Make Room For The Stuttering

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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.

It’s almost time, unbelievably, for the annual conference of the National Stuttering Association. The 2019 edition will be in beautiful, warm Fort Lauderdale, Florida, officially beginning Wednesday July 3. I am arriving a day ahead to have time to “ease into” all of the activities. This will be my 14th consecutive conference. My first one was in 2006 and I haven’t missed one since.

I almost thought I would have to miss this year’s conference. I have been weathering a physical illness for months now that still seems to be a mystery in it’s root cause. It’s something fancy called “small fiber polyneuropathy” which basically means chronic pain and inflammation. It began in my ankles and legs and has migrated to my hands, wrists and fingers. It’s been really frustrating because I have worked with a team of medical professionals and no one can seem to find a cause. It’s sort of like stuttering in that there’s no known cause. Lucky for me, right?

I missed a month of work this past fall and since have had a lot of follow up appointments so I can function and manage as well as possible.

But the “shit hit the fan” when I learned that my job has been eliminated effective June 30. Along with loss of income comes loss of health insurance which is a huge concern at the most medically vulnerable time for me.

So I have had to think long and hard about spending money to come to the conference, as quite understandably, I’m a bit panic stricken about losing health care access. The United States has a broken health care system. But you know that already.

Ultimately, I have decided to attend anyway, for my mental health. To miss out on the conference after the rough few months I have had would devastate me. I have been actively involved in the NSA’s workplace stuttering initiative and I want to see out the end of my term on the Board of Directors of the NSA. I still have work to do, with lots of ideas to continuously improve outcomes for people who stutter.

So I need to be at the NSA conference next week. The support and empowerment and the many friends I consider family is way too important for me to miss. I need to see my people, my tribe and ask for help from some of those individuals who might just help me find my next opportunity.

This will be the first year since 2007 that I am NOT doing a workshop. That feels a bit weird but at the same time empowering because now I will have time to attend a lot of workshops that sound intriguing and meet new people. To me, that is always the best part. The people, the connections, the love.

So I will be there next week and I can’t wait. I’ve got things to do and people to see and hug. My chaotic world will still be here when I get back, right where I left it.

Looking forward to seeing you.

 

Episode 201 features Juliette Blondeau, who hails from Cypress and presently lives in Paris, France. Juliette is 21 years old and she is setting the world on fire. She is in her last year of her undergraduate degree, studying politics and Islamic Theology. She is also a newly elected member of the Board of Directors of the French Stuttering Association.

Juliette and a fellow newly elected French Stuttering Association Board member are working on two challenging projects for people who stutter. They just completed a very successful eloquence contest over a course of seven weeks and are now developing a guidebook so that other countries can benefit if they wish. This is a great example of “improving the wheel,” instead of “recreating the wheel.” They are also working on an ambitious workplace stuttering awareness project.

Listen in as we discuss the benefits of disclosing your stutter, collaboration, the importance of empathy and connection, and how stuttering can be a really powerful and useful “people compass.”

It was so wonderful to chat with Juliette, as her enthusiasm and passion is contagious.

Note: there are a few awkward moments in the audio, due to a poor internet connection. Juliette is in France and I am in the USA, after all. I did not want to edit out too much of Juliette’s thoughts so there is a bit of static throughout, but it’s not too distracting.

The music clip used today is credited to ccMixter.

NYCRecently, on May 28, I had the amazing opportunity to present an awareness session about stuttering at the NYC Mayor’s Office of Employment for People with Disabilities. I had been invited by the director of the department after he heard me speak at another event in NYC.

The team was keenly interested to learn about the wealth of resources that are available to stutterers in the NYC metro area, including six local NSA chapters where people who stutter meet up in person for support and solidarity.

I talked about my own personal experiences with bias and discrimination in the workplace and shared the employment advocacy program that the National Stuttering Association recently launched to help individuals who stutter and prospective employers through education about stuttering.

It was an exciting day. The NYC Mayor’s Office is committed to help spread awareness about stuttering to employers who may be afraid to hire someone who stutters. And that’s a big deal – because there is about 80,000 people who stutter in NYC.

Special note: It’s so exciting and gratifying for me to share this 200th episode of the voices of women who stutter from all over the world. I never believed in 2010 when I started this that it would still be going strong nine years later. I have talked to women from 41 different countries around the world. So this latest episode is a proud milestone.

PamEpisode 200 features Betony Kelly, who hails from Kent, England, in the United Kingdom. Betony keeps quite busy. She is a new mom to her first child. She enjoys connecting with interesting people. She works with the UK Civil Service in a behavior change and engagement role and chairs a stammering network. She also works with the British Stammering Association to help support people who stammer in the workplace.

Listen in as we talk about how there is really something beautiful about stammering and that it should be OK, but it’s really not yet in our workplaces. There is such an emphasis on sounding slick and competent and being an impressive speaker. Stammering is such an integral part of who we are yet so many of us still are compelled to hide it. Particularly women. Why?

We take a deep dive into authenticity and how employers say they want that but really only want the version of ourselves with boundaries. Employers don’t want our emotional baggage, do they? They want us to be our “adult selves” and leave our real selves at home. We talk about inclusion and what it really means and that it can’t just be “token” inclusion. There is absolutely a continued need for crucial conversations such as this, especially with those who don’t stammer and still take fluent communication for granted.

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

people talking and bubbles

I wrote an article about my experience with being laughed at and insulted by a nurse.

It was published by The Mighty and also picked up by Yahoo News.

The article is called What Will It Take To End the Ignorance About Stuttering? 

I am proud for standing up and speaking out. I just hope that it makes a difference.

PamEpisode 199 features Anje Herde, who hails from Berlin, Germany. Anje is 36 years old and has been involved with stuttering self help for 15 years. She currently sits on the Board of Directors of the International Stuttering Association and has been active with the German Stuttering Association. She is also part of a new global initiative – as am I from the US – for improving employment for people who stutter all around the world called 50MillionVoices.

Anje is currently studying to become a certified Coach to help people realize their full potential and is also a trainer for companies in communication and collaboration, professions most people who stutter shy away from. One of her goals is to change leadership culture in the world to become more human and values based.

Listen in to this inspired conversation about when her “new life” started, the importance of “opening your heart” at work and that it can be done, and the magical moment when her own father who stutters spoke openly in public about it for the first time.

Anje also shares about her love of traveling and the growth she has experienced every time she stands outside of her comfort zone. And of course we talk about efforts made to increase understanding of stuttering around the world so that people who stutter can be themselves, feel like they belong and find career success.

The music clip used today is credited to ccMixter.

 

Several weeks ago, I wrote about the very uncomfortable and embarrassing experience I had at my doctor’s office when a nurse laughed at my stuttering and made a very sarcastic comment about it. I stood up for myself and said something right there and then to her, but she denied that she laughed because of my stuttering, despite it being clearly obvious.

Two days later I had emailed someone in Patient Engagement with the medical group to express my concern that a medical professional had been so insensitive and disrespectful. I spoke with someone two days later and again at the end of the week to the Office manager.

I was told that my concern was being taken seriously and that Human Resources would be in touch, as they thought my offer of doing an education session was very appropriate and would fit in well with their commitment to compassion, diversity and inclusion.

Almost three weeks then passed without hearing anything, so I called and left a message with the Office manager, just wondering where we stood with this. She got back with me yesterday and said that the HR manager was now sort of back pedaling and not sure if an education session could happen, as they get multiple requests for training all the time.

The Office manager gave me the name and email address of the HR manager, so I crafted a carefully written request to her, that it would be nice to get a positive outcome from a very unfortunate encounter with a nurse. That person emailed me back pretty quickly thanking me for taking the time to share and reiterated that they do have competing requests for training.

I had done more than just “share.” I asked for an opportunity to educate and teach those who people come to for help how to best interact and respond to someone who stutters.

I had attached three brochures from the NSA, including one written specifically for physicians and pediatricians. And I noted that medical staff don’t get any training about stuttering and for that matter, neither really did speech therapists.

I am going to persist. This is one of those “teachable moments” that I can’t just let pass. It’s incomprehensible to me that a nurse at a Catholic hospital group whose website is loaded with their values of compassion, dignity and respect for all they serve, would so cavalierly laugh at and mock an adult patient. What about children who stutter, who are not good at self-advocacy? At the very least, an apology would have been nice.

Nothing ever changes unless we be the change we want to see, right?

 

PamEpisode 198 features Alecia Stewart-Myers who originally hails from Kingston, Jamaica. Alecia presently lives in Connecticut and commutes to her full time job as a middle school math teacher in NYC. She also works part-time as a consultant for Mary Kay Cosmetics.

Alecia and I met at her first National Stuttering Association conference in Baltimore in 2015. She’s been hooked ever since!

Listen in as Alecia talks about educating others about stuttering but always trying to give people the benefit of the doubt. We also talk about the intentional choices she has made to pursue her dreams. As Alecia says, “It’s more than stuttering. It’s who do you want to become?”

This was a great conversation and so inspiring. Be sure to listen in!

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

10 days ago I shared here that I was concerned and shocked actually that a nurse in one of my physician’s offices laughed and made fun of my stuttering when she asked me my birth date. I remained composed and called her on it, fairly calmly telling her I was stuttering and that was what she was hearing. Not only did she laugh, twice, but she also made a smart comment, saying, “It’s not a trick question,” when I stumbled over the numbers of my birth date.

I really was shocked that this happened. It’s been out there over the last year in the media, where people who stutter have been laughed and mocked by retail or fast food customer service employees. It had been a long time since a medical professional had reacted like this with me and it really bothered me. After standing up for myself to her, and not getting an apology, I stewed about it for a day or two.

Then I decided to contact someone in the “Patient Experience” department in the hospital that oversees the practice in question. I wrote a detailed account of what had happened and how it made me feel and included all of my contact information.

Two days later I got an email response that my information had been received and forwarded on to the appropriate people.

Yesterday I got a call from someone in “Patient Experience” who said she was one of a number of people who had been forwarded my email. She apologized on behalf of the hospital and wanted to know what could be done to make it right. I reiterated like I had in my email that I think some type of education needs to occur to prevent another such belittling experience from happening to someone else who stutters, possibly someone who is not as far along as I am to feel comfortable to stand up for myself like I did.

I also stated that I don’t want it to become a situation where it becomes uncomfortable for me to go to back to the office for follow up, as I like my provider. The woman was very thorough and professional and again offered up apologies during our conversation. I mentioned had the nurse in question apologized to me when I stood up for myself we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation.

This person let me know that she would be passing this along to the specific office manager of the practice where this encounter occurred and that person would likely contact me next. I look forward to that conversation.

And I am happy with myself for having the courage to follow through on this. All of our voices need to be heard.

PamEpisode 197 features Madeleine Maccar, who hails from Central New Jersey. Madeleine is a writer for a trade magazine. She started off in journalism and reporting. Madeleine found writing at a young age to be her “life raft” of confidence.

“When I wrote, I could use any word or all of the words. I didn’t have to change anything. Writing gave me a voice.”

Listen in as Madeleine talks about learning that her stuttering was a much bigger deal to her than it was to others. She says that a speech therapist helped her realize that stuttering is magnified three-fold in our heads: we think we will stutter, then we do stutter, and then we think about the fact that we did. We talk about the tremendous amount of head space that we give to stuttering.

Madeleine seems really happy to have found the stuttering community. We’re glad that she has too!

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

A lot of us who stutter have had to deal with people who react negatively when they hear us stutter. I have had people laugh, mimic, roll or avert their eyes and say things that have made me feel hurt, frustrated and angry.

Over the years, I’ve gotten better at standing up for myself and using tough moments like that to educate the listener, which sometimes actually resulted in listener embarrassment and then apologies. I have also learned to pick my battles and sometimes I just let stuff go, especially if I will likely not see that person again.

Sometimes though I am still shocked when this happens, especially in the case of adults.

A few days ago, I visited my physician’s office for an appointment that they fit me into rather quickly because I was having a serious medical issue. So, I wasn’t feeling well when I went in.

When I was called in by the nurse, she had me go through the routine and stop to get weight before heading to the exam room. As I was putting my stuff down before stepping on the scale, she asked me for my birth date. I always stutter on numbers and have stuttered on my birth date many times. As I began and stuttered on the “tw-tw-twelve,” she started laughing. I was so not in the mood for this. I glanced up at her and continued on with “thir-thir-thir-thirteen,” and she laughed some more and said, “it’s not a trick question.”

I said, “what do you mean? I stutter and I’m stuttering. You’re laughing at me.”

She said. “no, that’s not what I’m laughing at.” I said, “Oh, then what’s so funny?” She said, “you looked confused when I asked you your birth date.”

I said, “I know my birth date. I stuttered on it. I stutter. And that’s when you laughed.” She looked away and said, “that’s not what I meant.”

And then silence. I didn’t say anything else. Neither did she. She didn’t apologize. I wasn’t expecting her to but I guess I did expect to see her register some acknowledgement that she had laughed and made a stupid comment towards a person with a speech impairment.

I felt belittled and disrespected in just that 60 second encounter. I stood up for myself but still walked away feeling like crap. I’m not sure what I could have done differently to feel better about the situation.

Thoughts?

 


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