Make Room For The Stuttering

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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.

Today is the last day of another year. It was a tough year for me, as it was for everyone. I haven’t worked in two and a half years now, and it’s wearing on me. I haven’t done all the things I could’ve and wanted to do this year.

I didn’t get as involved with the stuttering community, which has been my lifeline for so many years. Especially since I’ve not been working – writing about stuttering and talking with others who stutter had sustained me, and truth be told, kept me sane. Writing, thinking and engaging becomes vital when you don’t have the structure and identity of paid work. It kept me sharp and feeling productive.

Until someone criticized me for it. It was implied that if I could write and use a computer, then I could work, should work.

So I cut way back and basically only wrote or talked with someone for my podcast about once a month, even though it was killing me to step back from something I love. Helping others has always been the way to help myself. I’ve written this blog and worked full-time for years. Now, I feel as though I’ve robbed myself. I’m practically doing nothing to keep myself well. Losing my outlet has heightened my depression. That might happen to anyone who involuntarily stopped working and then curtailed a passion as well.

I can’t do that anymore. I have to decide what’s best for me. And that is being engaged with my world.

So I hope to reset in 2022. I’m going to try and do more things that bring me joy, despite this not being such a joyful time. I can either sink deep into that rabbit hole or I can do stuff that will keep me out of there. Rabbit holes don’t smell all that great!

I’m excited that I’m going to help someone get a monthly women’s connect group up and running for women who stutter. It will hopefully kindle some of that fire and passion that I’ve seriously lacked for over a year.

Here’s to a new year of hope and helping others, which always helps me.

It’s been such a rollercoaster year for me, as has 2021 been for everyone. I think we’ve gone through the quickest slowest two years ever.

For me personally, I’ve struggled with physical health and mental health issues and this year, everything has seemed so heightened and intense. It’s hard to live alone and experience a lot of changes. We all know that changes will occur in our lives, but I didn’t see it coming how fast things have happened for me.

I haven’t worked in over two years and have felt the strain and stress of constant worry and panic that I won’t have the means to support myself. My depression sometimes stalls me for days. I don’t sleep well at night so often sleep a lot during the day. I am always tired. Depression does that to you.

Physically, it’s been a lot harder to get around this year, as my neuropathy inflammation flares up much more often and sometimes I can’t even move my legs, as they throb from being so tingly and inflamed. So, I don’t get out much and barely exercise, even though I know it would be so good for me and help me sleep at night.

To say I have been really down is an understatement. I have not been myself. And I am one of those people who has a very hard time asking for help. I think because of stuttering I always tried to overcompensate and be a “people pleaser,” to get people to like me. I didn’t think anyone would like me because of stuttering. Silly now, but that’s what I thought for a long time.

I reached a breaking point a few weeks ago and needed help. Friends called me at the exact time I needed them to and they “talked me down from the ledge.” They probably saved me that night. They offered to help and I accepted it, with some initial shame that has now turned to pure gratitude.

These friends from the stuttering community opened their arms and hearts to embrace me and show me that I am not alone. The strength of the stuttering community lifted me up when I needed it the most. These friends dropped everything to help me and I couldn’t be more grateful.

The mission of the NSA never spoke louder to me. If you stutter, you are not alone.

whs logo smallEpisode 242 features Angélica Bernabé who hails from Lima, Peru. Angélica is a Psychologist who is also studying to be a Speech Language Pathologist.

She has her own Stuttering Center which is focused on an interdisciplinary, holistic approach to stuttering therapy. The Center will celebrate its third anniversary in December. She is also a member of Stamily, serving as part of the content team.

Listen in as we discuss the goals of stuttering therapy and the importance of being honest with clients, especially parents of children who stutter, who may be looking for “the fix”.

Angélica shares that she is not a “superhero” nor wants to be! She advocates showing vulnerability, with both good and challenging situations. She also states with confidence (and shares with her clients), “This is my way to talk. If you don’t like it, that’s not my problem”. What a statement of personal empowerment that can and is shared with clients.

It was such a delight to chat with and get to know Angélica. 

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As I mentioned earlier this month, I’ve had the good fortune to be involved in several fun activities this week promoting awareness and education about stuttering.

My favorite was yesterday, the actual day of International Stuttering Awareness Day. I moderated a panel of 5 people from around the world talking about stuttering across the globe, and what we have in common no matter where we are from.

I felt proud to have international connections and to be part of such a valuable conversation.

We talked about how stuttering is seen/viewed in different countries, what types of resources are available, and individual and societal acceptance of stuttering.

Opportunities like this to chat with people from other countries enriches our understanding of the stuttering experience. And further cements wonderful friendships.

whs logo smallEpisode 241 features Ai Leen Choo, who is an assistant professor at Georgia State University, where she teaches classes in fluence and neuroscience. She earned her PhD in speech and hearing science and shares that she eats, drinks, sleeps and thinks about stuttering all of the time!

Ai Leen’s dad stuttered yet it never was talked about in the family. Her dad was successful, so it never occurred to her that stuttering would hold her back.

As a researcher, a lot of her reading really reflects her, which gives such meaning to her work.

Listen in as we discuss differences in stuttering between men and women, how society can become more accepting of stuttering, and how stuttering voices are not LOUD ENOUGH.

We also talk about accommodations at work for people who stutter and the need to expect more from our communication partners, as there should be no burden of fluency. Communication is a two-way street.

I’m lucky. I am involved in several opportunities this month to help raise awareness about stuttering.

International Stuttering Awareness Day is October 22 every years. Coinciding with that, there is an online stuttering conference that runs through the month of October. People who stutter, parents, SLPs and researchers contribute submissions in any media style for others to learn from and react to. This year we have close to 50 submissions from people all around the world.

This years theme is “Speak the change you wish to see”. Here is my paper on Change Changes Everything.

I also had the opportunity to be a guest speaker at The Indian Stammering Association’s national conference on October 2. I was asked to share my story and speak on my “moments of truth”.

I received a wonderful feedback email from the group. It made me feel so good.

On behalf of TISA, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking time from your busy schedule to be the guest speaker at TISA National Conference. It was our honor to host you.

Your splendid presence and wise words helped magnify the cause in the most magnificent way. Your session was a massive success. The audience loved your moments of truth and especially the poem you recited.
All thanks to your enlightening words based on your years of research & activism, depth of understanding of stuttering and your wonderful ability to present the subject in such an interesting way that produced one of the most memorable evenings in our Conference’s history.

I am also participating in a 2 day practice interview session through 50 Million Voices October 18-20. We will have over 100 people serving as interviewers and interviewees for this wonderful global event.

I am also leading an international conversation on ISAD October 22 for the National Stuttering Association. I will moderate a panel composed of people who stutter from five different countries. I am really excited with this.

And I’ll close out the month doing a talk on Hidden Disabilities at the MITRE organization. I spoke with them in person last year, a few weeks before the pandemic started. I’m happy to be asked a second time. This will be a virtual meeting.

This may seem like a lot of stuttering activity, but it helps me stay connected with the stuttering community. And that’s very important to me. 🙂

 

whs logo smallEpisode 240 features Shiran Israel, who is from Israel. Shiran is a busy woman. She is a mom of two children and works as a Behavioral Economist in a hospital’s quality control department. She has been a member of the Israeli Stuttering Association and manages the Facebook groups, media and translations of materials.

Her BA degree is in Psychology and Economics. Life took her to a Masters degree in Behavioral Economics, which worked out well for her. She did a thesis on the relationship between mindfulness, compassion and the experience of stuttering. 

Listen in as we talk about therapy experiences, concealment vs. acceptance and “making people listen”. Shiran also says when she stopped hiding, she found peace. “It’s the way I speak”.

We also discuss how she creates “branches in her mind” to give her alternatives when word searching, juggling many roles, and the need to be gentle on ourselves.

This was such a wonderful conversation with an inspiring woman.

I am excited that I will be speaking about my story and journey at The Indian Stammering Association’s National Conference in early October.

I’ve been asked to speak covering three key points: searching for acceptance in relationships, how to break free from self-imposed shackles, and authenticity as a core value. The organizers want me to speak a bit specifically to the challenges that women who stutter face (although there will be men in the audience). 😊

One of the organizers works in IT and put together a short video of me talking about stuttering and sharing some of the poems I have written over the years. I was so surprised that she had “stalked” me and found some of my old stuff and did great editing to make it all flow.

It is so important to share our stories. Sometimes we forget that so many people who stutter feel frightened and alone. Those farther on our journeys sometimes need to step back and think (humbly) that what we share can lift someone up, and help them feel seen and heard.

Many of us who stutter have similar stories. But we often don’t hear those stories because not enough stutterers  stand up and speak out. Many people try to pretend that everything is OK, but inside they feel alone and rejected. I felt like that for years. I had created a “Fake Pam” that I wanted the world to see, but kept “Real Pam” hidden. I often felt suffocated by my own doing.

Being able to share how I found freedom with others is a gift to me. I am honored and humbled to be asked.

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Episode 239 features Bevin Murphy who hails from Dublin, Ireland. Bevin is 23, and just graduated from college this past May. She studied English Media and Cultural Studies. She is taking time to explore her next steps.

Bevin has been active in the stuttering community since around age 6. Her SLP introduced Bevin and her mom to the Irish Stammering Association, with both mother and daughter being hooked right away. The ISA developed “Youth ISA”, for children and teens, which focused on drama projects. Bevin really enjoyed participating in these creative expression activities.

This conversation was such a delight because her mom, Veronica, was a guest way back in 2010. In that conversation, Veronica talked about supporting her young daughter who stutters. You can visit episode 37 here.

Listen in as Bevin shares her journey of acceptance. She speaks candidly about how she let stuttering get into her head too much at the start of college, and how she dealt with stuttering when it was having a “wild time”. Bevin also shares her involvement with the USA based SAY, The Stuttering Association for Youth.

Bevin has recently started a blog, which is fresh and inspiring. Check out My Stutter and I.

It was so fun meeting Bevin and having this great conversation. 

Earlier this week, I had a chance to talk with someone I met through a virtual NSA event last year. It’s always invigorating to find out what others are doing to manage their stuttering, especially during these unprecedented times of virtual everything.

He remembered that I had expressed interest in learning about how a particular therapy went that he had considered.

He did the McGuire Program, which is not a therapy program per se, but is a speech management program run by past graduates of the program. I’ve interviewed several people over the years that have participated and many have felt it is beneficial. It’s an intensive four day program, that requires 10-12 hour commitments each day. My friend participated virtually, so it was only three days, but just as intense. He said it was 12-13 hours each day.

He shared why he chose to take the plunge to enroll and what he learned. As I’ve learned from other participants, it’s a technique based on costal breathing, which helps many people deliberately focus on speaking on exhaled breaths. It’s not for everybody, that’s for sure, but my buddy seemed grateful to have tried a different way of managing stuttering.

He said initially he was practicing 2-3 hours daily, but may have lessened up on that now. He also shared how pleased he is knowing he’ll have life time follow up and support from past graduates.

It’s so important to have a support system and a circle who really understands the complexity of stuttering.

I am so glad he reached out and that we took time to connect and talk.

Saying “let’s keep in touch” and then not, robs of us the opportunity to be there for our friends and truly walk the walk that “if you stutter, you are not alone”.

When someone calls or emails, answer the call. It’s important.


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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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