Our April meeting was our largest yet. There were 38 of us in total, including six newcomers who stutter, many familiar faces, and several SLPs and SLP students. It was lovely to reconnect with everyone and to meet the many people who joined us for the first time. We look forward to speaking more with each of you soon!
We split up into three groups for conversation. Here is some of what we talked about.
Creating a comfier environment to stutter in
Much of the conversation this month focused on how we can change the social dynamic with our listener when we feel uncomfortable or when we feel our listener is unsympathetic to how we speak. As it often does, “advertising”, or telling our listener that we stutter, came up. A newcomer talked about how she was nervous about advertising to her unsupportive coworkers. Advertising seemed foreign to her, and she worried that it would make her an easy target for malicious gossip. In response, some of us suggested that advertising, especially when confident and unapologetic, might instead be met with sympathy and respect.
We discussed how maintaining eye contact with our listener is another way to comfort ourselves while speaking. Like advertising, it can be powerful, but also scary and difficult to do sometimes. A few people spoke about how the variability of their speech—stuttering more as a conversation progresses, or stuttering a lot during one conversation while hardly at all in another—can make matters confusing. Some of us worry that this variability will lead our listener to assume we are drunk or high or just weird. We talked about how these concerns might be lessened by maintaining eye contact, which keeps us and our listener emotionally connected to each other and more present. One woman spoke about how she has felt a loss of dignity when looking away from her listener while speaking. Sometimes her listener has looked away from her too in response, perhaps sensing her embarrassment and feeling like he wasn’t supposed to have seen her in that vulnerable moment. But maintaining eye contact can preserve our dignity in our own mind and in our listener’s mind and establish us as a coequal partner in a conversation.
We also did some role-playing to explore ways we can handle or educate rude or ignorant cashiers when we’re buying food. And we talked about the “I Stutter Card” and about whether we would like to use it ourselves to advertise.
We talked about labeling ourselves. Many of us prefer to say simply, “I stutter”. When forced to choose between “stutterer” and “person who stutters”, we were about evenly split. But one man shared that he has found it helpful to think of himself as neither. He feels that disfluency is not binary, but instead a matter of degree. Since all people have disfluencies in their speech, he sees no need to label himself as different just because he has more disfluencies than most people. This attitude has helped him challenge his habit of reflexively thinking that stuttering is bad and has solidified his actual belief that it is ok to stutter.
Someone shared her frustration with SLPs who teach that stuttering originates in the vocal folds and articulators. She mentioned research suggesting that stuttering actually originates in the brain, particularly in the basal ganglia. Given the role of the brain, she feels that heroic attempts to control the muscles in the mouth and throat often miss the point, and that SLPs who pressure children who stutter to make such attempts can do a lot of damage. We also talked about the frustrations of not being able to pinpoint the reasons for an occasional increase in stuttering, or consequently to do anything about it. And we talked about the pleasures of being connected to the NSA community. There are so many thoughtful, talented, and accepting people to make friends with and to reach out to whenever we want advice or support from someone who understands the part of us that is shaped by stuttering.
Curiously, for the third time now, a record high 34 people attended our meeting. This month there were six SLP students and eleven newcomers. It was so nice to see everyone on Monday and to meet all the many people who joined us for the first time. We hope to see you all again soon.
We split up into three groups. Here is some of what we talked about.
Advertising, Authenticity, and Courage
We talked about “coming out” or “advertising” to people we know. Many of us have found that advertising eases our tension, increases our fluency, and generally works in our favor. One college student shared her experience advertising to people she didn’t know so well where the outcome was touchingly more complicated. With enormous bravery, she recently announced to her whole class that she stutters. How did it go? Well, now everyone wants to talk to her! But she doesn’t necessarily want to speak as much as people want to speak with her now, so advertising has somewhat complicated her social life. Even so, she says she is going to continue advertising because she doesn’t want to hide.
In a related conversation about authenticity, we talked about how letting out our true selves is scary, but that doing so opens the door to genuine connection with others, and to friendship, and to more.
We talked about being accepted by others and by ourselves. So many important people in our lives, including our spouses, have known that we stutter and have accepted us as we are right from the beginning or the first date. But we still had to, and have to, accept ourselves. And our own journey to acceptance is not along a straight path. We can have great moments where we feel accepting of ourselves and of our speech and speak openly with others about stuttering. Months later we might experience stuttering more negatively and not feel comfortable being so open with others about it.
One intrepid member became inspired to start practicing advertising in a structured way, perhaps as a daily challenge. We discussed the effect of a number of behaviors on our fluency and state of mind while speaking, including slowing our rate of speech, maintaining eye contact, and practicing fluency shaping techniques. One member shared his discovery of unexpected benefits from meditating. We discussed whether our friends do, or should, tell other people we stutter before bringing us around. We talked about how selfconscious we can become when we believe someone, perhaps a generally judgmental friend, is judging us or our speech. We talked about advertising to such a person and about the difference between trying to make that person feel comfortable and advocating for ourselves.
And a Poem!
Isamar Morales, a member of our group, wrote the moving poem “Speaking is like Drowning”, and shared it with us on Monday. It is reproduced here. Most if not all of us can relate to it so much. Thank you, Isamar!
It was so nice to see everyone on Monday night. There were 26 of us, including six newcomers, one SLP, and three SLP students. We are excited that our co-leader Marc has returned from his voyage upon the high seas. We split up into three smaller groups, and here is some of what we discussed:
We observed how sometimes we stutter more simply because we are putting ourselves out there more. We explored the relationships between negative self-talk, internal chatter, and rational fears emerging from stuttering. We tried to put stuttering in perspective, comparing it to other difficulties people face. We discussed the portrayal of stuttering in the media and how it might foster misconceptions.
Responding to an unsympathetic family
Some of us have family members who don’t want us to attend support groups, even if doing so might help us to live skillfully and happily as people who stutter. They want us only to “overcome” or “cure” stuttering, as they put it. One woman told us how her family members chastise her for embarrassing them in public. We spoke of the liberation—if sometimes incomplete—that comes from telling our families that the problem lies not with our ability to speak, but rather with their ability to accept us; from saying that we wish to be treated with the respect we deserve, and not as disobedient children.
What is helpful?
One newcomer who hadn’t spoken to a group of stutterers in decades was excited to get caught up on recent approaches to speech therapy. We discussed fluency shaping, acceptance, and avoidance reduction. We took turns sharing what each of us are finding to be most helpful these days: slowing down, paying attention to breathing, pushing words out, meeting other people who stutter, building confidence through affirmations, practicing acceptance, and more.
Suffering, hope, resilience, and gratitude
Another newcomer who hadn’t been involved in the stuttering community for many years spoke movingly about how he feels that stuttering has hurt him and weakened him, and of how he feels defeated. He discussed job promotions missed out on and opportunities not taken. All of us share his pain and loss, having ourselves lived lives with so much fear and disappointment. These shared feelings and experiences are part of what brings us together.
But we are brought together also by the hope and perspective we provide each other. One member reflected on how she recently felt so small when she advertised to a superior in a new job setting. After all these years of progress cultivating acceptance and comfort with her speech, she feels she took a step backward and now wants to reclaim her voice. And we know she will. Accepting oneself is an ongoing process, a life’s work. Other members discussed how they feel that stuttering has actually strengthened them more than it has weakened them. The discouraged newcomer said he felt fortunate to be speaking to us. We are delighted to hear that, and hope to see him and everyone else again soon. It can be a slow and challenging journey, but we help each other so much along the way. We are grateful to have one another, to connect with and to grow alongside.
Gabriel | www.nycstutters.org
A record 34 people came to our meeting on Monday night, including many for the first time. To all the courageous newcomers this month—stutterers, spouses, SLPs, and SLP students—welcome! We are so glad you joined us and look forward to having you back as often as you can make it.
Here is some of what we discussed:
Some of us who went to Baltimore earlier this month for the annual NSA conference shared a little of what we took away from it. There seems to be a consensus that the conference is a very special moment when we can connect, joyfully and meaningfully, with so many other people who share and understand our stuttering experiences. It inspires and strengthens us.
We talked about how difficult phone interviews can be for people who stutter. A few people shared the unfortunate fact that they’ve even been hung up on right in the middle of an interview! One brave newcomer shared how he felt when this happened to him, and how he called the company back twice to advocate for himself. We also discussed how “advertising”—telling people that we stutter, and perhaps how we would like them to respond—can be a helpful way to advocate for ourselves at the beginning of an important conversation and help take away some of the pressure that we feel to not stutter.
We discussed the possible usefulness of breathing exercises. If focusing on breathing helps athletes gain control over their bodies, might it also help stutterers gain control over their speech? On the other hand, is that very desire for control sometimes problematic and counterproductive? Or maybe a focus on breathing can be helpful without being used directly to control speech, but rather to help relieve anxiety or a sense of time pressure during a conversation.
Benefits of community
We shared our experiences with various approaches to reducing stuttering, including fluency shaping, the Hollins Fluency System, the McGuire Programme, and the SpeechEasy device. We also discussed our experiences with and the rationale behind “voluntary stuttering,” or stuttering on purpose. One of the benefits of being involved with the stuttering community is that it can help us sort through the many, often conflicting, messages about what to do about our stuttering. One longtime member of our group said the more he attends our support group, the better educated and more empowered he becomes. Other benefits of our community are support and perspective. One doctor who has felt disrespected at work because of his speech took some comfort from the words of another doctor at our meeting: He is helping his patients, and patients usually want to be helped much more than they want to sit in judgment of their doctors’ personal traits. For many of us, and for many reasons, community is so important. Thank you for joining us, and for sharing.