What’s Your Story?
I open my mouth to speak, and nothing comes out.
Students stare and murmur in disbelief. This heavy wave of doubt forces me to try again.
Still, no sound. My vocal cords just won’t work.
Suddenly, I’m growing faint and the strong, woody pine and balmy classroom close in on me.
I’m a high school speech teacher in an inner-city school with nearly 40% of students eating free and reduced lunches, struggling to read at a 4th grade level, with parents working two jobs, unavailable, or in prison.
After five years of teaching experience, this junior English class challenges me every day.
And now, I can’t speak.
I feel powerless.
Unable to give directions, answer questions, discipline students. Panicked, I gesture to Amanda, a loyal and helpful student, to go to the main office, pronto.
Principal Judy scurries in, straightening her dark, navy suit and agrees to teach my class for the rest of the day. With authority, she says to me, “Go home. Rest. Take a few days. Get that voice back.”
Day 1: Nothing.
Day 2: Still nothing.
Four days pass. My voice still absent, only a squeak creeps out. My roommate calls the school and a speech therapist.
Seated in Dr. Joan’s dark, windowless office, she shifts in her black linen chair, gives a long, soft sigh, takes off her brown glasses and says, “You have vocal cord nodules.”
After a series of psychological questions, she explains the stress of my job has directly impacted my vocal cords. The more stress, the more strain on my voice.
“You’ll have to retrain your breathing, your thinking, and then hopefully, your speaking will come back,” Dr. Joan says.
After two months of intense vocal therapy, I’m referred to a surgeon who specializes in laryngology. After deep analysis he says, “You have two choices. Choice 1: have surgery and most likely your pitch will lower, or it’s possible nothing happens, and the damage is done. Choice 2: Six weeks of silence. No talking. No laughing. No cheating.”
No cheating, as in, say nothing.
Immediately, I think, “How can I communicate? Connect with others, for that’s what I do. That’s who I am.”
Clearly, this doctor doesn’t know this extravert LOVES to talk and loves laughing even more.
I chose the cheapest and hardest choice: six weeks of silence.
Little did I know just how difficult it would be.
During this time, I sat with myself.
Analyzing my thoughts, I examine, “Who am I? Who am I becoming? Am I truly the creative being I’m meant to be?”
All of us can be on autopilot—waking each morning. Making the bed. Brewing the coffee. Jumping in the car. Doing the job. Talking on the phone. Talking to friends. Talking to family.
Talking, talking, talking.
We can embody Ground Hog Day as our story.
Emerson’s says, “The only person you are destined to become, is the person you decide to be.”
Am I being who I’m called to be?
Am I listening to others?
Am I connecting?
For six weeks and notepad in hand, I start relating with others.
Listening to their stories.
In those six weeks, I learned that what people want more than anything is to
share their story.
To be real.
To be vulnerable.
After a year of intense therapy, a mindset and job change, my voice reappeared.
Those six weeks reinforced I’m more than my voice, my hands, and my body.
What’s my story?
I’m more than a teacher, coach, storyteller, leader, nature-lover, friend, wife, and mom, for these are just the many roles and characters I play each day.
Losing my voice is only one chapter in my life’s beautiful book.
What’s your story?