|About 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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