What I Learned from 30 Days of Silence

This summer I completed 30 days of silence to heal my vocal nodules.

throatWhat are Vocal Nodules?

Vocal cord nodules are growths that develop on both vocal cords. Also called “nodes”, they are a type of hard callous that develops as a result of vocal abuse. Thankfully, vocal nodules are benign/noncancerous but they can cause chronic laryngitis, discomfort, pain, and when they become swollen they can cause mucus to gather in the throat resulting in chronic coughing. All in all, they are not pleasant, and not something that should be ignored.

Read about nodules and Healing Vocal Nodules Naturally here

Going Silent

I was determined to heal my vocal cords, and I also psyched myself up for the challenge of going silent. It was a fascinating experience and I learned a lot.

We say a lot for no reason

When you really can’t speak and you have to write everything down, any communication you have is whittled down to the bare necessities of communication. Most of what we usually say to one another is just idle chatter and quite meaningless.

We speak a lot without thinking

For someone like me, speaking is almost like breathing. I found myself starting to speak without thinking, and then I would slap my hands over my mouth in realization of my error. Being silent for 30 days made me more cognisant of when, how, and why I speak.

Sometimes it’s a relief to be silent

In our modern world there are a lot of social and business pressures. Taking a leave of silence is also taking a much needed leave of absence from those obligations. Not speaking was like a nice little retreat, even though I didn’t go away anywhere, and it was quite refreshing.

We assume too much of others

Before going silent, I had assumed that my husband would understand me more easily than he did. I thought that we must know each other really well — we’re married after all — and that I’d be able to use some shorthand and maybe a bit of miming and he would be able to understand me. Boy was I wrong. I think the 30 days of silence was harder for him than it was for me. No matter how well you think you know someone and that they know you, we depend an awful lot on verbal communication and without it, you realize just how individualized each person’s perceptions really are.

It’s all in your head

Being silent is more about your mental preparedness than anything else. I slipped up and did some whispering when I shouldn’t have because I wasn’t always mentally willing to be keep my thoughts to myself, but it was all psychological. There’s really no need to speak unless there’s some kind of emergency, and that’s rarely ever the case. You just have to stay focused and apply your energy to places other than speaking.

Practice makes perfect

Like anything, you can get used to being silent. It just takes practice. In time, you can get used to anything.

You can read more about my 30 Days of Silence in my other blog posts, and also Healing Vocal Nodules Naturally here

30 Days of Silence & my fears about speaking again

Today is my final official day silence. Or attempted silence. I’ve ended up whispering way too much which is terrible. But mostly silence. Today marks Day 30. Tomorrow the VERY cautious easing back into speech begins. I’m afraid:

  • Afraid that the 30 days didn’t do anything.
  • Afraid that 30 days wasn’t enough and that I’ll interrupt any healing that’s begin.
  • Afraid that even if the 30 days was effective, that the problem will just come back again anyways.
  • Afraid that I need to change my entire personality and lifestyle to just be quieter.
  • Afraid that I won’t be able to enjoy the things that I used to love.

Not all of these fears are just because of the vocal nodules. In some ways, this mandatory voice rest came at a time when I needed a break from the world anyways. I have a lot of hesitations about returning to my old social life; specifically, that I’ve lost my joy for Lindy Hop. I feel like I may have lost my faith. Maybe that’s insulting to someone who equates that expression with religion but that’s exactly how I feel about it. 2015 has really tested my faith in dancing. I’m not sure where I’ll end up. The fact that teaching dancing and trying to speak over loud music at dance events is what caused this vocal condition definitely feels like it’s all tied together. I’m still just not sure where I’m going to end up.

Day 19, 20, 21 of Silence to Heal My Vocal Nodules

I was literally about to write that the last few days have been uneventful and that I’ve been able to stay mainly silent, but then one of my birds just tried to bite the other bird and got me instead and I just yelled at him. And I cried because it hurt a lot and none of that is good for my voice. And now I’m still crying because I’m really upset about injuring my voice like that. To go from no speaking to yelling is REALLY BAD. I feel mortified. I can’t tell how much my throat actually hurts until I calm down from crying. Right now it all hurts a lot.

On Day 19 I put a sales woman through the ringer by trying to buy shoes without speaking. Poor lady. She was helpful, and I did get a pair of comfy, flat red mary jane shoes that I’m very happy with. I couldn’t resist the sale. Poor lady.

Yesterday, we went out for dinner. I think the waiter might have thought that Geoff was some sort of pushy husband when he did all the talking for me. I haven’t been wearing my button the last few days. He might have noticed me writing things out for Geoff later though.

I’ve been whispering a bit to Geoff. I shouldn’t. It’s just hard not to.

Chickened Out – Day 18

Today is Day 18 of silence to heal my vocal nodules.

I’m on my own again tonight while Geoff is away on a work trip. I came close to taking myself out to dinner but then I remembered that I can’t talk. On the one hand, that makes total sense for a solo dinner, but then I thought that ordering would be too weird so I chickened out.

For the record, I enjoy eating out alone except I *never* do it in St. Catharines, only in Toronto. But there’s a veggie seitan burger with my name on it at Rise Above when Geoffrey gets back and can order for me.

Earlier today I had a follow up to the incident I had at the pool the other day, as described on Day 16.

Whether it’s my gym pass or all of the passes or it’s the pass reader, I couldn’t get back in to the change room again after swimming today. This time, the lifeguard was a young guy who was not as helpful as the girl the last time. After trying and failing to get back in to the change room from the pool, he basically sent me ~ wet ~ walking out of the pool area, through the outer YMCA hallway, and back in the front door of the change room. It was pretty silly. I’m glad that I had a towel with me or I would have really made a wet mess down the hallway, and I’m also glad that I wore my more covered bathing suit, just since it was weird to be in the outer public hallway like that. At least nobody asked me what I was doing out there since I couldn’t have answered!

Surviving the Silence – Healing Vocal Nodules – Day 17 Reflections

Today is Day 17 of silence. I’ve taken a ‘vow of silence’ in order to heal my vocal nodules. It’s hard to believe that I’ve been (mostly) silent for 17 days now. I say mostly because I’ve done some whispering and I’ve even spoken a few times, though I really try not to. During the first few days, I spoke a few times by accident. I also had a day when I did some sleep talking which was very frustrating. Overall, I’d say that the unconscious speech has passed, but I can’t help but do some conscious whispering, even though that’s just as bad as speaking, if not worse. But I have to believe that 99.99% silence over the past 17 days is enough to help the nodules heal.

How to Manage Vocal Nodules

The ENT (ear, nose, throat) doctor recommended a period of silence as the most effective way to heal the nodules which are essentially calluses on the vocal cords. Before going silent, I also completed several sessions with a voice therapist which was very valuable. The most helpful thing that I learned from the therapist is that I need to raise my pitch. Over time, I’ve been letting my voice drop and as it was becoming lower and lower, it was causing a rumbling in my throat. When I raise my pitch, the rumbling vanishes. It takes a lot of practice, exercise, and consciousness to raise my pitch so that’s something I’ll definitely be working on when I begin speaking again.

Before I began the silence, I did some research and planning to determine what tools I could equip myself with to make the silence go more smoothly. I had all sorts of things planned. I downloaded a text to speech app, and I also pre-recorded a bunch of speech and songs that I often use at home with my pet birds. I thought I’d be using these recordings and the app on my phone every day, but I only used them on Day 1 and since then haven’t bothered with them. I also ordered an attractive whistle necklace from Etsy. It’s nice, it’s kind of a fashion statement, but as a whistle I haven’t found it to be that helpful.

The benefit of most of these tools have proven to be pretty negligible save for one item: my boogie board. I love this thing! A boogie board is a scribble board that you can write on with a stylus and erase with the touch of a button. I honestly have no idea how this thing works but it’s an amazing. Geoff was looking at it and couldn’t decide how it works either. When I misplaced the stylus, I was able to write with my finger nail, so it has nothing to do with magnetics. I don’t understand it but I love it. I recommend a boogie board to anyone; not only for someone on a speaking hiatus but I think it’s a great item to keep near your desk for quick notes. Love it.

Oh, I should mention that I did also order some large customized buttons from Etsy with a large “CAN’T SPEAK” explanation. That’s been practical. For anyone doing a silent treatment, I do think the button is a good idea.

Also, before I began the silent treatment, I was scheduled to run a large event (the TD Niagara Jazz Festival) so when I had to postpone beginning the healing process I used a portable microphone/headset to amplify my voice. It worked pretty well, though for running an event where you’re very mobile I had to get used to making sure that the speaker was actually pointing in the direction of the person I needed to speak with. I thought the speaker worked well and I’m looking forward to using it for any noisy situations and events once I’m speaking again. That said, I’m going to scale back my involvement in event organizing because it does take such a toll on my voice. Also, I should mention that I did have a bit of a problem with the strap for the headset BUT Amazon sent me a brand new replacement for the headset immediately without any hesitation, so now I actually have 2 fully operational headsets, just with one that has a faulty strap. I think this microphone/headset is a great deal. I did a lot of research on the best, most cost-effective option, and I definitely think I picked the right one.

It’s hard to know just how much this silence is helping and I won’t be able to get in to see the ENT again to check on the progress for a while. I’m on the waiting list so if there’s a cancellation, I hope to get in sooner. I figure that I’ve come this far, I should probably complete a month and do this thing right. I also feel that taking this period of silence is going to change how I interact with people. The doctor called vocal nodules a “chatty person problem” which I find a bit insulting but of course, there’s truth to it. In my case, the nodules originally began to form when I had laryngitis 3.5 years ago and pushed through the laryngitis to speak and to teach when I really should have taken a proper break. Forcing the speech caused the beginning of the calluses and from there, it was a vicious cycle where I continuously lost my voice, then pushed through and forced myself to speak, thus making the calluses worse.



Locked Out – Day 16

It’s day 16 of silent treatment to rest my voice due to vocal nodules. I sure hope that those little throat calluses are healing because at 16 days in, this is certainly feeling like a big commitment!

I had an awkward incident this morning that’s worth noting. I went for a swim at the St. Catharines YMCA on my lunch break. I’ve been going pretty often the last couple of weeks, and it’s common that my swipe card to get back in to the change room is finicky. I often have to swipe it 6 or 7 times before the door opens.

Today, however, the pass card decided not to work at all. I had to approach the lifeguard and, rather than doing a truly absurd act of charades, I whispered a little bit to explain that I was locked out. I’m not sure what she thought of my whispering, but she did try to help. Her passcard didn’t swipe either so she had to dash over to the lifeguard office to pull someone off of their lunch break to cover the pool and then run out to the front desk to try to get a working pass card.

In addition to being silent, I’m also quite blind and I don’t wear my contact lenses when I swim, so I had to hang around wet, without much ability to see, hoping that I’d eventually be let into the change room. After a certain length of waiting, I was getting dry enough that I probably could have just walked out the front of the pool and tried to use my swipe card at the front door to the change rooms since it usually works over there, but it would have been a bit embarrassing to parade around the Y hallways in my wet suit.

Finally the girl came back and got me in to the change room. I’m wondering what I should do for my swim tomorrow. Maybe I should write out a message and try to head of an incident by asking for a new pass card before I go swimming?

Everything is more complicated when you can’t speak.

Visiting my Grandmother – Day 15

Today was Day 15 of silence to heal my vocal nodules.

My grandmother is in the hospital. She’s 85 so anything would be a cause for concern, but this is quite serious. Today became another road trip day to go and visit her. She didn’t look too bad, but it’s hard to say. She perked up from seeing us. Hopefully she’ll be ok.

I wasn’t sure if I would break the silence to speak with her at the hospital, but Geoff was a peach about keeping the conversation up and reading what I wrote down for him. It worked out ok. I’m glad we went to see her but that I was also able to keep up with the momentum I’ve built during this healing process.

Sort of Still Going – Day 13 & 14

I feel that I’m doing a lousy job. The last couple of days I’ve continued to whisper and speak a few times. I should really be completely silent if I want to heal my vocal nodules but I keep finding myself in situations that are too frustrating without some communication, even limited, and writing can get very awkward. Should I stay home and do nothing? I guess that overall, I’m still doing a pretty ok job, and I still am really silent most of the time.

Friday we went to see a film, The Man From UNCLE. It had a lot of problems and gaps with character development and a script that the male actors had trouble pulling off, but overall I liked it. Great visually and I like where they wanted to go with it. They’ve set it up to be a series, so we’ll see if they can fix their mistakes if they make a second film.

Yesterday we did a road trip to Port Dover and Turkey Point. Nice day.

Not a Peep, For Peep’s Sake – Day 12

Today is Day 12 of silence to heal my vocal nodules. In the evening we went for a quiet bike ride which was nice. It can be very frustrating though when Geoff says something to me and I’m not clear about what he means, and I don’t have any way to ask him to clarify. I got a bit flustered a few times and finally at the end he did this big circle and I had no idea what was going on. I squeezed out this sort of frustrated loud whisper which was bad. but it was still a nice time. Then we went for a drink and had a conversation with me writing on my boogie board.

Geoff asked me how long I’m going to keep this up. Honestly, I’m not sure. I’m on the waiting list for a cancellation to see the ENT but otherwise I won’t have an appointment until end of October. I really won’t know how well this silence is working. I think I’ll keep it up for most of August but will start to allow some “need” questions and words some time in or after week 3.

Like a Whisper – Day 11

Not much to report. Continuing on with the silence. I hope my vocal nodules are healing. My vocal therapist wrote to me to see how I was doing. She’s been in touch with the ENT to let him know that I’ve been going to therapy with her and that I’m following up on the voice rest. I’ll have to go back to have that horrible camera stuck up my nose and down my throat. Gah, so awful.

Even though I said I wouldn’t, I whispered a few times today. I need to cut that out. It would be better to just speak than whisper. It might have been my imagination but I felt like it hurt to whisper today. Enough of that.