Make Room For The Stuttering

Posts Tagged ‘stuttering shame

My father died two weeks ago. My father who I never reconciled with over serious childhood issues. My father that yelled and screamed at me when I was 5 years old and first started stuttering. My father whose lack of support drove me to try and hide my stuttering for years. My father who was ashamed that one of his kids stuttered. My father who never allowed me and my siblings to show emotions. My father who never showed me affection. My father who I had not talked to in years.

I happened to be away for the weekend when I got word that he had died. My siblings were text messaging each other and included me in on the thread. As I was driving, my phone blew up with tweets, the sound I use to notify me of text alerts. I glanced down at the phone and tried to see what was going on. I couldn’t figure out what they were talking about from just a quick glance.

I pulled over at the first nearest rest area to get gas and then pulled into a parking spot, curious to see what my siblings were furiously texting about. One sister had offered her condolences to others who were impacted by his death. I didn’t know who they were talking about. It didn’t occur to me to think it was my father. I texted a quick question and asked who died, thinking it was an extended family member. One sister directly responded that it was dad who died.

I was kind of shocked as I was not expecting to hear that and I was 100 miles from home. My brother then chimed in with a text that he was sorry I learned through a text message, but that the family thought it better not to have called me while I was away.

I started driving toward home and had the next 90 minutes or so to think. What I thought about was how weird my reaction was. I was not emotional or stricken – I was worried about how I would handle the upcoming funeral services and deal with family that I hadn’t seen in years. I was worried about possibly not going and how that would look.

I debated not going to any services as I had not had a relationship with the man in years. He never reached out to me and I kept my distance. While he was in a nursing home, several of my sisters tried to guilt me into letting go of the past and consider reconciling with him. They were going to visit him weekly and asked me repeatedly to join them. I chose not to. They stopped asking. I went about my life oblivious to what was happening with him.

I learned later that he had suffered several falls due to the pressure of a brain tumor he’d had for years, that I knew about. The pressure was causing dementia and made him prone to falls. The last fall he took was accompanied by heart failure and several attempts at resuscitation and then his heart just finally stopped.

I always felt a deep sadness that I did not have my father’s heart. I was his first born daughter and always yearned for that relationship with my dad that I knew other people had or that I saw on TV. I was envious of friends who were close with their parents and held a special place in their parents’ hearts. I never really told that to anyone and eventually those yearnings went away as I learned to manage with the hand I had been dealt. I vividly remembered the abusive, chaotic home I grew up in. I couldn’t not remember it.

I did go to my father’s wake and was supremely uncomfortable. I felt lost and like I didn’t belong there. Four of my siblings were also there, along with my father’s second family. A family I had always referred to as our replacement family. His wife, that my father had cheated on my mother with and who was younger than me. Whom I always blamed for hurting my mother.

I saw aunts and uncles, his siblings, that I hadn’t seen in over 25 years, It was awkward. It was more awkward seeing my father’s other daughters, openly grieving. I felt tense and anxious and couldn’t help but feel this whole thing was happening to someone else.

My sister read a “tribute” to my father toward the end of the service, one that talked about a loving father that instilled values and work ethic in all his (10) children and a love for God. I didn’t recognize who she was talking about. It was surreal to me, his firstborn daughter who wasn’t perfect and had never felt his love. My sister had reconciled with him and made peace with him as had two other sisters.

My youngest sister didn’t go to the wake. He was not part of her life and had never met her children, his grandchildren, yet the obituary read that he was their loving grandfather. I felt that people were trying to paint this man to be someone he was not.

I didn’t go to the funeral service or burial the next day. I couldn’t. I felt paralyzed by my very conflicting emotions. Part of me had hated this man for so long, for the emotional and physical abuse of long ago and for making me feel such shame over my stuttering. I carried this around for a long time. I also carried around his influence for a long time. I was in therapy for years, trying to process and perhaps reconcile my “daddy issues,” but never could. The pain was still there, after all these years.

When someone dies and it is unexpected, so much goes unsaid. Such is the case with my father. I never told him how I had yearned for his love, support and approval. I never told him that I have turned out pretty OK and feel like I am in a good place in my life, despite a tumultuous past. I didn’t really even say goodbye.

Part of me feels relief that he is gone, for he is not suffering and hopefully neither will I anymore. But I’m not sure that really is the case. I need to come to terms with what wasn’t said and find a way to process this so that I can move forward in peace.

 

 

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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.”

 

I’m sure it’s happened to all of us. During moments of stuttering, our internal voice starts talking to us and we have a running dialogue about how awful it was to stutter. What must the listeners have thought? Did they think I was incompetent? Did they think I was nervous? Did they think I shouldn’t have been the one to be presenting to them?

Those are some of the thoughts that ran through my mind earlier this week when I had to do presentations at two different schools. These were planned talks that I do every year about career options to high school students. I know the material like the back of my hand. Each presentation takes about 40 minutes. I have current students with me who help to co-present about their experiences in the programs we are talking about.

My stuttering took center stage both days. I stuttered a lot, mostly “beginning of the word” repetitions. I was not nervous and I knew my material well. I was not stressed or overly fatigued (until later in the day anyway.) For some reason, my stuttering showed up in full force. It seemed like I stuttered on almost every other word. I was very self conscious and aware of my stuttering. When I repeated or blocked, those thoughts ran through my head and I did not feel positive about how the presentations went.

If we let it, our imagination can run wild. I am sure that most of the listeners didn’t really care if I was stuttering but I thought that they did. I thought they were all thinking about how bad a job I was doing and what was wrong with her.

When I was done with the presentations, 5 on Monday and 4 on Tuesday, I was just exhausted. I was exhausted from all the talking, all the stuttering and all the thinking. I had to remind myself that I stutter and consequently I am going to stutter when I give presentations. There’s going to be days like that – when I stutter more than usual. That’s the very nature of stuttering. It is unpredictable and shows up when it feels like it!

I learned a lesson from this. I can’t give in to the inner voice that is fueled by my imagination gone wild. I have to be kind and gentle with myself and not beat myself up.

What do you do when your stuttering takes center stage?

People who stutter tend to be very good at avoiding. We avoid speaking situations in which we fear we’ll stutter. We avoid certain words and switch to words we can say without stuttering.

For a long time, as I’ve written before, I was extremely covert and avoided situations where I’d be vulnerable and exposed as a person who stutters. I always had the fear of being negatively perceived or judged or labeled.

As I’ve gotten older, I find that I don’t care as much about my stuttering and am largely open about it. I stutter openly, without apology, and feel I am living a much more authentic life, at least as far as stuttering goes.

But what I’ve found is that avoidance has seeped over into other parts of my life. I’m sure many of you have found this as well. How could it not? Practicing stuttering avoidance for many years becomes such a strong habit that it almost seems to become default behavior.

What am I talking about? Well, I find that I avoid difficult conversations. I avoid conflict. I sometimes avoid change. I sometimes avoid making decisions. I sometimes avoid being too assertive at work, for fear of rocking the boat and being perceived or judged negatively, much like when I was covert and avoiding stuttering.

I’d like to say that I have transcended all of this now that I am overt with my stuttering but I can’t. I keep noticing pockets of avoidance that I am positive relates to my stuttering. This is something that I am continually working on. I am mindful of when I seem to be avoiding something big and acknowledge that it’s happening.

Acknowledging avoidance is only half of the battle. The other half of the battle requires action and courage. I’m working on both. How about you?

I’m a huge fan of the Netflix series “Orange Is The New Black,” about the lives of women in prison. It is well written and has great character development. In season two, and now in season three, we learn more about major characters through flashbacks.

We learn why Norma is mute in season three. This is a spoiler alert – if you’re a fan and are not up to season 3, episode 7 yet, don’t read any further! 🙂

Episode 7 reveals in a flashback scene that the reason Norma doesn’t speak is that she is a stutterer. We see her attempt to speak in a scene from her youth to a cult leader. When she stutters, the leader tells her she doesn’t need to speak around him – that he hears her. We then understand that she chooses not to speak thereafter.

Several times in season 3 we also see Norma pull out a notepad and write the words that she chooses not to speak.

What do you think? Has anyone ever considered selective mutism as a way to deal with stuttering? Or using a notepad to write what you want to say?

I’ve read that the famous James Earl Jones chose to be mute when he was a child because he stuttered. I believe he didn’t speak for a number of years. It wasn’t until a sympathetic high school English teacher encouraged him to recite poetry that he began speaking again. James Earl Jones credits reciting poetry with helping him manage his stuttering.

I heard James Earl Jones perform at a local venue here in Albany, NY about 8 years ago. He read from his own poetry and wowed the audience with his booming voice and his heartfelt words. He stuttered openly several times during his reading. It was a wonderful night that was in sharp parallel to his choice to silence his own voice many years ago.

I’ve never considered choosing to be mute to manage my stuttering. I want to be heard too much. What about you?

Last night in a Stutter Social hangout, a small group talked about shame and fear, and how both can still have a grip on us as adults who stutter. While stuttering may get easier as we mature, those pesky feelings can hold on and do a real number on us.

We were talking about the times when we as adults get laughed at or someone makes a joke about our stuttering. Three of us were participating in this discussion, and we all had examples of when this has happened.

One guy mentioned that when this happens, he feels like punching the person who is so insensitive. He gets all tight and angry, but doesn’t actually act on the desire to lash out. He said he actually doesn’t do anything but feels vulnerable and ashamed.

I mentioned that I sometimes feel ashamed as well, when someone laughs or teases and I don’t do anything, for fear of drawing more attention to the matter.

We discussed how it’s important to pay attention to this shame.

When we feel shame, it’s usually a sign that we need to do something – take action – to rid ourselves of the shameful feelings.

I shared that when someone laughed at my stuttering recently and made a joke, I let it bother me for a few days. Then I decided to email her and let her know it bothered me. She apologized and explained she was unaware she had made me feel uncomfortable. I felt better after doing something and not just letting the feelings eat at me.

What do you think? Do feelings of shame ever creep in? What can you do to lessen those feelings?

 

 

 

 

This is an interesting story that brings up the issues of shame regarding stuttering.

Stutterer and country singer Tim Poe auditioned for the reality TV show  “America’s Got Talent” in Texas this past week. Before performing his song, his pre-interview showed him stuttering. So what, you might say.

Mr. Poe is a military veteran who claims he was injured in combat in Afghanistan and suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI.) He claims the stuttering is a result of the TBI.

Within 24 hours of his television audition, the media reported that Mr. Poe lied about being injured and that his stuttering was not the result of an injury, which would have made it neurogenic stuttering. It appears that Mr. Poe has indeed been a life-long stutterer and was so embarrassed that he felt he need to create an elaborate lie about his circumstances.

A lie that illustrates the shame of stuttering and a lie that illustrates disrespect to military veterans who have indeed been gravely injured.

I have heard of people who stutter who make up other reasons to explain stuttering, so they don’t have to admit or acknowledge the stuttering. People have coughed, cleared their throat, said they swallowed wrong, pretend to word switch.

Some people are so embarrassed and ashamed of their stuttering that they will do anything to hide it.

This example is extreme. What do you think?


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