Make Room For The Stuttering

I just recently had the below post published as an article on The Mighty, which is a site that features stories about all kinds of disabilities and differences. I am pleased to have my writing featured on another site, as hopefully it will raise awareness about stuttering to people who don’t stutter. You can see the article here, titled “Why It’s Important To hear Other People Who Sound Like Me.”

For the longest time, I hated the sound of stuttering. I hated to hear myself stutter. I thought I sounded choppy and unnatural, and always imagined the bad things a listener was thinking about me. I hated to have to leave a voicemail, as I didn’t want someone to have a recording of me stuttering. And I hated to have to record my own outgoing voicemail message. I remember re-recording my voicemail message about 20 times until it was perfect, without one syllable of stuttered speech.

I did not want to hear other people who stuttered because it reminded me of me and how I sounded.

I hated to hear characters who stuttered in movies. I remember getting red-faced and cringing when I heard the stuttering lawyer in the movie “My Cousin Vinny.” The character seemed to be created to get a laugh and it was a demeaning and demoralizing role. I did not identify with this character, nor the characters in “Primal Fear” and “A Fish Called Wanda.”

But when the movie “The King’s Speech” came along in 2010, I felt a little differently. By then, I had come out of the covert closet and stuttering openly. I was OK with it. I was actually kind of proud to hear a main character in a movie who stuttered realistically and wasn’t solely there for comic relief. I could relate to the stuttering in this movie, even though it was a male (as have been most of the characters who stutter in movies).

Something was changing within me. I was reaching the point where I enjoyed the sounds of stuttering. In 2010, I started a podcast called “Women Who Stutter: Our Stories.” I created this to give women who stutter a place to share their story and hear other women who sound like them stuttering naturally and openly. I made it a goal to interview women from all over the world, and have so far spoken with women who stutter from 32 different countries.

I like hearing the stuttering with different accents. I like hearing the cadence of a woman’s voice that stutters. I like how I sound on the podcast – something I never believed would be possible. How could I like something I had so vehemently hated for such a long time?

I have heard from friends that have heard me on the podcasts that I have a “radio voice.” Me, who stutters, actually has a nice voice. They’ve said it’s easy to listen to, even with the stuttering.

I have heard from listeners to the podcast that many feel grateful to listen to other women who stutter because it helps them feel less isolated. Stuttering can be lonely, especially when you don’t know someone else in person who stutters. That was me until about 10 years ago. I had never met another person who sounded like me. I grew up thinking I was the only one who stuttered and spoke with broken speech.

I just recently returned from the annual conference of the National Stuttering Association, which was held in Atlanta in early July. There were over 800 people who stuttered at the conference, from all walks of life and different parts of the world. The event was a joint venture with the International Stuttering Association. During the day at workshops and at night in the hotel lobby, I heard so many stuttered voices blending together into a wonderful symphony of sounds. It was music to my ears.

Finally, I have realized I like the sound of stuttering. It reminds me of me, that I am not alone and together our voices are strong.

PamEpisode 161 features Lynne Mackie, who hails from Edinburgh, Scotland. She presently resides in Newcastle, England where she is doing an internship for a mobile application for people who stutter. Lynne is a student who is finishing up her Master’s degree in Information and Library Studies. She also loves drama and all sorts of media.

Listen in as we talk about advertising, covert stuttering, taking strength from other people, the recent joint NSA/ISA conference and so much more.

Lynne talks about how successful advertising has been for her in university and with friends. She talks about letting listeners know what she prefers, and that what she says will be worth the wait.

We talk about the situation for people who stammer in Scotland and the rather new Scottish Stammering Network, of which Lynne is Vice Chair. Lynne also runs the Edinburgh support group.

Lynne applied for an internship for people with disabilities. She learned that Newcastle University had wanted to develop a mobile app for people with speech impediments and Lynne was asked to head up the research into the app for stammering. The goal of the app is to help people boost their confidence in everyday speaking situations.

We wrap up this great conversation talking about Lynne’s experience at the recent conference. Music used in today’s episode is credited to ccMixter.

I have recently listened to podcasts (besides my own, who knew?) where people have suggested that we can have fun with our stuttering. Micheal Kidd-Gilchrist, a NBA basketball player with the Charlotte Hornets, was recently on a sports podcast where he talked about having fun with his stuttering.

And Chris Constantino, a host with the StutterTalk podcast recently talked about having fun with our stuttering and seeing if we could make stuttering a pleasurable experience.

I have thought of stuttering in terms of making it a positive rather than a negative – “I’m stuttering well today” – but have never really thought about how it can be fun or pleasurable. That takes re-framing from a negative to a positive to a whole new place. A place that many people may not be at in their journey with stuttering.

I brought this idea of having fun with stuttering up at a recent discussion on Stutter Social. It was met with mixed results. Some people were intrigued by the novelty of the concept, as it really is the opposite of what people think about stuttering. One person was willing to explore out loud what it’s like when he makes fun of his stuttering. He mentioned that when he reaches that point, that he can poke fun at his stuttering, then he might not really stutter anymore.

Several people indicated that they could not imagine at all having fun with stuttering. They mentioned the negativity they feel when they stutter and how they wind up feeling depressed during and after long periods of stuttering.

I have been more conscious lately of smiling when I am in a stuttered moment. Whether it be a string of repetitions or a block, I try to remember to smile while I am stuttering. That may not be the same as having fun with it, but it makes me feel better to smile during the moment and I’m pretty sure it helps the listener to remain comfortable and present until I finish.

I am going to challenge myself to play with my stuttering and see what happens when I think about how the repetitions feel as they roll off my tongue and what the sensation of the block feels like. I am far from feeling that getting stuck in a block can be pleasurable, but I get where Constantino is coming from. Anything that we produce – and we produce sounds and words – should be valued as ours, as creative, as something positive.

What do you think of this idea of having fun with your stuttering? What does it feel like when you block? Can you make that a pleasurable experience?

I participated in a great conversation yesterday with people who stutter from around the world, in a Stutter Social group video chat. The discussion started out with one person asking for tips about giving presentations. He had one coming up at school and was nervous that his stuttering would interfere with his ability to do a good job.

Several people offered suggestions, such as practicing, trying not to read verbatim from notes and advertising that you stutter before beginning the presentation. One person suggested that he try and be as fluent as possible. He talked about practicing speech techniques daily in order to achieve fluent speech.

I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to chime in that I thought this was an unrealistic goal. People who stutter are going to stutter and we should not strive for fluency. In my opinion, that often results in feelings of disappointment and failure, which just exasperates our stuttering.

Instead, I suggested that we aim for being fluid while communicating. Being fluid can be described as having or showing a smooth and easy style. That’s what I shoot for when I am giving presentations.

My years of Toastmasters training helped me build excellent speaking skills, which I use every day. I’ve grown comfortable with eye contact, gesturing, vocal variety, and speaking without using notes. I became a much more fluid speaker when I began to focus on what I was saying and trying to convey. In other words, I wasn’t trying to be perfectly fluent.

I am a more natural and comfortable speaker when I move easily from topic to topic with good transitions and flow. I am more fluid when I am very comfortable with what I am talking about so that I don’t need to use notes.

You can stutter and be a very effective communicator. Stuttering doesn’t have to interfere with the message you are conveying. As the name of this blog implies, you can make room for the stuttering by being fluid, going with the flow, being comfortable when speaking and enjoying the experience.

Making room for the stuttering will help lessen any anxiety you have about trying to be perfectly fluent. That’s just not going to happen for people who stutter.

 

PamEpisode 160 features Bailey Palmer, who hails from Port Orange, Florida. Bailey is 22 years old and is going to college to become an elementary special education teacher. She also plays tennis (and is quite good!) and has a mirror image identical twin, who doesn’t stutter.

Listen in as we discuss how tennis has really helped Bailey with her stuttering. In college, being part of a team has made it easier for her with regard to advertising. She already has friends who accept her. And tennis always gave Bailey a sense of control that that she didn’t feel she had with her stuttering.

We also discuss how in college Bailey is able to ask more questions, since she is in small size classes. She is able to ask her professors what they would do if they had a student who stutters in their class.

We also discuss the recent NSA conference in Atlanta, to which Bailey brought her whole family. This was so important to Bailey, to share her NSA experience with her family. She wanted her family to experience the acceptance and support of the NSA community.

She says it was quite emotional for her family and they already want to go back next year. Bailey talks about a workshop that she and her siblings did for siblings and how successful it was.

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

Six degrees of separation is the theory that everyone and everything is six or fewer steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person in the world, so that a chain of “a friend of a friend” statements can be made to connect any two people in a maximum of six steps.

I think the same theory exists in the stuttering community. Last week, I had the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people from all over the world at the joint conference of the National Stuttering Association (NSA) and the International Stuttering Association (ISA) in Atlanta, Georgia.

I did not get a chance to meet everyone I wanted to at the conference, but I feel I am just one introduction away from meeting those who I didn’t. I met Keisuke from Japan and he introduced me to another friend of his from Japan. Keisuke and I will work together on the board of the ISA and will likely really get to know one another. We had some trouble communicating because his English is not strong but we are connected through stuttering.

I met Bruce and John from Australia and felt an instant connection with both of them. We talked and laughed like we were old friends, but in fact we had just met. And it was great to meet Cameron, also from Australia. He is the author of the book, “First Person Shooter,” which I read and reviewed for this blog several months ago. When I finally met Cameron, I felt like I already knew him.

I have been in contact with Nancy from Western Australia who was going to come to the conference but her plans changed at the last minute. We had a chance to meet last night through Stutter Social – for the first time, she joined in the group video chat and we finally met and talked, and again, I felt like I’d already been connected to her.

It’s funny how connected we all are in the stuttering community. Technology has allowed our worlds to become much smaller and we connect through social media and Skype and Google Hangouts and it feels like we already know each other.

I can’t wait to continue to be introduced to more and more members of the community and share our similar stories. It is special to be so inter-connected with people world wide.

communitySeth Godin in his book “Tribes” writes:

“A tribe is any group of people, large or small, who are connected to one another, a leader, and an idea. For millions of years, humans have been seeking out tribes, be they religious, ethnic, economic, political, or even musical (think of the Deadheads). It’s our nature.”

People who stutter are connected. That is never more evident than at a stuttering conference.

I just returned from the National Stuttering Association‘s 33rd annual conference, which was held this year in Atlanta, Georgia. The conference was held jointly with the International Stuttering Association‘s World Congress For People Who Stutter, so there were people at the conference from all corners of the world. We came together 825 people strong to celebrate the connection that we have with each other – stuttering.

First timers to the conference and veterans alike all feel an instant connection when they meet someone else who stutters. We feel an incredible sense of community, empathy, freedom and vulnerability. Sharing these feelings and connections together makes us a tribe, at least as far as I’m concerned. And I like being a part of this tribe.

I feel full and whole when I am with other people who stutter. I feel gratitude when other people “get me” without me having to fully explain myself or how I feel about stuttering. A new friend I met at the conference, Dustin, put it quite simply and well: “I’ve never felt more human.”

This was my 11th consecutive conference and I felt the same emotions and sense of family that I did at my very first conference in 2006. I  met a lot of first timers this year, who got to experience the life changing impact that being part of a tribe, or community, has on us. I heard first timers comment that they felt instantly loved and connected upon entering the mix.

And I heard veterans reflect on how amazing it is to catch up with old friends and meet new ones as well. I seized that opportunity – I hung out with friends from previous conferences but also made it a point to meet and interact with as many new people as I could. It was so gratifying to meet people in person that I’d already “met” online in the many stuttering communities, which are also our tribes.

I am at my best when I am with my stuttering community. I feel the sense of belonging and wholeness that I don’t feel in other parts of my life.

The workshops, keynote speakers, and conversations in the hotel lobby and bar, and over dinner, were priceless. But more so was just the general sense of community and being with my tribe. That sense of community was palpable and hung in the air.

It was a great conference. I feel a little “let down” now that I’m home but writing and reflecting always helps me, as does carrying my tribe in my heart.

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© Pamela A Mertz and Make Room For The Stuttering, 2009 - 2016. 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 2016.