Tag Archives: Metaphor

The Day after International Stammering Awareness Day (ISAD)

kite-007Disclosing one’s stammer is easy they say… vital I say. In fact it is very much a technique I subscribe to, use frequently and encourage others to try. Imagine going into a stressful situation, an interview for example; walk through the door, friendly handshake, introductions gone well, half way through the first question, BLOCK. No sound. Embarrassed interviewers. Red faces, yours and theirs. You get the word out, will I block again? Will I stammer? Oh please get me out of here. It feels like a total failure, even though it probably isn’t. Your mind is going through all the usual worst case scenarios.

Now, try this for size. Walk through the door, friendly handshake, introductions gone well. “Before we start I would just like to say, I occasionally stammer. It’s not a problem for me and I trust it won’t be for you.” Now you are in control, you have wowed them, you have a USP. If you do block or stammer, it’s not a surprise, there will be no embarrassment, your stress levels are normal for an interview, and you’re likely to be more fluent as a result.

Early self disclosure works in many situations; with new people, those dreaded round the table introductions at meetings and even presentations and speeches. Whatever the occasion, it puts those of us who stammer in control of our speech, something we crave but may rarely experience.

So why is it then that I, someone who has lots of experience and success using this technique, finds it so difficult to talk about my stammer with my family, friends and colleagues? They already know I stammer, a fact I have never wanted or been able to hide, so self disclosure with them would be something slightly different. I know I would not suffer prejudice or ridicule, these are my friends after all, and rightly or wrongly I do crack a joke about stammering, so they know I am in a comfortable place with my speech.

Is it because I would have to speak more about feelings rather than the mechanics of speech? Is it because I would be revealing a more vulnerable side to my character they may not have seen, wish to see or I may wish to reveal? Is it because I don’t like talking about me me me? Am I, as usual, over-thinking the whole situation and should I just get on and talk to them about how stammering has and continues to shape me into the person I am?

These are questions I do not yet have answers to, but writing this has motivated me to move my self disclosure onto the next level, more personal, closer to home. I have always been sceptical of ‘awareness days’, there is a risk those not directly affected will be jolted for 1/365th of a year, then move on to the next cause. Don’t get me wrong, I fully support ISAD and the freedom it gives stammerers to speak out, often for the first time, and long may it continue. As with every British Stammering Association Conference I have attended, we must, must ride the wave of positivity and ‘can do’ generated and continue the work started on that day or weekend.

For me, that means talking to my friends, workmates and anyone else who knows me (sounds like I am on the radio!) about stammering, educating them and doing my bit towards a society that accepts dis-fluency and not expects fluency.

When I was a child I used to enjoy spending time on the beach flying kites; brightly coloured, bold symbols of fun and freedom, only just under control but high in the sky for all around to see. I will be flying the kite for stammering from now on, when will you be flying yours?

paul-roberts-photo

 

Paul Roberts

Fluent made language

LanguageBeing a stammerer, I believe, has the ability to provide an individual with certain positive attributes. One of the attributes I have found is a great respect for language. The experience of not saying what you want to makes you acutely appreciate the power of the right words. Whether it is in ordering in a restaurant or performing an oral presentation, you come to realise no word is a perfect synonym for another. Each word comes with its own unique associations and connotations.

Just recently, I have come to closely consider the words I and others use to describe stammering. The words may often sound positive – overcome, manage – but there are often subtle negative connotations present.

1398720426618Now, I am no linguist, but I decided to read a bit more into language and social stigma. In 1980, Dale Spender wrote a seminal text in feminism called “Man Made Language”. In the book, she lays out the power of language to influence society and individuals.

”[Language] is our means of ordering, classifying and manipulating the world. It is through language we become members of the human community”.

She then goes on to explain how the dominant sex “men” have dominated language – God is always a he, sex is penetrative – re-enforcing the lowly position of women. English is a man’s language that continues the oppression of women. This line of thought has since been continued from feminism into disability: an able majority has created a language that oppresses the disabled.

For a few minutes, I want to briefly write on how, maybe, a language pre-dominantly made by fluent people shapes our consciousness and our beliefs about stammering. How a fluent made language oppresses people who stammer. I would like to highlight a few more obvious words we could really do without in the stammering vocabulary. Words that continue to encourage society and stammerers to view stammering as a stigmatising defect rather than simply another way of communicating.

Overcome
I shudder with rage every time I read this one. It is the go to word for fluent newspaper writers everywhere: they aim to hold people who stammer up as inspiration porn to sell newspapers: not tackle social stigma. Look below the surface: overcome re-enforces stammering as a weakness. It implies stammering is something that can be beaten if only enough effort is applied.

Control/Manage
These two words are ubiquitous in the description of stammering therapies and successful outcomes for stammering therapies. They encourage stammering to be thought of as individual defect that should be minimised through effort rather than a disability which should be respected.

Grow out of
Commonly used when describing children who stop stammering. To me, it suggests those children who have not stopped stammering have failed to grow up. If only children who stammer were stronger, more confident they would have stopped this awful behaviour by now…

I think I may have just touched the surface with these few obvious examples. Society stigmatises stammering by a thousand cuts, not in an obvious fashion. I believe it’s time we started to use our walking thesaurus word-switching brains, refined by struggling with speech, to benefit stammering: to think about those subtly oppressive phrases we might use and replace them with empowering ones.

Patrick Campbell

Transparency

I like to be really transparent. Early after a TBI, I had such magnificently apparent social communication impairments that my verbal blurts were excused. As I recovered in visual processing, attention, balance, auditory processing, and something else I can’t remember (probably memory), I looked a lot less disabled. That made the blurts more noticeable and out of place. [Side note: if you work in brain injury rehab, notice I did not include executive function in that list of improvements because that was on a painfully slower recovery trajectory.] As long as I was well-rested and with friends I could usually control blurts. Add in stressors like exhaustion, a crowd, background noise, and the blurting would let loose.

While verbal outbursts are often considered inappropriate, there’s a beautiful truth behind them. I told someone once she reminded me of algae. While she shamed me for about 10 minutes in front of other people for this transgression, what she failed to do was find out what I meant. I was attempting to give her the highest compliment I could think of. I’d been searching in my mind for how to compliment this person, and all that would come to me was a sensation of appreciation and an image of algae. So I told her about the algae.

Barton springsAlgae–the kind I was picturing–is a luscious jewel-tone, so saturated in color as to almost be unbelievable. It’s miraculous in its depth of color. It’s soft and inviting, pleasantly fuzzy even when wet. (That is so cool about algae!) Algae appears delicate but is robust, spreading its influence far and wide. You can try to stop it, but you must humbly lose. Your algae will return, and no matter how you feel about that, it will always be back: strong, resilient, soft, and green.

This was several years ago when I had no capacity to verbalize an explanation like that. It was just a sensation, the color, my childhood memories of Texas summer heat on my skin and the softness of algae on my arms as I rested in the freezing, unchlorinated waters of Barton Springs. I felt the memories, and I wanted her to be loved the way I loved playing with the stringy strips of green that floated on the clear spring water.

But no. Inappropriate. Rude, inconsiderate, oh well.

I have many Autistic and neuro-diverse friends, and we spend a lot of time communicating online. Since I now live in the frigid tundra of Portland, Oregon, I’m not hanging out at the swimming hole anyway. So I’m online a lot. I’ve learned many wonderful things about effective communication from this particular community, and I want to share two of my reflections about that here.

  1. Sometimes there is no cruel intent at all behind a statement.

Why, exactly, is it a problem if I say I don’t like your dress? I’m only saying I don’t like your dress. This isn’t to insult you. It’s 100% possible for me to dislike your dress while still holding you in the highest esteem and even asking you for fashion advice down the road.

Consider that sometimes there is no emotional baggage, ulterior motive, or crap behind verbal outbursts. They’re thoughts that come out without regard for the listener’s feelings. But that doesn’t mean they’re intended to hurt the listener.

If I say I don’t like your dress, we could move on. You’re even welcome to tell me that hurt your feelings! Then, I can say, “I’m sorry for hurting your feelings.” This is how it goes when you’re transparent with your thoughts and don’t assume someone’s trying to hurt your feelings.

  1. Be so transparent that it hurts.

I like to use HTML mark-up. You don’t have to understand computer code to do this, and in increases the odds that your intentions will ring loud and clear online.

If I want to be sarcastic, I make that into HTML-type instructions. (Instructions are inside <>):

<sarcastic>I don’t like your dress.</sarcastic>

(Of course, I don’t get why someone would say that sarcastically, but they might.)

If I need you to know that I sincerely love your dress:

<sincere>I love your dress.</sincere>

In real life, I speak in HTML opening mark-up. I say, “It doesn’t sound like I mean it, but I really like your dress.” Or, “Don’t be fooled by my tears; I’m really happy. I’m just crying.”

When someone with executive dysfunction blurts, even if they say something hurtful, you’re not obligated to assume it’s supposed to be hurtful or inappropriate. There’s always the possibility that the words came out in an unintended tone of voice, the wrong words came out, or that they were exactly the right words, but you didn’t want to hear them.

I want to make sure that we find partnerships in communication. People with brain injury are expected to curb our verbal outbursts, think before speaking (who really does that?), and be more kind and polite. I would ask that as we work on steps in that journey, listeners explore their listening and investigate the ways in which we are just as likely to misunderstand what someone said (or meant) as we are to sometimes say something that didn’t work out. Transparency, not resentment, might be a great key to helping us get through the awkward blurty times, whether we’re the listener or the blurter.

Cheryl Green, MFA, MS

Cheryl-with-waterfallCheryl creates media that combine personal narrative, humor, and social critique to create dynamic, accessible tools for cross-disability justice. She is on the board of Disability Art and Culture Project and served on the board of Brain-injury Information Referral and Resource Development (BIRRDsong). She volunteered with the National Black Disability Coalition and the Portland Commission on Disability.

info@storyminders.com
www.WhoAmIToStopIt.com
Stories from the brainreels podcast

 

Accepting my stammer

The last Stammering Open Space in May saw a great exchange of ideas and experiences among the people in the group. Of the many interesting discussions that came up during the session, one in particular resonated with me: the idea that acceptance can be a useful way of dealing with your stammer.

I’ll be the first to admit that I was quick to reject the idea of acceptance when I first began speech therapy. The word felt too passive for me. It implied resignation, while I was determined to fight. As far as I was concerned, throwing punches at my stammer was the best way to get rid of it.

Fortunately, my attitude has changed enormously since then. After many months of mulling over the idea of acceptance, I can now see that it is actually a very active process. It does advocate giving up, but not in the way I initially thought. Acceptance is about moving forward by giving up the struggle against a problem. This may sound like passive resignation, but choosing not to fight requires a lot of effort.

As an amateur violinist, I like to think of ‘giving up the struggle’ in the context of violin-playing. When I was just starting out on the violin, my teacher told me a story of a fellow string player – a cellist – who held his cello bow so loosely that it slipped from his fingers during a concert and flew into the audience. ‘Now that’s how you should hold your bow’, she told me.

intandem blog july 2013

 

 

 

 

I’ve never forgotten this anecdote. It was a turning point for me as a musician. A natural instinct for novice string players is to grab on to the bow as tightly as possible to control its movement. It was a revelation to learn that putting in less physical effort – though completely counterintuitive – actually produces a better sound.

Learning to work with the instrument and not against it was a difficult process and took a lot of practice. But it completely transformed the way I played. Even more surprising was how it freed up my mind (and muscles) to focus on other aspects of my playing.

I am now working towards giving up the struggle against my stammer, and hope that this process will similarly transform the way I feel about myself and the way I speak. It will undoubtedly take some practice, but I know it will be worth the effort. I believe now that accepting – and not fighting – my stammer is the key to coming to terms with it.

I guess you could say that I’ve accepted acceptance.

Cara Steger