Make Room For The Stuttering

Posts Tagged ‘acceptance of stuttering

Episode 224 features Gim Dhee who hails from Sri Lanka. Gim always saw challenges as opportunities and tried to push boundaries to achieve her dream goals. Gim is working in neurology and wishes this to be her specialty as she hopes to one day help with the causes and treatments for stammering.

Listen in as Gim shares her journey of fear and shame, and how she managed stammering. She tells us that being extremely focused on her work helps because then stammering is not so much an issue.

Gim also shares that stammering is quite stigmatized in Sri Lanka, mostly due to preconceived notions. She says raising awareness is critical in under resourced countries and she hopes to inspire others to not limit themselves.

Gim talks about her experiences with the McGuire Program which provided her with tools to combat both the physical and psychological elements of stammering.

I asked what message does she wish to share about stammering. Gim wants parents to know that they should accept their child who stammers as they are, so kids who stammer will have an easier time growing up.

This was such an inspiring conversation.

I wrote this paper for this year’s International Stuttering Awareness Day online conference.

I’d love your thoughts and feedback.

“She stood in the storm and when the wind did not blow her way, she adjusted her sails.” (Elizabeth Edwards)

I love this quote above. It gets to the very core of resilience. For a long time, I allowed stuttering, which I perceived as a flaw, to hold me down and prevent me from living my best life. I did not think it was possible for a stutterer to live a life of meaning and purpose. I was so smothered in shame that I never even considered that I could do something about shame, that I could get up when knocked down.

I was knocked down a lot due to stuttering. I remember times I was laughed at, mocked, dismissed, and excluded. I remember how I reacted when these things happened. I cried and ran away, careful to not let others see how much it affected me. 

Stuttering began taking control of me in many ways that I was not consciously aware of. I did not raise my hand, volunteer to speak or even allow myself to be out front. I always hid in a corner, sat at the back of class, and avoided eye contact so that I would not be called on to speak. I had convinced myself that when I spoke, people would laugh and not take me seriously. It took me a long time to realize that I was the one leading the shame parade.

I have shared my story of hiding my stuttering many times. I have written articles for past online conferences such as this, I have made videos, I host a podcast about stuttering, and I have blogged about stuttering for more than 10 years. But it took me a long time to get to this point where I now willingly share my story and stutter openly.

I had a pivotal event in my life that paved the way for me to stop automatically equating stuttering with something bad, or believing that I was bad, flawed, or imperfect. Prior to this event, I did not know what resilience was.

I was fired from a long-held job because of stuttering in 2006. As you can imagine, that rocked my world. It was such a blow to my identity and self-esteem, for I had carefully constructed myself as someone who did not stutter, even though I do. I had successfully hidden my stuttering for so long that not many people in my world knew that I stuttered. 

In the process of crafting this “self who did not stutter,” I had unwittingly compromised my real self and tried to pretend that I was OK with being perceived as nervous, shy, quiet and a wallflower. I had created a “Fake Pam,” which I let the world see but I was totally unhappy with. 

Getting fired for stuttering was the beginning of shedding “Fake Pam” and letting “Real Pam” out. The whole process of reconciling the two vastly different versions of myself was the very definition of resilience. I just did not realize it in 2006. It took me a few years to say goodbye to “Fake Pam” and to welcome “Real Pam” to her forever home. 

Once “Real Pam” was out, there was no stopping me. Not only did I shed the fake persona, I also became real in other parts of my life. I learned that while hiding stuttering, I had also been hiding any open expression of emotions, which had suffocated me. If you have ever read the book “The Velveteen Rabbit,” you know that the stuffed rabbit became a real rabbit, which was very much like my own transformation.

Being resilient means facing pain, and choosing to walk through it, instead of around it or choosing to go down a different street. As I became real, I began to recognize powerful moments of resilience in my life. 

After getting fired, I had to go on interviews again to find a new job. I faced the fear of being judged because of stuttering by choosing to openly disclose that I stutter during interviews, for the first time ever. I quieted the inner chatter in my head that said I was not being hired because of stuttering but rather it could very well have been true that I just was not the right fit.

When I did get a job, I openly shared with supervisors and coworkers that I stutter and was still liked and accepted. I learned that I had worried about stuttering far more than anyone else did. Being real and true to myself was such a new and triumphant feeling. I wanted more of that. I wanted to take chances. I wanted to start living my best life.

I joined Toastmasters, attended stuttering support groups, and even found myself hosting a virtual stuttering support group for almost six years. I found myself doing lots of public speaking and making efforts to normalize stuttering as much as possible. I was asked often to speak to college graduate classes about covert stuttering, being asked to come back year after year by the same professors. I was afraid of rejection each time, but I persevered and let “Real Pam” come out and be heard. I liked her voice, my voice, the one that I had always thought no one could ever like because it shakes and shudders and stops and blocks. But I was at a point in my life where I could say “so what?”

I have learned that I can sail in a storm and adjust the sails to another course when I must. This is no longer fear but strength. And a belief that “I can do this.”

I have always had the resilience necessary to meet life’s challenges head on. I just did not know it for such a long time. “Real Pam” did the proper thing and introduced herself to “Fake Pam,” and “Real Pam” said “Nice to meet you, but you are not needed anymore. Get out of here.” And “Real Pam” never looked back.

 

 

 

Episode 221 features Aashka Shah, who hails from California, but is presently in Cleveland, Ohio in college studying chemical engineering. Aashka is interested in eventually attending medical school.

Aashka shares that she and her parents never made her feel that she was in any way at a disadvantage because of stuttering. As a result, Aashka had very high expectations of herself.

Aashka also talks about how she believed she was in denial for a long time, not recognizing that there were hurdles presented for her regarding things that fluent people found to be easier. She found herself having to constantly prove herself to others, and to herself.

Self actualization has to come from an internal place, not from what others say about us.

Finding the National Stuttering Association really helped Aashka get closer to acceptance and helped her become a better ally for others.

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.

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.

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.

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.

 

Episode 203 features Maryann Nelson, who hails from Spartanburg, South Carolina. Maryann is a Speech Language Pathologist who works in the schools. In high school, she wanted to become a SLP but didn’t think she could due to stuttering. It wasn’t until she found the National Stuttering Association (NSA) did she learn that it was possible.

Maryann is a leader for a family chapter of the NSA and is also very active in her church. For the last 3-4 years, she has spoken at the SC state speech and hearing association annual conference and has found much success there. She has facilitated highly attended sessions and realizes how hungry SLPs are for knowledge and information about stuttering. Maryann has been with the NSA for twelve years now and has not yet done a workshop there. She aspires to lead one in 2020.

Listen in as we discuss shame, self worth and feeling beautiful in our skin. Maryann says she felt like she was “boxed in” based on an employer’s perception of her stuttering. She grew to learn that you, we, can choose to live outside of that box. We wrap up by sharing that we have to keep talking about stuttering and moving forward.

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

nina g book coverOne of my favorite people, and repeat guest on the podcast Women Who Stutter: Our Stories, Nina G, has a book launch on August 6, just a couple days after her birthday. Genius!

I had the opportunity to read an advance copy. Actually, I read chapters of it before it was even in proper book form. Nina asked me to help proof the first few chapters. I have been salivating since, waiting to read the whole thing.

And this review is completely unbiased, despite the fact that I am mentioned in the book, not once, but twice. I won’t spoil it for you by hinting where I pop up, but I assure you, it’s one of the best stories in the book.

This is a “must read” if you stutter, care about someone who stutters or have just about any “thing” that makes you different. Because at it’s core, Stutterer Interrupted is about owning and celebrating who we are with our differences and quirks. It’s also about honoring the fact that we should do that and take up space in this conformist world of ours.

Nina’s book is a fast read. Well, for me anyway, it was. I read it all in one sitting. Rather, I inhaled it. Why? Because it’s personal and authentic and pays homage to finding ourselves. I recognized parts of me in these stories brought to life in rich, conversational bites. Each chapter is about different life experiences Nina has had, that have shaped her into the “living my dream,” “rocking my inner badass,” female stand up comedian that she is today.

Stutterer Interrupted is about reclaiming the space that we never thought we were entitled to. It’s about activism and advocacy, using humor and storytelling to reach people in authentic ways. It’s not a research paper. It’s not a peer reviewed journal article. It’s a story that has been years in the making and begged to be told.

The world needs more light shining on those differences that make us who we are and help us survive in an otherwise boring world. Nina urges us with her “in-your-face” honesty to take stock of who we are and who we want to be when we grow up. And then go get it.

Read this book. Now. It’s important.

It’s written by a woman who stutters which I kind of have a soft spot for.

 

PamEpisode 192 features 19 year old Grace McMahon who hails from Long Island, New York. Grace attends SUNY Geneseo in beautiful western New York. She is a sophomore studying psychology with the hopes of one day being a therapist or counselor.

I loved having Grace on today’s episode. I met her at my first FRIENDS conference back in 2008 when Gracie was 9 years old and it turns out that conference was Grace and her mom’s first one too. I saw Gracie grow up for the 5 years I attended FRIENDS conferences and she was a spunky, feisty 13 year old when I last saw her. I knew her as Gracie in those days.

I have followed Grace over the last few years through mom Stephanie’s updates of her superwoman daughter on Facebook. So imagine when I saw Grace herself on her video response (see below) and saw how beautiful and grown she is. It was a given that we connect so that we could catch up and Grace could share her amazing story.

Listen in as we talk about Grace’s simple message about stuttering that she hopes to share with the world, what she has learned about self-advocacy and how much happier you can be when you let go of what you hate and just accept it as a part of you that makes you “you.” Grace also comments on the notion that we have to “stop stuttering” in order to be liked, as conveyed in part in the “Steve Harvey” video below and Grace’s response video.

The whole time I was chatting with Grace I had this big grin on my face and could feel my heart swelling with so much pride, that I know her, and for what she’s doing to lead change in the stuttering community. This one will move mountains, you just wait and see.

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

 

PamEpisode 182 features Dana Koprowski, who hails from just outside of Chicago, Illinois. Dana has a background in early childhood education and presently works as a nanny for a family and their two children.

We talk about career choices, interacting with fluent people about stuttering and how for a long time, Dana didn’t really care for it – stuttering – too much.

Then things changed. In 2014, Dana Googled stuttering and came across Stutter Social. Suddenly, she was in a video chat room for the first time with other people who stutter and that changed her life.

She took a break from stuttering for a while and then rejoined the Stutter Social hangouts, where she heard people talking about the NSA annual conference. And learned it happened to be in Chicago, where she lived. Despite coming up with every excuse in the book why she couldn’t go, Dana did go to her first conference and this is her story. Told from a woman who told me she didn’t have a story.

Listen in. It’s amazing. Leave feedback. Decide for yourself if attending a stuttering conference is worth it.

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

Oh, and here’s Dana’s video she posted on YouTube that she mentions in the episode.

He-StuttersEpisode 23 of the occasional male series features Ian Mahler, who hails from Salt Lake City, Utah. Ian is married and stays busy with three girls. He is also a full-time receiving manager for a large wholesale club. Ian works long days, usually 10-11 hours a day.

Listen in to a great conversation as we discuss acceptance, mindfulness techniques, and self confidence.

One of the things Ian does to advertise that he stutters is that he adds a line in his professional email signature that he is a person who stutters. He also has a line that reads #LetMeFinish. If someone cuts him off, he always finishes talking so that the person has to hear him anyway.

We wrap up the conversation talking about resilience and empathy.

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

 

People who stutter are some of the most resilient people I know. Stuttering teaches us to brush off those moments when we’re stuttering really “well” and go right into the next speaking situation.

A friend of mine has been struggling with her stuttering lately. She has been feeling self-conscious and sort of “over thinking” the stuttering moments she has encountered. I asked her the other day what happens when she stutters – how do listeners react?

She replied that they don’t react – that they don’t seem to care. So we talked about that, why people don’t seem to care when they hear us stutter. It can be any number of reasons. They’re preoccupied with something, they’re not really paying attention, or they just don’t hear the stuttering. I reminded her that close friends of hers really don’t hear her stuttering. They hear her and her message.

That’s one of the things we need to keep in mind about stuttering. It helps us to be resilient. Every single one of us, stutterer or not, has bad moments and days. Resilience is the ability to shake those moments off and keep moving forward. Resilience helps us develop the “thick skin” we need to advocate for ourselves and be sure our voice is heard.

Resilience helps us through difficult times, relationships and at work. All of us fall flat on our face sometimes. We fail a test, we say the wrong thing to a partner or we miss an important deadline at work. Those of us who are resilient can get up from the floor, brush ourselves off and continue on. I’m convinced that stuttering helps builds that resilience that we all need.

What do you think?

 

 

This is the time of year that I visit schools and do a lot of presentations about program options for students entering their junior and senior years of high school. Over the course of 2 months, I make about 50 presentations.

I usually hesitate to disclose that I stutter to these high school students because I worry that it will detract from what I’m talking about. I’m not going to make a presentation about stuttering so I don’t ever plan to talk about stuttering.

Sometimes though it’s unavoidable!

Yesterday while doing my second presentation of the day, I was stuttering exceptionally well. Like on almost every word. I felt really self-conscious and was ultra aware of how I sounded. I worried that the kids were going to think something was wrong, as I was in full-on repetition mode and also hesitating and pausing a lot.

So I decided to stop for a moment, took a deep breath, and said to the students, “Hey guys, I want you to know something. I stutter and I’m having a real stutter-y day. So if you hear stuttering, that’s all it is, just stuttering. OK?” And then I went right back to where I left off in my presentation. And it was OK.

The students didn’t bat an eyelash. No one commented or made funny faces or anything. They just took it in stride.

I was so relieved. Putting it out there like that made it easier for me to continue stuttering and actually I noticed that I gradually stuttered less. And I was relieved that I actually disclosed, because I’m not really comfortable doing that while making work presentations.

Now that I did it like this, I feel like I’ll be more comfortable doing it again if need be.

The disclosure was for my benefit, not my audience. I said what I did to make myself more comfortable while stuttering so well. It was a small form of self-care that I really needed to do.

What do you think about how I handled it? Have you done something similar?


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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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