Make Room For The Stuttering

I’ve read many people post on public forums, especially Reddit, how much more difficult stuttering becomes for them around holidays. Some say it’s because of the tension that arises from being around family members we rarely see during the year.

Some people who stutter feel strangely vulnerable around their parents, who were the first authority figures in our lives. We may feel that we disappointed them then, and nothing has changed, so we think we’ll just disappoint again. We often find ourselves trying to adapt to different family dynamics each year. Maybe there are new members of the family or we are adapting to a loss. Sometimes, we see extended family members we have not seen for years. And it may feel like all eyes are upon us when we speak, and if we stutter, the room can go silent, so the only sound you hear is the prolonged or lingering stutter.

I always felt uncomfortable and embarrassed in family gatherings. I chalk it up to having had a very chaotic and traumatic childhood. But, really, I found it hard being the oldest child of six. At the dinner table, everyone would be chattering at once and we’d have to compete to be heard. I was literally trying to be heard, which created tension, that I internalized.

That tension has always stayed with me. Of the few family gatherings I attend these days, I tend to stay quiet and only pipe in when I feel I have something important to say. But usually I don’t. Because gatherings are often shallow, with people sharing about mundane everyday stuff that none of us can really relate to because we only get together once a year.

This year, I have noticed that I stutter much more when on the phone, especially with my closest sister. I can feel and hear myself stuttering, her waiting, and then me trying to be less aware of stuttering, but stuttering more.

After so many years of stuttering and holidays, it’s the same complexities that keeps the mind busy.

Wishing you good stuttering and happy days.


whs logo smallEpisode 251 features Emma MacMillan, who hails from Minneapolis, Minnesota. Emma works at a bank as a relationship manager, working with the mergers and acquisitions team. She enjoys reading, concerts and hanging out with friends.

Emma opens up about working with fast paced attorneys, who slow down to listen to her. She had challenged herself with customer service jobs in high school and college to get more comfortable with stuttering at work, and where she increased her confidence.

We also discuss how persons who stutter are represented in the media, educating others, her experience of being an “outgoing introvert” and how women are unicorns in the stuttering community.

Emma attended her first NSA conference this summer and we spend time talking about her experiences, how it felt meeting others who stutter, and some of the workshops that really made an impact.

Thank you Emma for such an inspiring conversation.

This episode is a milestone for this podcast. We’ve reached Number 250. This brings me so much joy.  

whs logo smallEpisode 250 features Adriana Flowers, who hails from Springfield, Oregon via Honduras. Adriana is 23 years old and is a grad student studying Public Administration. She hopes to pursue a career in either the nonprofit industry or local government.

Adriana prides herself on being an advocate for people who stutter and the National Stuttering Association. She wants to be a mentor for others who stutter, especially for young girls and teens.

Listen in as we talk about her job during Covid where she called students infected with Covid and may have been contacts. We talked how the benefits of helping her community outweighed the heavy communication load for a person who stutters. 

We also discuss supportive workplaces, the need to relearn how to do face-to-face conversations after two+ years of video platforms and wearing a mask.

We also talked about the importance of family understanding stuttering. Adrian’s dad joined her for her first two NSA conferences.

Catch Adriana on the next NSA We Stutter @ Work webinar on customer service jobs, to be held on September 28.

No words needed. Just listen.

whs logo smallEpisode 249 features return guest Carolina Ayala, who hails from Ajax, ON, Canada. She shares that she’s been working in the disability field now for 20 years and loves it. She has recently transitioned into a new position, where she helps clients engage and be more social in their communities.

In this special episode, we discuss what it’s like to be in a relationship with another person who stutters. Her partner has given us permission to talk about him. 😊

Carolina tells us that she she doesn’t have to explain good or bad days – Sang just “gets it.”

She shared they first met casually at a NSA conference, but she never thought she’d actually talk to him. Sang then reached out to her on Facebook, and something told her to talk to him. At the time, Carolina mentioned that she was getting ready to attend an intensive speech therapy course in Canada. A few days later, Sang told her he bought a plane ticket and was joining her.

I asked Carolina when she knew she wanted to learn more about Sang. She said she knew when she felt so safe with him. She also added that was a cute and very dapper guy. (You are Sang!)

Carolina and Sang have not explored next steps yet, as there’s a whole big world to explore. They both love to travel and have happily exploring that world together.

Listen in to this very insightful and inspiring episode.

Male wearing blue with sunglasses and big smile and woman wearing yellow also with big smile.

Selfie of when Carolina and Sang first met.

whs logo smallEpisode 248 features Lindsey Lambert, who hails from Kansas City, Missouri. Lindsey is in her 30’s and is an R.N. working as an assistant nurse manager on the oncology floor at a VA Hospital.

Lindsey recently attend her first National Stuttering Association conference, which she describes as finding the family you didn’t know you had.

Listen in as we talk about Lindsey’s experiences with avoidance and being covert. She says she practiced a lot of avoidance for a really time. She was tired of walking through life not being who she was. She is still working on her journey to acceptance.

Lindsey’s conference takeaways include: she found empowerment in getting out of her negative mindset. She discovered overwhelming love and support, and the deep conversations with others who stutter to be so freeing. She challenged herself to maintain eye contact, and she did.

Lindsey wants to heal. I’d say her first conference experience and all the people she met puts her well on the path to that healing.

Last week I had the wonderful opportunity to attend one of the oft held masterclass sessions sponsored by Schneider Speech and Transcending Stuttering. I was eager to attend this session as the speaker was a friend and researcher extraordinaire, Chris Constantino. He was sharing a session on Neurodiversity and Stuttering and the applications to therapy.

I knew this would be a wonderful session because I have heard and read Chris’s work on covert stuttering, inclusion and previous works on neurodiversity. I contacted the session coordinator and asked if I could attend, despite its primary focus on therapy applications. He welcomed me in.

I knew immediately I made the right decision. I was the only non-SLP participant in the group, but that was actually very helpful. I was able to understand how therapists today are working towards steering clients to examine the values behind differences vs impediments and that “fixing” is not always the best route. I shared some of my thoughts as well, as a person who stutters who has successfully enjoyed, (and still does) the journey towards acceptance of a life well lived with stuttering.

I was happy to be a fly on this wall!

whs logo smallEpisode 247 features Steff Lebsack, who hails from Aurora, Colorado. Steff is a wife, sister, mother of two and a SLP. Steff’s brother Jasper stutters, and is the reason Steff wanted to become a SLP and specialize in stuttering.

Steff just started a private practice and also works as a hospital SLP. Further, she teaches the online fluency course at Baylor University.

Steff talks fondly of when she first started working with clients who stutter, she thought she would be putting on her “hero cape” to save people who stutter. She learned that people who stutter don’t need saving, that we have a voice which should be heard no matter how it sounds.

Listen in as we talk about how Steff suffered a brain injury, and as a result she began stuttering at 36. We talk about faking stuttering, or “malingering,” going intentionally silent because of the pain of stuttering, compassion and empathy. And lot’s more.

We wrap about talking about power, and the importance of helping people feel that they matter.

“A turtle only makes progress when it sticks its neck out.”

I love this quote. How do we define progress? Progress in school (think report cards,) progress at work (performance evaluations, or getting a raise,) or just doing something really uncomfortable. Maybe public speaking, performing improv, or giving a toast at a wedding.

All of those things can be challenging for people who stutter. I was always afraid to volunteer at school or work, afraid they would think I wasn’t competent or laugh. I unconsciously thought those things would happen, so I learned to hide my stutter as deeply as possible, without looking like a recluse.

Do you ever look at stuttering as something with which we can make progress? I mean like stuttering more openly, more comfortably, or even taking part in therapy to lessen our stuttering or struggle behavior.

I had such a long experience with covert (hiding) stuttering. I was swimming in shame and the belief that no one would want to hear my voice, or even that I was unworthy of talking, as it was different than “normal” speech.

Progress for me was just letting go and confronting my shame, which took a long time. I began to open up more, took speaking risks I never would have dreamed of, and most importantly, I met other people who stutter, especially other women. Through the community of the National Stuttering Association which offers one day and 4 day conferences, chapter support meetings, and online webinars and groups, I found out that progress means something different for everyone.

Discover what it is you want to do, and go after it, as slowly or quickly that YOU want to. It’s not a race, it’s a journey.

Progress – “A turtle only makes progress when it sticks its neck out.”

I haven’t written in a while as I’ve been grappling with big issues. Anxiety and depression, talking less often to people, feeling isolated, fun stuff like that.

But my mind keeps wandering to relevance. I worry that I am not relevant to, well, anyone. I don’t work, and I don’t have regular social interaction, unless you count the “thank you” at the grocery store. I felt relevant and productive when I worked, both with colleagues and clients.

So I’ve been stewing over why I don’t feel relevant. And have been thinking a lot of about with who do we need to be relevant to, in order to feel relevant. Is it engagement with others that makes me/us feel relevant, is it doing something for someone else, or is it just about being relevant to myself?

It’s so easy to let negative self-talk and self loathing consume our thoughts, as I did for so long because of stuttering. I felt like I didn’t measure up, or ever could, to others who did not stutter. Avoidance became a self preserving habit, one that spilled over into other areas of my life. I intentionally chose not to interact with potential friends or many co-workers out of shame and fear of being seen in a negative light. That used to eat me up.

Then I found the stuttering community and dove in and realized instantly that helping others helped me. In little ways: encouraging others, sharing my stories, celebrating triumphs with others who may not even realize what they just did or said was a triumph.

I felt relevant in that world. I took on volunteer opportunities, led groups, presented workshops and generally felt good. I felt I was making a difference. I felt relevant.

But it seems now that everything has changed. I’ve had major life changes that have been difficult. I stepped down from the NSA Board of Directors because I thought my messy life would adversely affect my ability to help others and be a leader. I also worried that financially I could not contribute and of course afford to pay my way to conferences. At times, I feel extremely irrelevant in the stuttering community, which is funny, because it was deep involvement that helped me so much and made me see, really see, that I could help others.

I guess it’s most important to feel relevant to yourself. Find ways to be relevant. I’ve been trying to do that, from afar, on Zoom, like most of us have become so used to. I try to talk to people as often as I can, but honestly, that’s an effort, just like getting out of bed on some days.

But that’s OK. Being messy and unsure is what makes us human. I remind myself of that often. Helping others to realize that being messy, including not taking a shower every day or hardly making the bed, is relevant because I know others can relate to that. We all are messy. And being able to be comfortable with that helps me realize that relevance is a matter of perspective.

whs logo smallEpisode 246 features Chantal Anderson who presently lives in Horsham, England, UK. Chantal is busy! She works as a Civil Servant in Finance. She is finishing up graduate studies and is looking forward to the end of final exams.

Chantal enjoys volunteer work. In 2018, she trained to be a volunteer instructor in the Army Cadets. In 2021, she was elected as Trustee for Stamma.

Listen in as we discuss Chantal’s recent involvement in the stammering community. When Chantal  heard there was an opening for a Trustee position for Stamma. She jumped right in and applied, saying she had nothing to lose. Chantal is very excited about attending her first stammering conference, StammaFest Global 2022.

We also discuss the McGuire Programme, which Chantal has been involved with since 2012. She describes the basics of the program, including learning breathing control techniques. The McGuire courses are all taught by program graduates, and there is lifelong support for graduates,

We talk about how the pandemic has impacted people who stammer. Working from home and relying on video chat platforms is so impersonal. Chantal shares that due to bandwidth problems, video cameras are often kept off during work calls, so she has no idea what colleagues look like, only their voices.

Thank you Chantal for such an inspiring conversation.

whs logo smallEpisode 245 features Caitlin Franchini, who hails from Atlanta, Georgia. Caitlin is a second year graduate student studying speech language pathology. She is currently participating in an externship with high school students and loves it. Caitlin is also a self professed foodie – she loves cooking and baking.

Listen in as we discuss all things stuttering. We talk about the changing relationships we have with our stutter, the journey to self confidence and acceptance and Caitlin’s own experiences with speech therapy.

Caitlin is new to the stuttering community and has gone from thinking she was the only who stuttered to realizing there is a huge network of support out there. We talk about disclosure and the importance of validating our identity as a woman who stutters.

Caitlin had the opportunity to work as a counselor at Camp Say last summer. It was a wonderful experience. “I thought I was going to change lives, but my life was changed.” Those epiphany moments are the best.

** Host note: As I listened back to this episode, I was stunned at the number of times I used filler words such as “uhm” and “you know.” I was in Toastmasters for many years and had worked specifically on recognizing and reducing filler words. For a long time, filler words were “run-ups” to words that I thought I was going to stutter on. An old avoidance tactic. Does anybody else find this creeping back in? **

whs logo smallEpisode 244 features Bhupinder Purewal, who hails from Coventry, England. Bhupinder teaches all subjects in primary school as a supply teacher, the same as a substitute teacher. Her students range in age from 5 – 11 years old. Bhupinder finds children are more accepting and curious about stammering than are adults, even when some of the students are “naughty.” Children have not been tainted by prejudice yet.

Working in a different school every day comes with some anxiety. She describes it as being scary, and finds her heart pounding on the way to school. She worries about how the day will go, and then realizes why does she fret like that, as the day always goes fine.

Listen in as we talk about disclosure, teacher training and the implied assumption that maybe she was not well suited for teaching, and the challenges of small talk.

We also talk about speech therapy experiences, and trying hypnotherapy and singing lessons. We wrap up by talking about how empowering it was for her to find stammering support and the founding of Coventry Stammerers, which meets every two weeks. Meeting other people who stammer validates our experiences.

Don’t miss this episode. Bhupinder is a very inspiring young woman.

whs logo smallEpisode 243 features Akaiya Bryant, who hails from Indianapolis, Indiana. Akaiya is 19 and a part-time university student majoring in special education, with a minor in American Sign Language (ASL). She also has a part-time job working at a grooming salon. 

Akaiya has been active in the stuttering community since age 12. She and her mom have attended the annual Friends conferences together and it has been life changing for both of them. She has also helped to facilitate online teen support groups.

Listen in as we talk about good and not so good therapy experiences, the value of disclosure, and the need to “keep going.” Akaiya has a great way of describing her experience of stuttering, as being “Disabled by Environment,” and how it’s helped her to self advocate.

Akaiya also talks about a project upcoming next month at her university. She has collaborated with the college Disability Office to have a screening of the powerful film My Beautiful Stutter. Simply by asking, Akaiya has made it happen.

I was honored to have this great conversation with a young woman who is making such a difference in the world.

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© Pamela A Mertz and Make Room For The Stuttering, 2009 - 2022. 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 2022.
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