Working as a voice specialist speech therapist I would say I’ve got a pretty efficient vocal technique, use diaphragmatic breathing, know how to keep my larynx relaxed, produce resonant voice with effective projection and pitch control. Most of the time! I am, after all, advising clients and helping them exercise their voices efficiently each day I go to work. So my technique should be tip top.
I am an only child and grew up in a single parent family so my childhood wasn’t especially noisy. I’m a chatty person but am not a personality that talks all the time. Even as a child and certainly in adulthood I’m happy with quiet time, in fact I welcome it into my routine with open arms when I can, given the high demand on my voice at work and as a mother.
I got through a busy four years at university whilst training as a speech therapist with clinical placements and weekly presentations and leading a life of little responsibility, late nights out and a high vocal load. Luckily I wasn’t having to hold down a job at the same time and using my voice for that too. At that time, at that age, I was able to cope with the high demand on my voice, it didn’t exceed my capacity for producing voice. I don’t remember a single occasion when my voice faltered. I caught the odd cold but never more than that. And well into my career in speech therapy I coped well with my voice.
On 13 January 2013 this munchkin was born and life changed significantly. The demand on my voice changed and has continued to increase steadily since he was born as has my ability to catch every cold, cough and sore throat going. I lost my voice completely in May 2013 with laryngitis.
Going back to work and experiencing the joy of my son starting to talk….and talk and talk and talk and talk has at times tipped the balance and led to me overusing my voice! It has led to issues such a croaky voice, aching throat and tight muscles in my neck. These issues have occasionally been stressful when I’ve felt similar to how I imagine a violinist to feel if he/she turned up to the orchestra with a known broken string and no means of fixing it.
You don’t only talk more to children, you talk differently too. Silly voices, singing songs, disciplining…it all requires precise control of voice. There’s less time available to check, ‘have I drunk enough water to keep my throat hydrated today?’. It’s enough of a challenge to get the baby bag/school bag packed in the morning, let alone remembering a bottle of water for yourself and time for steam inhalation to hydrate the throat.
So I have had to change my attitude to my own voice and work hard on it. It was always something I was aware of but it now takes me extra focus to make sure demand doesn’t exceed my capacity and I have the voice I need to do my job well. It’s my professional responsibility to do so as it would be for any occupational voice user. Voice rest is now even more important, considering how I talk to my son after a long vocal day at work is vital and changes in lifestyle have inevitably occurred so that the evenings around my working days are spent with my feet up and early to bed. Warming my voice up in the morning on my way to work is routine for me now. Jaw stretches, yawning and sighing, lip trills and humming are some of the ways I keep my voice strong and supple. Tonnes of water and no coffee before a clinic starts.
So if your voice is your instrument for your job and your life and you don’t know where you’d be without it consider that just occasionally there might have to be sacrifices so that it gets the well deserved care and rest it needs. Coping with a change in your voice can be physically and psychologically challenging but there is support available and certainly ways in which we can all help ourselves.