Make Room For The Stuttering

My father died two weeks ago. My father who I never reconciled with over serious childhood issues. My father that yelled and screamed at me when I was 5 years old and first started stuttering. My father whose lack of support drove me to try and hide my stuttering for years. My father who was ashamed that one of his kids stuttered. My father who never allowed me and my siblings to show emotions. My father who never showed me affection. My father who I had not talked to in years.

I happened to be away for the weekend when I got word that he had died. My siblings were text messaging each other and included me in on the thread. As I was driving, my phone blew up with tweets, the sound I use to notify me of text alerts. I glanced down at the phone and tried to see what was going on. I couldn’t figure out what they were talking about from just a quick glance.

I pulled over at the first nearest rest area to get gas and then pulled into a parking spot, curious to see what my siblings were furiously texting about. One sister had offered her condolences to others who were impacted by his death. I didn’t know who they were talking about. It didn’t occur to me to think it was my father. I texted a quick question and asked who died, thinking it was an extended family member. One sister directly responded that it was dad who died.

I was kind of shocked as I was not expecting to hear that and I was 100 miles from home. My brother then chimed in with a text that he was sorry I learned through a text message, but that the family thought it better not to have called me while I was away.

I started driving toward home and had the next 90 minutes or so to think. What I thought about was how weird my reaction was. I was not emotional or stricken – I was worried about how I would handle the upcoming funeral services and deal with family that I hadn’t seen in years. I was worried about possibly not going and how that would look.

I debated not going to any services as I had not had a relationship with the man in years. He never reached out to me and I kept my distance. While he was in a nursing home, several of my sisters tried to guilt me into letting go of the past and consider reconciling with him. They were going to visit him weekly and asked me repeatedly to join them. I chose not to. They stopped asking. I went about my life oblivious to what was happening with him.

I learned later that he had suffered several falls due to the pressure of a brain tumor he’d had for years, that I knew about. The pressure was causing dementia and made him prone to falls. The last fall he took was accompanied by heart failure and several attempts at resuscitation and then his heart just finally stopped.

I always felt a deep sadness that I did not have my father’s heart. I was his first born daughter and always yearned for that relationship with my dad that I knew other people had or that I saw on TV. I was envious of friends who were close with their parents and held a special place in their parents’ hearts. I never really told that to anyone and eventually those yearnings went away as I learned to manage with the hand I had been dealt. I vividly remembered the abusive, chaotic home I grew up in. I couldn’t not remember it.

I did go to my father’s wake and was supremely uncomfortable. I felt lost and like I didn’t belong there. Four of my siblings were also there, along with my father’s second family. A family I had always referred to as our replacement family. His wife, that my father had cheated on my mother with and who was younger than me. Whom I always blamed for hurting my mother.

I saw aunts and uncles, his siblings, that I hadn’t seen in over 25 years, It was awkward. It was more awkward seeing my father’s other daughters, openly grieving. I felt tense and anxious and couldn’t help but feel this whole thing was happening to someone else.

My sister read a “tribute” to my father toward the end of the service, one that talked about a loving father that instilled values and work ethic in all his (10) children and a love for God. I didn’t recognize who she was talking about. It was surreal to me, his firstborn daughter who wasn’t perfect and had never felt his love. My sister had reconciled with him and made peace with him as had two other sisters.

My youngest sister didn’t go to the wake. He was not part of her life and had never met her children, his grandchildren, yet the obituary read that he was their loving grandfather. I felt that people were trying to paint this man to be someone he was not.

I didn’t go to the funeral service or burial the next day. I couldn’t. I felt paralyzed by my very conflicting emotions. Part of me had hated this man for so long, for the emotional and physical abuse of long ago and for making me feel such shame over my stuttering. I carried this around for a long time. I also carried around his influence for a long time. I was in therapy for years, trying to process and perhaps reconcile my “daddy issues,” but never could. The pain was still there, after all these years.

When someone dies and it is unexpected, so much goes unsaid. Such is the case with my father. I never told him how I had yearned for his love, support and approval. I never told him that I have turned out pretty OK and feel like I am in a good place in my life, despite a tumultuous past. I didn’t really even say goodbye.

Part of me feels relief that he is gone, for he is not suffering and hopefully neither will I anymore. But I’m not sure that really is the case. I need to come to terms with what wasn’t said and find a way to process this so that I can move forward in peace.

 

 

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Last night in a Stutter Social hangout, we had a great discussion about how sometimes for people who stutter, there is a disconnect between what we think we want to say and how it actually comes out.

We can be quite fluent in our heads and then when we go to speak, our words come out stuttered and messy and sometimes not even making sense, because we may have switched words.

It’s funny that our discussion started out about the similarities between stuttering and Tourette Syndrome and then morphed into a discussion about how disconnected our thoughts and words can be. One of the participants in the hangout offered her thoughts about how what she wants to say often comes out different from what she actually says.

I have felt this disconnect. I’ve often rehearsed before speaking what I want to say and try to predict words or sounds I may stutter or block on and try to choose words that I am usually fluent on. Sometimes it doesn’t work out and I feel like what I’ve said sounds out of context or doesn’t make sense. Sometimes the stuttering has a mind of it’s own and I stutter on words that I didn’t predict I would.

We also talked about confidence. Very often our body language conveys confidence and then is betrayed by what comes out of our mouth, that may make us sound nervous or unsure of ourselves.

We talked about how sometimes we can portray a quiet confidence by not saying much. But I wonder, aren’t we then jeopardizing our true self by staying quiet when we really don’t want to?

What do you think? Have you ever felt that disconnect between what’s in your head and what comes out of your mouth? How have you worked with that?

PamEpisode 172 features Jaymie who hails from San Diego, California. Jaymie works for the San Diego Courthouse, in the Human Resources department. She welcomes new hires into the organization and helps them make benefit decisions. She also enjoys reading and writing and is actively involved in her local NSA chapter.

Jaymie shares that she was lucky to have a very supportive supervisor in her first job. She started in Payroll and her supervisor was accepting and supportive of her stuttering. Her supervisor told Jaymie that during the interview process she knew she wanted to hire Jaymie, “stutter and all.”

Listen in as we discuss how that one powerful comment reshaped how Jaymie viewed herself and stuttering. She’s come to believe that stuttering is just another type of communication. We also discuss open stuttering, acceptance, and being friends with other people who stutter.

Jaymie shares how she first heard about the NSA after seeing then student Morgan Lott’s documentary This Is Stuttering. She has attended two national NSA conferences and presented at two workshops at just her second conference. Kudos to her!

The music used in today’s episode is credited to ccMixter.

 

 

 

I am sure most people who stutter have experienced negative self talk. When we are faced with a challenging speaking situation, a little voice in our head tells us that we shouldn’t be speaking because we might stutter. Or when we do stutter, that voice reminds us that we’re stupid, inadequate or embarrassing ourselves.

I’ve definitely experienced this. Less so these days now that I’m more comfortable in my skin. I can remember hearing that voice tell me all kinds of things. Sometimes quite loudly too!

I have also heard the voice tell me positive things. I have heard my self-talk be encouraging, reminding me that my voice is worthy to be heard and congratulating me after getting through a challenging speaking situation unscathed.

What if you were hearing both negative and positive messages at the same time? Would that be confusing? Would the positive messages override the negative ones?

This weekend at the NSA’s 4th Annual Fall Gathering, we had a number of opportunities to explore our speech, play with different scenarios and see what happens when we listen to the voices in our head.

One particularly powerful exercise involved a fluent speaker who was asked to describe what she was planning to do for Halloween. She stood in the front of the room preparing to speak to the group. Two people who stutter were asked to stand on either side of her and whisper in her ear, one saying negative things and one saying positive things.

She was so flustered by hearing these different voices that she was unable to speak clearly. She gave up. It was a very good illustration of how listening to conflicting voices can impact our ability to think and speak clearly.

What do you think? Do the voices in your head affect how you speak? Do you ever find yourself giving up in a speaking situation?

 

I had an interesting comment on the paper I submitted for this year’s International Stuttering Awareness Day online conference, which is going on now through October 22. Please read my paper, 5 Ways The World Can Better Understand Stuttering.

In one section of my paper, I talk about how the media needs to do a better job in portraying people who stutter on TV and in films. I think we as people who stutter can influence more positive portrayals in the media by continuing to raise awareness and educate people at every opportunity about what stuttering is and isn’t.

Someone who commented on my paper wrote that people who suffer from stuttering can be helped by the celebrities who “used to stutter” because they are good role models for overcoming stuttering. If they can do it, so can we. I gently commented back that I disagreed with her thought that celebrity recovered stutterers can help those of us who suffer from stuttering.

This gave me pause. Do we “suffer” with stuttering? I looked up the definition of “suffer.”  Miriam-Webster offers this: “to become worse because of being badly affected by something.” We certainly can agree that most of us who stutter are badly affected by it in some way. Teasing, bullying, exclusion, workplace discrimination all are examples of what people who stutter experience. But do we become worse because of stuttering?

I’m not sure. I’ve heard many stories where people who stutter think that stuttering has made them stronger, more resilient, compassionate and empathetic. Had we not been dealt the hand of stuttering, we might not have developed the strength that many, many people who stutter have. And that’s a good thing.

So weigh in. What do you think? Do we suffer from stuttering? Are we worse off as people because we stutter?

 

 

 

I know someone who stutters who refers to himself as someone who stutters “some of the time.” He mentions this in email and Facebook posts every time he comments about something stuttering related.

He’s right, you know! All of us who stutter only stutter some of the time. We generally don’t stutter when we’re alone and talking out loud. We usually don’t stutter when talking to children or animals. And most of us don’t stutter on every single word when we stutter.

This individual often brings up the notion of the “fragmented self” that pioneer speech therapist Charles Van Riper coined. Basically this means that those who stutter see themselves as two beings – one who sometimes stutters and one who is sometimes fluent. Interestingly, I wrote about this six years ago in a post titled Self, Divided. I talked about how I often felt that I lead two separate lives – one being a covert stutterer and the other passing as fluent.

I really don’t do that anymore. Since “coming out,” I largely stutter openly and do not attempt to “pass” as normally fluent. I’ve shared before how liberating it is to not worry about being found out or exposed as a stutterer.

I wonder how you feel about this. Can you relate to the notion that we can be people who stutter some of the time? What does this mean in terms of how you see yourself?

 

PamEpisode 171 features Catherine Moroney, who hails from the Los Angeles, California area. Catherine is your friendly neighborhood rocket scientist, with masters degrees in both computer science and physics. Outside of work, she enjoys traveling a fair bit and her cats, who sometimes get mad at her.

Listen in as we talk about how she got her first job, which Catherine describes as “sheer dumb luck.”  She was lucky to find an employer who didn’t care about her stuttering who gave her lots of opportunities to show what she could do. She says she quickly became known as Catherine and not just her boss’s hired programmer.

We also discuss what a rocket scientist actually does, most of which I didn’t understand. And we talk about how stuttering is just another physical characteristic, like being tall and having silver hair. We also chat about interviewing for jobs when you stutter and the importance of disclosure.

Catherine has been involved with the stuttering community for over 20 years, having gone to her first NSA conference in Cleveland in 1994.

The musical clip used in today’s episode is credited to ccMixter.

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© Pamela A Mertz and Make Room For The Stuttering, 2009 - 2017. 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 2017.