

 

Episode 28 of the occasional male series features Anthony Crozier, who hails from Cleveland, Ohio. Anthony is 25 years old and works as a software developer. He originally planned to study healthcare but this great opportunity came his way, and he’s happy with the career choice he has made.

Anthony shares that his ability to handle the challenges of stuttering greatly contributed to his determination to succeed in his job. He believes stuttering is a strength. When he has disclosed that he stutters, deeper and more interesting conversations result. Being a stutterer has enabled Anthony to move outside his comfort zone both personally and professionally.

Listen in as we also discuss covert stuttering, experiences with speech therapy and the substance of “blocking.”

Feel free to leave a comment for either of us in the comment section.

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© Pamela A Mertz and Make Room For The Stuttering, 2009 - 2020. 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 2020.
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