The Voice Athlete

For the next eight years of my life I became the voice athlete. This took a lot of training and effort. Let me put it to you in simple terms. How would you feel if you were told you had to go to the gym and work out every day of the week for eight hours? Not exactly enticing is it.

So, how did I end up becoming the voice athlete and working out for hours a day? Well I had no choice; I reprogrammed myself to speak in a different way. I went to the vocal cord gym. There were no membership fees or contracts; it was more like a life sentence without parole. It was here I learned vocal gymnastics. In other words, I spoke in a higher pitch especially when I knew my voice was about to spasm. Think of it as a trampoline you are standing on and constantly jumping up in the air as high as you can. That sounds like fun for a while, but not when it’s your voice. This is what is called vocal cord abuse. It was simply exhausting.

I remember watching a documentary about Mo Farah our national treasure gold medal Olympian. It was all about his training and competitiveness. I was fascinated and watched this little slip of a man work so hard he looked like he might die. Why on earth would anyone put themselves through all that gruelling training for a medal? Now don’t get me wrong I applaud all our medal winners, but where was mine? I had trained just as hard and felt like a voice Olympian. I had no choice either, and had to work my vocal cords out every time I spoke. Speaking in a different pitch and jumping over spasms on my voice trampoline is a great skill, and one that should be commended. My voice became higher I sounded a little hysterical at times. It didn’t quite fit my personality anymore, it felt like a huge effort to speak.

Like every great Olympian we all have our off days and our coaches give us incentive and push us harder and harder to win. I didn’t have a coach, it was just me. I pushed myself so hard. I became aware of my voice twenty four hours a day. I started to breathe from the back of my throat before I spoke; I would take that big leap up in the air to jump over the spasm. I would listen to myself and think ‘this doesn’t sound like me anymore’ some days I pulled it off and it was as good as it gets. Other days were not so good and people noticed. I knew it and they knew it. No one ever asked.

It affected my work. I sat in an open plan office and frequently had to speak on the phone. The telephone is the enemy remember. I had a special voice for the phone, it was even higher! My vocal cords would have to jump as high as possible so my voice was not interrupted. Sometimes I was successful, other days I couldn’t quite get over the high jump bar, so I would stumble and fall. To the person listening there was a break in conversation, and I would lie and say it was a bad line. I knew my colleagues were picking up on things. They would look at me, but they never asked.

Being the voice athlete brought an enormous amount of anxiety. You never knew if you were going to win or lose. It was important to win every day. So, I carried on training. Looking back I have no idea how I managed.

I came across as anxious and I would make excuses not to speak at meetings. Things became so bad if I was in a meeting and we had to introduce ourselves I would go into a panic. Now, I don’t mean a little nervous two minutes. I’m talking heart racing, clammy, heady, feeling like I would pass out. My throat would close up and sometimes the room would start to spin. All because I did not want to say my name or what my role was. At times I felt so anxious I would leave the room to recompose myself. Not normal right? Well this was my life now. The doctor had told me I was anxious and written me off, so I must be. It was around this time I noticed my voice was worse when I was at work. I felt more relaxed at home. However, it started to happen more frequently when I was with friends and family. Every single day I would open my eyes and think ‘please make today be a good day, please let me speak clearly’

Changing the subject slightly…..

As I female I can pretty much say we have all looked at other females and thought ‘I wish I looked like that’ ‘ ‘I wish I had her hair’ ‘Why can’t I look as good as her in that dress’. We’ve all done it. I suppose it’s normal. For me however things changed. I had voice envy. I would listen to news presenters and watch them closely and think ‘I want her voice’. I would listen to people I worked with, people on the radio, people in the street, and all the time I would be mentally choosing a voice for myself. Why oh why can’t we go to a clinic and change our voices. We can choose babies from donors, we can order our shopping online, we facetime people all over the world, and we can virtual tour hotels before we book them, but we still can’t change our voices. Why? People change their appearance, they have facelifts, botox, colour their hair, re-invent themselves, the list is endless. My envy ran deep. I was not only stuck with this hideous voice, I had never won a medal for my vocal athletics.

In 2011 I developed the most severe case of laryngitis I have ever had. I lost my voice completely. I was sick for three weeks. My voice was just a squeak; I thought I had lost it forever, I didn’t care anymore. It did recover eventually, but I was left with a hoarse voice that never went away. Great, so now I sounded like Barry White as well as having spasms.

Things became more complex, but I didn’t correlate the hoarseness and the spasms; I assumed they were two separate issues. That’s when everyone started to ask me did I have a cold. I hated it. I wanted people to stop asking. My voice got progressively worse. Doing simple things like meeting someone for a cup of coffee was a mammoth task, as I couldn’t quite master my vocal athletics in a noisy place. I was trying to disguise my spasms and now hoarseness. People would ask me to repeat myself. I felt like I was going fishing deep into my throat pulling the words up from way down  wherever they were. My anxiety spiraled. So what did I do? I started to research again.

I read and read. What came up? Spasmodic Dysphonia. Those two words again. I ignored it, but it was now always at the back of my mind. I looked up home remedies for hoarseness. I found recommendations for cayenne pepper and vinegar gargles. So I did it every day but still no change, and it tasted disgusting, just so you know.

I then decided to get hypnotised again. I was desperate. I found a reputable hypnotherapist and emailed him. I politely informed him that I was having severe difficulty speaking and thought I may have SD. I received a very nice email back stating he had never heard of such a condition, but he could help me as he had worked with people with speech difficulties for years. So off I went again to be hypnotised. This time I did go under…..

We explored my childhood and what may have caused my inability to speak properly. I felt cold. I went to places that I had forgotten about. When I came around it felt like five minutes had passed, but I had been under for well over an hour. I had two more sessions and my voice got worse.

That was it, I didn’t want to be the voice athlete anymore. Eight years is a long time. That was two Olympics I had lost despite my punishing training. I still had no medal, I wasn’t famous or in the paper and I wasn’t being sponsored. I was sick of the vocal cord gym anyway. There were no perks, no nice coffee shop to go after training, no sauna nothing, it was all a con. It was time to release myself from my life sentence, or at least get parole. So what did I do next? Go back to the doctors of course.

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18 thoughts on “The Voice Athlete

  1. This is all so familiar! Reliving my life! Only Sladr surgery after 25 years of helpful Botox really helped! No problem for three blessed years now!!

    1. That’s great. Must chat about the surgery. I will be writing about the condition and treatments in more detail later

  2. Great piece, I think it highlights the difficult journey one has and how vulnerable one becomes when :- 1, ones not heard either by western or alterative medical ‘doctors’ and 2 where that takes one with ones thoughts and self criticism……and that is very sad. Your shear determination and inner strength SHINE through .

    1. Thank you. It’s been a long and bumpy road, but I got there in the end

  3. Wow, this is so well written and I am looking forward to learning more… The next chapter. Thanks for raising awareness of this disorder. Awesome!

  4. Love it…its a hard journey and im happy to read from Canada!! Thanks for sharing your humour and journey.

    1. Thank you! I enjoy writing about it. Will be posting on Saturday

  5. I can also relate with the struggles at work. I do my vocal gymnastics while I’m talking to my dogs but too hesitant at work so I keep quiet most the time when I really have a lot to contribute.

    1. Hi Donna, we, I think we all do vocal athletics which is why it’s do debilitating. It’s a shame you ate quiet on work when you obviously have so much to contribute. I know what you mean though. I go quiet too when feel it’s a lot of effort.

  6. Terrific insights and sense of humor about living with spasmodic dysphonia! Thank you for sharing your journey. I look forward to reading more of your upcoming posts.

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