Make Room For The Stuttering

Posts Tagged ‘covert stuttering

Over the last few weeks, I have had the opportunity to do some talks about covert stuttering and how hiding an integral part of me has shaped me.

I co-facilitated a session for the Canadian Stuttering Association in early November and one last week for the NSA global research conference.

And today I spoke to a small female only group of women who stammer.

In all of the talks, I emphasized how stuttering covertly essentially hijacked my personality which lead me down a rabbit hole of avoidance in all areas of my life, not just stuttering related stuff.

I shared with a friend that I had given several of these talks all in a relatively short time period. He said, “well, you’re not covert anymore, you do know that, right?” That gave me pause, as I suppose he’s right. What I’ve been sharing has been the journey I’ve taken to embrace my true self and become open with who I am and how I speak. One of the presentations I gave was aptly called, “Dropping the ‘C’ in Covert Stuttering.”

People who stutter and those who interact with people who stutter seem genuinely interested in how going from extremely covert to truly open is done and why.

At today’s talk, the topic of small talk came up, in relation to a comment that someone made about finding it hard to make friends as a person who stutters. I mentioned that many of us really never learned how to “make small talk” because we were always so busy hiding or rehearsing what we might be able to say fluently is we absolutely had to talk.

One woman asked me if it has become any easier to make small talk now that I stutter openly. I shared that it absolutely has become easier. I am more spontaneous now than I’ve ever been because I just stutter and get on with it. I don’t care as much as I once did and I didn’t worry so much about being judged.

And I shared that my fear had always been fear of rejection. I really think that’s what it boils down to – being rejected, not being liked, not feeling that sense of belonging that we all crave and need.

I’ve come to realize that indeed I’m not covert anymore and that I can enjoy spontaneity in conversation and really feel present in a conversation.

I’ve heard myself time and again these past few weeks mention that I truly feel that authenticity invites reciprocity. And that we all yearn to allow ourselves to be vulnerable, as that is the foundation of real belonging.

 

Episode 222 features Aisha Haynes, who hails from Columbia, South Carolina. Dr. Aisha Haynes is the Assistant Director for the Center for Teaching Excellence. She teaches two online courses at the university. For fun, Aisha enjoys traveling, trying and eating new food, and adventurous activities.

Aisha had been a covert stutterer for many years. She shares that it’s only been over the last 5 years or so that she has given herself permission to “stutter really well.”

Listen in as we discuss disclosure and advertising, not being able to hide stuttering anymore, and being more comfortable in her stuttering skin. The title of this episode comes from an article that Aisha was featured in at her university, which she describes as her “coming out story.”

Below please find a video of Aisha and colleague Dr. Charley Adams discussing stuttering at the university.

Episode 220 features Cathy Olish Maciejewski, who hails from Grosse Ile, Michigan. Cathy works in Human Resources at Ford Motor Company. Her job entails recruiting and on-boarding senior level hires, which requires a lot of communication. Cathy does a lot of her “point of contact” work with new hires via email.

Cathy is, and always has been, a person who stutters covertly. It’s fascinating to hear her story of the extremes she takes to hide her stuttering. She has been attending National Stuttering Association (NSA) conferences since the year 2000 and never tells friends or coworkers where she is going “on vacation.”

We talk about a number of things in this eye opening and inspiring  conversation about covert stuttering.

Listen in as we discuss the self taught tricks and techniques Cathy uses to appear fluent, the preparations she undergoes a few days ahead of a speaking situation, the iceberg analogy of stuttering, and her admission that sometimes she’s OK with appearing less intelligent than she really is just to appear fluent.

I met Cathy at my very first NSA conference when I attended her workshop “Covert Stuttering Exposed,” which was the first time I heard a word describing what I had been doing for so many years to hide my stuttering. Cathy shares that long time NSA member Russ Hicks approached her and two others and pegged them as covert and encouraged them to run this first of it’s kind workshop.

Cathy has two young children, both of whom stutter. She recalls one time when an acquaintance commented that her son, Luke, had a speech impediment. Cathy explained, “oh, that, he stutters, I do too,” which was a big moment of being open for Cathy.

Cathy also wrote an article many years ago that resonated with me, called, “Hello, My Name Is Cathy, But You Can Call Me Anne: A Story Of A Covert Person Who Stutters.”

This was a great conversation with someone I’ve always wanted to know better. Cathy “tells all” in this episode. I am so grateful.

Episode 28 of the occasional male series features Anthony Crozier, who hails from Cleveland, Ohio. Anthony is 25 years old and works as a software developer. He originally planned to study healthcare but this great opportunity came his way, and he’s happy with the career choice he has made.

Anthony shares that his ability to handle the challenges of stuttering greatly contributed to his determination to succeed in his job. He believes stuttering is a strength. When he has disclosed that he stutters, deeper and more interesting conversations result. Being a stutterer has enabled Anthony to move outside his comfort zone both personally and professionally.

Listen in as we also discuss covert stuttering, experiences with speech therapy and the substance of “blocking.”

Feel free to leave a comment for either of us in the comment section.

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. 🙂

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 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.

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.

 

Episode 205 features Danette Fitzgerald, who hails from New Haven, Connecticut. Danette is an Optical Systems Engineer working on the manufacturing side of building microscopes.

She has always been good with math and science and discovered she wanted to pursue a career in science after taking a physics class and finding it fun. She is a chapter leader for the local National Stuttering Association support group and also loves traveling.

Listen in as we talk about covert stuttering and “recovery from covert behaviors,” stuttering in the workplace, speech therapy experiences, advertising and confidence building strategies.

We also chat about Danette’s recent experience at the ISA World Congress for People Who Stutter which was held in Iceland this past June. I really enjoyed this opportunity to connect with Danette, as we’ve known each other for many years now but never had a chance to talk in depth like we did here.

 

I returned from my 14th consecutive National Stuttering Association annual conference on Sunday evening. It’s now Tuesday evening and I’m still recovering from the screwy schedule and overall weird week.

The conference had a much different vibe for me this year. For one thing, I did not lead or help with any workshops, for the first time since my second conference way back in 2007. It felt strangely naked to not always be looking at the time, and planning to leave sessions early to prepare for something else. My only responsibilities this year were to help lead the first timers activities and I wound up not even doing that.

The annual conference this year was held in steamy Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It was hot and incredibly humid the whole week. I literally only went out of the hotel two times in six days. It was stifling hot and I always find it harder to breathe in sweltering conditions like that, I get headaches and I fatigue much faster than normal.

The hotel and a five block radius lost power for most of the day on Wednesday, the official “start” of the 4 day conference. That meant there was no air conditioning for about 16 hours. The Board of Directors had our summer meeting in a sweltering room Wednesday morning and then I was down for the count. I felt sick and nauseous from being overheated and I quickly became dehydrated, which triggered my inflammation.

I wound up staying in my room for the rest of Wednesday and all day on Thursday too. By Thursday, power was back and I just took it easy in the AC and drank lots of water and felt normal again by Friday.

I felt so bad to have missed some things those two days but I have been getting much better at taking care of myself. I knew if I didn’t choose to hibernate, I would have missed things on both of the last days too. So I made the right decision.

I attended several really good sessions on Friday, including a last minute meet-up for covert stutterers. About 40 of us showed up just from word of mouth and it turned out to be one of the most powerful hours (for me) of the conference. People shared openly and with such raw emotion how it feels to sometimes hide our stutter and the complex feelings that arise from constantly trying to do so.

I also attended sessions on job interviewing (which is particularly applicable to me personally right now) and one which aimed to discuss implicit bias at work but kind of missed the boat a bit, which actually was quite OK because it spurred great dialogue.

I also had the chance to connect with several people I’d only met online so it was great to meet people in person and intentionally take time to connect. I often didn’t take the time to do this at previous conferences since I was busy with several workshops and leading other events.

I missed spending time with several close friends who I actually hardly saw at all, which contributed to the “weird vibe” I felt all week. A group of us always sat together at the Saturday night closing banquet. This year, I wasn’t part of that and it was OK. It gave me space to connect with Ariel, and meet Joseph’s wife, and talk with Sage and his wife, and Shannon and meet her mother, and go have a meal with Dana and Derek. Those moments were medicinal for me, like oxygen, like friend Hanan often says.

The highlight of the conference for me came Friday night, when I leaped far out of my comfort zone and participated in the inaugural session of a poetry “Stutter Slam.” I wrote an original piece and shared when it was my turn. I was nervous to deliver something so personal but it felt right. To my surprise, I won the event. I have received numerous requests from people to share a copy of my poem. Funny, I don’t want to do that because it doesn’t look right on paper, it only came out the way it did through the spoken delivery. Below is a recording of my performance. It felt so good and so right to share.

 

PamEpisode 199 features Anje Herde, who hails from Berlin, Germany. Anje is 36 years old and has been involved with stuttering self help for 15 years. She currently sits on the Board of Directors of the International Stuttering Association and has been active with the German Stuttering Association. She is also part of a new global initiative – as am I from the US – for improving employment for people who stutter all around the world called 50MillionVoices.

Anje is currently studying to become a certified Coach to help people realize their full potential and is also a trainer for companies in communication and collaboration, professions most people who stutter shy away from. One of her goals is to change leadership culture in the world to become more human and values based.

Listen in to this inspired conversation about when her “new life” started, the importance of “opening your heart” at work and that it can be done, and the magical moment when her own father who stutters spoke openly in public about it for the first time.

Anje also shares about her love of traveling and the growth she has experienced every time she stands outside of her comfort zone. And of course we talk about efforts made to increase understanding of stuttering around the world so that people who stutter can be themselves, feel like they belong and find career success.

The music clip used today is credited to ccMixter.

 

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I participated in the conference of a lifetime this weekend. I was so lucky to have been able to attend the 2018 ASHA National Convention held in Boston, MA. I was an invited speaker of the American Board of Fluency and Fluency Disorders along with good friend and guardian angel, Charley Adams, PhD, CCC-SLP from South Carolina. Together, we delivered a presentation called “Hidden in Plain Sight: Treatment for Covert Stuttering.”

We both felt it was extremely important that we talk to current and future SLPs about the importance of “treating the right thing” when it comes to working with people who covertly stutter. Because for covert stutterers, it’s not the possible stuttered word that is the problem. It is the complex layers of shame, guilt, paralysis, and fraudulent identity that must be peeled away and processed that is the the real problem and challenge.

Charley and I only had one hour to convey a whole lot of information to an audience mixed with eager, young graduate students and established clinicians and researchers in the field. We chose to tag team and alternate anecdotal story telling with clinical strategy suggestions. It worked. I must say we were engaging, funny and drove our points home.

I talked extensively about how covert stuttering robbed me of my personality and I knew it, but like the Stockholm Syndrome, I stayed in that bad place for thirty years. I shared details about “pretend Pam” and what it was like when “real Pam” finally emerged. At one point, I said something like, “real Pam stutters openly now with little shame and she’s a damn good communicator.”  At that, the audience rose to their feet and gave a standing ovation. I got choked up and felt my heart swell. It was such a proud moment.

I had doubt that I actually would be able to get to Boston and deliver my part of the presentation. I have not felt well for many weeks and I actually took a month of sick leave off from work, something I have never done. But getting to this convention was immensely important to me and I decided to be upfront, share my situation and ask for help. Charley was there for me, every step of the way, as were others.

The ASHA Convention was the largest I have ever attended. It was intimidating and overwhelming to be among so many people. It was reported that this convention had the most attendees ever – over 18, 000. With few exceptions, everyone was a professional in the fields of speech and hearing. Everyone had impressive letters after their names and I didn’t. But I’m indeed an expert on my stuttering and that’s one of the key messages that I really wanted to convey to the audience.

It’s important to listen and respect the lived experience of people who stutter and don’t assume that professionals have all the answers. It doesn’t always work that way.

PamEpisode 191 features Mara Ormond, who hails from eastern  Maryland, where she, her husband and 5 year old daughter Lula have been for about a year. Mara has moved around a lot, but identifies DC as “where she’s from.” Mara is a leadership coach, helping people with workplace and life issues. She’s also an avid swimmer.

In this episode, we focus on the many new situations in Mara’s life and how she has to stay on top of making room for stuttering in her life.

We explore how harmful hiding stuttering can be to one’s self image and psyche, and even physical health, as Mara notes. We also talk about how spending so much time hiding hinders development on all counts – career, emotional and social.

When you don’t go through regular adolescent and young adult experiences, like active socializing and making friends, because of fear of stuttering, you miss out on becoming self actualized. Sometimes we don’t even realize that we’ve missed those opportunities until well into adulthood.

And we spend time dissecting shame – probably one of the core issues with stuttering.  Mara shares an important “aha” moment – when she realized that “everyone feels shame.”

Listen in a to great conversation that once again dives deep into how complex stuttering really is. It was wonderful getting to know Mara better through this conversation.

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

He-StuttersEpisode 25 of this occasional male series features Rob Dellinger who hails from Raleigh, North Carolina. He is a school-based SLP who stutters who also serves as a consultant for peers who work with students who stutter.

This episode is a little longer in length than I usually like to go but it is important, compelling and current. We both share a little bit about our stories of trying to hide our stuttering and how stuttering dictated our career choices.

We focus very much on how to go about helping kids who stutter, or have any diagnosed mental health issue, like anxiety, learn healthy strategies to develop successful communication skills, stuttering and all in some cases. We talk about not perpetuating avoidance when kids “opt out” of public speaking in school or college.

We emphasize the importance of having compassion and meeting kids “where they’re at.” Pushing kids who may not be ready to be pushed may actually “tip the scales” in favor of a kid who stutters choosing silence (like I did) or a kid with anxiety being caused needless harm.

There are ways to hierarchically help kids start with small challenges and then move up to bigger challenges as they are ready. Rob mentions how he does this in therapy with kids who stutter. This helps the kid feel like the adult/teacher/SLP cares about them and helps them develop crucial communication skills that we all need for college and careers.

We reference the article Teens Are Protesting In-Class Presentations. Take a few minutes to read the article. It’s not long and it is really important.

This was an amazing conversation. Both of us would love your feedback.

The music clip used in this episode is credited to Bensound.

 

PamEpisode 188 features Sarah Albannay, who hails from Kuwait, but is presently living in Pocatello, Idaho while attending college. Sarah has been in the USA for four years now, and is studying Political Science. She says she’ll know what to do with her degree when she’s done.

We had a really interesting conversation. Sarah finds it so much easier to stutter here in the USA. Americans are so much more open about personal issues than she finds people to be at home in Kuwait. She feels quite comfortable advertising that she stutters with classmates and professors here. Sarah says she was a totally different person in Kuwait. (You’ll have to listen to hear her explain that!)

Sarah feels there is so much support here in the USA. She’s found the NSA and good stuttering therapy which has included participation in “intensive stuttering programs.”  Sarah wanted to be sure she gave a shout out to Dan Hudock, the professor at Idaho State University that has really helped her see stuttering differently.

See below for a one minute look at what Professor Hudock is doing at ISU. I also included a fantastic Tedx Talk that Dan did about stuttering. Couldn’t resist – had to include it.

 

 

The music used in todays episode is credited as always to ccMixter.

 

 

 

 


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