‘I’m going to ask you to do something, and you’re not going to like it. Shut. The hell. Up’. The appointment with my new Speech Therapist had taken a course that I never saw coming.
Let me step back and explain how I came to being told that I needed 36 hours of forced voice rest and the impact it has had on me.
When I was a child I was known affectionately (I think) as ‘Mouth’. I could ‘talk the leg off a chair’, or ‘under water with a mouth full of marbles’. These were things people actually said about me. No joke. I remember my parents bribing me to stop talking. My grandfather even told me that I only had a certain number of words in my tongue and if I used them all up as a child, I wouldn’t be able to speak as an adult. How outrageous! I played a lot of sport so became accustomed to yelling across fields. I worked in a very noisy pub while at university again yelling all the time. I chose Phys Ed teaching, and again, I found myself yelling (across sporting fields of course). I did at times notice my voice becoming hoarser but thought nothing much of it until the middle of last year when I noticed my voice was actually cutting out when I was singing (terribly) or shouting (again across sporting fields) I finally took myself to see a friend who is an ENT surgeon who took a look down my throat and there they were, a series of vocal cord nodules. Apparently I was using my voice incorrectly and speech therapy would help.
I fronted up for my ST appointment thinking I would be told to do a whole lot of trilling but walked out having been told to ‘Shut up’ in order to rest my vocal cords. Please know that I was in no way offended by the bluntness of this instruction, I think the speech therapist knew that I needed to be told in no uncertain terms to be quiet!
Now, I have 2 kids, a hubby, I run 2 businesses and at work I talk to clients all day. Finding days where I actually could try to be silent was a challenge in itself. But I committed to beginning on a Wednesday night at 8pm, which really meant it was only one day of not speaking. I tried hard to not be offended when every single person I told laughed. I don’t really speak that much, do I? During the day I worked myself up into quite a frenzy. I’m not sure why. I cried a couple of times. Was my entire self-identity connected with my ability to speak? And my throat became increasingly sore during the day. Pyscho-somatic perhaps? Some gorgeous practitioners from BHH offered spiritual and energetic help, and one of my beautiful children reminded me that there are others ways of communicating (he may have been talking about texting, but I pretended he meant physical contact and intuition)
I said goodnight to the kids, made myself a cup of tea and took myself to bed to read. Hubby came in and start talking to me, but soon realised he wouldn’t be getting a response. He mumbled something like ‘I think I might enjoy this’ (don’t panic outrage police, he was joking). As I sat there reading, an emotion I hadn’t anticipated came over me. Relief. For someone who rarely draws breath, relief was not something I ever imagined I would feel…..
Morning. School morning. Arghhhh – how do I get through this without speaking? Well, it turned out to be really simple. You. Just. Don’t. Speak. I used an Eliza version of sign language to work out what the kids wanted for breakfast. My older one told my little one he needed to get dressed for school. And that was it. I didn’t have to resort to the usual nagging and repeating myself over and over and over to leave the house on time. Interesting…..
So, what do you do with yourself for a whole day when you can’t speak. Or when you choose not to speak. I dropped the word ‘can’t’ because it made me feel like I hadn’t made the choice to do this. And choice after all, is so much more empowering. Normally, the days when I don’t work are a frenzy of trying to get as much done was possible. There is always music playing, normally pop, because the pace of the music greatly influences the speed at which I get stuff done. I’ll squash in a Spin or Vinyasa class, then go about my day doing a million things at once. 6 hours flies by, in which time I actually haven’t finished anything and I am off to pick up the kids.
But what I found to my astonishment was that without ‘having’ to speak, my brain suddenly felt clear. Or soft. Or empty. Or something that I can’t quite articulate. And so I just sat. Then I cried. Then I took myself to a Yin class. Now, I don’t do Yin yoga. It’s toooooooo slow. And boring. And I don’t sweat so it’s not really exercise. I just couldn’t see the point! OH MY GOD. Was I wrong. For one hour, we held about 6 really deep stretches. Because my mind was so clear of the usual chatter, all I had to do was concentrate on my breathing and surrender (my new favourite word). During Savasana (the meditation you do at the end of a yoga class), I cried (again) but I also saw vivid colours which align with 2 of the Chakra points. Bright green (heart) and Indigo (3rd eye). I went home for a couple of hours, and without an ounce of guilt, I read my book (‘Many lives, Many Masters’ by Dr Brian L. Weiss). Then I went back to yoga for a Vinyasa class (2 in a day – how indulgent!). This teacher runs challenging classes. Normally I’ll be holding my breath, pushing and forcing, trying to look like a know what I am doing. But there was none of that this day. Maybe it was the Yin class earlier. Or maybe the silence allowed me to soften. It certainly allowed me to concentrate on my breathing and to actually feel my body. I backed off when I felt myself pushing, I adjusted myself at the instruction of our teacher, and for the first time felt the benefit of the subtle movements of yoga. I felt strong yet calm, centered and grounded. And the Savasana was equally amazing the second time.
The day and night continued in much the same manner though my emotions were not quite so close to the surface. My older son embraced the idea, telling me he thinks we should do ‘Sunday Silence’. My little one, who is a true auditory learner kept asking when I would speak again. He told me days later that he finds comfort in my voice. I hadn’t anticipated the effect my silence would have on him. When I woke up the following morning, I wasn’t bursting to talk as I imagined I would be. In fact, had I not been working that day, I would have continued being silent. I really struggled at work, I found talking so exhausting. My head felt like it was going to explode and I craved the silence both externally and internally.
In the week since, I have noticed the profound increase in my ability to hear the world around me. Birds, the wind, the gentle hum that I know has always been there, my own breath. I have managed to tap into that internal silence during Yoga. I feel physically slower but more energetic, which I know seems like a paradox, but I feel calm, and I am definitely more engaged.
Not being able to communicate verbally certainly forces you be to introspective which can be confronting. I did wonder if the reason I spoke so much was because I never felt heard. Or am I uncomfortable with the idea of silence? Or afraid to be alone with my thoughts? Something to definitely mull over. I will most certainly be doing it again. What started out as a task to achieve a purely physical outcome turned out to have as much (if not more) of an emotional impact on me, and made me realised that silence really is golden.