My journey with a stammer lessons learned on the way – Shilpa Sagwal

Shilpa SagwalAbout the Author:

I am Shilpa Sagwal from India and I am 30 years old. I am an engineer by education and a person who stammers. I am one of the national coordinators for The Indian Stammering Association (TISA) and core team member for IWWS (Indian Women who Stammer) group. I am also involved with 50 million voices as one of the leaders from India. I like to go for long walks and also practice Yoga and meditation.

Being a person who stammers (PWS) and a woman alongside it, was never an easy task. I realized this more and more as I was growing up, when I would find myself in social settings where my speech became a measure of my intellect. My personality was gauged under the lens of my speech and it was declared that I might not be able to succeed owing to few bumps and pauses I make and take while speaking to an unknown audience and some judgmental close relatives. My family’s desperate attempts to ‘correct’ my speech with whatever therapists/doctors they could find in a small town in Haryana, India were failing. I was growing, jumping from middle school to high school with no sign of a smooth speech. And soon, the dreaded time came when I was about to join college. I remember I could not sleep few nights leading up to my first day at college thinking about all the ways I will be making myself a fool, unable to say my name, or which course I chose to study, or where I am from. With no relief in sight, I adopted a method of ‘staying as quiet as possible’ during the conversations, and laugh it off whenever a pause/block comes. This technique worked for whole 4 years of my undergraduate college. Without making much noise in the young adult circle of mine, I graduated and moved on with whatever self confidence (almost zero) I gained during my education. 

However, when I was provided with an opportunity to study my Master’s in a different city, far away from my hometown, I did not budge. I took it and it was 2013 onwards that I have seen what it is like to live a life, not just survive. New college, new city, new friends who did not speak the same language as mine, I found my solace in them. And with a stroke of luck, I got connected to TISA (The Indian Stammering Association) and I still believe my life changed afterwards. I got to meet my tribe in a new city and I felt at home. The weekly meetings on Sundays became my abode. I made some wonderful connections which I still cherish. I attended national conference organized by TISA, met nearly 100-150 people who stammers at a single place for the first time in the beautiful scenery of Lonavala. The connections kept growing even after the conference and little did I know, it was just a start.

I still remember the 2014 evening, when Pamela Mertz and myself were recording a podcast for her ‘women who stutter-our stories’ series. I got to know Pam a bit more through that conversation. It was my first time talking on a podcast ever, and being invited by Pam was an honor. Sitting in my dormitory’s room at my college hostel, I remember being so content and happy after the podcast recording. I was glad I came out of my shell and started talking about my speech, which, once upon a time, I would not dare, at all.

When I opened up to people about my vulnerabilities, they connected to me. This is a mantra, for me, to have some real, soul-soothing, heart wrenching, emotional conversations. For me, there was nothing to hide. I started talking about my speech more and more as it freed me, and it was a wonderful way to create awareness among people about stammering, which is a topic almost ignored or shushed in conversations I had regarding disabilities.

I was blessed to having completed my Master’s with top of the class distinction, having grabbed a job soon afterwards, having successful in rising up the corporate ladder in my 6 years of work experience. Not once I backed from a conversation involving my speech and I found my self confidence rising up with every such conversation. 

International connections are a wonderful thing- Helen Carpenter 

Little did I know, it would shape my journey in stammering awareness in the coming years, when I was introduced by lovely Pamela Mertz, to Iain Wilkie and hence, to 50 million voices. Fast forward to 5 years, and I was the representative from India, and one of the leaders for 50millionvoices. It is a global initiative seeking to transform the world of work for people who stammer – and for employers and society too. A very practical and fruitful program that it has been running are practice interviews for people who stammer, with real-life HR recruiters (who may or may not stammer) from some of the big corporates we know of. In the last practice interview event, a total of 102 people from 9 countries were involved There were 69 one-to-one interviews, including confidential individual feedback for interviewees and interviewers. The event turned out to be a great ice-breaker for many participating PWS, as a few of them were fresh out of college and it was a ‘practice’ for them for future job interviews. I, myself, had filed an application to be an interviewee. Out of my 2 interviews, one was with the Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) leaders working for a firm in UK. Another was with a BBC presenter and a fellow PWS. These 2 conversations ran for about an hour each and I received great insights about my CV and moves for a career change. The whole event provided me a bunch of meaningful and applicable advice on my career and connections for lifetime. 

I still recall, very often, what my one leap of faith did to me and my life – my one act of courage to move to a different city, to join a self -help group, to open up about my vulnerabilities instead of hiding them improved my personality and had a tangible effect on my life in a wonderful way. These leaps, however small, will change a course in our lives whose impact we will be cherishing in years to come. So, I will be signing off by pouring off my one advice – you won’t regret taking that one leap of faith!

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Comments

My journey with a stammer lessons learned on the way – Shilpa Sagwal — 21 Comments

  1. Hey, Shilpa Sagwal!

    I am so sorry that you had to go through the experience of feeling like you could not speak as much! Thank you for sharing your story and congratulations on your success. You are so brave for following your dreams and wanting to help others.

    -Amber Yado

  2. Shilpa I love your piece and this statement: “When I opened up to people about my vulnerabilities, they connected to me”.

    It is amazing how much power being open about vulnerabilities connects not to just ourselves, but to others and how they feel that emotional connection to you.

    Congrats on the work on 50 million voices as it sounds like such an exciting initiative and I am happy we are getting involved now as well!

    Can you touch upon how do you handle the societal stigmas about stuttering from being a country like India that has higher levels of stigma?

    • Thank you Kunal for taking time to give it a read. I agree with you about the emotional connection we create when we are vulnerable to others, when there is nothing to hide, only something to embrace!

      Thanks for being an ally for 50 million voices. Your support is much appreciated.

      And to answer your question about handling the stigma in a county like India with so many misconceptions and a general lack of awareness about stuttering, I found it really hard to handle the expectations and the stress of being ‘perfect’ – in terms of fluency for me. The moment I started the therapy of ‘self-acceptance’, the burden of expectations started vanishing slowly. It took me years to adopt this mindset of self acceptance but with the help of the stuttering community we have in India along with our international community, I am able to modify my stuttering mindset, and I still have a long way to go. In case you are interested, you might want to check out TISA (The Indian Stammering Association) at http://www.stammer.in and the great work it is doing!

  3. Shilpa,
    I loved reading this. What a journey you have been on. And look at you now. You are a wonderful communicator and a role model to many.
    I wish we could meet in person!

    Pam

    • Hi Pam. Thank you for your support. When I say stuttering community, you are one of the first set of people I refer to, in my mind. The role model is you, for women who stammer around the world. And congratulations on a wonderful session at the TISA conference last weekend. I wish too, to meet you in person! But till then, virtual it is 🙂

  4. Hi Shilpa,

    You are such an inspiring person!I am so grateful for being able to have spoken with you over ZOOM and now reading more about your journey on here. You have changed so many lives for the better and I know you will shape many more!

  5. Hi Shilpa

    I enjoyed reading about your journey so far. “When I opened up to people about my vulnerabilities, they connected to me. This is a mantra, for me…”is such an important message. I think it is true for everyone and I know it is true for me!

    And thank you for quoting something I wrote. I think bridging cultures, languages and ways of speaking is wonderful way to appreciate rather than fear difference. I am so glad that we are connected through 50 Million Voices (www.50millionvoices.org) and I know that are already and will continue to do great things!

    Helen

    • Thanks Helen for your time, and for your quote! Your choice of words always amaze me. I am glad too, and thankful to 50 million voices for bringing us on the similar paths and I wish this connection remains life-long.

  6. Hey, Shilpa!

    I wanted to ask, for students who want to be SLPs (like me), what are some ways that we can help give back to our community outside of speech therapy?

    – Amber Yado

    • Hi Amber. Thanks for asking. I think people who stutter needs support, on top of everything else. Support in terms of encouragement for moving ahead, appreciation on little feats, a feeling that they can be vulnerable and won’t get judged. I think this kind of support from SLP’s like you (along with your research and speech therapies) in addition to support from the stuttering community can make a huge difference.

      • Hey, Shilpa!

        Thank you for the advice! I will make sure to be supportive and to make the environment of the speech therapy session a safe space. In addition to that, are there ways that you recommend for treatment who those who seek treatment? I can imagine there are many ways of treatment since everyone is different.

        -Amber Yado

  7. Hey Shilpa!

    I enjoyed reading this and thank you for sharing your story. You are truly a role model. I am currently in my master program learning about stuttering and as a future SLP potentially working with people who stutter what is some advice you can give us?

    Thank you
    -Erin

    • Thanks Erin for your time. Great to know about you and that you are studying to become a SLP. I have recieved a very brief speech therapy (when I was a teen and then again at the age of 20-21). I cannot say why it didn’t work for me but I would like to add that in my opinion, speech therapy does not happen sitting in a room with your student, it happens in the outside world. Take your student out and let them face the real world, with you holding their back. I am sure with the help of your therapy and support along with that of the stuttering community, they will be benefitted. I hope this makes sense. I am happy to discuss more on it.

  8. Hello Shilpa Sagwal,

    First off, I am sorry for the experiences you had to go through with feeling like you were not able to speak but look at where you are now! Such an amazing journey you have been on and incredible how far you have come. If there was any way, looking back, do you wish you would have done anything differently or been able to open up about your vulnerabilities sooner in life?

    If any, what advice would you give to someone that is going through something similar that you went through?

  9. Hi Shilpa, thank you for sharing your story! It was inspiring to read about your journey in becoming more open, vulnerable, and comfortable with being yourself. I am currently getting a master’s degree in speech-language pathology, and I think it is wonderful that there are increasingly more resources and role models for PWS. Do you have any suggestions for SLPs on how to incorporate group support as a part of therapy?

  10. Hi Shipla, I enjoyed reading your story, thank you so much for sharing. Since job interviews can be a high-stress situation, what advice or recommendations can you give to PWS before going into an interview?

  11. Hi Shilpa! Thank you so much for sharing your journey so far. I am currently getting my master’s degree in speech-language pathology. What is something you wish SLPs would know or understand about the experiences of PWS?

    Thank you!
    -Anna

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