Make Room For The Stuttering

he-stutters logoEpisode 30 of the occasional male podcast series features Ryan Gielen, who hails from Los Angeles, California. Ryan is an independent film maker and does not stutter. So why is he a guest on this podcast? Because he knows quite a lot about stuttering.

Six years ago, Ryan and his partner began filming the documentary film My Beautiful Stutter. He attended a gala for SAY, “The Stuttering Association for the Young” and watched a child who stutters introduce the evening’s event. The young man stuttered with such confidence that Ryan was hooked and wanted to know more about children who stutter who did so openly and fearlessly. 

Ryan talks about his film making motto – “we create entertainment that creates change.”

We discuss self-worth as a child who stutters, changing the world around you, trust, and empathy. Ryan describes one scene in the film – the basketball sequence – where he saw normalization of stuttering, and how kids who don’t stutter could be envious, because it was fun and they wanted to play. A “normal” fun basketball game helps reduce self stigma and social stigma around “other than” and “less than.” The kids in this film are anything but.

Take the time to listen to this episode. You won’t regret it, and it will bring a smile to your face.

Episode 234 features Alexis Connolly, who hails from Baginton, England. Her village has a tiny population of about 700. She has worked for the NHS – National Health Service – full time for 25 years. She progressively advanced in her career, in positions she was interested in. She presently works part-time as a radiology assistant.

I commented that she sure has had jobs that require a lot of communication. She shared that early in her work with the NHS, she took a job as a cleaner, figuring she wouldn’t have to talk so much. And look at her now.

Alexis is involved in the stuttering community through the British Stammering Association, now known as “Stamma.” She is active in some stuttering Facebook groups. She attended her first BSA conference and felt like her life was changed. She wasn’t afraid of her stammer anymore. Alexis also had a paper published for the annual ISAD conference in October 2020. Her paper was titled “Never Give Up: My Life Living with a Stammer.”

Listen in as we talk about stammering not defining our selves, not caring as much of negative reactions from others, and the worry Alexis had about being able to say her vows at her wedding.

What a great conversation about turning lemons into lemonade.

Episode 233 features McKenzie Jemmett, who hails from Salt Lake City, Utah. McKenzie is a SLP working with pre-school children. She has a long held interest in counseling and believes that plays a part in speech therapy. She also teaches Zumba on the side, a great release outlet while helping others.

McKenzie became interested in stuttering due to her curiosity about how the brain works. She describes herself as having a “mild overt stutter.”

For a long time, McKenzie tried to deny she stuttered and tormented herself trying to appear fluent. It took the help of an incredibly honest and caring friend who told her she was a mess and needed to take care of herself. It was then that she began confronting her demons.

Listen in as McKenzie shares about her worth as a person (it’s not based on cupcakes) and her wish for being more brave. We also discuss what it takes to change, and doing for self what is done for others.

McKenzie is now involved in several stuttering initiatives – she is a committee member of the online ISAD conference held every October and is also a Stutter Social host.

It was great chatting with McKenzie and putting a face to a name.

It’s important today to recognize the importance of this day. “International Women’s Day.” So many women who stutter have shared such inspiring truths on the podcast “Women Who Stutter: Our Stories.”

Today women are recognized for their achievements and contributions to our world, both past and present. Women who stutter have also achieved great things in their personal, social and professional circles.

There isn’t anything we cannot do. In fact, we often produce better results or achieve goals sooner than fluent people. Why? Because we have developed such grit and perseverance through our everyday lives and adversities we may have had as children, teenagers, adults, spouses and parents.

We know what it is like to be knocked down and get right back up. We have to! The world does not work without women.

Remember that as women are celebrated today for all that we do and are.

Episode 232 features Naomi Howard, who hails from Mt. Olive, North Carolina. Naomi works as a teacher, recently promoted to Assistant Director, with a Montessori School. She is a musician, playing the piano since 8 years old, and some other instruments.

Naomi is new to the stuttering community, as she has late onset stuttering which only developed a year ago. She shares that it may have been triggered after removal of a pituitary gland tumor.

Naomi is also a little person. I asked which was more challenging to deal with, stuttering or dwarfism. She said definitely being a little person, as that’s consistent and she knows exactly what to expect everyday. Stuttering, as we know, is extremely variable, from minute to minute, hour by hour and day to day.

Listen in to this very inspiring episode. It was a fun conversation with a new friend.

Episode 231 features Sherrika Myers, who hails from Baltimore, Maryland and presently lives in Charleston, South Carolina.

Sherrika is one busy lady. She is certified life coach, a children’s author, a national speaker and founder of Every 1 Voice Matters. She is the creator of Lil Herbie, an African American mascot she uses to help children build their self-esteem and love themselves. She created Lil Herbie when her grandson began to stutter. Lil Herbie represents the little kid in Sherrika who stuttered.

Sherrika also has a YouTube channel which features the Lil Herbie Series. Lil Herbie looks like her grandson!

Listen is as we talk about stuttering awareness, anti-bullying initiatives and importance of loving your voice. Sherrika is doing things now that she wanted to do a kid. She says, “I’m playing catch-up.”

We also talk about reaching parents so they are prepared to help their kid who may stutter. Sherrika tells us that parents should be patient, listen to their child and “allow them to find their way.” More importantly, Sherrika’s universal message is “Be sure kids love themselves.”

Yesterday I had the opportunity to present a session on covert stuttering at the South Carolina Speech and Hearing Association. A good friend and SLP, Charley Adams, co-facilitated with me. Our session was titled “Deep Cover – Exploring Covert Stuttering.” The audience of 80+ consisted of licensed SLPs and SLP students.

It seems that SLPs look forward to learning about covert stuttering, as there’s not a whole lot of information out there in the research world. It’s especially helpful to learn about covert stuttering from someone who covertly stuttered for years. Me!

We had the first session of the day, on the first of the 3-day conference. We were given 90 minutes. At first I thought that was too much time, but actually we could have gone much longer.

We helped educate SLPs why people want to hide stuttering and we gave examples of avoidance behaviors.

I think the biggest take-away was considering the answer to the question “how do you help a stutterer who does not stutter?”

 

Episode 230 features Lucy Reed Ward, who hails from Foley, Alabama. She is a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) and recently retired from a school SLP job.

But she actually didn’t retire! She now works with people who stutter via teletherapy. She tells us that she feels her career has just begun. She is also working on opening a private practice.

Listen in to this great conversation about covert stuttering, kicking shame and fear to the curb, and her experiences with her own therapy journey. Lucy shared an important revelation about shame. Once you speak your shame, it loses its power.

We also discuss self limiting career choices, meeting others who stutter, and learning how to stutter. Lucy also brought up how she met a lot of people who stutter from an old email listserv called “Stutt-L” which doesn’t exist anymore due to the rapid growth of social media. Stutt-L was also my first introduction to learning that many people stutter. It wasn’t just me! Like Lucy, it was so wonderful meeting in person those we’d already become friends with due to that ancient email group.

Don’t miss out – listen today!

With the election of Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States, the stuttering community has our biggest platform yet for education and awareness of stuttering. The president who stutters can really raise awareness on the biggest stage.

But that’s only if Biden chooses to be open about his stuttering, rather than the often used “overcoming narrative.”

When Biden gave his inaugural speech last week, he was stuttering. Those of us with stuttering radar picked up on word changes, hesitations and filler words. It was OK, he is the new president and he delivered a great speech, conveying exactly what he wanted to.

The stuttering community at large is excited. Because a full presidential term is four years, the potential for stuttering awareness can be a sustained effort. The movie “The King’s Speech” did a lot for the community when it was released in 2010. But that buzz faded away pretty quickly.

During the 2020 campaign for USA president, the former president repeatedly mocked Biden and the media caught much of that. We could see it on TV and social media platforms. The former president had a “bully pulpit” and used it often to denigrate opponents and just about anyone he deemed as getting in his way. 

If we had to call it a contest between stuttering and bullying, stuttering clearly won!

 

 

Episode 229 features Leah Graham, who hails from Charlotte, North Carolina. Leah stays busy through her work as a Childcare Financial Aid Social Worker. Her wife and two dogs keep her busy too!

Listen in as we discuss the challenges of using the phone more (because of the pandemic,) advertising and disclosure, Leah’s therapy experience, and being non-apologetic about stuttering.

We also discuss effective communication. Leah says, “When I stutter freely and let it flow, I believe I am at my best as an effective communicator.”

Leah also speaks about career aspirations. She used to keep a mental list of jobs she couldn’t do. She doesn’t think that way anymore. She wants to be a lawyer, and has shed the belief that she cannot do this. Leah just took the LSAT exam, the first step towards achievement of her goal.

We wind up this great conversation talking about authenticity and being willing to strip away the layers of doubt and shame. Once those layers are broken down, Leah proudly exclaims, “The world is my oyster.” Yes it is, for Leah and for any of us who stutter.

 

Episode 228 features return guest Anita Blom. Anita is Dutch born, but has lived in Sweden long enough to consider herself as Swedish. She is a global advocate for stuttering, and has been since she was 27 years old, when she first met another person who stutters.

Anita was a guest 10 years ago, and we talked about how she was finally proud of herself. That episode came shortly after I had met Anita at a National Stuttering Association conference, where she was a keynote speaker.

A lot has changed for Anita over the years, but she remains a fierce advocate for people who stutter, especially children who stutter. Anita calls it her “crusade.”

Listen in as we discuss the positives that we have gained from the pandemic year 2020. While lockdowns and social distancing kept us apart, virtual meetings took off and Anita discovered that video chats (mainly Zoom) has enabled advocates to reach so many more people. People who cannot afford the expenses of an in-person conference suddenly were able to connect virtually, and did we ever.

We also talked about how virtual meetings can be exhausting, but the benefits are worth it. And we touch on how women experience stuttering differently than men, and how often women, especially women who stutter can feel “little” in men’s spaces.

Once we are able to resume in-person meetings again, we both agree that we should continue with virtual meetings as well, as we’ve seen the huge benefits of inclusion.

Thank you Anita for being a return guest and for sharing so honestly. You’re definitely a stuttering force to reckno with.

Episode 227 features Rebekah Spencer-Maroon, who hails from Nottingham, England. Rebekah is a full time mum to two young children, both of whom stutter.

Listen in as Rebekah shares her embracing, loving way to look at her stuttering, which wasn’t always the case. Her stutter was the “innocent party” in the covert battle, as it really was the feelings and fear she had around stuttering that made speaking so difficult.

Rebekah shares that she is constantly shocked that she can speak, now that she has given herself permission to be authentic and just stutter. She even describes that her neural pathways are rewiring now that she speaks spontaneously without the heaviness of concealment.

We also talk about how “blocking” forces a person to stop and listen, and the intersectionality of all the pieces that make up our identity.

“We are perfect as we are.”

Episode 226 features Stephanie Nicolai, who hails from San Diego, CA, and presently lives in Peoria, Arizona. Stephanie is married and a mom to a 2 and 1/2 year old son, and works full time as a psychologist.

I wondered why Stephanie chose a profession where she literally talks all day. She explains taking a psychology course while still in high school and wound up loving it. She says she is passionate about human behavior. Stephanie also mentions the natural empathy she can pour into other people.

Listen in as we talk about stuttering trauma and how humans have more in common with each other than they think they do.

We also talk about how the National Stuttering Association was a game changer for both her and her parents. Stephanie’s first NSA experience was at a “Family Fun Day.” it was there that Stephanie first heard other people stuttering and then she and her parents were hooked. Stephanie describes her parents as very supportive and involved in the NSA. Her mom started NSA chapters for kids and teens, and both parents can be seen in some volunteer capacity at annual conferences.

We also discuss the unique, fun opportunity Stephanie had when she auditioned and landed a spot on the TV show “Wheel of Fortune.” Stephanie’s episode aired recently. We’ll let you listen in to hear how she fared on the show.

We marveled how a person who stutters can do anything, including appearing on a national TV show and do well. She says, “we are our own worst enemies.”

Go for what you want – don’t let stuttering stop you. Lemonade sure tastes good.

 

Episode 225 features return guest Alexandra D’Agostino, who hails from Ottawa, Canada. Alexandra is 27 years old, has recently become a Registered Nurse and is looking forward to a new job. Alexandra decided to get into nursing/medicine after realizing it would be a good career fit. She has always liked medicine, even going so far as watching surgeries on YouTube.

Alexandra was a guest four years ago, in September 2016, where we discussed the Cycles of Stuttering. As noted in her previous episode, Alexandra is still very much involved in the stuttering community, as are her parents. Alex notes that she had to miss two NSA conferences when she was still in Nursing school, but her mom went to the NSA conference anyway.

Listen in as we discuss advertising, disclosure, authenticity and volunteering.

Alexandra also shares about her involvement in the Canadian Stuttering Association hosting their first online virtual conference last month. It was a very successful event and drew people who might not have been able to attend due to distance. We talked about the potential of stuttering associations offering both in-person and virtual events so that more people can be included.

What a great conversation.

 

 

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.

 

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© Pamela A Mertz and Make Room For The Stuttering, 2009 - 2021. 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 2021.
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