Make Room For The Stuttering

Posts Tagged ‘blocking and stuttering

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There is so much I want to say about the recent National Stuttering Association conference that just wrapped up in Chicago, Illinois this weekend. I am going to write later in the week about a couple of deeply important workshops that I attended that opened up dialogue that some people may not be used to.

But I feel compelled to write just a bit about The Stuttering Monologues, which was a performance I coordinated with 12 people and that we performed at the closing ceremony on Saturday July 7. I got the idea to create a version of stuttering monologues back in 2012 after watching a local performance of The Vagina Monologues, written by Eve Ensler. Ensler created her Vagina Monologues as an activism vehicle for women to be able to voice their concerns about consensual and non-consensual sexual experiences. Women of all different ages, races, sexual orientations and other differences let their voice be heard.

I envisioned that the same could be done with our stuttering stories. I presented the inaugural Stuttering Monologues as a workshop at the NSA conference in 2012 in Tampa. It was hugely successful – one of the most attended sessions, with standing room only. I brought it back again the following year, in Scottsdale in 2013. Again, the session was a stand-out, with a wall in the workshop room needing to be opened in order to accommodate people.

I wanted to bring it back to the conference again, but felt waiting a few years to keep the experience fresh was best. This seemed right, 5 years later and in Chicago. The NSA Executive Director asked me what I thought about presenting it to the whole conference as part of fully attended closing ceremony. We could make that work, right? What was done the previous two times in 75 minutes would now need to be done in less than 30 minutes.

I embraced the challenge. I had already lined up my presenters for the 2018 version of the Monologues when I learned we would do them at the closing and everyone would need to come in at under 2 minutes. That’s a big challenge for people who stutter. One person freely admitted that sometimes it has taken him fully two minutes to just say his name.

But we did it and to enormous success. We heard deeply moving, authentic stories about fear, shame, priorities, kindness and the human condition. It was funny, gut wrenching, inspiring and real all rolled up in one neat, 26 minute package. We heard monologues titled, “Dear Diary,” “You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know,” and “Heartbeat.” All rang true and we somehow managed to capture the diversity of our stuttering community through the unique voices we heard.

I had some people come up to me afterwards saying it was the best part of the conference. That the short stories were so powerful and riveting that everyone should hear something like this that so perfectly captures the complexity of stuttering. A long time member’s husband came up to me and said for him it was the best part of the conference. He said it was moving, emotional and powerful and that he could tell a lot of work went into it to make it look so seamless. That meant so much to me.

This was a labor of love. Not everything went perfectly. Some people didn’t come to practice sessions, some waited until the 11th hour to submit titles and bios and two people bowed out throughout the planning process. But it worked. Authentic voices were raised and eager ears listened to the stories that are all of us.

 

 

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.

PamEpisode 131 features Vanna Nicks, who hails from Piedmont, California. Vanna is a busy mother of two and also works full-time as a speech pathologist in a trauma center at an acute hospital in Oakland.

Vanna always wanted to be a SLP but didn’t have the confidence. She moved to Washington DC and found Vivian Sisskin’s avoidance reduction therapy group. There, she found the self-confidence to go back to school to become a SLP.

Vanna learned through avoidance reduction that she had the right to speak whenever she wanted and that she became more fluent when she stuttered openly. She learned to be truly honest with her self and others.

Listen in as we discuss advertising, workplace stuttering,聽being approachable, developing rich relationships and so much more.

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

Producer note: As I played back this episode, there are parts where it sounds like I spoke over聽Vanna. I certainly didn’t mean to and I don’t remember doing that when we spoke. I wondered (aloud) if it was an audio glitch that I don’t know how to correct. Maybe – maybe not. Either way, enjoy the episode. 馃檪

This is the documentary that appeared in the UK about two weeks ago, featuring several people who participate in the 4 day McGuire program, an intensive stuttering management program.

All of the participants bare their emotions for us during the documentary, so we get a real glimpse as to how complex stuttering really is.

Thank you to Maria McGrath for sending me the YouTube link, so those of us outside the UK could watch the film, which is great.

How many times has this happened to you? You’re in a conversation with someone, either someone you know well or someone unfamiliar. You’re going along fine with what you are saying and then it hits – a big block.

You get stuck and nothing comes out. You feel helpless and the moment feels like an hour. Your mouth is open and nothing is happening. Or sound is coming out but not the word.

And then your listener tries to help and finishes the word or sentence for you. Maybe they even got it right.

Or maybe they get it wrong, and say something not even remotely close to what you were actually going to say.

How does this make you feel? What do you do?

When this has happened to me, sometimes I feel angry. Angry that the block has happened in the first place and that someone has seen what I look like when I get stuck. I imagine it looks awful, but I’m sure in reality it doesn’t.

I also might feel angry if the listener has finished my word and they guessed wrong. I do one of two things: finish what I was going to say anyway and move on, or move on and pretend like nothing happened.

I don’t like to do that – pretend nothing happened, because something did. I got stuck in a block and someone reacted to it.

I wish I had the guts to acknowledge my feelings when this happens but I often don’t. I don’t like to draw more attention to my stuttering.

What about you?

I was at a meeting earlier in the week to begin planning for an upcoming large event. There were about 10 people on the committee and we all did not know each other.

So, we did the round robin of introductions, with people saying their names and which building or department we worked in.

I shared my name and then started to say which building I was from, but blocked as I was saying the first word. The block lasted only about 5 seconds, but was聽long enough to be noticeable.

A woman across from me laughed and said, “what, did you forget where you work?”

Ah, we’ve all heard this or been asked the equally ridiculous “did you forget your name?”

I’ve been so good over the past few years in not letting this bother me as it once did, but on this day, it did. The woman who laughed is a special needs teacher.

I didn’t expect for someone who works with people with differences and disabilities to be so quick to laugh and make such an offensive comment. I expected her to be more sensitive and professional.

That’s what stung the most. The expectation that someone “in the know” would be the last person to laugh and be rude.

I shared this with some friends in a Facebook group and they asked me how I responded. I didn’t respond – I said nothing as I didn’t want to draw any attention to how embarrassed I felt.

I wish this stuff wouldn’t happen but it still does. I’m an adult who stutters. Imagine how a kid would feel if they had been laughed at like that.

Pam

Episode 114 features Courtney Luckman who hails from Virginia, and聽presently lives in Chicago, Illinois. Courtney is a research intern at Lincoln Park Zoo, working as a primate behavior monitor. She is doing Great Ape behavioral research.

Courtney also has a part-time hostess job at an area restaurant and for fun enjoys reading and working on a memoir of her stuttering journey.

Listen in as we talk about why Courtney chose her career path. She never felt connected to people because of her stuttering, but could talk fluently to animals. She always knew she wanted to work with animals for her career.

Courtney also talks about pushing out of comfort zones, stuttering well, advertisement, control and the National Stuttering Association.

Courtney was influenced in different ways聽by John Harrison and Alan Badmington, who both were featured on my “men who stutter” podcast!

We also talk about the journey Courtney is taking by聽writing her book and how she realizes that she has had many moments that have shaped the person she has become.

The podcast safe music used in this episode is credited to ccMixter. Feel free to leave comments below. Feedback is a gift.

At a recent Stutter Social Hangout, 聽I had the chance to witness a powerful moment of courage. It was two weeks ago, but the impact still resonates.

Real quick, a hangout is a virtual group video chat where up to 10 people can talk with each other about stuttering, or anything for that matter.

I host a Hangout every other Sunday, which lasts for 90 minutes. People are free to “come in” when they can, and stay as long as they wish. There are no time pressures.

As a host, I try to welcome people as they come in, and if they are new, facilitate introductions, just like we would at a real-time support group.

As we know, introductions can be very stressful for those of us who stutter. The pressure may be magnified for some because we use microphones and video.

A newcomer, Sydney, joined the hangout and during a lull, I welcomed her and asked her to introduce herself to the group of about 8.

Sydney found herself in a mighty, stubborn block as she attempted to say her name and where she was from. 聽We could see her effort and struggle as she stopped and started several times. The darn block was digging in its heels. Sydney stayed with it, for several minutes, and maintained eye contact and a smile.

You could feel the energy of the 8 of us who waited 聽for Sydney. That energy seemed to fuel Sydney as she stayed courageously in the moment and waited out the block and she told us her name and where she is from.

Sydney smiled, we all smiled and we carried on in conversation.

What a moment of courage! Maybe not to the average person who doesn’t stutter, but it was. A powerful moment of courage and self-truth.

It would have been so easy for Sydney to give in and not stay with it. 聽But at that moment, Sydney showed the rest of us a quiet moment of grit, persistence and courage. And she won – not that darn block!

I was glad I was there to see it. Go Sydney!

(Author’s note: Sydney gave me permission to write about this and to use her name.)

From the Free Online Dictionary, the meaning of the word interrupt and it’s different forms.

in路ter路rupt
(nt-rpt)

v.in路ter路rupt路ed, in路ter路rupt路ing, in路ter路rupts

v.tr.

1. To break the continuity or uniformity of: Rain interrupted our baseball game.
2. To hinder or stop the action or discourse of (someone) by breaking in on: The baby interrupted me while I was on the phone.

I think about the times I get interrupted. In the middle of a block, someone interrupts and fills in the word they think I was going to say. I sometimes feel disrespected when that happens.

I also think about how many times I actually interrupt another person who stutters, as it’s not always easy to tell when a person who stutters is done speaking or if they are in the middle of a block. It seems to happen a lot when I am chatting with someone over Skype for the podcast.

I usually wind up just apologizing and acknowledging that sometimes it just hard to gauge if the person is done speaking or indeed in a block.

Sometimes it’s hard to establish a rhythm between two people who stutter who are engaged in good conversation and good blocks.

Has it happened to you, that you accidentally interrupt someone who stutters while they’re in a block? How does it make you feel?

Pam

Episode 112 features Rachel Dancy who hails from Saginaw, Michigan. Rachel works as a job coach at Do-All, Inc. which is an agency that supports people with developmental disabilities.

Listen in as we discuss how Rachel chose her field of work and the importance of having a supportive work environment. We talk a bit about negative reactions to stuttering and the best ways to handle them.

We also hear from Rachel’s boyfriend, Rick, who shared his point of view on being the partner of someone who stutters. We discuss interrupting and why that happens from time to time.

This was a very honest and insightful conversation and it was great getting to know both Rachel and Rick.

The podcast safe music clip used in this episode is credited to DanoSongs.

I had one of those intimate stuttering moments today.聽You probably know what I mean.

I got caught in a block on the “k” in the word “keep” – came out something like “ki-ki-ki-ki-ki-ki-kiiiiii-eep.”

I say intimate in that I was looking at the person I was talking to as I blocked and we maintained eye contact through the block.

Neither of us averted our gaze. Our eyes just kind of locked, until I was able to finish the word and then move on.聽 I then glanced away for a second and then glanced back, which I think is normal eye contact. The other person did too.

So why is this a big deal?

Well, stuttering can be very intimate. In a Google+ hangout recently, David, a co-founder of Stutter Social, discussed his view of the “intimacy of stuttering.” It’s my view too.

Getting locked up in a block for a few seconds and聽sharing that聽with another person is very personal.聽I showed my “imperfection” in聽a聽vulnerable聽way.

And to have the other person share that with you, as in maintaining eye contact, until the block is over, is extremely personal.

I appreciated this person’s willingness to stay present with me, as she could have easily averted her eyes out of embarrassment or discomfort. Or even to give me a moment to “collect myself.”

Staying with me in the moment was also a deep sign of respect.

We聽shared that very personal聽moment that was important enough聽to me to write about this聽today.

What do you think? Can you relate?

I’ve noticed that on days when I have very little opportunity for speaking that my stuttering is more pronounced when I do finally speak.

Has anyone had that experience?

I’ll notice it when I have to make a telephone call, that I’ll trip or block on words that I hardly ever do. It must be the lack of practice!

My friend J has a similiar experience. He works from home every other week, so does not have that social contact and interaction that you usually find in the workplace.

He then has more silent blocks when he gets back to consistent talking.

I have suggested that he try voluntary stuttering in these situations. He doesn’t always take my suggestions.

I have tried voluntary stuttering myself, when I want to claim more control or even to advertise when I think I’m going to stutter a lot.

What do you think?

My friend asked me to raise this question on Facebook. Do people who stutter tend to stutter more when talking with people who talk very fast?

The question got a lot of responses. Many indicated that the pressure to speak faster increases anxiety, which then increases the stuttering.

Some said they know they can’t keep up, so they just don’t say anything, hoping the other person will notice eventually and invite them to respond.

Some said they speak even slower to encourage the fast talker to slow down.

Some said the pressure to keep up brings on more blocking.

I sometimes wonder where in the conversation it would work for me to jump in, as I worry I might block at that moment when I try to break into the conversation.

What do you think?

On this last day in December 2012, I looked back at some of the many posts I’ve written since February 2009. It’s wondrous to me that I’ve kept up with blogging for almost 4 years.聽 Not everyone can say that. It’s easy to start something. The hard part is sticking with it, and sustaining it.

Writing takes effort, time and persistence. We write in the hopes that other people will read and be moved. We’ve either inspired them, given them something to think about outside of their experience or have called them to action.

Writing about a pretty narrow topic for four years also takes something else – the ability to know when I have something to say and聽when I don’t. And to not force it when there’s nothing there. I learned that the hard way. When I first started blogging, I thought I had to write everyday.

Then I began to question that. Who said I had to write everyday in order to be a success? Being a success in my book began to mean sticking to it – persisting with writing good content. And how did I know I was writing good content? Because people were reading and leaving comments.

That was good enough for me.

Now, I see that “Don’t force it” also applies to聽my topic itself – stuttering. When I have something to say and I am having a particularly “stutter-y” day, the best thing to do is not force it. When caught in a block, I try to remind myself (as hard as that can be) to not force myself to push through it. Sometimes it makes the block worse.

The best thing is to stop, compose myself and breathe through the block. Taking a moment to just breathe, and not force anything, seems to help me to move forward, freely.

So it is with writing. Don’t force it – write when there is something to say. And don’t write when聽there is nothing聽to write about.

Oh, if only stuttering, and life, were so simple.

What does the actual moment of stuttering feel like to you?

Yesterday in a training, we were talking about metaphors and the trainer was asking us to apply metaphors for things we were feeling.

We were then to dig deep to see if we could identify the feelings behind the metaphor we chose. No one volunteered, so I took a chance.

I shared that a common metaphor for me is that I often feel like I’ve fallen off a cliff and no one has even noticed. As this was a work training on change, everyone believed I was referring to a work situation. I was not. I was referring to how I sometimes feel when I get caught in a good stuttering block.

However, since it was change we were refferring to, I let the trainer dig deeper with me and allowed her to think it was a work issue. It could have been.

She asked how it feels when I fall off the cliff. I said it feels scary and helpless. She asked if there was anything that let me know I was about to fall of the cliff. I said anxiety usually triggered it.

She asked if I knew why I was falling. I said because I wasn’t in control. Everyone was believing this was a work situation. She asked what I could do to prevent the fall. I said I could talk to someone about how I feel before the anxiety tips me over the edge.

She asked what kept me from talking about the way I felt. I said it was fear of being laughed at. She asked who was my direct report. I told her the guys name – he was right in the room. She asked what could I do to feel comfortable talking with him.

I told her I felt comfortable talking with him – that wasn’t it. She kept pushing for me to dig. I didn’t want to admit I was talking about stuttering. She asked again what was I really afraid of, still thinking I was referring to work.

I finally surprised myself and said judgement. There, I had said it. I feel like I am falling off a cliff when blocking and I fear someone is negatively judging me.

But the metaphor surprisingly fit into a pretend work scenario too. I get anxious when I feel someone at work is judging me.

The trainer felt good that I had risked and shared and felt my colleagues had learned from my share. She encouraged us to dig deep when we are feeling the impact of change in our lives. And to use metaphors to help us dig deeper.

I thought long and hard after the training and was happy that I shared this metaphor that I often feel – even though I didn’t come out and directly say I was talking about stuttering. I didn’t have to – it still related to a general fear of judgement, which is a universal fear. We all want to be accepted and not seen as different from the norm.

What about you? How do you feel in the stuttering moment? Is there a metaphor you could use to describe that feeling?


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漏 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鈥檚 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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