Make Room For The Stuttering

How many of you have speech or speaking goals for 2017? I usually don’t set speech goals for myself, because I tell myself I am comfortable with, and accepting of, my speech.

However, I have given this a lot of thought and there are some things I’d like to work on in the coming year. Since I finished Toastmasters and really don’t have a desire to go back anymore, I find I don’t have as many opportunities to push myself out of my comfort zone. I miss those monthly opportunities to speak regularly but I was tiring of the structure of Toastmasters.

Don’t get me wrong! Toastmasters was one of the best things I ever did for myself as a person who stutters. I found courage and confidence I didn’t know I had. I highly recommend it for anyone looking for speaking challenges. I just found that 7 years of bi-weekly meetings was enough. I do miss the people though.

Some of you may recall that I tried improv in 2016 for the first time ever and found that I really liked it. That was a big time push out of my comfort zone. I liked the “in the moment” spontaneity of improv and being to able to create something out of nothing just by taking a chance and thinking on your feet.

In 2017, I really want to take a second level improv class and learn more about being comfortable with spontaneity. I don’t want my stuttering to hold me back from taking creative chances with speech. So far, a second level hasn’t come up yet, but I will keep my eye out and watch for it.

I have a big speaking challenge coming up in April. I submitted a proposal and was approved to speak at the New York State Speech Language and Hearing annual conference. I will be giving a two hour workshop on “Reclaiming Her Space: From Covert to Overt Stuttering.” I am really excited about this but anxious at the same time. My perfectionist self really wants me to be perfect for this audience of SLPs and SLP students.

I know it’s not realistic to have expectations like that for this talk. I can only tell my story as best as I can and hopefully relay important information to the audience that will help them in some aspect of their work with people who stutter.

I also want to find some other speaking challenge or goal for the year. Does anyone have any ideas? I’d love your feedback.

It’s been a long time since someone told me to “spit it out” when I was caught in a stuttered moment. It happened this morning at work with a colleague.

She’s not someone that I am particularly close with, but I have mentioned to her that I stutter. So I was surprised this morning when she mocked the word I stuttered on and then said “spit it out.” She said it laughingly and while we were with someone else so I was taken off guard and just kind of smiled and walked away.

But it really bothered me!

I felt like I should have said something to her right away that I don’t like when someone says that when I’m stuttering but I let the moment go. I was kind of embarrassed because she said it in front of another colleague.

So, I plan to pull her aside and say something when I feel like it’s the right moment. I always am conscious of not embarrassing the “offender” because that’s not my goal. I just want to educate her so it doesn’t happen again. Hopefully, I’ll have the courage to find that right moment.

What would you have done in the moment?

You can’t connect with other people if you’re constantly stuck in your own head. This goes if you’re anxious, depressed, self absorbed or if you stutter.

We fail to make meaningful connections with those around us when we become consumed with worry or fear about how people will react to us. We get so caught up in what we are thinking that we fail to learn what the other person is thinking. These can be self defeating behaviors.

I think it’s true that people who stutter can also be anxious or depressed. I’ve written about this several times before. While anxiety and depression are not the cause of stuttering, both can certainly exasperate the stuttering experience.

And I also think it’s true that people who stutter can be very self absorbed. There are times when we think about stuttering constantly, and not positively! I’ve heard people say they’ve gone to bed thinking about stuttering and wake up thinking about stuttering. For me, when I was extremely covert, it was like a prison. I felt suffocated by the constant thoughts and worries about how I sounded when I dared to speak.

My good friend J and I recently talked about anxiety and stuttering. He hates how he feels when he thinks about stuttering and feels that he thinks about it too much. He worries that he’s not connecting with others because he gets so preoccupied with stuttering.

One of the things we’ve talked about a lot is to find other things to do that gets you out of your head. Having something to do that connects you with other people is vital to getting “unstuck.” Some examples are Toastmasters, Improv or local meet ups where you can find activities that you have in common with other people.

Thinking about stuttering all of the time is going to keep you in your head. You’ll miss out on engaging with other people and you’ll run the risk of people thinking that you’re unfriendly, unapproachable or shy, when none of those may be the case.

Getting out of your own head is easier said than done. But talking about your worries and fears with someone else is always a good idea, as well as finding things to do that take you out of your comfort zone and give you a chance to genuinely connect with others.

Try it. Try one new thing. Set it as a goal for 2017.

img_0734I got a wonderful birthday gift from one of my sisters last week. It was a complete, thoughtful surprise. She had come to my home and left a gift bag on my dining room table, so I saw it immediately when I got home. (She has a key to my place!)

I opened the gift bag and pulled out a mouse pad that was decorated with my initial P and then my full name (Pamela) and underneath the words “Stuttering Rockstar.”

This meant so much to me for several reasons. First, because she made the effort to get something and bring it over to my place so that it would be an after work surprise.

But more importantly, this was so meaningful because it had something to do with stuttering. My sister and I never talk about stuttering. In fact, I’ve always thought she found it uncomfortable and that’s why we never talk about it.

But she clearly sees how important it is to me and must have noticed that friends on Facebook often refer to me as StutterRockStar and she picked up on it. That meant the world to me, that she notices and pays attention and figured that this would be something that I’d really like. And she was right. I really like it and will proudly use it at work.

Maybe this will open the door to talk about stuttering with her once in a while. Or with other members of my family too.

Has anyone in your family ever done something cool and completely surprising like this that has to do with stuttering?

 

Last week I was meeting with some students who had been recommended by their teachers to help me with outreach presentations. The students will co-present with me at their home school and share their experience as a current student enrolled in one of our career areas.

I was meeting with two young men from one of our programs, describing the details of the presentations. One of the guys said no right away. He said he wasn’t comfortable at all with standing up in front of people and speaking. I encouraged him to look at it as an opportunity to get some practice. He was adamant that he didn’t want to speak. This is a voluntary speaking opportunity and I let him off the hook.

Another student was in my office at same time, overhearing this conversation I had with his classmate. When I asked him, he expressed apprehension and said he didn’t really think he could do it, because he stutters. I leaped at the opportunity to let him know that I stutter too. He looked at me with surprise, as if he couldn’t believe that a staff person could also stutter.

I assured him that I do these presentations all the time and don’t let my stuttering interfere with conveying my message. He agreed to help out. We are doing the presentations at his school tomorrow. I am proud of him for deciding to take a chance and push himself out of his comfort zone.

I was surprised to learn that there is a student who stutters in my school. I haven’t run into any students that stutter in my 9 years here. I am glad that I shared with him right away that I stutter too!

This is the time of year that I visit schools and do a lot of presentations about program options for students entering their junior and senior years of high school. Over the course of 2 months, I make about 50 presentations.

I usually hesitate to disclose that I stutter to these high school students because I worry that it will detract from what I’m talking about. I’m not going to make a presentation about stuttering so I don’t ever plan to talk about stuttering.

Sometimes though it’s unavoidable!

Yesterday while doing my second presentation of the day, I was stuttering exceptionally well. Like on almost every word. I felt really self-conscious and was ultra aware of how I sounded. I worried that the kids were going to think something was wrong, as I was in full-on repetition mode and also hesitating and pausing a lot.

So I decided to stop for a moment, took a deep breath, and said to the students, “Hey guys, I want you to know something. I stutter and I’m having a real stutter-y day. So if you hear stuttering, that’s all it is, just stuttering. OK?” And then I went right back to where I left off in my presentation. And it was OK.

The students didn’t bat an eyelash. No one commented or made funny faces or anything. They just took it in stride.

I was so relieved. Putting it out there like that made it easier for me to continue stuttering and actually I noticed that I gradually stuttered less. And I was relieved that I actually disclosed, because I’m not really comfortable doing that while making work presentations.

Now that I did it like this, I feel like I’ll be more comfortable doing it again if need be.

The disclosure was for my benefit, not my audience. I said what I did to make myself more comfortable while stuttering so well. It was a small form of self-care that I really needed to do.

What do you think about how I handled it? Have you done something similar?

PamEpisode 165 features Emily Purkey who hails from Portland, Oregon. Emily is 17 years old and a senior in high school. She is applying to colleges and plans to create her own major. Emily is actively involved in leadership activities in school and is passionate about raising awareness about stuttering.

Listen in as we talk about experiences with speech therapy, the importance of working on confidence, and Emily’s involvement in several stuttering associations. She talks about The Stuttering Association for the Young, or SAY and the National Stuttering Association or NSA. SAY helped Emily find her way and changed her life.

We also discuss the importance of finding community, stepping out of your comfort zone and the value of your voice. Below you can see Emily’s TED Talk, which she delivered in April of this year. Talk about stepping out of your comfort zone!

Music used in today’s show is credited to ccMixter.

 

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© Pamela A Mertz and Make Room For The Stuttering, 2009 - 2016. 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 2016.