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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