Make Room For The Stuttering

Episode 212 features Michele Delo, who hails from Buffalo, New York. Michele recently graduated with a degree in Dietetics and Nutrition and is preparing for her exam to be a registered dietitian. One of her goals is to do clinical nutrition to perhaps include diabetes education.

Michele is a a co-chapter leader for the National Stuttering Association in Buffalo. She shares that taking on this role has really helped her with leadership and public speaking skills.

Listen in as we chat about advertising and how she had been a covert stutterer. Michele describes using a higher pitch when speaking, which helps her be more fluent and also more peppy and chipper when she is interacting with patients. I shared how altering pitch has also helped me, and is a skill I learned in Toastmasters. People who stutter who have chosen acting as a career also have noted success when using pitch and vocal variety to help be more fluent.

This was a great conversation with a young woman who owns her uniqueness and encourages other women to do the same.

The musical clip used today is credited to ccMixter.

Editors note: Again I had some trouble removing background static and feedback. Sue me! I’m still an amateur. 🙂

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!

Episode 211 features Jazmynn Davis, who hails from Maumelle, Arkansas. Jazmynn is a licensed dental assistant, a Regional Chapter Coordinator with the National Stuttering Association and is actively involved in the world of beauty pageantry.

Listen in as Jazmynn talks about interacting with patients and peers and how she handles her stuttering. She also shares how she has made stuttering awareness her platform when competing in beauty pageants. Jazmynn gives us a primer on pageant protocol and explains how it’s not just beauty but all aspects of a woman’s life. We talk about how well prepared for public speaking one becomes after participating in on stage interviews that are timed and judged.

Jazmynn has also used this platform to mentor and coach girls and young women interested in competing in the pageant world.

Music used in today’s episode is credited to ccMixter. Editors note: There are a few areas of background static that I was unable to edit out. Sorry!

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?

Episode 210 features Dana Koprowski, who hails from the Chicago suburbs. Dana is a newly promoted Director of a large child care center. She keeps busy as a Family Chapter Leader for the National Stuttering Association and has also taken on the coordinator role of a new NSA mentoring program called Generations.

Dana was a guest last summer, soon after returning from her first NSA conference. In episode 182, Dana talks about having finally found her tribe. I was interested in chatting again with Dana because I have witnessed the dramatic changes she has experienced in such a short time. She is a completely different person from the one I met not quite two years ago. She has also shared her story on the NSA Career Success profiles, something the “old Dana” would never have done.

Listen in as we chat about all the “firsts” Dana has celebrated and how she is proud of herself in becoming the person she believes she is meant to be. Dana feels she has found true purpose in combining her love of children with promoting acceptance. “It’s OK to feel what you feel,” Dana says and describes how meaningful it has been to connect young people with mentors that will help them feel OK and feel hopeful for the future.

This was such an important conversation that truly illustrates the power of mentoring. 

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

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.

Episode 209 features Phyllis Edwards who hails from New Zealand. Phyllis shares that she is 66 years young and has finally felt empowered to tell her story. I “met” Phyllis through her amazing contribution on the 2019 ISAD online conference. Phyllis has a supportive husband and children and works in an early childhood center, with 2-5 year old children.

Phyllis only discovered the stammering community about 18 months ago when she searched the internet about stammering and then found herself attending two conferences in different parts of the world, the BSA conference in 2018 in Cardiff, Wales and the World Congress in Iceland this past June 2019. To say that magic has happened in Phyllis’s life is really an understatement.

Listen in to this conversation, so full of emotion, from being a bit choked up to laughing quite freely, about a topic that Phyllis never dreamed she’d be so open about. Phyllis shares how her husband and children helped to make conference attendance a reality.

Part of Phyllis’s story that we as women who stutter can probably all relate to is that we have something in us – a seed – that makes us stronger, and it takes each individual to find that exact right time to be open to and embrace that we are worthy, stammering and all.

Phyllis believes it is time to pay it forward, and talks about how it “takes a village” to own our stammering.

I am glad I am a small part of Phyllis’s village.

Even though I really think every day is our day!

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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.

Episode 208 features Kelsey Hoff, who presently hails from Amman, Jordan. Kelsey is a return guest, from this episode of eight years ago, where Kelsey talked about living her passion. Now, eight later, she is sure living her passion. Today, Kelsey is married, speaks fluent Arabic and has a multi-cultural private therapy practice.

Listen in as we discuss experiences Kelsey has had coming to terms with stuttering in English versus Arabic. She has had to circle back to what acceptance means re: stuttering because she had reached that point in English but old feelings of inadequacy resurfaced when she stuttered more in Arabic.

Kelsey also shared the critical importance of “owning and knowing your story” in order to portray your true self to the world. Here, she talks about experiencing a bit of “impostor syndrome” when she felt she wasn’t good enough to be a professional who stutters.

And we dive into psychology and what being a counselor who stutters has brought to the counseling space. Kelsey shares that she is comfortable sitting with people in their pain and “holding that space.” Kelsey talks about how she has reached the place where she knows she offers a presence and words that are meaningful.

She chooses every word and nothing is wasted, not even silence. She recalls feeling at times that her lack of words (because of stuttering) was a waste and she now revels in feeling liberated because she IS enough.

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

I had a wonderful conversation last week with a woman who stutters who will be featured on this week’s episode of the podcast Women Who Stutter: Our Stories.

We spoke about how important it is to own our story and be comfortable with all of it. That is the primary reason why I started the podcast, to give women who stutter a space to share their stories, because we all have one.

We talked about how sometimes we can feel so diminished when someone mentions, “Oh, you don’t really stutter,” or “I can hardly tell you stutter.” It brought back memories of a time where I found myself telling someone, “Yes, I really do stutter, honest I do!” It felt like yesterday, that feeling of having to defend that part of me. Why in the world would someone need to convince someone that they really stutter? You’d think there would surely be more important things we’d want to defend, like honor, integrity, reputation.

As I thought about this, I realized anew that my integrity and reputation is based on the very fact that I honor my story and don’t shirk from it, that my experiences with stuttering have greatly shaped and informed the person I am today.

People don’t really know me unless they know my story. How can you possibly know someone when you don’t (or won’t take the time to understand) the life cycle of all that was grappled with, reconciled and is now proudly owned as part of me?

All of us have a story, a legacy that will live on after we are gone. I want people to remember me, not just for something I did, but for who I was as a person.

What about you? What’s your story? What do you want, need, for others to know about you? What do you hope for in your legacy?

 

 

Episode 207 features Rivky Susskind, who hails from Brooklyn, NY. Rivky is a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) who recently has decided to open her own private practice to help clients who stutter. Rivky also loves music, singing and writing.

Rivky has immediate and extended family that also stutter so it was “almost normal” that she stuttered, yet feelings about stuttering were never talked about. Rivky describes the shame she grew up with and the “mountain of shame” she finally confronted when she was ready. She mentions always hoping that someone would find out she stuttered so she could be “fixed” and then help “cure” others. As you’ll learn from listening, that’s not what happened.

Listen in as we discuss covert stuttering, change versus acceptance, the incredible power of community and meeting others who stutter and the “legacy” Rivky hopes to leave.

The music used in this episode is credited to ccMixter.

PamEpisode 206 features Isabell Rennie, who hails from Provo, Utah. Isabell is 24 years old and a recent college graduate. She has a degree in Wildlife and Wild Lands Conservation and is figuring out her career path. She loves animals and loves to teach so it’s highly likely that’s where she’ll find herself.

Isabell is active in the stuttering community. She co-leads the Provo chapter of the National Stuttering Association and has worked as a Counselor at Camp SAY for two summers.

Listen in as we talk about what happened when Isabell finally addressed the “volcano of feelings” she had but never talked about. She is learning to love this part of herself. Stuttering has made her a better person and helps her treat people the way she wants to be treated. Isabell feels more equipped to handle hurt feelings. She said something that really resonated with me: “Be loud and be in charge of how people treat you.”

We also chat about how incredibly important it has been to find the stuttering community. Her advice to young women just starting out on the stuttering journey? “It’s OK to take your time to get there.”

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

 

On Friday, I went for the third year in a row to help with a collaborative mock interview event held at Goldman Sach’s NYC office. Employees from Goldman Sachs volunteered to help people who stutter practice interview skills in a stutter friendly environment that simulated real interviews.

A small team of people who stutter educated the volunteers who were spending their day learning about stuttering and how effective communication is not attributed to fluent speech.

I knew several of the volunteers as they’ve participated in each event, and they remembered me. Several indicated that this day has been very meaningful and helped them realize this is a way to “give back” and help job seekers in a very tangible way.

It was hugs all around when I arrived and greeted these who are now friends.

It is so empowering to share stories of stuttering and vulnerability to people who don’t share that experience and see the power of authenticity.

One guy came and spoke with me and shared that he vividly remembers when I participated in the first event in 2017. He said he was mesmerized by my story and how I commanded the room when speaking. We talked about how he raised his hand and shared with his colleagues for the first time ever that he also stutters and had always hid it. That was a powerful moment for him.

And it was an extremely powerful moment for me when I saw him on the diversity and inclusion panel at the end of the day. He shared his story of how much easier it’s been for him to build relationships with colleagues because he’s no longer covering up such an integral part of his self.

Honesty and authenticity fosters deeper relationships, which in turn increases productivity and team work.

What an exciting, life changing experience this has come to be and not just for those who stutter.

Everyone benefits when everyone can feel free to be true to themselves in the workplace, the place where most adults spend most of their time.

 

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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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