I suffered a vocal hemorrhage in Spring of 2012. Actually, I was completely unaware of the injury until weeks after it had occurred. After recovering from a 6 week duration of bronchitis, I sought medical attention due to chronic hoarseness. I was informed that my continuous, violent coughing had reeked havoc on my vocal chords and that I was now bleeding! The only remedy? Complete silence. As a singer and a full time Physical Therapist,…I was petrified.
I immediately took sick leave from the office and embarked on 1 week of lips zipped. With the exception of work, I went about my normal routine and soon realized the societal limitations of non-verbal communication.
Imagine checking out at the grocery store or withdrawing money at the bank without speaking. As I expected, I began to attract some very interesting stares; some simply inquisitive and some full of pity. Undoubtedly, people thought me to be deaf and began creating all sorts of flaring hand signals to communicate with me. Some even began speaking very loudly, over-enunciating so that i could read their lips. Although slightly humorous, I realized that I was stuck. They were going to believe what they wanted to about my condition, and it was heavily frustrating.
Now, let me take a minute to update you. After my week was complete, I returned to my physician and was notified that the bleeding had stopped. However, imaging had revealed two permanent cysts on my vocal folds. I attempted speech therapy for the better part of one year and after continued voice problems, I finally opted to undergo surgery to have the cysts removed. On April 30th of this year, I lay under the knife and underwent the 3 hour procedure. Over the next several weeks, I will be on a gradual progression from vocal silence to speaking again. Eventually, I hope to resume singing in the fall.
I am on my “second go ’round” of vocal silence and I’d like to share with you the top 5 things I have learned in my silence..
1. Not everything that can be said,…should be said
Perhaps, the hardest challenge about holding my tongue is keeping my thoughts to myself. Not only am I a very talkative person, but I have been accused of being too verbal and brutally honest. It’s a humbling experience to hold your tongue because, well… you HAVE to. And I soon learned that often times, the comments that I have burning in my chest….are not as imperative as I think they are. In fact, without them…the world still turns.
2. Others may misunderstand you and formulate their own opinions. Let it be.
In my vocal silence, I have overheard many “off” comments in reference to me. “She must be deaf”. “Maybe she’s slow”. “That poor girl”. My favorite occurred when an older gentlemen held the door for me as I entered Wawa. Naturally, the polite thing to do is to say “thank you”. But as I turned around to offer him a smile (the only gratitude that I could show) he walked off murmuring “kids these days have no manners”. I thought about running after him to somehow explain, but I thought, “What the heck. Let him think what he wants”. In the long run, it didn’t change the fact that my true nature is and will always be, polite.
3. We wear our emotions on your faces…not on your sleeves
I have learned that the power to convey exactly what I am feeling/thinking, does not lie fully in the words that come out of my mouth. And I am always surprised at the extent that people can understand me, simply by interpreting my facial expressions. Because of the ease of speech, we’ve become a people that do not have to “feel what we say”. I think the danger here is the tendency for disingenuous communication…and well….telling lies. Without speaking, I have found that I am incapable of lying. My face is ALWAYS a dead give way and my words cannot serve as a cover-up
4. Running our mouth dulls our senses
It’s true. We miss so much of our surroundings because we are too busy speaking. And quite honestly, when we are talking, we are by far in our most self-centered element. Close your mouth for a few days and you will be amazed at how much more you will hear, see, and even smell! And what more, your ability to discern attitudes and atmosphere’s will sky rocket.
5. Thinking is underrated
The absence of speech leaves a lot of room for thought and meditation. In the hustle and bustle of life, bad decisions often stem from failure to contemplate our options, pray, meditate, and weigh the outcomes. As kids, when faced with a math problem in school, we are taught to sit down with a pencil and paper, map it out, and think it through. How often do we take this approach in life? I would suspect…not often enough.
So with all that said, I am grateful for this experience. And I challenge you (if able) to try it for yourself if even for a day. Dare yourself to hold your tongue, to be unfazed by the opinions of others, to engage others intimately without speech, to take in your surroundings fully, and to be introspective. It just may change your outlook on the world.
What are some lessons you have learned during your quietest moments? Have you ever been forced to be silent, either in real life or online?