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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?

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.

 

 

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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.

warrior not worrierIt’s that time of year again and I find myself making tons of presentations to high school kids. Right at the beginning of the year, I start off with presentations on sexual harassment prevention to every student in our building, plus four remote sites.

So, I am doing about four 40 minute presentations a day that cover what sexual harassment is and isn’t and also discuss and explain tolerance and respect of differences to ensure we have a school environment free of bullying and discrimination.

It’s a lot to cover and not particularly easy topics to discuss with high school age kids. Talking about anything sexual gets major giggles going and red faces, but for the most part, they go well. It’s amazing – when I feel confident and on top of things, the talks go exquisitely. Everything just flows, I get the kids involved by asking questions and it generally becomes conversational, instead of me standing in front and “lecturing at them,” which I hate and I am sure the kids do even more.

I had an interesting conversation with my friend Annie about this just the other day. I confided in her that I always find this time of year, and these presentations, really stressful. They shouldn’t be at all – I am so good at these now after years of doing them that I can just talk and don’t really even need notes or cues.

But I always worry about what will happen when I stutter and someone notices and laughs. Annie wanted to know why I just didn’t relieve myself of that stress by simply starting off each presentation with a quick “disclaimer” that I stutter and get it out there. I’ve talked about this here before over the years. I never know if I should really do that because I’m afraid of drawing attention to me and away from the topic at hand. I’m not there to talk to the kids about stuttering and I always worry (quite obsessively) about how that will go over.

So I usually don’t disclose or advertise that I stutter at the beginning of my talks. I “hope” that I’ll be largely fluent and that it won’t come up and I won’t have to deal with it. Not the best plan, because then I need to be prepared for addressing reactions when I do have a big juicy block or long repetition in the middle of a sentence. When that happens, I figure I’ll deal with it then.

I would never take this approach with adults. I am totally comfortable letting adults know at the onset of a presentation that I stutter and that I’m OK with it and hope they will be too. But there’s just something about the kids that makes me feel more anxious about turning this talk around and making it about me.

So far, my first four talks yesterday went well – really well, in fact. The kids were super engaged, interacted, asked lots of questions and we had a good conversation in all four classes about current events, like the #MeToo movement.

Maybe I just worry too much.


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© Pamela A Mertz and Make Room For The Stuttering, 2009 - 2019. 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 2019.
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