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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 living today has ever experienced 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?

Over the last few days, I have been thinking and talking a lot about stuttering. That’s not all I do – Eat, Sleep and Dream stuttering.

I need to acknowledge this which is true. I have been home everyday since losing my full time professional job in June. So, it’s been more than 5 months that I haven’t had any kind of typical day; no coworkers to catch up with on Monday; no students to give the look and ask to remove their hats.

Yep, suffice it to say, I have been isolated and find myself staying in 3-4 days a week. Not going out to drive to work, making errands on the way, and no “happy feet” dance on Fridays, when all of our feet were trying to leave a few minutes before our regular time, when the bells would ring 4:30 pm and we’re on the run to our cars.

Now, with talking to only a few people for a few minutes a week, I haven’t been able to have conversations often. So, when I do, I’m struggling a little more because I just haven’t talked to enough people today.

So how does all of this pertain to the title, “The Essence of Stuttering.” I’m titling this piece such because I have thought about what the true essence of stuttering really is. For me, the essence of stuttering is “what’s left unsaid.” We, me, people who stutter feel emotional and physical signs of struggle – our faces flush, our chest tightens, we squeeze one or both eyes shut while talking/stuttering because it seems that might loosen the words to fly out.

In addition to those physical feelings, we have the emotions: shame, guilt, fear, helplessness, self loathing.

I spoke with someone last week in a video chat and we were discussing anything positive that has come out of stuttering. We wanted to have a short list of attributes and assets that validate the reasons why companies should hire people who stutter.

We shifted so far from that conversation, that it became something else. We acknowledged that having dealt with stuttering and false assumptions for so long, some may think that since we have stuttering superpowers, we should always get the job or promotion.

Nah! What my friend and I came up with is this:

People who stutter have many strong workplace aptitudes, such as strong listening skills, the ability to be empathetic, always over prepared. But the thing with this is – there are thousands of fluent people out there with those same skills. Having those attributes is great for any employee hoping to be the next hire. But we who stutter want the world to see that aside from stuttering, we have all of those other traits too. The difference is with the “false assumption cloud” hanging so close, it clouds our ability to see the skills the candidates have, both the persons who stutters and those who don’t.

If an employer can see past the stuttering and look for the strengths that person brings (whether they are the stutterer or the fluent) then we will have captured the “essence of stuttering.”

Not long after this conversation and encounter, I happened to get an email from good friend Barry, who penned a stellar article about stuttering, published in The Baffler. Read his article here. His article also sums up the true essence of stuttering.

Even though I really think every day is our day!

IMG_1332

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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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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