Make Room For The Stuttering

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There is so much I want to say about the recent National Stuttering Association conference that just wrapped up in Chicago, Illinois this weekend. I am going to write later in the week about a couple of deeply important workshops that I attended that opened up dialogue that some people may not be used to.

But I feel compelled to write just a bit about The Stuttering Monologues, which was a performance I coordinated with 12 people and that we performed at the closing ceremony on Saturday July 7. I got the idea to create a version of stuttering monologues back in 2012 after watching a local performance of The Vagina Monologues, written by Eve Ensler. Ensler created her Vagina Monologues as an activism vehicle for women to be able to voice their concerns about consensual and non-consensual sexual experiences. Women of all different ages, races, sexual orientations and other differences let their voice be heard.

I envisioned that the same could be done with our stuttering stories. I presented the inaugural Stuttering Monologues as a workshop at the NSA conference in 2012 in Tampa. It was hugely successful – one of the most attended sessions, with standing room only. I brought it back again the following year, in Scottsdale in 2013. Again, the session was a stand-out, with a wall in the workshop room needing to be opened in order to accommodate people.

I wanted to bring it back to the conference again, but felt waiting a few years to keep the experience fresh was best. This seemed right, 5 years later and in Chicago. The NSA Executive Director asked me what I thought about presenting it to the whole conference as part of fully attended closing ceremony. We could make that work, right? What was done the previous two times in 75 minutes would now need to be done in less than 30 minutes.

I embraced the challenge. I had already lined up my presenters for the 2018 version of the Monologues when I learned we would do them at the closing and everyone would need to come in at under 2 minutes. That’s a big challenge for people who stutter. One person freely admitted that sometimes it has taken him fully two minutes to just say his name.

But we did it and to enormous success. We heard deeply moving, authentic stories about fear, shame, priorities, kindness and the human condition. It was funny, gut wrenching, inspiring and real all rolled up in one neat, 26 minute package. We heard monologues titled, “Dear Diary,” “You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know,” and “Heartbeat.” All rang true and we somehow managed to capture the diversity of our stuttering community through the unique voices we heard.

I had some people come up to me afterwards saying it was the best part of the conference. That the short stories were so powerful and riveting that everyone should hear something like this that so perfectly captures the complexity of stuttering. A long time member’s husband came up to me and said for him it was the best part of the conference. He said it was moving, emotional and powerful and that he could tell a lot of work went into it to make it look so seamless. That meant so much to me.

This was a labor of love. Not everything went perfectly. Some people didn’t come to practice sessions, some waited until the 11th hour to submit titles and bios and two people bowed out throughout the planning process. But it worked. Authentic voices were raised and eager ears listened to the stories that are all of us.

 

 

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hand-to-ear-listeningI came across something in the “Notes” section of my phone from three years ago. I obviously felt it was important enough to write down. I’m not sure what lead me to read it again this week, but it really spoke to me.

“For years, we have gone to speech therapy to change the way we speak to make it more comfortable for others. We shouldn’t have to do that anymore.”

This brought back memories of when I participated in speech therapy for the first time as an adult about ten years ago. It was traditional fluency shaping therapy with the goal of changing the way I spoke. I greatly resisted this, without even knowing I was resisting!

I found it hard to learn the “targets” and even harder to demonstrate them. It felt mechanical and clinical and I couldn’t figure out why this wasn’t working for me. I also began to feel like I was failing and I wasn’t used to failing at anything. The harder I tried to “shape my speech differently” the more I failed to do so.

Finally, I realized that the reason I wasn’t succeeding with using fluency targets was because I didn’t want to use them. I felt like creating a different way to speak really just made me covert again. And more importantly, it felt like creating a different way to speak was more for the benefit of others than for me. It seemed like I was working at changing my speech so that listeners wouldn’t be uncomfortable and so that I wouldn’t have to explain why my speech was different than the norm.

People had told me I should try to be fluent when going for job interviews and giving presentations at work. But inside, I felt like that was taking my voice away, and I had been taking my own voice and hiding it away for years. This was the beginning of my personal realization that I didn’t want or need to be fixed and that I didn’t need to conform to be like everybody else.

We don’t need to make people feel more comfortable when listening to stuttering. We all need to just be patient and present communication partners.

Have you ever considered why you participated in speech therapy? A friend recently mentioned that his employer “made him” attend speech therapy sessions because a client was having difficulty with his stuttering. Thoughts?

Well, last week was a very busy one for me. Like I mentioned in my last post, I had several opportunities to talk about stuttering and hopefully raise awareness in my little corner of the world.

Last Monday, I was a guest on a local media production’s podcast where they interviewed me about stuttering. They sent me the link a few days later and I was really happy with how it turned out. The interviewers had done some prior research and asked me some great questions. Take a listen if you’d like. (Although that is an awful picture of me! Ugh!)

On Wednesday, I had the chance to “tell” my story at a 25th anniversary celebration of the Interfaith Story Circle, which is a local group here in Albany, New York that focuses on the power of storytelling. I was so delighted to have my story about women who stutter sharing their stories included in their celebration event.

And on Thursday last week, my podcast was featured on one of our local news channel’s segments highlighting women. That was such an exciting experience, as being on TV is a big deal, at least to me anyway. Fortunately, I was more photogenic in this clip here.

http://wnyt.com/news/pamela-mertz-podcast-for-women-who-stutter/4902733/?cat=11883

 

 

Hey everyone! It’s that time of year again! Here in the United States, it’s National Stuttering Awareness Week. In fact, it’s the 30th anniversary of this special week. In 1988, the second week in May was declared as National Stuttering Awareness Week. 

Two individuals that were involved in what was then the National Stuttering Project (NSP) were the driving force behind making this happen. Paul Castellano and Barbara Hubbard Koval, with the support of their NSP chapter, pitched the idea to their local Congress members in 1986.  Eighteen months later, in 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed the proclamation making the second week in May National Stuttering Awareness Week and it’s been commemorated every year since then.

While I believe that every day should be used to raise awareness for stuttering, this week is a great opportunity to talk about stuttering to people who don’t stutter and try to get some media attention to bring it into the spotlight. Many people involved in what is now the National Stuttering Association (NSA) contact the  media to get people talking about stuttering. Here are some good ideas from the NSA on what you could do!

I am really psyched that I have two media opportunities this week. Tonight I am going to The Sanctuary For Independent Media which is local for me and will be a guest on their live podcast. I am excited that they were interested enough to bring someone on to talk about stuttering.

Tomorrow morning, I will be interviewed by a local TV reporter for a segment on her Today’s Women which airs weekly on the local evening news. The piece will run on Thursday evening. I was a guest on her show seven years ago, and she is doing a follow-up with me about stuttering in general and the growth of my podcast. I’m definitely excited.

What can you do to raise awareness about stuttering?

 

 

 

 

On stage

I had the amazing experience to interview Nina G, a stuttering stand up comedian this past Friday night on stage after she performed her routine. Nina has been featured several times on my Women Who Stutter podcast and has numerous YouTube videos showcasing her comedy and disability rights activism.

When Nina told me she had booked a gig at the University at Albany, right in my backyard, I was excited to get to see her and immediately planned for that weekend. But then Nina let me know that she wanted me to interview her live for my podcast. I was beyond excited but also naturally nervous.

A few days before Nina’s performance, we spoke by phone to map out a game plan for Friday’s show. Nina shared that it was her plan to have me live interview her on stage as part of the performance. I had not figured on that. I thought I would just be interviewing her after the show.  So, I prepared some questions that I hoped would generate good discussion and crossed my fingers.

Well, Friday’s performance was a huge success. There were well over 100 people in the audience and people stayed for the whole show! There were several people who stutter in the audience as well, which was really fun.

Nina performed her comedy routine for about 30 minutes and then invited me on stage for the interview segment. Oh my gosh, it went great. We played off each other and had great dialogue going on. We recorded the audio and hopefully I will be able to use it for a future podcast episode. Nina also video recorded most of it as well.

It was such a great experience. I had never done anything like that before and it was such an adrenaline rush to be up on stage with Nina. After the interview segment, Nina invited me to remain on stage with her as she entertained questions.

After the show, a group of us went to dinner, including the two college students we met who stutter, as well as two other friends who stutter. Six of us closed a local restaurant and talked and laughed for several hours.

Thank you so much, Nina G for inviting me and including me in your show.  We did a lot of educating Friday night and helped normalize stuttering.

Nina and Pam

 

 

Jill's class

Recently, I had another opportunity to speak to a master’s level fluency class about my experiences with stuttering. Good friend Jill had asked me to guest lecture to the class and cover the piece on covert stuttering.

I always enjoy doing this. I know many other persons who stutter are invited and take the opportunity to share our stories with the people who will be working with us in the future. It’s critical that future therapists understand stuttering from the perspective of someone who has stuttered all their life. You can’t fully understand the stuttering experience just by reading about it.

I found myself talking to the students just briefly about my journey with stuttering, and how essentially I overcame the fears of stuttering to transition from covert to overt. I spent more time talking about lessons I had learned when I was in therapy as an adult and what I thought are the most important things for SLP students to focus on when working with people who stutter covertly.

I talked about being sure that the therapist is treating the right thing. When I was in therapy, I did not want to learn about techniques that would hide my stutter and make me sound more  fluent. I needed to stutter, after hiding it for so many years. Understanding what the client needs and wants is crucial for successful therapy. Not everyone is looking for fluency. Many people who stutter want to work on acceptance and have someone affirm for them that stuttering is indeed OK.

I think tomorrow’s therapists really need to wrap their head around that today.

 

I came across a post in one of the stuttering forums written by a young man who shared that his assistant manager at work has been blatantly mocking his stuttering. This has occurred in front of other co-workers and sometimes in front of customers as well.

The young man wrote that he’s talked to the owner in an attempt to get some assistance. He feels the owner can only do so much as the assistant manager doesn’t do the mocking in front of the owner.

He is considering contacting someone at the corporate level to ask for help in getting the harassment to stop. He worries that may be “too much” and asks if there is anything else that could be done.

I feel for this person. It is utterly disrespectful to be mocked at work by a manager. I remember when this happened to me, many years ago, before I was fired from my job because of stuttering. My director would laugh, slap his face and roll his eyes when I stuttered during meetings. He had no problem doing this in front of others. I felt embarrassed and ashamed and helpless to stop him, as he, after all, was a director and an authority figure. He was also a big guy and I honestly always felt intimidated by him.

I didn’t do anything when he harassed me. I just sucked it up and wound up feeling like crap and let negative self-talk take up space in my head. When I left meetings after such ridicule and disrespect, I would go to a bathroom and cry and then compose myself.

Now, years later, after finding support and empowerment through support organizations such as the National Stuttering Association, I have learned to advocate and stand up for myself. I would feel OK to let an offender know that it is unacceptable workplace behavior and I would attempt to educate about stuttering. I would also not hesitate to involve Human Resource staff so that they too could take steps to eliminate a hostile work environment.

Not everyone is in that place to stand up and confront harassment. You really have to have reached a place of acceptance and self-actualization in your journey in order to advocate for yourself.

So, what would you do? How would you handle this if it was you? What advice might you offer someone facing this type of behavior at work?

I’d love your thoughts.

 


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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.
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