How I lost my voice - and got it back
I lost my voice this week. I don’t mean a bit husky or sore. I mean literally no voice – breath and whisper only. As a voiceover who has several audiobooks to record, and a healthcare consultant who spends a lot of her time on Teams calls, this was highly inconvenient! But it has caused me to reflect on two things:
1. How much I take my voice for granted
2. How on earth did this happen!?
Let’s start with my voice (when it works). I’ve had all sorts of vocal problems in the course of my life. I had nodules on my vocal cords in my early twenties. I was a young court lawyer trying to sound older, wiser and let’s face it in the early nineties, ‘male-er’! So I pushed my voice artificially low and I ended up with no voice at all. Rest and some speech therapy sorted me out for quite a while, until in my late thirties – just at the point I was preparing to audition for drama school – I got a cyst on one of my vocal cords, which is a rather nasty thing indeed.
To give you a quick anatomy lesson, nodules tend to be on both vocal cords so that when they vibrate together to make sound, instead of the vocal cords touching, only the nodules touch, which gives a breathy, husky quality – think Julie Andrews at age 80.
However a cyst tends to appear on one vocal cord only which means that it does all kinds of weird and wonderful things to the voice, making it sound uneven, and affecting pitch and range. Not what you need when you’ve decided to make your voice your career!
Some more speech therapy (you’d have thought I’d have got the hang of it by then) and the threat of an operation which didn’t manifest, seemed to heal the cyst, so I thought nothing more of it.
I’ve only had laryngitis on one other occasion in my life – my first professional acting job. (Wow, you really know how to pick them don’t you, Sarah.) I put it down to overuse and a bit of stress, took the antibiotics and steroids they handed me like Smarties, and never delved into why all these issues happened to my voice, until this week….
Despite being a singer since I was in my teens, training as an actor 10 years ago and having been a working voiceover artist since then, I’ve never felt fully comfortable with my voice. I’ve always had a sense of having a ‘hand around my throat’ whenever I have to speak in public, say anything difficult or confront a situation. To get woo-woo for a moment, the throat chakra in Eastern medicine represents communication, self-expression, and the ability to speak your personal truth. Say what you will in our rational enlightened times, but that sounds like too much of a coincidence for me. Louise L. Hay in ‘You Can Heal Your Life’ says laryngitis represents being ‘so mad you can’t speak’ or ‘having a fear of speaking up’.
I decided to delve into what was going on, by journaling. I questioned what had happened in the week before my voice went. It turned out there were two incidents where I didn’t speak up or ask for what I was due, and I was internally seething, although I didn’t allow myself to admit this. One of them was on Tuesday evening, and I lost my voice on Wednesday.
Yes of course, I caught a virus. But I caught it from my partner who had the same symptoms as me – cough, sore throat, congestion – but he didn’t lose his voice. So there is something in this exploration. I would recommend it. Have a go at journaling if you’re experiencing health stuff that can’t be explained medically. Write down what is making you angry, what you are tolerating, what you are not saying that you want to say. Write what you would never say to someone’s face – you are never going to let anyone see this. You will tear it up, delete it from your computer, or put it in a bin far away!
When I get my literal voice back, I’m going to regain my metaphorical voice as well. I’m going to challenge more, speak up when I find things unjust and ask for what I want. And who knows, one day I might actually be comfortable with this poor wee voice that I use for a living!