Someone asked me recently why I write.
My immediate answer was: because I have to.
It’s like asking someone why they blink. I’ve been writing ever since I can remember and at this point it’s an automatic response. The part that is pretty new is the part where I actually let other people read the things I write. There was a very specific moment when I decided to do that.
Many people have stories of being reborn after an illness. They speak of the resulting spiritual enlightenment and a reordering of priorities. They wake up to their lives and are compelled to live in the moment. Usually, it’s brought on by cancer or something equally horrible.
I was lucky – my wake-up call was a little quieter.
I lost my voice.
I got a cold and just when I thought it was getting better, I went silent. Suddenly and completely silent.
This had never happened to me before. I always assumed that if you lost your voice, you could still whisper. Not true. Turns out whispering is just as hard on your vocal cords, so even that felt like I was being choked.
I could not voice a single word. No dinnertime conversation with my husband. No phone calls catching up with friends. No laughing. No errands that required conversing with anyone. No idle chatter with my dog.
Someone suggested to me it was like a silent retreat, which I’ve been wanting to do forever. I wish I had the inner strength to treat it as such — but it felt nothing like that. It was stifling and claustrophobic. I felt so miserable and bottled up that I couldn’t even write.
I filled my days with noise. The TV or the stereo was always on, filling the air with sounds I couldn’t express. I had always loved silence. My daily mediation was always so important to me, but now I found the quiet to be excruciating. The solace of silence that had been my savior through the hardest times of my life, was now mocking me.
I got depressed. I looked up voice loss on Web MD. I got more depressed. I was convinced I would be voiceless forever.
After ten days of silence, my throat started to heal and I got my voice back. I wanted to shout from the rooftop. I wanted to express every thought that came into my head. I just wanted to be me again.
For a person who always wants to just slide by and fade quietly into the background, the fact that I was desperate to embrace my me-ness was something of a revelation.
I’ve always been a people-pleaser. Never wanted to rock the boat. Always wanted to be a good girl. To fit in. But when I literally could not speak up and be heard, that was all I wanted.
In losing my voice, I found it again.
I realized that I had been choking my voice in the rest of my life, too. I never wanted people to read my work because I was scared of being vulnerable. The day I got my voice back, I decided to write the book I had been thinking about for years. I decided to stop playing small and hiding from my life. That was January 16th, 2012.
Having a voice is a precious gift, however you chose use it, by writing, painting, teaching, working out complex mathematical equations or starting a revolution. Sure, you might offend someone by speaking your truth. You might be laughed at or criticized or worst of all – ignored completely.
But all that is preferable to engulfing yourself in silence and never using your voice to better yourself or the world. Because one thing I’ve learned about life – you need to truly show up if you want it to be good.
Like the wise prophets Barenaked Ladies said:
“If I hide myself where ever I go, am I ever really there?”
– For You