Make Room For The Stuttering

Posts Tagged ‘stuttering shame

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.

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.

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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.

 

 

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.

 

 

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?

Sometimes I think about that sad, frightened little girl who stuttered and wish I could just give her a great big hug and tell her everything would be OK. If someone had told her that, things certainly would have been different.

She wouldn’t have grown up feeling so insecure, afraid and ashamed. Insecurity, fear and shame stays with those who don’t get early positive messages. How can we change that?

One of the earliest memories I have of stuttering is my father yelling at me to, “Stop that,”  “no one talks like that,” or “Jesus Christ, shut up.” I don’t necessarily remember the stuttering, but I vividly remember how that criticism felt, stung!

I didn’t know how to cope. I was afraid of my father and his deep disapproval. He was ashamed of me. He never said that. He didn’t have to.

I wanted my father to love me and be proud of me.  I never, ever felt I measured up in his eyes, not as that little girl and not as an adult.

Those feelings of hurt, of being a disappointment, and being disappointed, of not feeling loved, stayed with me a long time. Those early moments drove me to try and hide my stuttering.

I always tried to find that love and approval, which I didn’t think I could as a stutterer.

As an adult, I often still feel the pain and loneliness of that wounded little girl. The shame that still creeps in sometimes when I stutter leads right back to my 5 year old’s shame. I tell myself I am over it, but it comes back to remind me, haunt me, actually.

What can be done to ease the pain that is still there of the wounded inner child? Do you have a wounded inner child that you do not acknowledge, or tend to?

I try to be kind and gentle when she pops in unannounced! I wish I could give her that warm hug and tell her everything will be OK. I wish I could dry her tears and take the pain away.

The closest I can come is to try and embrace myself and remind myself that I am good and special and loved, just the way I am. Stuttering and all!

Can you do that?

Like a swan . . . . graceful and elegant on the surface, but frantically thrashing and kicking below the surface to keep it looking that way.

Like I fell off a cliff in mid-sentence . . . .  and no one even noticed.

Like observing life through a two way mirror . . . .  seeing and hearing everything other people are doing and saying, but feeling unable to participate in the conversation.

Like playing a game of hide and seek . . . .  and always being terrifed that my hiding place would be discovered. 

I gave a talk last week to master level SLP students. I was asked to talk about what it felt like to be covert.

I used some of these examples, and also talked about the shame involved with stuttering and trying to cover it up.

I don’t think the SLP students got it. I don’t think SLP students get enough information on what it’s like to cover up stuttering.

Have you ever tried to cover up your stuttering? How did it feel?

I got some of these examples from some of my friends who share the covert experience. Thank you!

Episode 81 features Vivian Sisskin, who is a SLP and Board Recognized Specialist in Fluency Disorders. Vivian is on the clinical faculty at the University of Maryland. She has specialized in stuttering for over 30 years, and has “loved every minute of it.”

Vivian is also active with the National Stuttering Association, and is a moderator of the popular discussion group Stutt-l.

I have heard Vivian speak at a number of stuttering conferences over the last several years, and got the chance to really talk with her quite a bit at last year’s FRIENDS conference in Washington, DC. Vivian has also been very supportive and encouraging of this podcast that gives voice to the stories of women who stutter.

When I first heard Vivian present a session about her avoidance reduction therapy, I found I couldn’t get enough of it. Learning how to avoid avoidance behavior resonates strongly with covert stutterers, which I “thought I was” for many years.

I am privileged and honored to have Vivian as a guest, to share what avoidance reduction therapy is, why it is so powerful, and how she specifically approaches the work in therapy.

One of the themes Vivian shares in this powerful episode is change – the act of doing leads the way to change. Be sure to check in, and feel free to leave feedback.

Music used in this episode is credited to ccMixter.

Episode 78 features Fianna Peppers, 27 years old, who hails from Tulsa, Oklahoma. Fianna currently works in a Bank of America call center, something that she never thought she would be able to do because of her stuttering!

Fianna describes herself as a master of word substitution. She has been doing that for over 25 years. She blocks quite a bit as well.

We talk about the huge role that shame plays in the lives of people that stutter. Fianna shares that as a kid, she was made fun of a lot. She relates a recent incident where a co-worker made fun of and mimicked her stuttering.

Fianna and I met in the on-line Facebook stuttering group Stuttering Arena, which boasts over 900 members. She brainstorms frequently with group members and has talked with a few over the phone.

We also discuss acceptance, therapy experiences and feelings. At one point, Fianna gets emotionally choked up as she gets really honest about how much shame has gripped her. This is a jam-packed conversation that covers a lot of ground and a range of emotions.

We also discuss how tiring and draining it is to stutter – it is physically and emotionally exhausting to constantly switch words!

Kudos to Fianna for sharing and being so honest. Please feel free to leave comments or just let Fianna know how well she did. Remember, feedback is a gift!

Credit for the music used in today’s episode goes to ccMixter.

Episode 76 features Andrea Montes, who hails from Seattle, Washington. Andrea works in Redmond as a massage therapist. She always loved getting massages when she was younger, and became good at giving massages because she knew what she liked.

Andrea decided to become a massage therapist, both because of her love for it and because she thought she wouldn’t have to talk much. Not surprisingly, she learned otherwise!

Andrea only “came out” about her stuttering 7 or 8 months ago. She was covert, and worked hard at hiding stuttering at work, for fear of being judged or fired. She was terrified of being found out as a stutterer.

She talks about how it took so much energy to hide, that when she left work and returned to her safety zone, she was almost inaudible. Her blocks were severe after being near perfectly fluent at work.

Listen in as we also talk about quality of life, getting rid of the “fluency dream”, self esteem and anxiety. Andrea also talks about her experience with the McGuire Program, and how it helped her “come out of hiding.”

Andrea shares that she is still dealing with the shame of stuttering, which prompts a segment about how we manage shame and other people’s reactions. Andrea gets really honest about her fear of her “big blocks.”

I loved getting to know Andrea, and loved her gut honesty. Feel free to leave comments or ask questions, or just let Andrea know how great she did in sharing her story.

Credit for the music used in this episode goes to ccMixter.


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