Make Room For The Stuttering

Posts Tagged ‘feelings about stuttering

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.

When I think of my identity, I think of things like brown hair, blue eyes and being short. I think of the tattoos I have and the fact that my initials spell my name.

I also think of my stuttering when I think of my identity. Stuttering makes me unique. It is very much a part of my identity. People know me for my stuttering. I’ve heard people at work (a school) refer to me as, “You know, the one that stutters.”

Dictionary.com defines identity as a noun: condition or character as to who a person or what a thing is; the qualities, beliefs, etc., that distinguish or identify a person or thing.

So stuttering is one of my qualities, a distinctive characteristic that distinguishes me from other people.

There was a time when I thought stuttering was bad and shameful and I did everything I could to try and hide that part of me, that part of my identity. But I was never truly successful hiding it. It was there, not going anywhere, like my blue eyes are always going to be blue.

This reminds me of an exercise I do when I talk to kids who don’t stutter about stuttering. When explaining what it was like to try and hide my stuttering, I have the kids experience a physical and visual exercise. I ask for a volunteer from the audience and give the child a large grapefruit. I ask her to try and hide it somewhere on her body where it’s not going to show. The audience enjoys the child trying to hide it in her clothes – in her sock, in her pocket, in the hood of her sweatshirt. No matter where she puts the grapefruit, it’s lump can still be seen on the person. Trying to hide it is fruitless!:)

Like trying to hide stuttering was fruitless. It didn’t work. Over the years, I’ve grown to accept all parts of my identity, both the things I like and the things I don’t like so much.

Having identity makes us human. It makes us unique. It distinguishes us from the pack. Stuttering is part of my identity and I no longer try to fight that fact.

 

PamEpisode 155 features Megan Aldrich, who hails from Keene, New Hampshire. Megan’s mission in life right now is sobriety and getting healthy.

Listen in as we talk about how Megan is starting to tell people she stutters, which is a huge step for her. We talk about covert stuttering, and also dealing with being made fun of for stuttering.

We also discuss Megan’s experience with the Speech Easy device, researching stuttering and the importance of having stuttering resources. Megan and I met through the Stutter Social app and have also been in a hangout together, which was her first time interacting with 8 or 9 other people who stutter.

Megan also shares parts of her story with addiction and recovery, and other health problems she has recently confronted. Megan proudly just celebrated her 4 year sobriety anniversary.

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

A very courageous poster today made a comment in a Facebook stuttering group about how hard it is to watch himself and other people who stutter on video.

He shares very honestly that he can’t stand to see himself stutter and can’t bring himself to watch other people who stutter either. For him, it’s not a way of desensitization, but rather a form of torment.

This made me think about how hard a time I had when I was asked to make a video of myself stuttering when I did speech therapy some years back. I remember quite vividly how much I resisted doing it. I just did not want to see myself stutter. I felt my stuttering was ugly and I was aware of how I tensed up when I blocked and I just did not want a video reminder of that.

My speech therapist at the time really wanted to deconstruct my stuttering with me and felt strongly that viewing my stuttering was the best way to do it. She also wanted to be able to “count” my stutters as part of required data collection for her class. I hated that too, as I felt it made me nothing more than a piece of data to be collected and not really a person who just happens to stutter.

It took me the whole semester to allow her to record me doing a very short monologue where I hardly stuttered at all. Even looking at that with  her, with very little stuttering, made me feel self-conscious and embarrassed. I just didn’t like to see myself on video. I didn’t believe it could be helpful.

Fast forward, about 9 years later, and I find I am one of the people posting a video of me talking and stuttering in some of the Facebook groups. Something I never thought I could or would do, now I am doing with ease and posting publicly on the Internet. Wow!

What’s changed? Mostly, my attitude. I have reached a point in my life where I am OK with my stuttering and feel that I can  help educate and raise awareness about stuttering. I am OK with looking at myself and hearing myself on video. I think most of this comes with maturity and experience and a good dose of “I don’t give a crap.”:)

I am in awe of all the members in the stuttering groups who have taken a risk to post videos of themselves talking about their story with stuttering. Some of them have acknowledged that they are new to the community and have never met another person “in real life” that stutters. Through posting video stories, people are seeing and hearing other people who stutter and I think that it’s great to lessen feelings of isolation, which are common for people who stutter.

I’m glad that the poster had the guts to share how he really feels about seeing stuttering. It certainly gave me pause to reflect on where I’ve been and where I am at now.

I’m curious what you think. Have you ever seen a video of yourself talking and stuttering? How did it make you feel? Would you be willing to post a video of yourself in a stuttering forum on the Internet?

 

 

xfirst-person-shooter_jpg_pagespeed_ic_wgxi9-HMmGA member of the global stuttering community from Australia reached out to me and asked if I would read his new book. I was delighted, as I always enjoy reading about stuttering.

I recently read “First Person Shooter,” written by Cameron Raynes, a person who stutters. The book is a young adult novel, with some adult themes. The book is narrated by young Jayden, a 15 year old boy who stutters. Jayden is addicted to video games and has a crush on his best friend Shannon.

The story is pretty intense, loaded with characters who all have their own story. Jayden and his father are surviving after losing his mother 12 years earlier. Shannon’s mother is due to be released from prison. Jayden is constantly trying to outrun a couple of school bullies. He has a part-time job at a meat shop and looks in on his neighbor, a disabled veteran. The town is bracing for violence from Pete, who is looking to exact revenge for the murder of his father. And Jayden’s beloved dog is dying.

There is a great deal I could focus on in this gritty coming of age story. For the purposes of this blog, I’ll focus primarily on the stuttering. Stuttering is not always portrayed well in the media and the arts, so I was eager to see how the author incorporated it into the story.

The first thing I’ll say is the stuttering experience is beautifully handled. It is obvious that the writer has first hand experience with stuttering. He nails Jayden’s struggle with having much to say, but feeling unable to express himself the way he wants. Jayden has a love of poetry but can’t make his own words flow.

Jayden shares many real and poignant feelings about his stuttering, which at 15, he realizes will be with him for life. Early on, he reflects that “to speak is to be human,” inferring that perhaps he doesn’t always feel human because of the way he talks. When he speaks, his words are ugly. He escapes these feelings by getting lost in his video games.

Jayden also thinks that deep down, something is wrong, that he is broken inside. That is not unusual for a teen who stutters to feel. I sure felt defective when I was his age and often wondered, “Why me?”

Jayden also describes the dread of sitting in class and having the teacher go around the room and know that he is not going to be able to get out of speaking. He speaks of scanning ahead, which is a trick that many people who stutter use to avoid stuttering. In class, he has also tried being funny, to draw attention away from his stuttering, which doesn’t always work.

Jayden has a circle of friends who accept him. Several of them have also been picked on by the school bullies, so they are a small group with commonalities. Jayden appreciates his friends because he can be himself and not be consumed by the constant worry of how he will sound and how they will react.

Throughout the story, Jayden dreads an oral poetry presentation he must do before the end of the school year. Anyone who stutters can empathize with Jayden’s terror of having to speak and stutter for a prolonged period of time. It can be a harrowing experience for an adult, and this is an adolescent dealing with the cruelty of teens. Jayden gets through the experience and closes the door on another school year.

I highly recommend this book for teens or adults who stutter and anyone for that matter. It is well written, with an honest, believable character who stutters. The author lets us into Jayden’s head and we get how tough stuttering can be. Most fluent people don’t really “get” stuttering. Raynes masterfully weaves Jayden’s stuttering into a story that is dramatic, intense and satisfying. You feel for the kid and applaud his tenacity and courage on many fronts. You’ll have to read it yourself to know what I mean. And I hope you do.

 

 

 

 

I recently had the opportunity to attend a comedy show, headlined by Drew Lynch, a person who stutters. Drew was featured on last season’s reality TV show, “America’s Got Talent” (AGT.) Drew did stand-up comedy on the TV show and wound up finishing the talent competition in second place.

Drew did not grow up as a stutterer. He claims he began stuttering a few years ago, after being injured in an accident. He was hit in the throat by a softball and began stuttering. He had aspirations to be an actor and decided to try his hand at stand-up comedy when fate intervened and he was injured.

I remember last year when Drew was on AGT. A lot of people in the stuttering community did not find him funny and did not think it was cool to make fun of stuttering. Audiences laughed at his stuttering jokes and the way he made fun of himself. He almost always laughed himself after telling a joke.

I found him to be funny and his humor appropriate, but was only seeing him in 3 minute segments.

When I heard he was coming to my hometown to headline a comedy show, I was very interested in seeing him perform. I wondered how he would handle performing for a longer stretch. And I wondered how my hometown audience would react to a comedian that stutters.

My sister had asked me to go with her to the show, which was a surprise, as I didn’t think she would be interested in seeing someone who stutters. She and I don’t talk about stuttering. It’s always been a taboo topic in my family and continues to be so, even though I am very open and public about my stuttering.

So we went to the show and had a great time. There were two opening acts, one which was very funny and the other was just OK. Neither of them stuttered!:)

When Drew came out to perform, he immediately started with a joke about stuttering. He laughed and the audience laughed. Drew went on to perform for almost an hour, which I marveled at, given that it’s a long time and a lot of material to remember for the performance.

His material was not all stuttering related. He had funny jokes about every day life which the audience enjoyed. About half of his material was related to stuttering, and making fun of his own stuttering. I think his willingness to poke fun at himself and laugh at his own jokes and funny stories gave the audience permission to laugh. And laugh they did. It appeared everyone in the packed room was having a great time.

I posted something about having attended this comedy show on Facebook. Several people commented that it is not good to laugh at stuttering, because it opens the door for anybody to laugh at stuttering.

I say that most people can appreciate the context and will not laugh at someone stuttering just because they happened to laugh at a stuttering comedian.

After the show, Drew stayed around to meet and greet fans and signed autographs and took pictures. The line was so long, which was a great sign that the audience had enjoyed Drew’s performance. I did not stay to talk to him, although I really wanted to let him know that I stutter too.

Turns out, after my sister drove me back to my car, she went back and stood in the line to get an autograph and a photo. Guess she really enjoyed the performance.

So, what do you think? Is it OK to laugh at someone who stutters when they are telling jokes and making fun of their own stuttering?

I recently asked a question on one of the Facebook stuttering forums. I was interested in what people think about when stuttering. So I posed the question, “What do you think about during a moment of stuttering?”

I was amazed by the number of responses. This question drew about 40 comments.

And guess what? Most of them were negative. People shared that what they think during a stuttering moment is usually tied to shame.

Here’s a sampling of the responses.

Embarrassment.

“I should have kept quiet.”

“I’m thinking about what the other person is thinking.”

“Panic, panic, panic.”

“My mind goes blank.”

“When will this be over?”

“Scanning my brain for words I can substitute.”

“Please just let this moment end.”

“Why do I bother?”

“Uh oh, too late.”

“Here we go again.”

“How stupid I sound right now.”

“I hope my face isn’t getting red.”

What do you think? What goes through your mind when you are in a stuttering moment? Is there anything we can do to change the way we think so that it’s not negative or shameful?

I am definitely guilty of wondering what the other person is thinking when I’m stuck in a block. I wish I could get myself to think, “it’s OK, I got this.”

 


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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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