Make Room For The Stuttering

Archive for the ‘Posts’ Category

Over the last few weeks, I have had the opportunity to do some talks about covert stuttering and how hiding an integral part of me has shaped me.

I co-facilitated a session for the Canadian Stuttering Association in early November and one last week for the NSA global research conference.

And today I spoke to a small female only group of women who stammer.

In all of the talks, I emphasized how stuttering covertly essentially hijacked my personality which lead me down a rabbit hole of avoidance in all areas of my life, not just stuttering related stuff.

I shared with a friend that I had given several of these talks all in a relatively short time period. He said, “well, you’re not covert anymore, you do know that, right?” That gave me pause, as I suppose he’s right. What I’ve been sharing has been the journey I’ve taken to embrace my true self and become open with who I am and how I speak. One of the presentations I gave was aptly called, “Dropping the ‘C’ in Covert Stuttering.”

People who stutter and those who interact with people who stutter seem genuinely interested in how going from extremely covert to truly open is done and why.

At today’s talk, the topic of small talk came up, in relation to a comment that someone made about finding it hard to make friends as a person who stutters. I mentioned that many of us really never learned how to “make small talk” because we were always so busy hiding or rehearsing what we might be able to say fluently is we absolutely had to talk.

One woman asked me if it has become any easier to make small talk now that I stutter openly. I shared that it absolutely has become easier. I am more spontaneous now than I’ve ever been because I just stutter and get on with it. I don’t care as much as I once did and I didn’t worry so much about being judged.

And I shared that my fear had always been fear of rejection. I really think that’s what it boils down to – being rejected, not being liked, not feeling that sense of belonging that we all crave and need.

I’ve come to realize that indeed I’m not covert anymore and that I can enjoy spontaneity in conversation and really feel present in a conversation.

I’ve heard myself time and again these past few weeks mention that I truly feel that authenticity invites reciprocity. And that we all yearn to allow ourselves to be vulnerable, as that is the foundation of real belonging.

 

I had an amazing opportunity last week to be a guest panelist for an event hosted by the Peruvian Stuttering Association. For International Stuttering Awareness Day, they held a week long festival for all things stuttering. I thought that was so wonderful, to intentionally raise awareness of stuttering for an extended period of time.

The organizer invited me to participate in a panel session on Friday October 23, from 7-9pm. I started off a bit intimidated, as I was the only woman who stuttered on the panel, and the only one who did not speak Spanish. It felt so weird. I had a translator assigned to me and when I realized he knew his stuff, I relaxed and began to enjoy the experience.

The first part of the panel was for each of us to give a brief overview of our country’s stuttering association. I spoke about the mission and vision of the National Stuttering Association. I spoke 4 or 5 sentences at a time and the translator repeated what I said back to the audience in Spanish. Then the other two panelists, from Argentina and Columbia, gave their overviews in Spanish and the translator typed in the Zoom chat box what was being said.

The second part of the panel was a 90 minute Q&A with audience members, who asked questions in Spanish on the live feed as the whole event was held on Zoom and then streamed through Facebook Live. I did not know that it was going to be live streamed until about 30 minutes ahead of the event.

I had the rare opportunity to possibly feel like the lone person who stutters in a large room of many fluent people. I felt alone in a crowded space. I imagine that’s how people who stutter feel until they are welcomed into the space they are in.

And that’s exactly how it played out for me. Once I got over the initial nerves of not knowing the language and realized that my translator wasn’t going to leave me hanging, I actually enjoyed the experience.

I was able to talk about the NSA’s vast network of support chapters across the USA, and how they are like a lifeline to people who stutter. For many who stutter, attending a local NSA chapter meeting may be their very first introduction to others who stutter and the empowerment felt when around others who stutter.

I was able to talk about how support meetings are facilitated, the role of the chapter leader, inviting everyone to speak and give permission to just listen. When I talked about the importance of honoring silence among people who stutter, I could see that definitely struck a chord with the panelists because they felt when that happened they had failed as group leaders. So we talked about how facilitation is more like guiding a group discussion rather than actually leading and feeling that every space must be filled with words.

I also had the opportunity to talk about inviting women into the stuttering spaces that we create. The South America stuttering leaders really valued that part of the conversation and pledged to explore that further and look at opportunities to find and welcome women who stutter.

We also spent time discussing initiatives to promote better career outcomes for people who stutter in the employment process. I was able to share what the NSA has done with our “We Stutter @ Work” program.

This experience was a major leap away from my comfort zone but as I reflected on it, it was a real honor and privilege to represent women who stutter in a traditionally male oriented space.

I hope to be invited and participate in more of such opportunities.

The folks over at the British Stammering Association, now known as Stamma, have launched a brilliant campaign to change the language used to describe stuttering or stammering.

Very often, stuttering is described using negative, derogatory language, resulting in personal and public perceptions that stuttering is bad and something that must be overcome.

Check out this wonderful brief video to see what they did to “find the right words,” and reduce the stigma about stuttering.

 

I wrote this paper for this year’s International Stuttering Awareness Day online conference.

I’d love your thoughts and feedback.

“She stood in the storm and when the wind did not blow her way, she adjusted her sails.” (Elizabeth Edwards)

I love this quote above. It gets to the very core of resilience. For a long time, I allowed stuttering, which I perceived as a flaw, to hold me down and prevent me from living my best life. I did not think it was possible for a stutterer to live a life of meaning and purpose. I was so smothered in shame that I never even considered that I could do something about shame, that I could get up when knocked down.

I was knocked down a lot due to stuttering. I remember times I was laughed at, mocked, dismissed, and excluded. I remember how I reacted when these things happened. I cried and ran away, careful to not let others see how much it affected me. 

Stuttering began taking control of me in many ways that I was not consciously aware of. I did not raise my hand, volunteer to speak or even allow myself to be out front. I always hid in a corner, sat at the back of class, and avoided eye contact so that I would not be called on to speak. I had convinced myself that when I spoke, people would laugh and not take me seriously. It took me a long time to realize that I was the one leading the shame parade.

I have shared my story of hiding my stuttering many times. I have written articles for past online conferences such as this, I have made videos, I host a podcast about stuttering, and I have blogged about stuttering for more than 10 years. But it took me a long time to get to this point where I now willingly share my story and stutter openly.

I had a pivotal event in my life that paved the way for me to stop automatically equating stuttering with something bad, or believing that I was bad, flawed, or imperfect. Prior to this event, I did not know what resilience was.

I was fired from a long-held job because of stuttering in 2006. As you can imagine, that rocked my world. It was such a blow to my identity and self-esteem, for I had carefully constructed myself as someone who did not stutter, even though I do. I had successfully hidden my stuttering for so long that not many people in my world knew that I stuttered. 

In the process of crafting this “self who did not stutter,” I had unwittingly compromised my real self and tried to pretend that I was OK with being perceived as nervous, shy, quiet and a wallflower. I had created a “Fake Pam,” which I let the world see but I was totally unhappy with. 

Getting fired for stuttering was the beginning of shedding “Fake Pam” and letting “Real Pam” out. The whole process of reconciling the two vastly different versions of myself was the very definition of resilience. I just did not realize it in 2006. It took me a few years to say goodbye to “Fake Pam” and to welcome “Real Pam” to her forever home. 

Once “Real Pam” was out, there was no stopping me. Not only did I shed the fake persona, I also became real in other parts of my life. I learned that while hiding stuttering, I had also been hiding any open expression of emotions, which had suffocated me. If you have ever read the book “The Velveteen Rabbit,” you know that the stuffed rabbit became a real rabbit, which was very much like my own transformation.

Being resilient means facing pain, and choosing to walk through it, instead of around it or choosing to go down a different street. As I became real, I began to recognize powerful moments of resilience in my life. 

After getting fired, I had to go on interviews again to find a new job. I faced the fear of being judged because of stuttering by choosing to openly disclose that I stutter during interviews, for the first time ever. I quieted the inner chatter in my head that said I was not being hired because of stuttering but rather it could very well have been true that I just was not the right fit.

When I did get a job, I openly shared with supervisors and coworkers that I stutter and was still liked and accepted. I learned that I had worried about stuttering far more than anyone else did. Being real and true to myself was such a new and triumphant feeling. I wanted more of that. I wanted to take chances. I wanted to start living my best life.

I joined Toastmasters, attended stuttering support groups, and even found myself hosting a virtual stuttering support group for almost six years. I found myself doing lots of public speaking and making efforts to normalize stuttering as much as possible. I was asked often to speak to college graduate classes about covert stuttering, being asked to come back year after year by the same professors. I was afraid of rejection each time, but I persevered and let “Real Pam” come out and be heard. I liked her voice, my voice, the one that I had always thought no one could ever like because it shakes and shudders and stops and blocks. But I was at a point in my life where I could say “so what?”

I have learned that I can sail in a storm and adjust the sails to another course when I must. This is no longer fear but strength. And a belief that “I can do this.”

I have always had the resilience necessary to meet life’s challenges head on. I just did not know it for such a long time. “Real Pam” did the proper thing and introduced herself to “Fake Pam,” and “Real Pam” said “Nice to meet you, but you are not needed anymore. Get out of here.” And “Real Pam” never looked back.

 

 

 

We all are probably lining up to kick 2020 to the curb as soon as we can. It’s been an awful year for everyone. Lock downs, quarantines, social distancing and wearing masks. All of it has been relentless since early March 2020 when the USA joined other countries trying to battle the Covid pandemic. Most of us alive today have never experienced such a year of grave losses, of people, employment and our basic interactions with each other.

I am a hugger and I have not been able to hug anyone for 6+ months.

Almost all of our interactions with others has been virtual, using the many options for video chats. That’s been a great way to at least talk to people.

The stuttering community has felt all these losses, some more acutely than others. I’ve heard countless stories of people who stutter experiencing difficulty when masked up and trying to speak. But we’ve stood and fiercely showed our resilience.

The stuttering community has stepped up and many of the stuttering support groups have hosted quite a few virtual sessions to help people feel connected.

This brings a nice transition into my announcement. Every year in October, a small by mighty team coordinates a 3 week online conference that runs from October 1 – October 22, which is the annual “International Stuttering Awareness Day.” This is a day that people from all over the world celebrate stuttering in their countries to raise awareness and educate communities.

I want to draw your attention to the annual online conference. It is interactive, meaning people will have the chance to interact with authors of papers, videos, poems and other media platform. This is the one a year that people come together for a global conference.

This year’s theme is “Resilience and Bouncing Back,” a theme that many people who stutter can relate to. We have around 50 submissions, submitted by PWS ourselves, SLP’s and other professionals, and family members of a person who stutters.

It’s a great theme – I was excited to find out about the theme and I enthusiastically wrote a meaningful piece that speaks to me about my journey of resilience.

The conference will go live on September 30 at noon, since it will be October 1 somewhere in the world. Check it out – you’ll be happy with the many superb contributions and you’ll so many different things about stuttering.

The online ISAD Conference begins October 1, 2020.

In my last post, I wrote about the 13 year old boy who contributed to the USA Democratic Convention last week. Brayden let his stuttering shine in a joyful and triumphant moment that one does not see much at political rallies or conventions.

Brayden has since been invited to participate with and speak to groups of teens virtually with the National Stuttering Association and Friends.

To my delight, I was contacted by a reporter in my local community to reflect on stuttering and offer some perspective from my point of view. My piece aired on my local news channel on Tuesday evening August 26.

You can see my news piece titled “Advocates Hope Increased Interest Means Change for Those who Stutter.”

This teen’s openness was a great moment for the stuttering community.

This week, I joined a Zoom session that was only for women who stutter. It was hosted by a woman from Scotland in collaboration with the Facebook group “Women Who Stammer.” They have offered Zoom sessions consistently every other week since the early days of the pandemic. I have attended several.

This week’s session included several first timers, younger women who stammer, and a 15 year old who came in with her mom.

During the chat, the issue of therapy came up, and we discussed what drives therapy sessions and how goals are, or should be, set. One of the younger women shared that the SLP she recently began seeing didn’t seem particularly interested in what her goals were.

I shared that taking ownership and the driver’s seat is critical when establishing the therapeutic alliance. I discussed how I felt when I went into therapy for the first time as an adult. I mentioned that at first I thought I was to follow the lead of the therapist as I assumed that she would know what I needed. I quickly came to realize that was not the case.

I mentioned that I had written a paper called “Things I Learned in Therapy” 10 years ago that was all still relevant today.

After the session, the mom of the teen reached out to me via email to let me know how empowering my story was and wanted to read the paper I wrote. I responded right away and sent the link to the paper.

Each of us should always remember that our story, even though it may not seem like much, has the potential to help someone else.

 

I am borrowing this two word phrase from good friend Anita Blom, who always ends her email with the phrase “keep talking.” In my last blog post, I talked about the affects of isolation on my/our stuttering. Being quarantined – or isolated – has been very difficult for me. I am an introvert but still very much a social being. I made a promise with myself to talk to at least one person every day, by phone or video chat, not just texting or messaging.

I’m finding it difficult to keep talking. I am not seeing people daily to keep talking. I have not kept my promise of talking to at least one person every day. When I do, I definitely find I’m stuttering more, or at least it seems that way to me.

I also find I talk really fast, as if I’m worried that I won’t have enough time to get out everything I want to say.

I have written before that communication is one thing that most people do not even think about, that it’s taken for granted that when we open our mouth, what our brains want to say actually comes out.

Now more than ever, I am keenly aware of how I have taken for granted that we should keep talking. I find myself in fewer and fewer social situations where there are opportunities to talk.

The last I worked was June 3, 2019. So I’ve been home alone for more than a year. For awhile I was diligently looking for a job and did actually go on job interviews. Nothing came of any of them, and I’m convinced that ageism played a role.

It feels imperative to encourage all of us to “keep talking.” Otherwise I fear our stuttered voices will struggle to be heard.

There is no doubt this is a very strange time for humans. This relentless global pandemic has turned our worlds upside down and tossed many of us into previously unknown isolation.

Humans are social. Our brains are hardwired to interact with each other, to communicate in person, face to face. Even our technology that has made email, texting and messaging the norm, has not completely replaced in person connection.

For many of us, we are now in our third month of lock down, staying home and physically distancing from each other. We are compelled to wear face coverings, to protect our selves and each other from a deadly contagious virus. But when we do wear face masks, we can’t see expressions and smiles.

Businesses and schools have closed and we really have no idea what they may look like if and when they reopen. Employees and students are now working and learning remotely, from home. Many of us stare at ourselves on computer screens in the endless video chat sessions.

Many people who stutter have expressed that they stutter more now, when indeed they interact with others by phone or video. I am one of them. Because I am not talking consistently every day, when I do speak, I notice my stuttering is more pronounced, different, hurried. It’s like I am trying to make up for lost days by talking faster.

Being isolated is, well, isolating. I get lonely, I yearn for people, I yearn for physical contact. The person I have seen the most over the last 3 months has been my sister, and we have not hugged in all that time.

So this makes me think about all the other people who are isolating at home, alone, with no family close by. It’s scary, it’s different, it makes one think about our relationships and our very human need to touch and be touched.

I hope we come out on the other side of this with strengthened promises to take care of, and stay in touch with, our families and communities.

 

Twice in the last month, I heard from people about the importance of “being seen.” Both happened to be women.

This was shared on LinkedIn:

Today I had the pleasure to call into a lecture with Pamela Mertz, the Co-Chair of Special Projects at the National Stuttering Association. She discussed stuttering in the workplace, discrimination, the burden of concealment, and strengths wasted. More than anything, she made me feel seen. As a member of the 1% of the adult population living with a speech impediment, I typically don’t receive the kind of guidance I crave. In hearing the discriminatory experiences of Mertz, many of which I share, I felt understood and that I was part of a group larger than myself. I feel and was encouraged to feel proud to be a communicator and a journalist even on my poor speech days and even more grateful for the allies and supporters I have met along the way!

This was so cool to see and read, that someone I did not know was impacted by the stories I shared.

Not two weeks later, a friend sent me the draft of a poem she had written, that was very personal and open and raw. I loved reading her poem and felt honored she wanted to share it with me. She mentioned that it was important for her to “feel seen.”

It’s very powerful for me to hear how important it is for people who stutter to feel seen, heard and understood. I think it’s important for us to rally together and be open and vulnerable whenever we can so that we help the world better understand stuttering.

Speak. Be heard. Feel seen.

Today I am happy to host a guest blog from Oli Cheadle, a speech and language therapist based in the UK. I had the pleasure of sharing a conversation with Oli a number of years ago on my podcast for men who stutter, “He Stutters: She Asks Him.”

My name is Oli. I am a speech and language therapist and also a person who stutters. I am based in the UK. I have a mild stutter and can block in some specific situations, e.g. making telephone calls to unfamiliar people, asking directions from strangers.

Pam has very kindly given me the opportunity to write about a new intensive program for stuttering called Modifying Phonation Intervals 2 (MPI-2) and to feed back on my own experiences of going through the program.

What is the MPI-2?
MPI-2 was developed by Dr Roger Ingham and colleagues at the University of California and is based on research which shows that when speakers reduce the number of short phonatory intervals in their speech by 50% there is a significant reduction in stuttering. The MPI-
2 program uses an iOS app that gives biofeedback to help you learn a new speech technique that results in very low levels of stuttering.

The program then guides the speaker through progressively more challenging speaking tasks, requiring them consistently use this new technique at every step. MPI-2 is a very fluency-focused therapy and, as a result, it is obviously not a good a fit for everyone.

I have tried to give an idea of the MPI-2 iOS app, what short phonatory intervals are, and the speech technique involved in the below video.

A study by Ingham et al. (2015) found that most participants who undergo this intensive fluency shaping program achieve very low levels of stuttering and are able to maintain this long-term (73% of participants). It is designed for adults and older adolescents approximately 15 years and up.

 Was it helpful for my speech?

Definitely. Having completed the program, which took me about 7 months, I am finding that I am able to speak without stuttering in situations where I previously stuttered often, for example stopping a stranger in the street and asking directions or making telephone calls to unfamiliar people. It has taken a lot of work to complete the program and I have found it really worthwhile.

 

I had such a wonderful experience this week, presenting to an organization and people I did not know about stuttering at work.

This has been a vision of mine for quite a few years now. If people who stutter are going to be truly supported and included in all aspects of life, we have to educate the people in our worlds that do not stutter.

People who stutter want to be successful in school and at work. So schools, universities and workplaces need to hear stuttering, normalize it and get over the fears associated with hiring people who stutter.

It was a very surreal experience for me – to have traveled down to Northern Virginia to meet with people interested in “hidden disabilities” and stutter openly, without fear or anxiety. People at this workplace truly want to be inclusive of everyone who brings difference and new perspectives. I was welcomed with open arms, and spoke to an audience of about 50, 20 or so in-person and the rest calling in from other company sites via Skype.

The main theme of my presentation is what is gained through being completely open and vulnerable about something that is often widely misunderstood and stigmatized. I spoke of the strengths people who stutter have innately, because of our lived experience with stuttering. We bring grit, perseverance, resilience, patience and empathy to work – all of which are valuable competencies any employer wants.

The best way to make change and help people understand stuttering is so simple: TALK ABOUT IT. Make it less of a mystery, normalize it, frame what is often perceived as a weakness as a great strength.

In so doing, we will help workplaces become more inclusive for today’s workers who stutter and for the young people behind us, who will enter the workforce. Hopefully, my efforts and those of other adults who are not afraid to be vulnerable, will help lessen the stigma and burden of trying to hide stuttering in the workplace.

The company that I presented at recorded my presentation. I am looking forward to seeing that, and more importantly, looking forward to getting more workplaces to see the value of talking about stuttering at work.

It’s freeing and hopeful.

I have been having a really hard time over the last 6 months. Some of you know that I lost my job on June 30, 2019 and have been unsuccessful in finding new employment. I am so discouraged and fearful, as I have a chronic illness that I’ve been trying to manage. It’s scary not having income and feeling like I have no control of what’s happening.

But I am heartened when I think of a couple of bright spots to look forward to. I am heading to Virginia a week from now to conduct a training and awareness session on stuttering in the workplace.

And I have been invited to speak at a conference of the French Stuttering Association in March, in Paris. That’s right, Paris. I can’t hardly believe it, that in the midst of financial woes, I am actually going to Paris. I am going to spend a week there, and hang out with some locals who can help me make the most of being a tourist. I have been asked to speak on my advocacy efforts for women who stutter. It will be the first such time where I’ll be speaking to a non-English speaking audience and therefore working with a translator.

When things are especially dim, it’s so important to remember the bright spots. They’re there, we just have to find them and hang on.

I am looking forward to posting about my experience and meeting up with online friends that I have not yet met in person.

Stay tuned!

As some of you know, I lost my job at the end of June 2019. I have so far not found another paid position. I’ve been out of the workplace for more than 6 months now. It’s been very stressful and disheartening and I often find myself with heightened worry and anxiety, which triggers my neuropathy. I become more inflamed and then have physical pain to deal with.

I feel like I have fell down a rabbit hole when everything spirals at once.

I have also noticed changes in my speech and stuttering. When I was at work and interacting face to face with colleagues and students all the time, my stuttering was fairly consistent – mild to moderate most of the time.

Now, because I am home most of the time and can go days without speaking with anyone, I notice that when I do speak, I stutter much more often and more pronounced. I think it’s because I am simply not exercising my speaking chops enough.

In fact, I went out with a sister a few weeks ago and we went to bingo, (which I love by the way) and she complained that I was talking a mile a minute and causing her to not be able to concentrate. I found that very telling – since it’s not me at all. But I guess when you go days or weeks with out talking with anyone, you try to catch up.

I think I need to make a more concerted effort to talk to someone, anyone, at least every day. I hope whoever the lucky one is that they don’t tell me to shut up!

I am not sure what has made me think of this, but I’ve noticed that I’ve been paying attention to this more and more, and only lately. I’ve begun to notice that sometimes when I am thinking what I am getting ready to say, or “thinking my thoughts,” what I think and how I say it, don’t always match.

I think a fluent thought and intend to say a certain word, but sometimes that word or thought changes mid-stream. It’s almost like somehow the word goes through some type of “parsing system” before it’s allowed out as a verbalization, and if my brain thinks the word might come out stuttered, something different comes out.

This is certainly not a new phenomena for me. As a seasoned stutterer who was extremely covert, I was always very conscious of word switching. I was afraid of stuttering and being judged or laughed at, or both. So I spent a lot of time anticipating what I might say that might come out stuttered, and I would intentionally switch the word. Or more than word. And as I’ve shared in different forums, the switched words didn’t always make sense in the context of what I was trying to express. But oddly, I was OK with sounding scattered or nonsensical, as long as it came out fluent.

What I remember most about word switching then as a covert stutterer was the reasoned choice I was making. I chose words that I believed I would say fluently, to save myself from embarrassment or the pain of being judged.

What is happening now, from time to time, is that I notice that a word or group of words comes out differently than how I thought it. I’ve never been aware of this quite happening before. I am not rehearsing before I speak so as to not stutter, but instead, almost reflexively, the word(s) are not the same as I thought them.

I am always fluent in my head. I am not always fluent when I speak. These days, I am quite fine with that. I’ve grown to accept and even respect that I talk differently than the norm sometimes. It doesn’t bother me.

But maybe it does, on a deeper, unconscious level. I have been very aware of this from time to time. Somewhere in the milliseconds it takes for a thought to become a spoken word, something changes. I can almost visualize my brain having the word “pass through” a system that deems it OK for the word to come out.

It kind of reminds me of the game that used to be on “The Price Is Right,” an old game show from the past. A chip or marble is let loose and what you think might just be a straight line trajectory actually veers off and goes a slightly different way, and comes out at the bottom. That’s what I have been sort of visualizing lately when I notice that my spoken words do not match my “thought words.” The new word that lands on the bottom gets higher points than the original stuttered word might have.

I wonder why this is happening now, 10+ years since I’ve actively stopped trying to not stutter. There must be a lot of chaos going on upstairs, given that I am seeing this quite clearly and the words don’t always match.

I am not worried about this at all – just being mindful that this is happening.

Has anyone else experienced this?


Podcasts, Posts, Videos

Glad you're stopping by!

  • 623,539 visits

Monthly Archives!

Copyright Notice

© 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.
Follow Make Room For The Stuttering on WordPress.com