What If I Woke Up Tomorrow and No Longer Stuttered? (Pamela Mertz)

mertzAbout the author: Pamela Mertz is a person who stutters who is very active in the stuttering community. She is a Stutter Social host, writes the blog “Make Room For the Stuttering” and hosts the podcast “Women Who Stutter: Our Stories”. She has presented workshops on stuttering both regionally and nationally, and has spoken at three international stuttering events. Pam is also a 9-year Toastmaster and has achieved Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM) status. Pam works full time in a high school in the Albany, NY area as a recruiter and outreach specialist, spending most of her time doing public speaking presentations. In 2016, Pam was elected to the National Stuttering Association (USA) Board of Directors and also the International Stuttering Association Board of Directors, serving as Secretary.

The theme of this year’s ISAD conference is stuttering pride – respect, dignity, recognition. In this paper, I talk about the deep pride I feel about being part of the stuttering community. I am proud of the many accomplishments that I have had in my life that are directly related to the fact that I stutter. This paper examines what if I suddenly didn’t stutter. I would greatly miss the respect and dignity that being part of the community brings and the recognition that stuttering brings me.

What If I Woke Up Tomorrow and No Longer Stuttered?

I am a person who stutters. I have been stuttering since I was 5 years old. It’s basically all I know about communicating with others. Sometimes my voice shakes, quivers or tries to eke out a sound, but nothing comes out. Sometimes, I repeat words or syllables or prolong sounds. I’m very used to my stuttering and most people who know me well are also very used to my stuttering. I’m open with my speech and will often advertise to others who don’t know I stutter.

I am very active in the stuttering community. I found the National Stuttering Association (of the United States) in 2006 and went to my first annual conference. I haven’t missed one since, just recently having attended my 11th consecutive conference. At my second conference, I presented on a panel about covert stuttering, and have presented workshops at every conference since then. I have also presented at two international events. I have spoken via Skype twice at the Irish Stammering Association’s annual one day conferences, once as the Keynote Speaker. And I helped to facilitate a women’s workshop at the 2013 World Congress for People Who Stutter in The Netherlands, again via Skype.

I started writing about stuttering on a blog called “Make Room For The Stuttering” (www.stutterrockstar.com) in 2009 and 7 years later, am still going strong, writing at least weekly about some aspect of stuttering, either generally or how it specifically affects my life. And in 2010 I started a podcast for women who stutter called “Women Who Stutter: Our Stories.” I have interviewed more than 160 women from over 30 different countries around the world. This work makes me so happy.

I have also been a Stutter Social host for more than 3 years where I get to facilitate conversations about stuttering with people from all over the world through Google Hangout technology. It is so humbling to be part of the moment when someone just finds the stuttering community and finds themselves in a hangout meeting and talking with others who stutter for the first time.

I feel proud to be a part of such a vibrant community. I blogged earlier in the year about being part of a tribe, and loving it. For the stuttering community is really a tribe of likeminded individuals who share a common connection and come together with a common goal.

Earlier this year, I am proud to say, I was elected to serve on the Board of Directors of the National Stuttering Association and the International Stuttering Association. I am going to help further the goals of the stuttering community and help the world better understand stuttering.

When I wrote my piece about being part of a tribe, I posted it on Facebook and got an interesting comment from a friend of mine. Lisa wrote:

“This may seem kind of odd, but as someone who is SO part of the stuttering tribe, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on what you would do if you woke up tomorrow and suddenly there was no stutter. How would that affect your world? I know it’s kind of an oddball question, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about a little. If tomorrow there was no stutter, would I start doing anything differently? Would I be different?”

Her questions really made me stop and pause to think and reflect on what would I do if suddenly I woke up one day and didn’t stutter. The first thing that came to mind was: “would I be kicked out of the stuttering community?” That would be the hardest to deal with as the community has become an integral part of my life.  I don’t eat, drink and sleep stuttering, but I think about it every day and definitely talk to at least one other person who stutters at least once every day.

Having a community to identify with is a huge part of what makes us human. If you think back to your high school or college days, we learned about “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.” Feeling a sense of belonging is one of the basic needs of humanity. Belonging can be described as friendships, love and intimacy. That is what I get from being an active part of the stuttering community. I have made many friends from around the world that I wouldn’t have met if I didn’t stutter. Many of these people I have come to love, as we have spent time together and gotten to know each other well over many years.

And intimacy is part of the stuttering experience. People who stutter have intimate conversations with each other, just by the very nature of stuttering itself. We are exposed and vulnerable when we stutter – be it blocks or repetitions. We often hold eye contact with each other longer than we would with someone who doesn’t stutter, and hold hands longer while shaking hands, while we patiently wait for the person to finish speaking. Being present with someone in conversation – with eye contact, hand contact and active listening – is a very intimate part of communication.

If I suddenly didn’t stutter anymore, I’d still want to be part of the stuttering community. Maybe I’d be known as a recovered stutterer, with the memories and experiences of stuttering still very much ingrained in my brain. I don’t think almost 50 years’ experience with stuttering is suddenly going to quickly go away. I would still have the empathy and great listening that I’ve developed over the years. I would still have the desire to have intimate conversations and relationships with people who stutter.

This makes me think of the alcoholic community. People who are alcoholics enter into the “Alcoholics Anonymous” community looking for identity and fellowship. Recovered alcoholics stay involved in the community for years. A family member of mine has been sober for more than 35 years and is very actively involved in the alcoholic community. I think there is a positive, valued role for recovered alcoholics in their community and likewise, I think recovered stutterers could also have such a role.

My friend asked me if I would behave any differently if I suddenly didn’t stutter any more. I’d like to think that I wouldn’t. I have been shaped by my stuttering experiences, both good and bad, into the person that I am. Just because I might not stutter anymore wouldn’t make me any less of a sensitive, patient, empathetic human being who values real connection with people and intimate relationships.

I remember an interview given by Drew Lynch, a young guy who was featured on the reality TV show, “America’s Got Talent,” about two years ago. Drew had always dreamed of being an actor but a freak accident dashed those hopes. While playing softball, he was hit in the throat with a ball, knocked down and suffered a concussion. He also started stuttering as a result of this accident. He decided to take his chances as a comedian and auditioned on the TV show and did so well that he finished in second place. He has since traveled to perform in comedy halls across the country, making fun of his stuttering (not stuttering in general) as part of his comedy routine.

In an interview, Drew said that before he started stuttering, he wasn’t the type of guy who would hang out with someone that stutters. That he could be a jerk and insensitive to differences. Now that he stutters, he thinks he is a much better person.

I’ve never been a jerk towards people with differences and from a young age can remember always wanting to help people. That is why I chose to study social work in college and have worked in a helping profession for more than 30 years.

I don’t think I’d be a different person if I didn’t stutter but I might view my role in the stuttering community a bit differently. I’d want to make sure that people who stutter would truly be OK with me still being part of the community. I’d ask them and be upfront that I used to stutter and perhaps might have useful wisdom to share with others on different parts of their stuttering journeys.

So to my fiend Lisa, thank you for asking such thought provoking questions. Thank you for giving me pause to really understand how actively involved in the stuttering community I really am. I would be heartbroken if I was no longer part of this tribe of wonderful conversationalists who go deeper when communicating and who contribute empathy and intimacy to a world that talks too fast and doesn’t always listen with care. I look forward to the day when fluent people say, “I wish I stuttered too!”

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Comments

What If I Woke Up Tomorrow and No Longer Stuttered? (Pamela Mertz) — 122 Comments

  1. Hello Pamela,

    It is so inspiring to see how involved you are in the stuttering community. From reading previous comments, it seems as though stuttering was a burden on you for a long time. You took that and turned it into something that has changed your life for the better, all the while helping others who have went through similar experiences as you. I also read that an SLP was who first encouraged you to get involved in the stuttering community, particularly the NSA. This was awesome to hear, and something that I will keep in mind when I start working with PWS. Another thing that I was happy to hear is that you believe people who do not stutter, myself included, are able to gain an understanding of stuttering if the time and effort is put into it. This is something that I strive to do, as I know building a personal and intimate relationship with PWS is vital during therapy. You also talk a lot about the intimacy that is exhibited between two people who stutter. Do you think that someone who has not personally experienced stuttering would be able to reach this level of communicative intimacy with someone who does stutter? Also, you talk about the community being a tribe banded together by a “common connection with a common goal”. Would you care to expand on what this common goal is so that I can gain a better understanding of that? Thanks again for sharing your story. You are a true inspiration to all.

    Best,

    Tori

    • Hi Tori – when I said “common connection with a common goal” I meant that people who stutter often have the goal to meet and interact with others who stutter. Doing so greatly reduces feelings of isolation and anxiety, which is the primary goal of stuttering self help. Sometimes people who stutter have never met another person who stutters in person. I am an admin on a Facebook group called Stuttering Community and there are over 5600 members. People write all the time that they’ve never met someone face-to-face and would so like to. They often arrange meet-ups when they realize they are in close proximity.

      And yes, I do think a person who does not stutter can reach communicative intimacy with a person who stutters. There are a lot of people who “get it” and don’t stutter. SLPs who go out of their way to meet people who stutter and interact with us show their interest and get to know what is important to people who stutter. One of the best SLPs I had did not stutter and she and I could and did talk about anything. We peeled away layers and talked of the shame and pain I felt when I was growing up and trying to hide my stuttering. We had deeply intimate conversations – we trusted each other and cared about each other. I still keep in touch with her 8 years later.

      Pam

  2. Mrs. Mertz,
    I really enjoyed reading your paper! I am currently a first year graduate student studying speech-language-pathology and I am not an individual who stutters. This is the first year I was informed that the International Stuttering Awareness Day Online Conference existed. From reading your story, I can tell that you are a strong advocate for individuals who stutter and you have formed connections with individuals in ways I could not even begin to imagine. I am personally involved as an assistant for our Asperger’s group here on campus. One day the question: “If you could, would you choose to be “normal” or would you stay an individual with autism?” was posed. It was extremely interesting to hear how this group of individuals answered this question. Most said that they wouldn’t take away the autism piece because it was part of their identity and made them who they were. I definitely felt like you explained how stuttering has positively affected your life and how you wouldn’t be who you are if you didn’t stutter. To me, I feel that any life experiences are what shape us into the person we are today. I definitely think your friend asked some good questions about what you would do if you suddenly woke up and not stuttered anymore. After reading your paper, I asked myself the question: “What would I do if I woke up one day and started to stutter?” Personally, I found it extremely difficult to answer because I have been a non-stutterer for the last 22 years of my life. How does one even think about how to answer such a loaded question?
    Thank you again for sharing your story!
    Nicole

  3. Hello Pamela,

    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and experiences. It was very refreshing to read a piece in which you relay such positivity instead of a “how to cope” tone. You seem to be a very accomplished individual who has overcome many trials and it is inspiring to read that you are highly involved in public speaking (which must be a major challenge for someone who stutters) as well as helping the stuttering community. It is amazing that you are able to use stuttering in such a productive manner, and I can now understand why losing a stutter could be compared to losing a part of one’s identity.

    Thank you for enlightening me,
    Amy

  4. Hello Ms. Mertz

    Your paper was so captivating to read. Thank you for sharing your perspective on such a thought provoking question. It truly helped me realize how essential it is to have a community in which one can relate to, and how devastating it would be if one was expelled from it. I love how you connected the importance of having a community and having that sense of belonging to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. As a first year graduate student in speech-language pathology, I have not yet had the opportunity to work with a client who stutters. I am so fortunate to have read your paper and to have found out about your blog and podcast. I definitely think those will be great resources to have for the future.

    Best Regards,
    Megan Hlinak

  5. Hi Pam,
    First of all, thank you for sharing your paper, your wisdom, and your confidence with all of us. Secondly, congratulations to you for all of your hard work and accomplishments! So, your dear friend asked you, “If tomorrow there was no stutter, would I start doing anything differently? Would I be different?” and we were given your beautiful paper to read your insightful response to this question. Someone else asked you, “If you could achieve natural fluency through work and/or therapy, would you?” My understanding is that you replied, “No.” No, because at this point in your life you are more focused on acceptance rather than “fixing.” I think this is an amazing place to be at in one’s life. I sincerely raise my glass to you Toastmaster! 🙂 My question for you then, if I may, is this, “If you were given a magic wand (with no strings attached) that could take your stuttering away and leave you completely fluent, would you take it? Or would you pass it up?”

    • Hi Katie – thanks for the kind comments. Yes, my friend asked some great questions and I’m glad I’ve written a paper that has generated so much delicious discussion.

      If I suddenly had a magic wand that would make me fluent, no strings attached, would I use it?
      Probably not! Why? I like who I am, stutter and all. My stutter is what makes me me. It’s what makes me unique and memorable. Yes, people tend to remember me because I stutter and that’s a good thing. In my job as an outreach specialist, I want to be remembered. I want people to remember what I’ve said or where to reach me.

      I’m not sure I’d recognize me if I didn’t stutter anymore. Maybe I wouldn’t like the fluent Pam. Maybe she’d be a jerk. She definitely wouldn’t have the life experiences I’ve had that have indeed shaped me as a person, a person I quite like me.

      Now, if the magic wand had the power to offer temporary fluency at important times, and then go back to the stuttering me, I might take you up on that. Because there are times when I wish I was fluent – I’m human and sometime it would just be easier.

      All the best,

      Pam

  6. Hello Ms. Mertz,
    I really enjoyed reading you paper! Just like anything in life we group with people who we are like. It is awesome you have such a great support group and friend group that you have the opportunity to talk to someone each and everyday. I am from a small town and have a friend who has had a stutter since he was a small child, but unfortunately have never had a community and have met very few people who stutters. Do you have any suggestions of getting involved in a community if you do not live in the tribe?

    thank you,
    Katie Shively

    • Hi Katie – a great way to connect with others if there is not a community close by is to suggest to your friend that he try out Stutter Social, a virtual support group for people who stutter. Using Google hangout software, we use a group video chat where people from all connect virtually. It is a video chat room just for people who stutter. We meet three times a week, so hopefully one of those times would suit your friend. Find out more info at http://www.stuttersocial.com

      I’m a host on Sunday evenings and we have some great conversations. New people are always welcome.

      Pam

  7. Mrs. Mertz,

    It is inspiring to see all that you have accomplished for the stuttering community. I am a first year graduate student in Speech-Language Pathology. I look forward to using your blog as a helpful tool to best serve a client who stutters. It is useful to read personal accounts and provides a new perspective for me as a clinician. The question your friend asked is intriguing. It encouraged me to ask the same question as it pertains to various aspects of my own life. This is an extremely thought provoking question to consider and could help raise confidence in those clients who may feel ashamed of their stuttering.

    Thank you for sharing,
    Shelby

  8. Hi Ms. Mertz,

    I really enjoyed reading your paper and learning about your perspective on stuttering. I had never thought about interactions between PWS could be different, particularly your statement, “we often hold eye contact with each other longer … and hold hands longer while shaking hands, while we patiently wait for the person to finish speaking”. While I had never thought of this, I now have a better understanding of the community of stuttering and how stuttering can bring people together. Your paper and views help show the positivity of stuttering, and how PWS should have pride for who they are!

    Thank you for your story!
    Chelsey

  9. Hi Pamela,

    Thank’s for sharing this paper with us! I strongly believe that our own unique struggles and experiences can shape us to be our own unique person, and it is so inspiring to see a point of view that looks at the positive aspects of stuttering and how this can make a person more tolerant, sensitive, patient, and so much more! As a student clinician in the field of Speech and Language Pathology, I think so often clinicians only focus on the negatives, and forget to acknowledge the positives (or just can’t see the positives at all!).

  10. Hello Pamela,
    Thank you for writing this thought provoking paper! For me, a person who does not stutter, reading this paper made me ask the question: what if I woke up tomorrow and I stuttered? As a graduate Speech-Language Pathology student we have to do a project where we “pseudo stutter” for a time. Both this project and your paper have given me a greater depth into understanding only the fringe of what seems to be a deep and rich community, one that I hope to learn from for helping future clients in my practice.

    Thanks again for the opportunity to pause and reflect,

    Nolan

  11. Pamela,
    Wow! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. Before you brought up AA, I was already thinking your description of the stuttering community sounded like the AA community. I worked in mental health for 8.5 years. I saw the most amount of growth in people when they were surrounded by others who have the same differences. Feeling understood by others, especially without really have to explain things to them, is so important. Thank you for sharing!
    Kayla J

  12. Ms. Mertz,

    I found your essay to be quite intriguing! Thank you for sharing it. The theme of community seemed to be a integral part of your paper, clearly your community is very important and special to you and to many others within the stuttering community. Since I am not a person who stutters, my question is for myself and for those of us not apart of the stuttering community but who wish to align with the community. How can I, and how can we, provide adequate support for those in the stuttering community? Can we (those who do not stutter) ever truly be as supportive as those within the stuttering community? Lately I’ve been contemplating the concept of empathy. True empathy, as in, really being able to know how another person feels, arguably doesn’t exist. We are all different people with different stories. But sometimes certain people who have had the same experiences can have a higher level of empathy for each other than those who haven’t shared experiences. Although I can’t truly know what it is like to live a day in the life of a person who stutters, can I still provide the same level of support as the stuttering community? Even if it isn’t the exact same empathetic support? Is it possible that the support from those who do not stutter could be just as helpful as the support from those who do stutter? Perhaps it cannot?

      • Hi Kimberly – I think it’s important to consider empathy and how we can provide empathetic support for others. You’re right – we all have different stories and experiences. Sometimes it really doesn’t work to try and walk in someone’s shoes, especially with something like stuttering. The SLP students that I worked with did pseudo-stuttering (and maybe you have too) and they shared with me that it was really an uncomfortable experience. I’m not sure doing pseudo stuttering for a day or two as part of a class assignment is enough to develop empathy for someone who has lived with stuttering for a life time.

        I think SLPs who don’t stutter can certainly gain empathy and be supportive of people who stutter by being as actively involved in the stuttering community as possible. Attend stuttering events and the annual NSA conference. Meet people, talk to them, develop relationships that last. Just reading these papers on the ISAD conference is a good way to get to know what makes us tick.

        Pam

  13. Thank you for your insight on what it would be like if your life changed within a day. Your article has helped me to see how strong the community of stuttering is and how much support there is within the community. After reading this article, it has helped me to see how amazing it is to be able to have empathy and share that with someone who stutters. For the people who do not stutter and find it hard to empathize with PWS because they never had to experience anything like it, would you suggest a person who is fluent go out into the community and stutter?
    Thank you,
    Nicole

  14. I so enjoyed reading this post. I admire that you have taken something that many see as a hindrance and have fully embraced it and become so active and engaged in the stuttering community. I feel inspired by your message and I am sure you are as effervescent in person! I am wondering if you think that your ‘glass half full’ attitude is part of your personality – that you would have applied this perspective to any of your life’s ventures. Say you weren’t a person who stutters, perhaps you would have become very involved in some other organization or cause (say breast cancer awareness, it is October after all!) or do you think it is something unique to stuttering and the stuttering community that has made you so involved? Thank you for you inspiring and authentic post.
    Best,
    Liz

  15. Hello Ms. Mertz,

    Thank you very much for sharing your perspectives. It is always valuable to learn from people with so much experience. The question, “What if I stopped stuttering?” is quite intriguing, and raises several important points. Specifically, I really identified with your thoughts on the importance of having a community to which one can belong. In many ways, the things that make us different are a gift. For instance, if you had never stuttered, you likely would not have all of the relationships that you formed through your stuttering experiences and involvement. You mentioned that many of those relationships are some of the most important in your life now. The concept of forming a community of individuals who have shared experiences is one that is valuable to many people. Whether those experiences are due to a disability, a lifestyle difference, or simply a hobby, it is one of the greatest joys in life to share those moments with others who can relate.

    Thank you for your insights and thought-provoking contribution,

    Shannon Schield

  16. Ms. Mertz,
    I appreciate your candid and honest paper about your experiences. It was refreshing to hear your take on it and see you relate it to other aspects in the world – like AA.
    Furthermore, I understand how many people could identify with your statements. At some point, we all think about “what if I didn’t have XYZ happening in my life?” That could relate to stuttering, but it could apply to many other areas of life. Most of us, like you, have experienced something that was difficult but that was also paramount in shaping us into the people we are today. You so eloquently explained that even though stuttering has posed some difficulties, it has also has created many positive aspects. I, too, can relate to that, but in areas away from stuttering. I have found communities and formed my identity based on things that, at one point, were difficult.
    When people read this article, I imagine they think of something in their life that could have been different. But as you found, many of us would not change that.
    Thank you again for your paper! I really enjoyed it.
    Sincerely,
    Erika Myhre

  17. Pam,
    Thanks for writing this as it is such an interesting question. To keep the conversation going a bit, I have to wonder if you’d miss the actual act of stuttering. I think I would. Would you feel disappointed that, after working so hard to become overt and proud of your stutter, it was suddenly gone? Would you perhaps continue to voluntarily stutter with the hopes of coaxing it back? I hope these don’t come across as ridiculous questions. I think this is how I’d deal with sudden fluency.
    Elizabeth

    • Hi – thanks for asking a really good question. I do think I would miss the sound and feel of my stuttering. And you’re right, I’ve worked really hard to be overt and ok with that. It’s been a part of me for so long, and I’ve more so embraced it over the last 9 years. BUT, I don’t think I’d use voluntary stuttering to coax it back. I don’t think that would work, for some reason. And I also think I’d feel inauthentic if I was fluent but did voluntary stuttering. I definitely think this is something to ponder even more. I might have to blog about it, as I’ve not blogged about this subject since I wrote the paper. Thanks for the good ideas. -Pam

  18. Hi Ms. Mertz,

    Your topic heading grabbed me instantly. Thank you for sharing! It got me thinking of what communities I might belong to. As a person without stutter, the first and perhaps most obvious community I could think of was being a woman. There have been countless times where I have thought to myself, “Is it because I’m female?” In my twenties, I lived in Los Angeles and applied for server positions to several restaurants. The most I could get was “hostess.” I thought, “Perhaps it’s because I don’t have experience.” Then after gaining server experience, I moved and applied to a new restaurant. Once again, hostess. “Perhaps they promote from within,” I thought, while inwardly being aware of the twelve male servers and one female server on staff. As more and more male servers were being hired from outside the restaurant, it became clear to me that there might be another reason for my stunted growth in the restaurant industry. This is just one example. But in the spirit of your post, I asked myself, would I rather not be female? The answer is ‘no.’ As you mentioned, being part of a community is important. While I enjoy sharing conversations with people of all genders, sharing my experiences of being a woman to other women is comforting. And it’s shaped who I am. Anyway, this comment is probably completely on its own tangent, so I apologize. But thank you for presenting such an interesting topic!

  19. Thank you all for your great comments and questions. There were a lot of wonderful conversations here and much food for thought. I love how many of the SLP students turned the question around and asked themselves how it would be if they suddenly started to stutter. Even though the conference is now closed, please keep reading and reflecting.
    Pam