Make Room For The Stuttering

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Even though I really think every day is our day!

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I am repurposing this blog post today because I noticed a colleague posted this on Twitter, in explanation of what presidential candidate Joe Biden may actually be doing when he looks for words or pauses too long. The colleague on Twitter pulled this up from 10 years ago. This brought me comfort, knowing someone found something I wrote so long ago, that still feels completely relevant.

So here’s the post I wrote way back in 2009.

We have all done it! Got stuck on a word, got frustrated and fearful that it might never come out, and switched to another word. I hardly do it any more, because I feel more comfortable with just stuttering freely. But sometimes it happens and honestly surprises me when it does.

I was on the phone with a good friend that stutters, having a relaxed conversation. I tend to stutter more on the phone anyway, as many people who stutter do. But when the person on the other end also stutters, forget it, I can really let go and just speak freely, with almost no self-consciousness. We both understand how to listen to each other.

So, I was really surprised when I word switched anyway. I guess it speaks to the complexity of stuttering. Even though I was at ease, the word giving me trouble really made me feel uncomfortable. Like I went to that “nowhere place” and was afraid I wouldn’t come back. If I didn’t come back, where would I go?

I was trying to say the word “easier”. It came out “eeee-eeee-eeee-eeee” and that’s all, at least four or possibly five prolonged attempts. It was not coming. I felt myself tense up and get frustrated.I just wanted to get to my point. So after a pause, which added to the feeling I already had that this was an incredibly long stuttered moment, I abruptly switched and said “better”. I felt a hot flash come over my face as I said it, because I knew I had given in to something I don’t want to give in to anymore.

And I knew my friend was going to catch it, because as a stutterer herself, she was patiently with me in the blocked moment. So it was no surprise when she did say something like, “Ohhhhh, what are you doing? Noooooo!” Unlike a fluent listener who may have no idea of the struggle I felt at that moment, she knew and stayed with me, patiently and unconditionally. I wasn’t patient. I still chose to bail myself out. Why?

I don’t remember doing this so consciously when I was actively trying to be covert and keep my stuttering largely hidden. I think now that I am not fighting my stuttering so much, I am having more surprising moments. More teachable moments, perhaps? Hmmmmm.

I honestly don’t know why I felt I had to switch like that to move past that stuttered moment. Except for just the pure desire to do just that – “move past the moment.” I did not like how it felt. It was slow motion, “eeeeeeeeee – eeeeeeeeee – eeeeeeeeee” , like the sound a creaky floor or step makes when you step on just that right part. It can be kind of jarring to step on that creak and just as quickly, you move to another spot on the floor where it doesn’t creak. So maybe that’s what I was doing. Not liking the sound of the creaky step and moving to a spot where the creaking would stop.

But this I know: I do not want to switch words. Creaks in steps or on the floor are OK.

Does this happen to you? At those unexpected moments? How does it make you feel?

Each year, the International Stuttering Association helps to coordinate a 3 week online conference where anybody who is interested can learn more about stuttering from experts in the field, first and foremost, people who stutter.

I have been lucky enough to be part of the small team that helps coordinate the conference “behind the scenes.” I help upload content, moderate and approve comments and help advertise the conference. I actually have been a participant in this annual conference since 2008, writing papers and contributing video presentations. I find this to be one of the most significant learning experiences for anyone in the world to learn more about this complex thing called stuttering, that affects 70 million people worldwide.

This conference is unique in that anyone can comment or ask questions to the contributing authors and the authors write back, so it is interactive and informative. There is no better feeling than knowing that this experience helps people who do not stutter better understand.

This year’s theme is “Growth Through Speaking.” You can interpret that anyway you wish, and read, watch and listen to how others interpret it. The conference is “live” from October 1 -22 every year, and everything is archived for viewing at any time after the conference concludes.

Visit and learn today. And hey, you might see something on there from me again this year too.

Episode 208 features Kelsey Hoff, who presently hails from Amman, Jordan. Kelsey is a return guest, from this episode of eight years ago, where Kelsey talked about living her passion. Now, eight later, she is sure living her passion. Today, Kelsey is married, speaks fluent Arabic and has a multi-cultural private therapy practice.

Listen in as we discuss experiences Kelsey has had coming to terms with stuttering in English versus Arabic. She has had to circle back to what acceptance means re: stuttering because she had reached that point in English but old feelings of inadequacy resurfaced when she stuttered more in Arabic.

Kelsey also shared the critical importance of “owning and knowing your story” in order to portray your true self to the world. Here, she talks about experiencing a bit of “impostor syndrome” when she felt she wasn’t good enough to be a professional who stutters.

And we dive into psychology and what being a counselor who stutters has brought to the counseling space. Kelsey shares that she is comfortable sitting with people in their pain and “holding that space.” Kelsey talks about how she has reached the place where she knows she offers a presence and words that are meaningful.

She chooses every word and nothing is wasted, not even silence. She recalls feeling at times that her lack of words (because of stuttering) was a waste and she now revels in feeling liberated because she IS enough.

The music used in today’s episode is credited to ccMixter.

I had a wonderful conversation last week with a woman who stutters who will be featured on this week’s episode of the podcast Women Who Stutter: Our Stories.

We spoke about how important it is to own our story and be comfortable with all of it. That is the primary reason why I started the podcast, to give women who stutter a space to share their stories, because we all have one.

We talked about how sometimes we can feel so diminished when someone mentions, “Oh, you don’t really stutter,” or “I can hardly tell you stutter.” It brought back memories of a time where I found myself telling someone, “Yes, I really do stutter, honest I do!” It felt like yesterday, that feeling of having to defend that part of me. Why in the world would someone need to convince someone that they really stutter? You’d think there would surely be more important things we’d want to defend, like honor, integrity, reputation.

As I thought about this, I realized anew that my integrity and reputation is based on the very fact that I honor my story and don’t shirk from it, that my experiences with stuttering have greatly shaped and informed the person I am today.

People don’t really know me unless they know my story. How can you possibly know someone when you don’t (or won’t take the time to understand) the life cycle of all that was grappled with, reconciled and is now proudly owned as part of me?

All of us have a story, a legacy that will live on after we are gone. I want people to remember me, not just for something I did, but for who I was as a person.

What about you? What’s your story? What do you want, need, for others to know about you? What do you hope for in your legacy?

 

 

Episode 207 features Rivky Susskind, who hails from Brooklyn, NY. Rivky is a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) who recently has decided to open her own private practice to help clients who stutter. Rivky also loves music, singing and writing.

Rivky has immediate and extended family that also stutter so it was “almost normal” that she stuttered, yet feelings about stuttering were never talked about. Rivky describes the shame she grew up with and the “mountain of shame” she finally confronted when she was ready. She mentions always hoping that someone would find out she stuttered so she could be “fixed” and then help “cure” others. As you’ll learn from listening, that’s not what happened.

Listen in as we discuss covert stuttering, change versus acceptance, the incredible power of community and meeting others who stutter and the “legacy” Rivky hopes to leave.

The music used in this episode is credited to ccMixter.

PamEpisode 206 features Isabell Rennie, who hails from Provo, Utah. Isabell is 24 years old and a recent college graduate. She has a degree in Wildlife and Wild Lands Conservation and is figuring out her career path. She loves animals and loves to teach so it’s highly likely that’s where she’ll find herself.

Isabell is active in the stuttering community. She co-leads the Provo chapter of the National Stuttering Association and has worked as a Counselor at Camp SAY for two summers.

Listen in as we talk about what happened when Isabell finally addressed the “volcano of feelings” she had but never talked about. She is learning to love this part of herself. Stuttering has made her a better person and helps her treat people the way she wants to be treated. Isabell feels more equipped to handle hurt feelings. She said something that really resonated with me: “Be loud and be in charge of how people treat you.”

We also chat about how incredibly important it has been to find the stuttering community. Her advice to young women just starting out on the stuttering journey? “It’s OK to take your time to get there.”

The music used in today’s show is credited to ccMixter.

 

On Friday, I went for the third year in a row to help with a collaborative mock interview event held at Goldman Sach’s NYC office. Employees from Goldman Sachs volunteered to help people who stutter practice interview skills in a stutter friendly environment that simulated real interviews.

A small team of people who stutter educated the volunteers who were spending their day learning about stuttering and how effective communication is not attributed to fluent speech.

I knew several of the volunteers as they’ve participated in each event, and they remembered me. Several indicated that this day has been very meaningful and helped them realize this is a way to “give back” and help job seekers in a very tangible way.

It was hugs all around when I arrived and greeted these who are now friends.

It is so empowering to share stories of stuttering and vulnerability to people who don’t share that experience and see the power of authenticity.

One guy came and spoke with me and shared that he vividly remembers when I participated in the first event in 2017. He said he was mesmerized by my story and how I commanded the room when speaking. We talked about how he raised his hand and shared with his colleagues for the first time ever that he also stutters and had always hid it. That was a powerful moment for him.

And it was an extremely powerful moment for me when I saw him on the diversity and inclusion panel at the end of the day. He shared his story of how much easier it’s been for him to build relationships with colleagues because he’s no longer covering up such an integral part of his self.

Honesty and authenticity fosters deeper relationships, which in turn increases productivity and team work.

What an exciting, life changing experience this has come to be and not just for those who stutter.

Everyone benefits when everyone can feel free to be true to themselves in the workplace, the place where most adults spend most of their time.

 

Episode 205 features Danette Fitzgerald, who hails from New Haven, Connecticut. Danette is an Optical Systems Engineer working on the manufacturing side of building microscopes.

She has always been good with math and science and discovered she wanted to pursue a career in science after taking a physics class and finding it fun. She is a chapter leader for the local National Stuttering Association support group and also loves traveling.

Listen in as we talk about covert stuttering and “recovery from covert behaviors,” stuttering in the workplace, speech therapy experiences, advertising and confidence building strategies.

We also chat about Danette’s recent experience at the ISA World Congress for People Who Stutter which was held in Iceland this past June. I really enjoyed this opportunity to connect with Danette, as we’ve known each other for many years now but never had a chance to talk in depth like we did here.

 

There is so much truth to the fact that a job interview can be the single most stressful speaking situations anyone might have. You spend time trying to look the part, sound competent and informed and you practice many possible interview questions so that you will sound prepared to blow the interviewers away with great answers. No matter how much time you prepare and rehearse, you are likely to still be nervous and feel pressured.

It’s also true that for a stutterer, the stress of a job interview for a person who stutters is 10 times than that of a typically fluent person. We worry about possibly not be able to say our own name fluidly, we worry about hesitations or pauses that are too long and we worry that the interviewer may be drawing an incorrect conclusion about us based on our different speaking pattern.

I recently had the first interview I’ve had in 11+ years and not only was I nervous, but I also had to prepare a 5-7 minute presentation on a topic of my choosing and deliver it to the panel of interviewers. When I entered the conference room where we were to meet, the interviewers said that we’ll start with my presentation. I wasn’t expecting that to be the first thing, but it helped calm my nerves to get it done and out of the way. I chose to do my presentation on “How To Nail A Job Interview.” It was something I could speak about quite comfortably and it was relevant to the very job I was vying for.

I felt that the interviewers liked my topic and how I presented it. The question and answers part that followed seemed standard. They both had a list of scripted questions they asked and they tried to go back and forth. I had a couple of questions for them at the end of our conversation, which I hoped showed my genuine interest in the job.

I intentionally decided against doing any formal advertising of my stutter. It only came out a few times, multiple repetitions but without any struggled behavior or tension. I’m hoping they didn’t even notice.

I find it quite incredulous that I am at this stage in life and in my career that I have to interview and find another job. This was not part of the plan. I had thought I would work about 10 more years where I was and retire from there and then look for a part-time role that I’d enjoy and still get paid for,

It’s challenging to be doing this in your 50’s. Yes, the job market is tight right now, but most vacancies seem designed for younger workers, recently out of college. The worst thing is loosing employer sponsored health insurance.

Another thing that I did not see coming at all.

I hope I hear something soon, because I haven’t had any other interview invitations and have had two rejections via email. I don’t care for those at all.

Wish me luck as I try to start all over again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Episode 204 features Pauline Benner who hails from Fort Wayne, Indiana. Pauline is a mom and musician. She plays woodwinds and keyboards for three different theaters and with a symphony. She is also a singer/songwriter, freelances and gives private lessons.

Listen in as we talk about how Pauline’s life path came from what she couldn’t do versus what she really wanted to do, because of stuttering. She sings for audiences but prefers not to speak to the audience before singing. She “speaks through her instruments.”

We also talk about how much of stuttering is psychological versus physical and the head space we give to stuttering. Pauline shares about how Toastmasters has helped her and her belief that society has changed where we can feel more free to stutter. Pauline wants people who are fluent to know that “the voice in our head is fluent” and that the world would benefit if we were all just more patient in general.

The music used in today’s episode is credited to ccMixter.

Episode 203 features Maryann Nelson, who hails from Spartanburg, South Carolina. Maryann is a Speech Language Pathologist who works in the schools. In high school, she wanted to become a SLP but didn’t think she could due to stuttering. It wasn’t until she found the National Stuttering Association (NSA) did she learn that it was possible.

Maryann is a leader for a family chapter of the NSA and is also very active in her church. For the last 3-4 years, she has spoken at the SC state speech and hearing association annual conference and has found much success there. She has facilitated highly attended sessions and realizes how hungry SLPs are for knowledge and information about stuttering. Maryann has been with the NSA for twelve years now and has not yet done a workshop there. She aspires to lead one in 2020.

Listen in as we discuss shame, self worth and feeling beautiful in our skin. Maryann says she felt like she was “boxed in” based on an employer’s perception of her stuttering. She grew to learn that you, we, can choose to live outside of that box. We wrap up by sharing that we have to keep talking about stuttering and moving forward.

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

nina g book coverOne of my favorite people, and repeat guest on the podcast Women Who Stutter: Our Stories, Nina G, has a book launch on August 6, just a couple days after her birthday. Genius!

I had the opportunity to read an advance copy. Actually, I read chapters of it before it was even in proper book form. Nina asked me to help proof the first few chapters. I have been salivating since, waiting to read the whole thing.

And this review is completely unbiased, despite the fact that I am mentioned in the book, not once, but twice. I won’t spoil it for you by hinting where I pop up, but I assure you, it’s one of the best stories in the book.

This is a “must read” if you stutter, care about someone who stutters or have just about any “thing” that makes you different. Because at it’s core, Stutterer Interrupted is about owning and celebrating who we are with our differences and quirks. It’s also about honoring the fact that we should do that and take up space in this conformist world of ours.

Nina’s book is a fast read. Well, for me anyway, it was. I read it all in one sitting. Rather, I inhaled it. Why? Because it’s personal and authentic and pays homage to finding ourselves. I recognized parts of me in these stories brought to life in rich, conversational bites. Each chapter is about different life experiences Nina has had, that have shaped her into the “living my dream,” “rocking my inner badass,” female stand up comedian that she is today.

Stutterer Interrupted is about reclaiming the space that we never thought we were entitled to. It’s about activism and advocacy, using humor and storytelling to reach people in authentic ways. It’s not a research paper. It’s not a peer reviewed journal article. It’s a story that has been years in the making and begged to be told.

The world needs more light shining on those differences that make us who we are and help us survive in an otherwise boring world. Nina urges us with her “in-your-face” honesty to take stock of who we are and who we want to be when we grow up. And then go get it.

Read this book. Now. It’s important.

It’s written by a woman who stutters which I kind of have a soft spot for.

 

I returned from my 14th consecutive National Stuttering Association annual conference on Sunday evening. It’s now Tuesday evening and I’m still recovering from the screwy schedule and overall weird week.

The conference had a much different vibe for me this year. For one thing, I did not lead or help with any workshops, for the first time since my second conference way back in 2007. It felt strangely naked to not always be looking at the time, and planning to leave sessions early to prepare for something else. My only responsibilities this year were to help lead the first timers activities and I wound up not even doing that.

The annual conference this year was held in steamy Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It was hot and incredibly humid the whole week. I literally only went out of the hotel two times in six days. It was stifling hot and I always find it harder to breathe in sweltering conditions like that, I get headaches and I fatigue much faster than normal.

The hotel and a five block radius lost power for most of the day on Wednesday, the official “start” of the 4 day conference. That meant there was no air conditioning for about 16 hours. The Board of Directors had our summer meeting in a sweltering room Wednesday morning and then I was down for the count. I felt sick and nauseous from being overheated and I quickly became dehydrated, which triggered my inflammation.

I wound up staying in my room for the rest of Wednesday and all day on Thursday too. By Thursday, power was back and I just took it easy in the AC and drank lots of water and felt normal again by Friday.

I felt so bad to have missed some things those two days but I have been getting much better at taking care of myself. I knew if I didn’t choose to hibernate, I would have missed things on both of the last days too. So I made the right decision.

I attended several really good sessions on Friday, including a last minute meet-up for covert stutterers. About 40 of us showed up just from word of mouth and it turned out to be one of the most powerful hours (for me) of the conference. People shared openly and with such raw emotion how it feels to sometimes hide our stutter and the complex feelings that arise from constantly trying to do so.

I also attended sessions on job interviewing (which is particularly applicable to me personally right now) and one which aimed to discuss implicit bias at work but kind of missed the boat a bit, which actually was quite OK because it spurred great dialogue.

I also had the chance to connect with several people I’d only met online so it was great to meet people in person and intentionally take time to connect. I often didn’t take the time to do this at previous conferences since I was busy with several workshops and leading other events.

I missed spending time with several close friends who I actually hardly saw at all, which contributed to the “weird vibe” I felt all week. A group of us always sat together at the Saturday night closing banquet. This year, I wasn’t part of that and it was OK. It gave me space to connect with Ariel, and meet Joseph’s wife, and talk with Sage and his wife, and Shannon and meet her mother, and go have a meal with Dana and Derek. Those moments were medicinal for me, like oxygen, like friend Hanan often says.

The highlight of the conference for me came Friday night, when I leaped far out of my comfort zone and participated in the inaugural session of a poetry “Stutter Slam.” I wrote an original piece and shared when it was my turn. I was nervous to deliver something so personal but it felt right. To my surprise, I won the event. I have received numerous requests from people to share a copy of my poem. Funny, I don’t want to do that because it doesn’t look right on paper, it only came out the way it did through the spoken delivery. Below is a recording of my performance. It felt so good and so right to share.

 

Episode 202 features Ariel Mahlmann, age 23, who hails from Olney, Maryland. Ariel graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in Economics and she works full time for a Cyber Security start=up, Ariel also writes a blog about lifestyle and stuttering. Her blog title illustrates her stuttering.

:Listen in as we discuss networking and interviewing, advertising stuttering and ways we manage our stuttering. Ariel also talks about the very positive experience she has had in avoidance reduction speech therapy. She describes the goals and objectives of this non-traditional therapy perfectly and explains why it suits her so well.

We also talk about Ariel’s first time experience at last year’s National Stuttering Association annual conference and it’s impact. Ariel wrote a great blog post describing what that first-timer experience was like. Ariel is planning to go back for her second conference and is prepping for it by intentionally setting  goals o ensure she gets the most out of it and has fun. What a great idea!II plan to set a goal as well to meet a certain number of new people.

This was such a fun conversation and I look forward to meeting up with Ariel in person in Fort Lauderdale.

The music used in today’s episode is credited to ccMixter.


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