I Stopped Apologizing for My Speech Impairment

For a person whose life and livelihood depended on her passion for the radio, losing my voice due to myasthenia gravis was surely dramatic.

With one vocal cord paralyzed, the voice became a whimper. A bell by my side helped me reach out to my family in the other room. Anyone wanting to listen to my blabber had to put their ears next to my face.

With vocal cord exercises, breathing techniques, yogic kriyas and meditation, the other vocal cord was strengthened to take over the responsibility, duty and work of two.

I managed to get back on-air briefly, but my voice was unable to take the strain and stress of a four-hour live drive time show.

Over the years, in and out of remissions, my voice gained strength and lapsed a few times. Over the past two years of constant physical ill health in the form of a myasthenia crisis, a near-fatal pneumonia, and type-2 lung failure, my voice and facial muscles took a beating.

Speaking continuously or excitedly for more than five to 10 minutes leaves my cheek muscles frail, my tongue nearly lifeless, leading to slurred speech. Any kind of stress augments it further.

And God forbid if I miss my main medicine to strengthen the muscles; my slur gets super pronounced.

For many years, I was apologetic about my lisp and unclear speech.  Be it speaking on the phone to someone or having a conversation with family, friends, office colleagues or the local shopkeeper, my speech restricted me. The self-confident person I was now wanted to hide — stay mute — run away.

There were times when I lived in self-pity — a simple thing like speaking clearly was such a daunting task for me, a one time radio and voice-over person. This lasted until two years ago when thanks to some counseling from professionals, much encouragement from loved ones and a hard core decision taken by myself, I was determined not to let my slurred speech get in the way of my life.

I am more than my voice, I told myself.

I accepted my unclear speech. The less self-conscious I was, the better my speech and self-confidence became.

I still stumble into a “Spanish” accent, yet I no longer feel terrible about it. I find it easier now to begin first-time conversations with a joke about my accent. That done, the meeting or the talk goes near-perfect. So much so that earlier this year, when an invite came to deliver a talk on the challenges I face in life due to myasthenia gravis, I took it up. With full support from my husband Rahul Narvekar, my stint with public speaking began with a fireside chat. One thing led to the other. More invites. More talks. Lo and behold, I am on my way to becoming a motivational speaker. The latest feather in my cap is a TEDx talk I gave in Sarjapura, Bangalore, India.

Self-pity doesn’t help. Self-confidence does. We are above our disabilities. There is much more to us than just a physical issue. The sooner we understand it, the faster we will be able to open ourselves to opportunities.

I stopped apologizing for my slurred speech. What about you?

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