About a week ago, I got a cold.
I know what you’re thinking… But you’re wrong. In the Covid era, colds are still a thing. Shocking, I get it.
In any case, I don’t get sick often. Usually around once a year. And my annual experience had arrived.
But something a bit different happened this time around.
After excessively coughing and clearing my throat, it got so sore that I lost my voice, something that has only happened to me a handful of times in my life.
Any amount of talking was painful, and for about a week I was whispering, hand signaling, and writing things down, to avoid pain and because many times these were my only choices.
The experience was frustrating and uncomfortable, but now with some time to reflect, here are five things I learned from a week without a voice:
1) No Voice is Really, Really Hard
I’ve heard of people doing speech fasts. I even once was on a weekend retreat, and one of the other groups was having a silent weekend.
I’m all for it. I mean, I’d estimate the vast majority of mistakes I make in life come from the words that spill out of my dumb mouth. It’s probably a good idea to take a break from talking every once in a while.
However, it should be noted that it’s not at all easy.
I really struggled with losing my voice. I love peace and quiet. And I’m a huge fan of alone time.
But this is not the same. It’s like living in a different universe from the people around you.
Not quite identical… but it reminded me of the one time I was ever a designated driver. It’s the worst! Sure you can have fun without substance. But when you’re the designated sober dork, you’re sitting there the whole time feeling like everyone is having a lot more fun than you are. Like you’re watching a movie about people having fun, but you’re not experiencing what they’re experiencing.
And so I sat without a voice, not participating in conversations. Not answering questions I had the answers to. Not being able to participate in work meetings.
And I hated every minute.I'd estimate the vast majority of mistakes I make in life come from the words that spill out of my dumb mouth. Click To Tweet
2) It’s an Unsympathetic World
And the world doesn’t make it any easier. No one’s trying really hard to accommodate you. They’re just going about their business, asking you questions, and expecting answers, even if it’s clear by the look on your face that answering them is agonizing.
And despite the urge to use the time for quiet reflection, nothing actually ends up quieter. Well, except for you, of course. But the world and everyone in it remains just as noisy as before.
So no one’s coming over to help you enjoy the benefits of your silence. They’re just expecting you to listen more.
3) The World Shuts Down
And not only is the world expecting you to listen. Your responsibilities truck on as if nothing’s changed whatsoever.
Oh, you can’t actually respond in that essential work meeting?
No matter. You’re still expected to be fully present and give some type of intelligent, cohesive answer.
Because even though you are temporarily separate from the rest of the universe, others don’t accept this reality. For them, nothing’s changed.
So, for you the world shuts down.
You are useless, unable to fulfill the wishes of those around you. Nevertheless, the wishes just don’t go seem to go away.
4) The Overwhelming Need to Vent
By far the hardest part of the whole experience was my vastly reduced ability to vent.
Life can be hard sometimes. Really hard.
And I have very limited methods of reducing the amount of tension I’m feeling. One of the ways is by just letting out all my feelings to family or friends.
But for a week, that method was robbed from me.
And for the sake of venting, nothing beats using your mouth. No amount of writing could replace the beauty of the spoken word when you just need to let all your thoughts and feelings out of your system.
So when the going got tough (and for some reason, it always seems to), I would try and let my feelings fly, but a scratchy painful mess of a voice would be let out.
And instead of my feelings pouring out of me with inevitable lovely catharsis, they just stayed within me and poisoned me.
I was painfully drowning in my own problems, and pitying my inability to really do anything about it.
5) Is it Karma?
I am not a wildly spiritual person. But I couldn’t help but think maybe I was getting a bitter taste of karma with this experience.
Way back when I was in college, I played a joke on someone. I can get into the reasons for it, but they’re pretty irrelevant to the overall picture.
The short version is to avoid interaction with an unsavory fella, I pretended I was a mute. For two weeks!
Everyone was in on the joke except for this one person, and the fiasco ended with me standing on a chair shouting, “I’m not a mute. I can speak. It’s a miracle!”
Now, first of all, the whole experience was quite memorable. And rather funny.
But the guy was understandably pretty darn pissed.
So maybe–maybe–a whole week of not really being able to communicate was a tiny taste of what I deserve from past misdeeds.
But you never really know, do you?
I Have a Voice. What Now?
As I write this article, I’m about 98% better. I’m coughing just a bit. But I’ve re-entered the world. I’m communicating freely with my friends and family. And I’m fully capable of venting to my heart’s content.
And I’m truly ecstatic to be on the other side. I’m always happy to learn more about myself and the world around me, but always frustrated when I need to learn those lessons through complex personal experiences.
I can’t say for certain I lost my voice due to karma, for my mute prank or for anything else. But I can say that something happens inside when instead of saying everything that comes to mind you are forced to choose your words very carefully.
It’s almost like a verbal Twitter. I have just a few words I can eke out before it’s too painful, and if I waste them, they’re just gone.
It really makes you start to think which words were ever worth saying in the first place.