May 21, 2019

Losing My Voice and Finding It Again

Photo from Pixino

“I can’t sing, and I am freaking out!”

Those were the exact words I texted to my friend on Feb. 22, 2018, a date that will be emblazoned on my mind forever.

Let me backtrack. Ever since I can remember, I have always sung. My mother tells me that I sang full nursery rhymes at 18 months, though this could be a slight embellishment. What I know for certain is that I am a singer; this is how I have always identified myself. Period.

That is, until that fateful day last February. Two weeks before, my father had fallen and fractured his cervical spine. Two surgeries were required to fuse it. After the second surgery, I awoke with a strange sound to my speaking voice and a strangled sound to my singing voice. My father is a retired cardiologist and my natural go-to for any ailment. When I arrived in his hospital room, he could hear that my voice sounded strange. He thought that it was likely a viral infection and advised me to wait a couple of days to see if it improved.

After a week, we decided that I should consult an ear, nose and throat specialist to examine my vocal chords. The doctor informed me that my chords appeared normal, but that the adjacent muscle was tightened around them. The diagnosis was “muscle tension dysphonia,” caused by anxiety, very likely connected to my father’s accident. He prescribed a speech therapist to teach me exercises to loosen the muscle, as well as a psychotherapist to explore my feelings.

Equipped with that diagnosis, I was somewhat relieved but unsure as to how long this would take and, more importantly, would there be positive results? The more I tried to sing, the more anxious I became. The doctor instructed me to stop singing and only practice the exercises given to me by the speech therapist.

I learned that vocal loss is a very common reaction to a range of emotional trauma —from grief and despair to rape and physical violence. Our emotions are communicated through our larynx, a very vulnerable part of the body.

Armed with discipline and determination, I proceeded to work on recovering my voice. I felt discouraged early on because the progress was indiscernible to me.

I had the name of a spiritual healer and decided to add this form of therapy to my arsenal. His approach is to collect words or phrases from the subconscious and reveal them to the conscious mind. Upon his spiritual examination, he discovered that the right side of my muscle was completely tightened around the vocal chords, something I hadn’t disclosed to him.

He asked me questions such as, “Were you afraid your father would die?” “Did your voice-tightening occur after the second surgery, where surgeons entered through the throat?”

“Yes,” I answered. “One of the potential complications of this surgery is vocal loss,” he said. Tears ran down my face as I realized that I had lost my voice instead, as if I had assumed it for my father, in order to save him from further harm.

The healer told me that through my subconscious thoughts he had loosened the muscle, but that it would take some time for the body to catch up to the mind.

Each week, as my father’s health improved, so did my voice as I continued with all of my treatment modalities. Our recoveries appeared to be symbiotic. After four months, and miraculously on my father’s 82nd birthday, I sang an entire song for him over the phone. My voice wasn’t where I wanted it to be, but I was filled with hope. By month six, my voice had returned to full capacity.

My team of experts, coupled with the love and encouragement from family and friends, helped me to recover my voice. This November, as I perform my new show, I will be singing with the utmost sense of accomplishment and fulfillment.

My voice now emanates from an even deeper place within my soul. It sings loudly and resonates with gratitude and hope. 

Lesley Wolman is a fashion lifestyle blogger, singer, songwriter and actress.