Reconciliation as Resilience – Pamela Mertz

About the Author:

Pamela Mertz is a person who stutters and is actively involved in the global stuttering community. She is a past Board member of the International Stuttering Association, and present Board member of the USA National Stuttering Association. She had the vision behind the “We Stutter @ Work” program. She has a blog called Make Room For The Stuttering and hosts the only podcast exclusively for women who stutter.  She was a host for Stutter Social for close to six years and is a country leader for the employment advocacy group, 50 Million Voices.

“She stood in the storm and when the wind did not blow her way, she adjusted her sails.” (Elizabeth Edwards)

I love this above quote. It gets to the very core of resilience. For a long time, I allowed stuttering, which I perceived as a flaw, to hold me down and prevent me from living my best life. I did not think it was possible for a stutterer to live a life of meaning and purpose. I was so smothered in shame that I never even considered that I could do something about shame, that I could get up when knocked down.

I was knocked down a lot due to stuttering. I remember times I was laughed at, mocked, dismissed, and excluded. I remember how I reacted when these things happened. I cried and ran away, careful to not let others see how much it affected me. 

Stuttering began taking control of me in many ways that I was not consciously aware of. I did not raise my hand, volunteer to speak or even allow myself to be out front. I always hid in a corner, sat at the back of class, and avoided eye contact so that I would not be called on to speak. I had convinced myself that when I spoke, people would laugh and not take me seriously. It took me a long time to realize that I was the one leading the shame parade.

I have shared my story of hiding my stuttering many times. I have written articles for past online conferences such as this, I have made videos, I host a podcast about stuttering, and I have blogged about stuttering for more than 10 years. But it took me a long time to get to this point where I now willingly share my story and stutter openly.

I had a pivotal event in my life that paved the way for me to stop automatically equating stuttering with something bad, or believing that I was bad, flawed, or imperfect. Prior to this event, I did not know what resilience was.

I was fired from a long-held job because of stuttering in 2006. As you can imagine, that rocked my world. It was such a blow to my identity and self-esteem, for I had carefully constructed myself as someone who did not stutter, even though I do. I had successfully hidden my stuttering for so long that not many people in my world knew that I stuttered. 

In the process of crafting this “self who did not stutter,” I had unwittingly compromised my real self and tried to pretend that I was OK with being perceived as nervous, shy, quiet and a wallflower. I had created a “Fake Pam,” which I let the world see but I was totally unhappy with. 

Getting fired for stuttering was the beginning of shedding “Fake Pam” and letting “Real Pam” out. The whole process of reconciling the two vastly different versions of myself was the very definition of resilience. I just did not realize it in 2006. It took me a few years to say goodbye to “Fake Pam” and to welcome “Real Pam” to her forever home. 

Once “Real Pam” was out, there was no stopping me. Not only did I shed the fake persona, I also became real in other parts of my life. I learned that while hiding stuttering, I had also been hiding any open expression of emotions, which had suffocated me. If you have ever read the book “The Velveteen Rabbit,” you know that the stuffed rabbit became a real rabbit, which was very much like my own transformation.

Being resilient means facing pain, and choosing to walk through it, instead of around it or choosing to go down a different street. As I became real, I began to recognize powerful moments of resilience in my life. 

After getting fired, I had to go on interviews again to find a new job. I faced the fear of being judged because of stuttering by choosing to openly disclose that I stutter during interviews, for the first time ever. I quieted the inner chatter in my head that said I was not being hired because of stuttering but rather it could very well have been true that I just was not the right fit.

When I did get a job, I openly shared with supervisors and coworkers that I stutter and was still liked and accepted. I learned that I had worried about stuttering far more than anyone else did. Being real and true to myself was such a new and triumphant feeling. I wanted more of that. I wanted to take chances. I wanted to start living my best life.

I joined Toastmasters, attended stuttering support groups, and even found myself hosting a virtual stuttering support group for almost six years. I found myself doing lots of public speaking and making efforts to normalize stuttering as much as possible. I was asked often to speak to college graduate classes about covert stuttering, being asked to come back year after year by the same professors. I was afraid of rejection each time, but I persevered and let “Real Pam” come out and be heard. I liked her voice, my voice, the one that I had always thought no one could ever like because it shakes and shudders and stops and blocks. But I was at a point in my life where I could say “so what?”

I have learned that I can sail in a storm and adjust the sails to another course when I must. This is no longer fear but strength. And a belief that “I can do this.”

I have always had the resilience necessary to meet life’s challenges head on. I just did not know it for such a long time. “Real Pam” did the right thing and introduced herself to “Fake Pam.” “Real Pam” said “Nice to meet you, but your services are no longer required. Goodbye.” As for “Real Pam?” Nevertheless, she persisted.

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Comments

Reconciliation as Resilience – Pamela Mertz — 38 Comments

  1. Welcome to the 2020 ISAD Conference. This is exciting and I am so glad you stopped to visit my paper. Please comment and ask questions and I’ll be happy to have a dialogue with you.

    • wow you never cease to amaze me and make me think I love the way the quotes you make and what you say shows so much empathy and strength .

      • Thank you so much Phyllis. I am glad you read my paper and got something from it. My strength in terms of stuttering has been long fought for – I didn’t also believe my imperfection could actually be considered as a strength. I am truly not the same person I was 10-12 years ago.

        I grow every time I engage in conversations like this. I am so happy you found the stuttering community, your tribe, your “family.”

        Pam

    • Hi Pam!

      I am a graduate SLP student hoping to learn more about PWS. I love the comparison that you make of your transformation to the Velveteen Rabbit becoming a “real” rabbit. I’m sure it felt like a weight lifted off of you not to have to hide anymore. Your story sounds as though there was more to your transformation that just “being okay with your stutter.” Do you mind elaborating more on that? Thank you for sharing!

      • Hi mkpeters,

        I wrote out a very long response about my story and somehow, it disappeared. A copy was not saved, and I’m really upset, because I had said some really cool things.

        Instead, I will share this paper with you, from an earlier ISAD conference, where I wrote about the experiences that lead me to finally accept my true self, stuttering and all.

        https://www.mnsu.edu/comdis/isad11/papers/mertz11.html

        This does not cover everything I wrote in my long comment, but pretty close to it.

        Thanks for your interest.

        Pam

  2. My second time reading your story. I can relate so much.
    Thanks again for everything you say and do Pam

    • Thank you so much Linda.
      I love that you feel you can relate to this. I often struggle to find the right words that match how I feel.

      Pam

  3. Hello Pam,

    Although I cannot imagine a version of you that ever was truly “fake,” I think I know what you mean! I can so relate to “Nice to meet you, but your services are no longer required.” Similarly, from the ACT literature, I’ve learned to recognize more often when my mind is tuned to Radio Doom and Gloom and say things like, “Thanks mind, but no, thanks.” I sure appreciate your article. Best,

    Rob Dellinger

    • Thank you Rob.

      I actually robbed myself of so many years when I was pretending to be happy with “Fake Pam,” and constantly tried to convince myself that hiding and just lurking in life was the way to go.

      So not true, as we know.

      I am glad you are so actively engaged in this year’s conference.

      We all learn so much from each other.

  4. Pam this part resonated with me so much: “Being resilient means facing pain, and choosing to walk through it, instead of around it or choosing to go down a different street. As I became real, I began to recognize powerful moments of resilience in my life.”

    What your journey showed me that having this skillset of resilience is actually something that we people who stutter should really embrace as life will continue to throw us challenges and it is all about how do we skillfully respond in those situations and moments and which path we choose to go down.

    If you could change your journey, what one aspect would you change of it knowing what you know now?

    • Thanks Kunal.

      I read a lot of self help books, and “Broken Open” by Elizabeth Lesser stands out to me the most. In it, she talks about facing pain and challenges by walking right through them, allowing yourself to feel and process the feelings. For so long, when I tried to hide stuttering,I also hid my emotions and presented a total imposter to the world.

      It took me quite a few years in psychotherapy to peel back all of my layers, say hello and goodbye to them, and process that I was really ok with “Real Pam.”

      One thing I would have changed, based on what I know of me now, is waiting so damn long. I definitely learned so much from the process of becoming real, and I know now that I “HAD” to go through that. I just wished I had worked on myself and embraced all of me, sooner, like maybe 20 years instead of 35. 🙂

      Pam

  5. Hello, Pam,
    Thank you for sharing your paper. The line about, “there is no fear, but strength. And the belief ‘I can do this,’ really resonated with me as a person who stutters. To me, it means that we can build our resilience throughout our lives as we face adversity instead of holding back. We can let ourselves be seen and heard once we let people know that we stutter and that is true courage. Thank you and all good wishes to you.

    • Thank you Lisa.
      I like your work too, both as a NSA Chapter leader and the audio submission you contributed to this conference.

      Pam

  6. Thank you for sharing this Pam….your piece is so insightful and it’s also full of affirming life messages that are valuable for everyone. I thought I’d let you know that I’ve read it more than once and have also enjoyed your well-chosen quotation. 🙂

    Helen

    • Thank you Helen, for enjoying my contribution enough to read it more than once. I am so grateful that we have “met” virtually. I truly hope we get that opportunity to meet in person.

      I long felt that I was a better writer than I was with verbal communication. I found writing to come naturally and it seemed a perfect way to compensate for my long held aversion to speaking verbally. In fact, I have often sat down to write and found that my fingers were flying and there was words on the page before I even thought them!

      Today, I am happy that I can share both speaking and writing. I like both of my voices. I also love picking up meaningful quotes, saving them in a crevice of the mind, and then pulling them out to share when it seems relevant to a piece I have written.

      ISAD 2020 is such a treasure trove.

      Pam xxx

  7. You have every reason to like your written and your spoken voice Pam! And I think that’s something to treasure.

    I read a book a while ago that I found fascinating “The Human Voice – the story of a remarkable talent” by Anne Karpf, published in the UK by Bloomsbury Publishing in 2006. One section in it “Do I really Sound Like That?” explores why most of us (and this “us” is not people who stutter, it’s everyone) react with horror when we hear recordings of ourselves. Just thought I’d mention in case the book is of interest to you or others here.

    I also hope we get to meet in person…for now, I am glad we have had the chance to meet virtually too. 🙂

    Helen

  8. Pam, your story of resilience brought happy tears to my eyes. Thank you so much for sharing your story with the world. “Fake Pam” reminds me of “Fake Steff.” For years I worked through lung disease and didn’t tell anyone.. work through pain, lots of it… and bad. I thought if I took on more roles, more jobs, more titles- even as a mom, spouse, SLP, whatever it was… that the disease process and illness didn’t exist. I thought I was so good at “passing”… but I really wasn’t good at it as I thought I was, especially towards the end. You are so amazing to me, sweet Pam.. I am so thankful I got to read this.

    • Thank you Steph. It’s funny, isn’t it, that there are so many parallels to our journeys with stuttering, and the associated need for resilience?

      I can truly say that I don’t recognize the Pam I was 12 years ago. She has evolved into a very different person, one whom I now call proudly “friend.”
      I think making friends with ourselves makes the journey of bouncing back and resilience so so so much easier.

      Pam

  9. Hi Pam, It never twigged it was yourself helping me with my log on difficulties, what a pleasant surprise.i was hoping we might meet at a BSA conference soon. But you’ll have to be quick I’m not getting any younger.

    Thoroughly enjoyed your piece, You have a great way with words and are extremely insightful.

    I too was covert and can relate a great deal to your experiences.However, I would never claim to have come anywhere near to achieving what you have done.

    My speech battle has given me the resilience to survive the many other traumas of my 76 years.Too which I am eternally grateful.

    I’m sure you’ve got a keynote speech in you. John

    • Hi John,
      Yes, indeed that was me. I’m all over.

      I too had hoped we would meet in person at the BSA conference. I was definitely planning to attend. Hopefully, if the in-person event is rescheduled for next year, I’ll be able to cross the pond.

      I have never given a keynote speech. Never been asked but I would be so thrilled to do so.

      Pam

  10. Dear Pam,

    I love this idea of reconciling our images, the past and the present, or what we pretend to be and what we want to be. It’s such an important lesson for the PWS out there making their Journey. Perhaps there is a parallel in ACT: defining our values and committing action according to those values.

    I am so pleased that you found Real Pam, and gave Fake Pam notice. The whole of the world of stuttering is better off because of it.

    Hanan

    • Hanan,

      Thank you for such affirming comments.

      I could never have imagined 10-12 years ago that I would be at a stage in my life where I really am OK with all the parts of me, “warts and all.” (I read that description of loving yourself warts and all somewhere but cannot remember it now.)

      It sounds like such a cliche to say I have made lemonade from lemons, but with this very personal, authentic side of me, I have. I really have.

      I still remember meeting you for the first time in 2010 in Cleveland, I believe. Right away, it seemed we had been good friends forever.

      I so admire all of the stuttering advocacy and activism that you do, personally, for people who stutter in Israel, especially the children. You, my friend, have changed so many lives.

      Pam

  11. Hi Pam. Your courage and resilience continues to shine. Great to know the “real” Pam. Thanks for sharing and for all you do in this community! Great leadership!

    • Thank you Dori, for reading and those kind comments. I really look forward to this forum this year because of the global nature. We can all learn from each other, despite cultural differences.

      Pam

  12. Hi Pam. I loved reading your story about revealing and loving your true self. I do not stutter myself, but am in graduate school studying to be a Speech Language Pathologist. Reading your story helped me realize more of the impact stuttering can have on a person. I know I will never fully understand what it’s like to stutter, but thank you for sharing your story and helping me understand as best I can to have empathy for anyone I come in contact with. Thank you for sharing!

    • Hi Megan,

      Thanks for visiting my paper and leaving such kind feedback. It’s crucial for all of us to be open and fully present when engaging in communication with someone who stutters. We have to remember to check our biases and leave them at the door. It’s easier said than done, of course, but the act of at least trying to fully engage with presence and empathy is always appreciated.

      Pam

  13. Hello Pam!
    I am a current graduate student at USC studying to become a Speech-Language Pathologist. I want to thank you for sharing your paper, as it was so inspiring to read. I admire your resiiliance and strength to say “goodbye” to the old Pam and welcome you’re true authentic self. I believe your quote of “Being resilient means facing pain, and choosing to walk through it, instead of around it or choosing to go down a different street.” can resonate within all of us through our own personal struggles in life. There are no shortcuts, the only way out of a situation is to get through it. Thank you again for sharing your story.

    • Hello,
      Thanks for reading and for those great comments.

      I read a lot of self help books, not particularly related to stuttering, although there are parallels very often.

      The book, “Broken Open” by Elizabeth Lesser, is a great read about the importance of not shoving difficult moments or negative thoughts to the back of our minds and just hope they go away. Because we know it doesn’t work that way.

      In order to process anything and move past it, we indeed need to walk right into it, through it, and then away from it. Processing the feelings, especially bad ones, helps us create new narratives and hone resilience.

      I don’t recognize the “old Pam” anymore. She is a completely different person because she had the courage to accept tough times, deal with them and then move away positively, having learned something from the experience.

      Something I’ve learned and done a lot (even though people who stutter cannot always wrap their head around it) is to reframe a stuttering moment. Instead of saying, “Oh my gosh, I had a horrible stuttering day or moment,” and then dwell on it and feel bad. But if you reframe the moment and say, to yourself or out loud, “Wow, I am stuttering really well today,” and with a smile. Then it’s practically impossible to stay stuck in a self pity rut, but instead I reframe it so that others see it’s not a big deal.

      And I do stutter very well. I’ve had years of practice. What are you good at?

      Pam

  14. Hi Pam,
    Such a privilege to read about your journey and see your strength and resilience. Most definitely, she persisted!
    Loryn

    • Loryn,

      Thank you so much for reading and the lovely feedback. I have written papers for this conference over a number of years now, and twice even did a video submission. I always marvel at “what more is there to say?”

      But this theme of resilience jumped out to me, and it provided a way to share more of my journey.

      Pam

  15. Pam, I enjoyed reading your words here, and listening to your spoken words as we shared conversation not long ago. I have re-visited your words and find new meaning and value each time I do.
    Thank you for sharing and giving so much of yourself.

  16. Uri,

    Thanks so much for taking the time to read my contribution and for such thoughtful feedback. I’m so glad our paths crossed in person some years ago and I am thrilled that we get to correspond regularly through our virtual platforms.

    Your work, conversations and connections are so helpful and inviting to the community. You’re one of the SLPs who don’t stutter who really “gets” it.

    Pam

    • Pam, humbly acceopt your words as highest compliment.
      When we can uncover the mutual respect for one another, truly great things can happen. The “real you” can pop out, and break through fully… we can reduce/eliminate the degree of fear that holds us back and vigilance we hold tight, and greatness can emerge through the safe exchange and collaboration made possible through openness.

  17. Hi Pam
    Thanks so much for sharing. There is the power to overcome and subdue in being resilient. Lets keep moving forward pushing out this comfort zone.

    • Sunjoh,

      Thank for reading, and the great feedback. Do you stutter? Or are you a SLP?

      Pam

  18. So happy to know the real Pam, as she’s a lady I admire so much for going through hardships on so many levels, but still standing tall, AND paying it forward. I just hope that Real Pam can embrace Fake Pam and love her, no matter what. As when these two hold hands, they can move mountains.

    Stay safe, lots of love, and keep fighting.

    Your friend, Anita

    • Thank you so much Anita. It has indeed been a journey for me, one that I can clearly see the “tipping point” where I no longer wanted to hide myself and I became no longer afraid to do so.

      People like you have helped me along the way and for that OI am greateful!

      Pam

  19. Thank you all for reading my paper and for leaving such thoughtful comments and questions. I love participating in this conference every year because I truly believe that we all have stories to tell and those stories need to be shared and heard.

    Until next year,

    Pam