Make Room For The Stuttering

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I am re-purposing this post that I wrote about 6 years ago, about watching yourself stutter in a mirror. I have always had a very hard time with this. I was reminded of this when I saw a friend post about looking at her stuttering as an mp3 file and seeing the breaks and “dead air” in the audio stream.

Several years ago, I facilitated a story-telling circle with a very supportive audience. These were people who understand the value of sharing our stories, as any one story has the potential to trigger an impact on someone else. So this group were wonderful listeners. I felt very honored sharing some of my stuttering stories with them.

It was very empowering for me to tell my stories, especially to an audience of people who do not stutter. And because it was story telling, which is very different from giving a speech, I did not use notes. So I wasn’t quite sure how it would unfold, as I planned to just tell from the heart.

I knew it would be special, so I had a friend record the three stories I told. I wanted to have a record of what I told. I spent a lot of time editing the video clips, as I planned to share my message with others.

It was very hard watching the videos of myself  stuttering. It is one thing to hear myself stutter, like when I do the podcasts or even just hear myself talking to others. But to “see my stuttering”, it kind of brought tears to my eyes the first time. I saw how deliberate I was, I saw what my pauses looked like, I saw what multiple-repetitions looked like. A couple of times, I saw one eye squeeze closed when I blocked. And I saw some physical tension.

Watching myself tell my stories and stutter very openly with people I did not know well was very emotional and poignant for me. I wondered as I watched (the video) what the listeners thought as they watched me.

It was not easy watching the first time. But I did watch several more times and it was easier. I caught the point where I almost choked up, but didn’t. And I realized that sometimes I stutter a lot, and sometimes hardly at all.

I don’t think I could ever purposely practice stuttering in front of a mirror. It would be contrived, not real. It would not help me be anymore comfortable stuttering publicly.

It takes a lot of guts to be who you are in the many different areas of our lives. And to look back on those moments and realize just that. Watching myself be myself in front of others can’t be replicated in private with a mirror.

Real life needs us to be ready to be ourselves when it counts. When sharing our gift of self can make a big difference.

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As I have shared over the years, a big part of my job is going around to different schools and giving presentations to high school school students. I work as a recruiter in a career and technical high school and it’s my job to inform 10th graders about training options they have for their last two years of high school. Students can choose to enroll in one of our programs and attend for a half day, while remaining at their own school for the other half of the day.

It’s a great opportunity for high school students. They can take one of our programs for two years and leave with licenses or industry certifications that will enable them to find jobs right out of high school or be more prepared for college.

I love my job. I am out and about a lot meeting with different kids all of the time and giving information that, to some, may be life changing. Many kids struggle with traditional high school so having an opportunity to participate in hands-on training very often is a game changer. Research shows that kids who graduate from career and technical programs also graduate from high school, often at a higher graduation rate than traditional schools.

So I feel very blessed to have this kind of job. But it can be daunting. I am making the same presentation about 60 times over the course of two months. I have it memorized. But knowing and being comfortable with my material does not make it any easier when I find I am stuttering a lot. Which occurs a lot. I am talking about programs with specific course names that I can’t change for something easier to say.

I almost always stutter on the word “Cosmetology.” It comes out “cos-cos-cos-ma-ma-ma-tology.” Sometimes I get weird looks, sometimes kids will snicker or full out laugh.

I also almost always stutter on the words “Construction” and “Culinary Arts.” Those hard “C” sounds get me every time. I’ve been asked why don’t I just advertise to the students that I stutter so I feel more comfortable and to lessen the uncomfortable reactions I get.

I think about long and hard before each school’s slate of presentations. I am not there to talk about stuttering. I am there to talk about the really cool technical training programs we offer. I don’t want to talk about something that I’m not supposed to talk about during these times, even though I could easily talk about stuttering for hours. No, I usually don’t mention stuttering and just “power through” the stuttering moments or blocks. I try not to let it show when I’m bothered by kid’s reactions to my stuttering. I do my best to remain emotionless and neutral.

Maybe this is not the best strategy to take when doing so many presentations. But this is the way I’ve dealt with it for years now, and suddenly advertising and then having to maybe explain myself feels uncomfortable to me.

So, I am sticking with the way I’ve done it. I have 7 more presentations scheduled for this week and then I’ll be done for this school year. I trust I’ll get through them like I have all the others. And if I don’t, and someone says something that makes me really uncomfortable, maybe, just maybe, I’ll find myself being upfront and sharing this part of myself with kids who will most likely be OK with it.

 

 

 

Last Friday I spoke to high school students about stuttering. These students are in an accelerated science class during their senior year. They are studying methods of scientific research and for their neuroscience unit, the teacher invited me in to talk about stuttering. I talked a little about the neurology and genetics of stuttering and a lot about the emotional complexities of a communication disorder.

It was such a pleasure to present to these students. They had so many questions and were truly interested and engaged with what I shared. I didn’t get through half of the formal presentation I had prepared as I just decided to go with the flow of the student’s questions.

Yesterday, the teacher emailed me thanking me again for coming in and included thank you notes from the students. I was touched and overwhelmed with what they had to say. Here’s a few of the messages from the students.

Ms. Pam Mertz, On behalf of the New Visions Scientific Research Program of 2018 I would like to thank you for taking the time out of your morning to come and teach our class about stuttering. It was very beneficial for us all to learn about this speech disorder, as it is one that is often not taught about. It was very interesting to learn about the association between dopamine and blood flow levels in the brain and stuttering.

Ms. Pam Mertz, thank you so much for meeting with us on Friday and introducing us to just a little snapshot of what stuttering is and how you deal with it in your life. I really appreciate that you were comfortable enough to embrace your stutter with us and that you let your powerful and comforting voice show through. I was very interested in how you explained how stuttering does not affect those when singing because a different side of the brain is used. I really do thank you for meeting with us and I hope that we can meet with you again later on this year.

For someone that stutters, it must be pretty terrifying to have a job that has you speak in front of crowds so often. To be able to overcome any fear and do your job is very inspiring, and for you to let down your guard and openly stutter in front of us is very kind. Thanks again for coming and telling the new Visions Class about your lifelong experience with stuttering. I thought the most interesting part was how you met another student that was the only stutterer in her school, and were able to connect to based on shared experiences.

Thank you Pam for taking the time out of your day to come and talk with us and teach us about stuttering. I really enjoyed hearing about how you have overcome your stutter and learned to deal with it. It is very inspiring!! I did not know much about stuttering and I didn’t know how much of a mental toll having a stutter had on a person. Thank you so much Pam!!

Thank you so much for coming in and talking to us about a topic that doesn’t get enough recognition in this world. I really enjoyed hearing your story and the view on the subject from someone who experiences stuttering everyday of their life. You are very brave for stuttering freely and being able to encourage others to follow in your footsteps. Keep moving forward and I hope the world begins to realize how important this is. I found it really interesting how much of a psychological impact it has on a person and maybe the reason is because they don’t know that they have a huge group of people like you that are ready to support them. Thank you again so much for coming in and teaching us, it was one of the most interesting rotations of the year so far.

Pam, thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to speak to us about something that’s very personal to you.  I think that it’s great that you made a platform for yourself to speak on stuttering and make the impact that you do on others.  When you explained the story about the little girl Kira when you spoke at the one middle school, it shows how much what you’re doing matters.  Learning about how certain things can aggravate or increase one’s stuttering was quite interesting and important knowledge. Thank you again for talking to us I really appreciated it!

Ms. Mertz, Thank you for giving of your time to meet with us on Friday.  It was very interesting to hear a first hand account of what it is like to live with stuttering.  I realized how uneducated about stuttering I was after hearing your presentation.  I think so often people are uneducated about it and do not see it as the real problem that it is.  Stuttering in itself is a large problem but it causes many other issues like depression because of the stigma surrounding it.  It is important that people are educated about it and thank you for educating our class on it.

 

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to be interviewed recently by a freelance journalist in the Albany, NY area. He was looking to do a piece on stuttering and wanted to both write an article and produce a podcast.

I got to give a shout out to the National Stuttering Association and shamelessly plug my own work here on this blog. I am very happy with how it turned out, even the picture. Please take a listen when you get a chance – it’s not too long and you can see how I responded “off the cuff” as the interviewer had not sent me the questions in advance!

stuttering presentation NovemberI had the opportunity earlier in the month to talk to middle school kids about stuttering. I gave three presentations, one each to the 6th, 7th and 8th grades. There was about 100 kids in each group. This is a piece the school did about the presentations and put on their website.

It went great. I talked about what stuttering is and isn’t, discussed myths about stuttering and how to interact with someone who stutters. I had several interactive activities for the kids to participate in, so they could “try on” stuttering and so that I could normalize it for them.

I had several large grapefruits and asked a few students to come up to the front of the room and try to hide them somewhere on their person where no one would be able to see them. They had fun trying to conceal a big grapefruit. I explained that it was like when I tried to hide my stuttering – as much as I tried, it still showed.

I also had Chinese Finger Traps for the kids to play with and experiment with getting stuck. I explained how it feels to get stuck when you stutter and get a block.

And I had the students experiment with a quick moment of voluntary stuttering. There were lots of reactions to this. Many felt uncomfortable, awkward, aggravated, found it hard to do. A teacher in the audience shared that she felt many students didn’t want to do it as it might seem disrespectful to someone who really stutters.

The best part of the morning was when a SLP came up to me and said that there was a 6th grader who stutters and she really wanted to come up and meet me and ask some questions. Keira came up after the presentation, introduced herself, stuttered openly and asked several very insightful questions.

She told me I was the first person she had ever met that also stuttered. I could tell it was a big deal for her to have come up to me. I was so glad she did. Hopefully, the experience reassured her that stuttering is not the end of the world and it’s just another way of talking like I had mentioned in the presentation.

Anytime we can, people who stutter should share our experiences, especially to young people. It teaches them about compassion, tolerance and diversity and that’s what makes the world go ’round.

My father died two weeks ago. My father who I never reconciled with over serious childhood issues. My father that yelled and screamed at me when I was 5 years old and first started stuttering. My father whose lack of support drove me to try and hide my stuttering for years. My father who was ashamed that one of his kids stuttered. My father who never allowed me and my siblings to show emotions. My father who never showed me affection. My father who I had not talked to in years.

I happened to be away for the weekend when I got word that he had died. My siblings were text messaging each other and included me in on the thread. As I was driving, my phone blew up with tweets, the sound I use to notify me of text alerts. I glanced down at the phone and tried to see what was going on. I couldn’t figure out what they were talking about from just a quick glance.

I pulled over at the first nearest rest area to get gas and then pulled into a parking spot, curious to see what my siblings were furiously texting about. One sister had offered her condolences to others who were impacted by his death. I didn’t know who they were talking about. It didn’t occur to me to think it was my father. I texted a quick question and asked who died, thinking it was an extended family member. One sister directly responded that it was dad who died.

I was kind of shocked as I was not expecting to hear that and I was 100 miles from home. My brother then chimed in with a text that he was sorry I learned through a text message, but that the family thought it better not to have called me while I was away.

I started driving toward home and had the next 90 minutes or so to think. What I thought about was how weird my reaction was. I was not emotional or stricken – I was worried about how I would handle the upcoming funeral services and deal with family that I hadn’t seen in years. I was worried about possibly not going and how that would look.

I debated not going to any services as I had not had a relationship with the man in years. He never reached out to me and I kept my distance. While he was in a nursing home, several of my sisters tried to guilt me into letting go of the past and consider reconciling with him. They were going to visit him weekly and asked me repeatedly to join them. I chose not to. They stopped asking. I went about my life oblivious to what was happening with him.

I learned later that he had suffered several falls due to the pressure of a brain tumor he’d had for years, that I knew about. The pressure was causing dementia and made him prone to falls. The last fall he took was accompanied by heart failure and several attempts at resuscitation and then his heart just finally stopped.

I always felt a deep sadness that I did not have my father’s heart. I was his first born daughter and always yearned for that relationship with my dad that I knew other people had or that I saw on TV. I was envious of friends who were close with their parents and held a special place in their parents’ hearts. I never really told that to anyone and eventually those yearnings went away as I learned to manage with the hand I had been dealt. I vividly remembered the abusive, chaotic home I grew up in. I couldn’t not remember it.

I did go to my father’s wake and was supremely uncomfortable. I felt lost and like I didn’t belong there. Four of my siblings were also there, along with my father’s second family. A family I had always referred to as our replacement family. His wife, that my father had cheated on my mother with and who was younger than me. Whom I always blamed for hurting my mother.

I saw aunts and uncles, his siblings, that I hadn’t seen in over 25 years, It was awkward. It was more awkward seeing my father’s other daughters, openly grieving. I felt tense and anxious and couldn’t help but feel this whole thing was happening to someone else.

My sister read a “tribute” to my father toward the end of the service, one that talked about a loving father that instilled values and work ethic in all his (10) children and a love for God. I didn’t recognize who she was talking about. It was surreal to me, his firstborn daughter who wasn’t perfect and had never felt his love. My sister had reconciled with him and made peace with him as had two other sisters.

My youngest sister didn’t go to the wake. He was not part of her life and had never met her children, his grandchildren, yet the obituary read that he was their loving grandfather. I felt that people were trying to paint this man to be someone he was not.

I didn’t go to the funeral service or burial the next day. I couldn’t. I felt paralyzed by my very conflicting emotions. Part of me had hated this man for so long, for the emotional and physical abuse of long ago and for making me feel such shame over my stuttering. I carried this around for a long time. I also carried around his influence for a long time. I was in therapy for years, trying to process and perhaps reconcile my “daddy issues,” but never could. The pain was still there, after all these years.

When someone dies and it is unexpected, so much goes unsaid. Such is the case with my father. I never told him how I had yearned for his love, support and approval. I never told him that I have turned out pretty OK and feel like I am in a good place in my life, despite a tumultuous past. I didn’t really even say goodbye.

Part of me feels relief that he is gone, for he is not suffering and hopefully neither will I anymore. But I’m not sure that really is the case. I need to come to terms with what wasn’t said and find a way to process this so that I can move forward in peace.

 

 

Last night in a Stutter Social hangout, we had a great discussion about how sometimes for people who stutter, there is a disconnect between what we think we want to say and how it actually comes out.

We can be quite fluent in our heads and then when we go to speak, our words come out stuttered and messy and sometimes not even making sense, because we may have switched words.

It’s funny that our discussion started out about the similarities between stuttering and Tourette Syndrome and then morphed into a discussion about how disconnected our thoughts and words can be. One of the participants in the hangout offered her thoughts about how what she wants to say often comes out different from what she actually says.

I have felt this disconnect. I’ve often rehearsed before speaking what I want to say and try to predict words or sounds I may stutter or block on and try to choose words that I am usually fluent on. Sometimes it doesn’t work out and I feel like what I’ve said sounds out of context or doesn’t make sense. Sometimes the stuttering has a mind of it’s own and I stutter on words that I didn’t predict I would.

We also talked about confidence. Very often our body language conveys confidence and then is betrayed by what comes out of our mouth, that may make us sound nervous or unsure of ourselves.

We talked about how sometimes we can portray a quiet confidence by not saying much. But I wonder, aren’t we then jeopardizing our true self by staying quiet when we really don’t want to?

What do you think? Have you ever felt that disconnect between what’s in your head and what comes out of your mouth? How have you worked with that?


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© Pamela A Mertz and Make Room For The Stuttering, 2009 - 2017. 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 2017.