Make Room For The Stuttering

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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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I have to share this.

Three days ago I received an email out of the blue from someone I communicated with about stuttering quite a few years ago. We last chatted in 2012.

This is what she said (with just some minor edits)

I have a very important job interview this Thursday for a position that I really want. I have been considering being completely open and honest about my stutter during the  interview, something that I have never done before. I know you are a big advocate for being open about our stuttering, so I was hoping you could pass along some wisdom or advice. I am terrified. It’s a corporate position and while they state that inclusion and diversity is a part of their company values, I am so terrified of not getting this job because of my stutter.

I feel like I will be taking a gargantuan risk by letting my interviewer know about my stutter. I am also just simply terrified because I know how “badly” I stutter during high-stress events, and nothing could be more high-stress than this job interview. I would really appreciate any advice or words of encouragement you might offer.

Of course, I emailed her back and shared my thoughts. I asked her to let me know how the interview went.

I heard back from her today. The interview went well and she did disclose that she stutters right at the beginning. She said the interviewer wasn’t phased at all, which she found comforting. In fact, when she asked the interviewer if she had any questions about stuttering, she was a little bummed out that she didn’t because she was ready to be open and share.

I wished her luck on the second round of interviews and asked her to let me know how everything goes. I thanked her too for remembering me and reaching out.

She said she reached out to a couple of friends locally who stutter but also wanted to reach out to me. She said “you are very well known in the stuttering community.” I can’t tell you how good that made me feel.

You just never know. When we talk about our stuttering and share our stories and put ourselves out there, people listen and pay attention and remember.

And that makes a difference. And means a lot.

PamEpisode 196 features Yuka Fukuoka who hails from Tokyo, Japan and presently resides in NYC in the United States. Yuka is a professional designer by day and on weekends she works on app development to benefit people who stutter and increase awareness of stuttering for people who don’t.

Listen in to this great conversation and hear what Yuka is up to. While in Japan, she worked on a “wearable device” that allows fluent people to experience what it actually feels like to stutter. And here in the USA, she is developing a prototype app for people who stutter to practice speaking situations that also create anxiety for stutterers.

We talk about workplace stuttering, preparing for job interviews, whether to disclose stuttering or not, and using your stuttering as a strength. We also discuss the importance of changing mindsets about stuttering and breaking down biases.

Finally, we give a shout out to SMBC, a financial powerhouse with a location in NYC, who offered mock interviews to people who stutter. High level managers served as interviewers and talked about how helpful it was to openly talk about stuttering at work. Yuka attended this event and found it extremely helpful.

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

 

I have been reflecting a lot on the value of being authentic in all of my places. I have been reading and boning up on being courageous at work.

I came across this great Forbes article called The Importance of Being Courageously Vulnerable at Work. 

The author, Patrick Williams, a leadership coach, asks, “Is there a gap between who you say you are and how you reveal yourself in the world of work?”

We all have things we hide due to shame, embarrassment, guilt or even unexpressed dreams we may have given up on, and we often put those in our shadow. Williams challenges us to acknowledge and own your (shadow) or it will own you.

This really resonated with me. I try to be authentic at work, as I truly believe it invites others to do so as well and then stronger relationships are forged.

I have been actively involved in the National Stuttering Association for about 12 years now. I am proud to share that a workplace advocacy initiative that I’ve been championing for over a year has launched. We Stutter @ Work is ambitious, new and requires that people who stutter be willing to be open and stutter nakedly at work.

I do that. I stutter openly and nakedly at work. It’s OK. People are listening to what I say and not how I say it. Occasionally I might get unsupportive remarks or reactions when I stutter on the phone. I usually say something, like “Oh, I stutter. No biggie, right?” I don’t apologize. I used to, years ago. I never do today. There’s nothing to apologize for.

The workplace is no longer the 9 to 5 we used to view it as. It’s at least one-third of our daily life. We are “human beings”, not “human doings.” More of our “being” needs to be present in the workplace, and we should encourage others to do so as well. It makes workplaces better, stronger and helps people feel like they belong. Right?

What do you think? Have you had any experiences where you’ve been courageously vulnerable at work? How did it make you feel? Do you and can you stutter openly at work?

PamEpisode 195 features return guest Aileen Quattlander, who is presently living in Washington, DC. Aileen was a guest way back in 2010, when she was a senior in high school and looking forward to heading off to college the next year. It was such fun catching up with Aileen and hearing her perspectives on where her life has gone since she was 17.

Aileen works in accounting in a real estate investment firm. She enjoys being a part of the stuttering community she has found with the DC Chapter of the NSA. She started out in the stuttering community with FRIENDS and now enjoys being part of and contributing to both life changing organizations.

Listen in as we discuss how important it has been for Aileen to seize opportunities and not let stuttering limit her the way she felt it did when younger. As an adult, she really wanted to do a reset on how much stuttering had impacted a lot of her decisions.

We talk about disclosure, handling negative reactions from listeners, and stuttering in the workplace. Aileen talks about job interviews and what she learned from being asked to lead a new hire orientation training at work.

We wrap up talking about how being vulnerable really invites others to share more about themselves, thus building meaningful relationships.

I loved this conversation with Aileen. It was so meaningful to catch up with someone who greatly inspired me when I first met her and continues to do so today with her courageous vulnerability.

PamEpisode 194 features Adrienne who hails from San Jose, California. Adrienne is a 4th grade teacher who loves traveling, karaoke and yoga.

Adrienne discovered her passion for teaching after having some amazing experiences all over the world. She has taught English in Jordan, Spain and Korea. Empowered by her success, Adrienne enrolled in a graduate program to earn her Master’s degree in education.

Stuttering was challenging for Adrienne in grad school and she says that a one year program took three years to complete. She talks about the misunderstandings and bias she discovered that exist about stuttering.

Listen in as we discuss disclosure, securing accommodations in college and her first experience at a NSA conference. Adrienne plans to attend her second conference this year and wants to help out with first timers.

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

Lately I’ve given a lot of thought to all of the different places I stutter and the observations that I’ve had that I stutter differently in those places. I am sure this is not a novel thought but is one that I’ve noticed I’ve paid attention to more recently.

I stutter at work. But differently in the many roles I play. When I cover for the receptionist, I almost always stutter when I answer the phone. I always repeat a couple of times on the “R” that begins the name of my school. Sometimes that brings laughter from the caller and it really bothers me, even after all these years of being OK with stuttering.

In small group conversations with the office staff, I almost never stutter. In larger group meetings, I might stutter when called on spontaneously. When I go out to my district schools and deliver outreach presentations to large groups, I stutter, but variably. Not so much for the first one or two, but I observe much more noticeable stuttering towards the end of the day as I tire. Also, I stutter much more when reading from prepared notes or a script and much less when I am just speaking more conversationally.

I stutter at home on the phone. It doesn’t seem to matter much who I am speaking with. It happens and for the most part I am OK with it, probably because, unlike at work, the caller doesn’t laugh when I stutter.

I don’t seem to stutter much at family gatherings but I do tend to be more on the quiet side, so not as much opportunity for stuttering if I am not talking, right? That is a long ingrained habit from my childhood. I was always quiet because of the negative reactions I received from my father. I enjoy being social and chatty when with friends but still retain my quiet, reserved, guarded side when with family.

I stutter when with friends who stutter, comfortably and easily and probably even more so than when I’m at work. My guard is down when with friends who stutter as I have absolutely no fear of judgement.

What about you? What are the different places that you stutter? Have you observed this or paid attention? Do you have different feelings about your stuttering depending on where you are and who you are with.

I’m interested. Please share your thoughts.

I received a brief email today that completely surprised me and made my day. This made me grin from ear to ear and made my heart sing. I have not heard from this young woman in years. Feedback is a gift.

Hi Pam,

I hope this email finds you well!

I recently listened to the 2010 Women Who Stutter episode I was featured on and it was almost like an out of body experience to hear my 17-year-old self talk about stuttering and what was going on in my life at that point and even to hear the secondaries I had back then.

I wanted to reach out and say thank you so much for all the work you do with that podcast. It really is an inspiration to not only listen to episodes from other women and hear their journeys, but also to be able to get this glimpse into my past. Everyone has a story to share and I really enjoy the way you capture it.

 

The last day of the year offers an opportunity to reflect on where we have been and where we are going. It’s a chance to leave behind that which made us unhappy and focus on the good we can do and what will make us happy with all the new days we have coming with the new year.

If you have never thought of this in regards to your stuttering, I challenge you to do so. We have a whole new year, 365 days with which we can have a good relationship with our stuttering and pay that forward to others who stutter. Especially those who may not be far along on their own journey.

Quite a few years ago, I realized that I can use my stuttering for a purpose. I am comfortable enough with my own stuttering that I can share my experiences with others. I can show that stuttering does not have to define us and it can in fact be seen as the part of our whole that makes us unique and special.

For years, I did not believe that anything about me was unique and special. I hated myself and therefore had a very poor self-image. A lot of that was reinforced by messages that I had received, and not just about stuttering. Society just did not show much love to fat girls with bad skin who also talked funny.

But now I am at a point in my life where I am comfortable in my own skin and see those things about myself that make me special. It’s important now that I share that with others who might not be there yet.

A whole new year awaits for me to make a difference. I am excited with the opportunities that await to inspire change and make a difference for someone, or maybe more than just one person.

You can too. Find a way to get involved in the stuttering community. Share your story, help with a project with your local stuttering support group, dare to do something that you thought you couldn’t because of your stuttering. You can make a difference.

I had the opportunity to present about stuttering to a group of high school students specializing in neuroscience and all things associated with the brain. They are all so smart, far smarter than I ever remember myself being at their age.

The teacher has invited me to do this talk for several years and I am always up to the challenge. To keep a talk about a disorder that is limited to just a small percentage of the population interesting and engaging enough for young people is indeed a challenge.

But I did it and was just so amazed with their genuine interest and thoughtful questions. I spent about half the time sharing current research with them on stuttering and the brain and the other half of the time sharing personal stories that hopefully truly illustrated for them what stuttering really is and is not.

Today I got some feedback from each student. It really made my heart sing to read their comments and be left feeling that I really did help educate them on something that might stay with them for years to come.

Here are a few of the feedback pieces I am so proud to share here.

Thank you so much for coming and talking to us about the neuroscience of stuttering. I really enjoyed how your talk with us was so different than the other ones we have had. Nobody really talks about stuttering and the science behind it, so I thought it was really interesting. I never realized how low the statistics were of developing a stutter and not growing out of it. It really interested me how women are so much less common to stutter than men. I really wonder why. I really would like to say that the confidence you have when speaking is really something noticeable and powerful. The fact that you don’t care as much about what people think of you is really something important. Thank you so much again!

Thank you so much for coming and talking to us on Friday.  It was really interesting and illuminating to see stuttering from the perspective of someone who stutters and then to see the neuroscience behind it as well.  I never really thought of stuttering as being so stigmatized before, but after your talk, I realized how bad the media makes it seem. Now being aware of that will make me more able to communicate with someone with a stutter or even someone who has something similar.  The key to being able to better communicate with people from all different backgrounds starts with making an effort to understand those backgrounds and treating them as you would anyone else. Thanks again for taking the time talk to us.

Thank you so much – and I mean it – for coming in to talk about stuttering and the problems or lack thereof associated with it. I was able to relate with what you said even though I myself don’t have a stutter, and it’s nice to see someone so confident and well-spoken talk about something I relate to so much. Although the science was interesting as well, I will say just you talking about your experiences and how stuttering affects your everyday life was my favorite part of the rotation.

 

 

He-StuttersEpisode 26 of this occasional male series features Andy Fitzenrider who hails from Seattle, Washington. Andy has worked for eighteen years in the Identification Unit of the Seattle Police Department.

Listen in as Andy shares about some of his speech therapy experiences and why he was drawn to engage in therapy as an adult. He talks about “wishing he knew back then what he knows now.”

We also talk extensively about a program that Andy uses and has done outreach for called Speech to Speech. This is a service that anyone with a speech disorder can use. A live “Communication Assistant” answers your call and you let the person know where you wish to call. The assistant will stay on the line with you and repeat as much or as little of your speech as you would like to the person you are calling. The assistant may explain at the call onset that you are a person who stutters and then not say anything else, if that’s all you want or need.

Andy says this service has brought him peace of mind and has helped him to not fear the phone as he once did. The service is free for anyone to use and any carrier will work. See below video for more information.

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

 

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I participated in the conference of a lifetime this weekend. I was so lucky to have been able to attend the 2018 ASHA National Convention held in Boston, MA. I was an invited speaker of the American Board of Fluency and Fluency Disorders along with good friend and guardian angel, Charley Adams, PhD, CCC-SLP from South Carolina. Together, we delivered a presentation called “Hidden in Plain Sight: Treatment for Covert Stuttering.”

We both felt it was extremely important that we talk to current and future SLPs about the importance of “treating the right thing” when it comes to working with people who covertly stutter. Because for covert stutterers, it’s not the possible stuttered word that is the problem. It is the complex layers of shame, guilt, paralysis, and fraudulent identity that must be peeled away and processed that is the the real problem and challenge.

Charley and I only had one hour to convey a whole lot of information to an audience mixed with eager, young graduate students and established clinicians and researchers in the field. We chose to tag team and alternate anecdotal story telling with clinical strategy suggestions. It worked. I must say we were engaging, funny and drove our points home.

I talked extensively about how covert stuttering robbed me of my personality and I knew it, but like the Stockholm Syndrome, I stayed in that bad place for thirty years. I shared details about “pretend Pam” and what it was like when “real Pam” finally emerged. At one point, I said something like, “real Pam stutters openly now with little shame and she’s a damn good communicator.”  At that, the audience rose to their feet and gave a standing ovation. I got choked up and felt my heart swell. It was such a proud moment.

I had doubt that I actually would be able to get to Boston and deliver my part of the presentation. I have not felt well for many weeks and I actually took a month of sick leave off from work, something I have never done. But getting to this convention was immensely important to me and I decided to be upfront, share my situation and ask for help. Charley was there for me, every step of the way, as were others.

The ASHA Convention was the largest I have ever attended. It was intimidating and overwhelming to be among so many people. It was reported that this convention had the most attendees ever – over 18, 000. With few exceptions, everyone was a professional in the fields of speech and hearing. Everyone had impressive letters after their names and I didn’t. But I’m indeed an expert on my stuttering and that’s one of the key messages that I really wanted to convey to the audience.

It’s important to listen and respect the lived experience of people who stutter and don’t assume that professionals have all the answers. It doesn’t always work that way.


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© Pamela A Mertz and Make Room For The Stuttering, 2009 - 2020. 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 2020.
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