When Your Voice Stops Working – My Story

Last December, I lost my voice. Totally. I was unable to sing or speak, other than the tiniest strangled squeak. I hadn’t had any signs of a cold or virus, and the only warning that I had was a slight sensation of what I can only describe as “splitting” of my voice when singing some notes at a chorus singout. I was somewhat puzzled, as I have had a lot of training, and my voice is able to cope with everything I require without tiring or other signs of strain. Everything else was fine, but I woke the next morning with no voice.

It could not have happened at a worse time. I was busy at work, and I was involved in an important singout with a group from the chorus. In addition, my step-mother had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and I was arranging to move my father back up to Worcestershire into residential
care. This was further complicated by having to be careful with what I disclosed to a family member.

I embarked on total voice rest, and communicated by mime and writing. All telephone calls had to be conducted through my boyfriend, as I mouthed words at him. I did steam inhalations several times a day, and exercised with whispered AH and straws. Still my voice refused to return, and one
of my patients suggested that my voice loss might be stress related. I do not consider myself somebody who is affected by stress, but I did try playing hypnosis tapes at night, as I drifted off to sleep.

The day of the singout arrived, but my voice did not. Weirdly, I had no sensation of anything odd when silent singing, but I just couldn’t make a sound. At the singout, I silent sang, and performed my socks off. The next week – still no voice, despite my best efforts. After three and a half weeks
without a voice, I woke up and my voice had returned. A tiny bit rusty, but I was able to speak and sing.

I bumped into a friend a few days later, and told her what had happened. Straight away, she told me that it was due not just to stress, but because of me having to keep things from the family member. Because my brain was telling me to keep things quiet, my voice had taken it to extremes! Since
then, others have told me of the same thing happening to them.

Every cloud has a silver lining though. After the initial rustiness, my voice returned better than ever. In particular, belting seemed stronger and easier. It looked as if all the exercises gave me a late pay off.

Fast forward four months. My step mother died in January, and I moved my father back to Worcestershire from Surrey. He settled into residential care well. Then several things happened at once. I had a bad asthma flareup just before Easter, and was referred for investigations. Around the same time, I discovered a small lump on one of my dogs. The lump turned out to be an aggressive, inoperable tumour, and within four weeks he was put to sleep.

Three days after that, my father was admitted to hospital with kidney failure. I balanced work with hospital visiting, until he died two weeks later. Once again, there were problems with the same family member as before.

I arranged a memorial service, and decided to deliver the tribute to him. Ten days before the service, my voice started the “splitting” at chorus rehearsal. This time I was pre-warned! I had a lesson with Ria, and was given exercises to practice. We were learning new songs in chorus, but I sang everything to “coo” when practising at home. I also did a lot of reading aloud – something that I never do, and that feels so different from just speaking.

Within a week, my voice had settled. Just as on the previous occasion, it seemed even stronger than it did before, and has given me no further
problems.

So what have I learnt from all this?

  1. Even those of us who maintain that we deal well with stress may find that it manifests itself in unusual ways.
  2. Your brain informs your body when you don’t expect it. I truly believe that the strong need to keep quiet about things to somebody caused the muscles in my larynx to go on strike. I had never heard of such a thing before, but several people have told me that it happened to them in similar circumstances. If it ever happens to you in the future, don’t
    panic!
  3. No practice and exercising is wasted, even when it seems that it isn’t working. The benefits may come later.
Me in one of my natural habitats!
Photo by Givvi at Sketch and Shoot

Sue runs her own long-standing physio practice in Pershore, Worcs, is a qualified Sing 4 Health practitioner, a keen member of Voices Unlimited, and consultant physio to The Voice College.

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