Make Room For The Stuttering

We hear so much about acceptance in the stuttering community. It is important that we accept ourselves, perceived flaws and all, if we want others to accept us as we are.

Acceptance is one of humanity’s most basic needs. If you think back to psychology courses you took, you’ll likely remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Love and belonging (or acceptance) is right smack in the middle of the needs that all human beings need in order to lead a fulfilled life.

It takes courage to accept acceptance into our lives. We live in a society where we are constantly bombarded by media images of perfection and many of us hold ourselves up to those images, aspiring to achieve goals that may never be achieved.

To truly accept yourself, you must have the courage to present yourself to the world as is and be proud of who you are.

People who stutter often have tremendous difficulty with acceptance. We feel different, we sound different, we are different. There are very few role models for us who stutter openly in the media. What images we have of stuttering in the media are often infused with negativity or comedy.

So it’s no wonder we might struggle with accepting acceptance. It’s not something that comes easily and for some people who stutter, they may never fully accept acceptance. They may strive for fluency and constantly be on the lookout for the next greatest program, therapy or medication that promises to eliminate stuttering. They want to live up to those media images of perfection, where no one stutters.

Accepting acceptance doesn’t mean that we can’t still explore ways to manage or improve our speech. We may be interested in stuttering more comfortably and with less tension. That’s not a sell out to acceptance. It just means that we want to be the best that we can be with what we have.

It took me years to allow acceptance into my life. I was ashamed of stuttering for so long, because of all of the negative external messages that I internalized. For me, it was and still is a journey. Shame still creeps in occasionally and it’s in those moments that I actively remind myself that I am good, that I am whole, that my difference is OK and that I am enough. I think when I do that, I’m accepting acceptance.

What do you think of accepting acceptance? Have you?

 

 

 

 

PamEpisode 157 features Haley Mitchem who hails from Alexandria, Virginia. Haley is a Human Resources Manager for a federal contractor. She is also an avid soccer fan and player, playing on a couple of co-ed soccer teams.

We start out our conversation talking about soccer and how she manages her stuttering on the field. She says she is pretty vocal when playing and sometimes when she stutters, by the time she gets the word out, the play is over already! Haley takes this in stride as part of stuttering.

We also talk about her professional work and how she got into HR. Listen in as Haley describes how she actually stumbled into the field. But she definitely doesn’t stumble when at work – she doesn’t let her stuttering hold her back.

And listen as we discuss the transition Haley feels she has made regarding her stuttering, advertising stuttering and her participation in avoidance reduction therapy.

We wrap up this fantastic episode talking about stuttering as a disability and Haley offers advice from her unique perspective as both a person who stutters and a HR professional to job seekers.

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

 

What goes through your head during that space between words when you are stuttering? You know what I mean, that often long pause that creates space between two words while you are having a block.

Is it something that you think about? I have. Not often because my blocks aren’t too long, but every once in a while I get one that seems long and definitely creates that space.

I often feel anxious, as it isn’t natural to have long pauses between words. Even when that is done intently by a speaker for emphasis, that space is often not as long as one created by a stutterer.

Sometimes I think to myself, “Oh no, not now.” Or I think, “What are they thinking?” I try to re-frame my thoughts and sometimes think, “Oh good, a moment to catch my breath.” Especially when I am presenting, I can use that space to compose myself and prepare for the fluent word that inevitably comes after the space.

Fluent people probably never give this a thought.

note-to-self-breatheIt always surprises me to hear one person who stutters advise another person who stutters to remember to breathe when facing a stressful speaking situation. It’s not something like remembering to turn off the coffee pot before leaving the house. For that, you have to consciously focus on the act of walking over to the coffee pot and powering it off.

Breathing isn’t like that. There’s isn’t an “on-off” switch that we need to remember to push. It’s not mechanical. Breathing comes automatically. We do not think about doing it. We just do it. Like the Nike slogan. The human body comes equipped with the innate ability to do that which keeps us alive. Unless of course we are injured or gravely ill and mechanical breathing is indeed needed for breathing.

So why then do we often hear people reminding us to breathe? I often get annoyed when people who don’t stutter offer me that advice. Like I have a choice. Like there is a button to push. As if “just breathing” was enough to stop stuttering.

It’s not that easy. Stuttering is a neurologically influenced disorder which interrupts the normal flow of speech. Breathing, which we already do without thinking about it, does not improve our stuttering.

I see and hear this a lot in the stuttering community. Someone will post on a forum that they are nervous about an upcoming job interview and ask for advice. Inevitably, someone will write, “remember to breathe.” That thought doesn’t enter my mind when I am faced with a challenging speaking situation. I am usually thinking about a strategy I can use to lessen repetitions or to get out of a block. Breathing isn’t a trick to pull out of the speech tool bag.

Why do you suppose people who stutter offer this advice to other people who stutter? Is it because they can’t think of anything else?

 

I came across this great phrase “living out loud” in a post I referenced on Facebook four years ago. It popped up in my memories section of Facebook today.

The article was about a high school senior who was going to give opening remarks to 2500 people at his graduation. He stutters and wasn’t letting anything stand in his way.

The headline of the article read “Tenacious grad doesn’t let fear stop him from living out loud.” I remember thinking how much I liked that phrase, particularly about someone who stutters.

How many of us have lived silently, below the radar, taking a backseat at school or work because of our stutter? How many of us have let fear of possible negative social reaction hold us back from doing something we really want to do? How many of us have been told we couldn’t do something because we stutter and we believed that and took it to heart?

I did all of those things for a long time when I tried, unsuccessfully, to hide my stuttering. I let people’s negative reactions affect the way I thought about myself and purposely chose to stay in the background. I thought that was safer and I wouldn’t be subjected to other people’s ridicule or negative beliefs about me.

But it wasn’t safer. I was compromising my self respect and authenticity by pretending I didn’t want to be involved in life’s moments. I desperately wanted to be involved. I had a voice and it yearned to be heard, repetitions, shakes and all.

I wasted many years being silent and pretending that I was OK with that. Over the last nine years, I have made up for lost time. I let my voice be heard. I don’t let anyone silence me. I don’t choose silence. I am living out loud and letting people hear my unique voice.

I challenge you to do the same. Let your voice be heard. Take a chance and say yes when someone asks you to do a talk or presentation or participate in a conference call. Go on job interviews with the confidence that you’ll be memorable and that people value your abilities. Talk to your child’s teachers, make your own phone calls and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do anything because of your speech.

Live Out Loud.

 

PamEpisode 156 features Elizabeth Wislar who hails from Chicago, IL and now lives in Athens, Georgia. Elizabeth is a teacher of students with disabilities, is mom to amazing daughter Clare and is really into fitness.

Elizabeth has been teaching for 17 years and prior to this year, had been in denial and covert about her stuttering. This year has been her coming out year, as you’ll learn from listening to her story. Knowing another teacher who stutters and asking her students to embrace disabilities was the catalyst Elizabeth needed to come out of the covert closet.

Listen is as Elizabeth talks about introducing her class to Nina G, a comedian who stutters and also has learning disabilities. Nina spoke to Elizabeth’s class via video and the class also used Nina’s book, “Once Upon An Accommodation.”

We also talk about the relief Elizabeth feels from finally being open about stuttering, her father’s stuttering and the concept of stuttering being a disability. Elizabeth is going to be a co-leader for a new NSA chapter in Athens and will be attending her first NSA conference this July.

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

 

For years, I believed that stuttering could not be used in the same sentence as effective communicator. The two did not equate. Stuttering to communication was like a bull in a china closet – not going to work.

But ever since I joined Toastmasters and practiced public speaking and realized that I could communicate effectively, things changed. I began to believe in myself as a communicator and others did too. I’ve been asked to speak to many groups about my stuttering journey, something I never imagined myself doing when I was younger.

Last week, I had the opportunity to speak to a high school science class about the neurobiology of stuttering.The students were a great audience and asked thoughtful questions. They also provided me with great feedback.

These are just a few of the comments students emailed me the day after the presentation:

“Listening to you speak was amazing. You’re so confident and knowledgeable on the topic and it was truly inspirational.”

“Your ability to conquer your fear of stuttering was inspiring. I wish I had your amazing communication skills.”

“I truly admire the courage it took for you to present to us! You are an inspiration and I hope you know what a great communicator you are!”

It was so gratifying to talk to these kids and have them share that they think someone who stutters can still be a great communicator.

We CAN be great communicators. Remember, there is so much more to effective communication than being fluent. Speaking regularly and getting feedback proves that.

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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.
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