Make Room For The Stuttering

The Nowhere Place

Posted on: August 8, 2009

A very special person and I recently discussed feelings about stuttering and what happens when we block. I really found this fascinating, because we don’t always have the courage to ask someone how we sound when we stutter or what it actually feels like for that eternal second that seems to go on and on. He told me that he enjoys listening to my stuttering, because it seems so effortless and shows no sign of tension. I find that to be such an oxymoron, because to me the whole act of stuttering IS tension. If one can speak without effort and tension, then the speech shouldn’t be stuttered. I don’t understand this, and certainly don’t understand when someone offers me feedback that my stuttering is pleasant to listen to. Maybe it is!

My friend then asked how does he sound and look when he stutters. He shares that this is not a question he has asked often, but it is one you can ask a fellow stutterer. I honestly responded that I can indeed hear his stuttering, but it is OK, sounds fine and easy to listen to and that I do not see noticeable tension in his face. That is where he thinks it is most visible.

I wanted to know more, because I feel another person who stutters somewhat mirrors our own experience and allows the freedom to explore and ask these really probing questions. I wanted to know how it really feels when someone else gets caught in a block. Now, I can ask pretty direct questions. We have become close and respectful enough with each other to really be honest. I felt it was OK, that I wouldn’t be too disarming My friend explained his block like this, “well, its like I lose contact and go into this nowhere place.”  As he said this, I felt how he felt. I could picture the place. Getting lost, like its a black hole that you visit, for that split second or few seconds, when you are no longer present and engaged in the conversation. I appreciated his candor so much.

And the amazing thing, we both agreed, is that the listener doesn’t even know this is going on. You lose contact and feel helpless and alone and out of touch with the person you are talking to, and they don’t even know. Its all internal, for those few brief seconds,maybe even mili-seconds. THEY DON”T EVEN KNOW THIS IS HAPPENING. I thought about this for a long time. Your fellow traveler in the conversation doesn’t even know you fell off the trail. Doesn’t even know you feel lost and alone. People who don’t stutter can’t possibly get that.

I got it immediately. Felt it, like getting the wind knocked out of you and you are trying desperately to act as if nothing is wrong. I think this hit on the crux of the whole covert stuttering thing. Both my friend and I had been covert. So when your hiding your stuttering anyway,and then try to hide the fact that you fell of a cliff too mid-way through a conversation, and no one but you knows it’s going on, whoa.

I could not have had this conversation with anyone else. A fluent person would have no idea how this feels. And this really was a perfect way to explain what that LOST feeling is really all about.

What do you think? Have you ever gone to the nowhere place? Can you describe it?

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6 Responses to "The Nowhere Place"

Heavy stuff! I visit that nowhere place quite often. At the same time I am having a conversation in my head and it sounds something like this. “Am I maintaining eye contact?” “I feel my face contorting, how bad do I look?” “Shit this is going to be a long one!”

I can have these lengthy conversations with my self seeing that my blocks are so long.

I so love this topic!

Jamie

What a beautiful, spot-on response. You are surely right, we all have a nowhere place that we visit, some more than others, perhaps. It can be scary, yes, but I think in the end, how we emerge from that place, speaks volumes.

Yes, beginnings have endings, but the journey to that end, wherever it takes us, can be such a wonderful experience, that we may never want it to end.

Hi Pam,

Good stuff. In the 2001 ISAD conference on http://www.stutteringhomepage.com, Louise Heite posted an article about dissociation http://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad4/papers/heite4.html that I know you are aware of. Stuttering, like many behaviors & feelings people deal with can be very upsetting. It only makes sense that we would “go somewhere else” (I love your “Nowhere Place”) to protect ourselves.

I also think Jamie’s experience is really common (and a great insight, at the same time). She begins to focus on secondary aspects of the stuttering moment — what she looks like, what the listener may be thinking — rather than on the actual stutter itself. Stuttering is a difficult disorder, I think, because the natural ways to cope with stuttering are often the worst things we can do. The keys to recovery for many who stutter begin in a complete awareness of the moment of stuttering… am I holding my breath? am I slamming my vocal folds together? Do I have my tongue jacked up against my palate so hard it almost hurts? Getting away from that dissociation is a big part of recovery, and one of the hardest.

Good stuff, Pam! Feel that stutter. Feel the burn, baby, feel the burn.

Joe

Wow, Joe, I just saw this comment today. For some reason,it got hung up in my moderation place, although I do not have any settings in place to moderate any comments.

But this has totally made me think – I do not stay in the moment long enough to really “feel” what is happening. I try to get out so quick, that I am losing the opportunity to feel what is going on. Like the holding my breath thing, I am being “told” I may be doing it, but I am not feeling it as it happens.

And I get frustrated when I can’t figure out whats really happening. But of course, I can’t figure it out if I can’t stay with it long enough.

I have not read that ISAD article – you can be sure I will.

And I will try to really feel the stutter and the tension.

One more thought on why that “nowhere place” is so important. I think you are right that only a stutterer has felt that in regards to stuttering, and that SLPs who do not stutter, especially new ones, need to know this. I definitely think there are lots of analogies outside of stuttering, though. One, I think, is unconscious eating. Many people will eat to alleviate pain/distress, look down, and realize that they have eaten the whole pizza/box of cookies/bag of chips/whatever, and they will report to being unaware of the moment of eating and the fact that they ate as much as they did. Another analogy, that maybe is not as precise, but certainly has to do with not being present, is when you are driving in your car and suddenly have the realization that you are about 5 miles further than you thought you were… like you are almost home but do not remember getting off the northway or making several turns into your neighborhood, because your mind was somewhere else, and you were on autopilot… it does not have to do with an avoidance of pain/discomfort, but it is definitely a dissociation with the moment. Great stuff, Pam.

I was totally unaware of this “feature” of stuttering. I wonder if it’s part of the stuttering neurology, or just a typical process being grabbed by the stuttering brain. Either way, it’s something that should get some attention from the researchers and therapists.

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