Make Room For The Stuttering

How Do You Bring It Up?

Posted on: June 22, 2011

There has been some great dialogue going on over at the Covert-S email group about telling people that you are going to a stuttering conference. As in, what do you say? How do you bring it up? Now, you would think, what’s the big deal? Just tell people, right?

Wrong, if you are a covert stutterer. People who stutter covertly work very hard at making sure no one in their world knows they stutter. And that takes a lot of energy, effort and deception. Or, if you stutter openly, you may just not want people to know that you are going to spend time and money to be around a bunch of other people who stutter.

That was me for a very long time. I was covert. I used tricks, word substitution and avoidance to expertly hide the fact that I stuttered to most people. Problem was, not only was I hiding the stuttering, I was also hiding myself. To the point that I couldn’t take it anymore and finally stopped trying so hard to hide stuttering. That’s when my life changed.

When I went to my first stuttering conference, there wasn’t many people I told. Not because I was embarrassed or fearful of how people would react. At the time, I was unemployed. I had just been fired from my job in May and was going to my first stuttering conference in June.

I didn’t have co-workers to tell where I was going and why. I didn’t have people asking me when I returned if I had a good time. Maybe that’s how I was supposed to attend my first conference. The NSA provided financial assistance that covered my registration and room, and my mother and her husband used their frequent flier miles to purchase my air fare.

Since that first conference in 2006, I have been to 4 subsequent NSA conferences and 3 FRIENDS conventions. When people at work ask where I am going, I tell them. If they ask for details, I go on and on about it. If they don’t, I don’t.

These days, people know I stutter, but don’t necessarily want to know all the details. And that’s fine. What is important is that I am OK with what I am doing and where I am going.

Now, back to the question. How do you bring up the fact that you are attending a stuttering conference to the people who you never have told that you stutter? Some folks have shared that they are afraid to tell even their families, and have told people they are going on a work-related trip. They tell work friends they are going on a family vacation.

One person even shared that she has to be sure to tell the same lie to person A and to person B, so that she does not get embarrassingly caught up in a web of lies.

One person suggested that someone might pick two people to tell before hand, so that when she returned from the conference, she would have people to tell all about it, who wouldn’t seem puzzled or confused, because they would already know. I chimed in that this “two person goal” could also be used AT the conference.

I suggest that a first-timer to a stuttering conference set a goal to meet at least 2 new people each day, so that by the end of the conference you have made at least 8-10 new connections. People that you can talk with throughout the year who understand. And who can offer you support.

I did that at my third conference. I made it a personal goal to meet and really get to know at least 10 new people. I succeeded! Now I know lots of people in the stuttering community and lots of people know me.

How did I do it? Simple – I went up and introduced myself to people who had “first-timer” on their name tag. It was really easy for me. All I had to do was remember how nervous, alone, and intimidated I felt at my first conference. Now I am paying it forward.

But it’s not that easy for everyone. Especially if YOU are the first-timer! It can be very intimidating when you are used to hiding to suddenly be assertive and confident and walk up to strangers and introduce yourself.

But what better place, right? A stuttering conference is safe – because you are meeting people just like you. The real challenge is how you deal with it the rest of the year. What you tell people before you go, and when you return home (sometimes on cloud 9, on that “high” you get from being in an environment where for once, you are not the minority.)

My good friend Joe Klein and I are co-facilitating a workshop on this very topic at the NSA conference next month. So this thread on the covert-S list has given me good insights and reminded me of how I felt at my first conference. It can be scary and overwhelming!

What do you think? How do you bring it up with others that you don’t ordinarily talk to about stuttering? What thoughts might you offer to those who are worrying about explaining an “un-talked about” absence?

1 Response to "How Do You Bring It Up?"

I imagine it must be kind of a burden to not tell people where you are going, especially if you are excited or nervous about it. Not telling means you also can’t confide your own feelings about what it means for you. I would have a really hard time with not telling about that – I would feel like I am lying and I am a terrible liar.

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