6234105065_0fa5ae82db_zThe sound of  your own voice. Speaking. You’ve probably never even give it any thought.  I know I didn’t.  It’s just something most of us have done naturally since we were little. Talking is effortless and easy…until it’s not anymore. Then, it’s a whole different world.

Recently, a virtual friend, who has speech issues due to a stroke, posted a video on Facebook of himself speaking.  This may seem like no big deal to most people, but having  my own speech challenges resulting from a brain injury occurring five years ago, I was in awe at the bravery and courage which I knew that it must have taken for him to do this.

In the brain, speaking is a complex process involving many parts working in cooperation and communicating efficiently.  An interruption in any part of the process can result in communication challenges.

Roger Ebert, the well known movie critic who lost the ability to speak, eat, and drink as the result of surgeries for salivary cancer, summed it up well when he said, through Alex, his virtual, Macintosh voice that translates written words into speech, in a TED Talk: Remaking My Voice :“For most of my life I never gave a second thought to my ability to speak.  It was like breathing.  In those days, I was living in a fool’s paradise.”

Ebert also expressed how the act of speaking or not speaking is tied so indelibly to one’s identity.  Think about it. Your voice is an integral part of who you are just like your height or hair color.  A commanding, baritone voice yields a very different impression than a high pitched, whiny voice as does very fast speech and very slow, slurred, hesitating speech.  Even if subconscious, different perceptions are formed in the person speaking as well as the person hearing the speech.

“What value do we place on the sound of our own voice?  How does that effect who you are as a person?”  Roger Ebert asks.  He points out that not being able to speak creates a distance, a disconnect between him and others and a separation from the human main stream.  He also points out that people have little patience for his speaking difficulties.  I would agree with both.

Right after my brain injury, my speech was slurred, s-l-o-w, and flat without natural rhythm or inflection. Speaking was an effort physically as well as mentally requiring conscious effort to put thoughts into speech. Talking was laborious, frustrating and mentally exhausting. “How could something that had been so effortless…so easy, before, be so damn hard now?” I thought.  The voice that I heard in my head sounded nothing like the voice that came out of my mouth because it was not impaired.  For a while, when I spoke I was continually surprised at what came out of my mouth.

I got the puzzled looks and “Whaaat?” from people a lot. Often, others would finish my sentences or act like they’d understood me when it would become apparent that they hadn’t. Finding this to be insulting, I began telling people “If you don’t understand me, just ask me to repeat myself. It won’t hurt my feelings.” I figured it was better to deal with the issue up front and put it right there on the table in an effort to make the other person and myself more comfortable.

Through neurofeedback, Brainwave Optimization, and voice therapy, my speech has greatly improved, but I don’t think I will be posting any videos anytime soon.  While my speech still isn’t completely normal, it’s come a long way.  For that, I’m grateful.

Now, I’m so comfortable and used to the way I speak it that it surprises me when people give me that funny look and “Whaaat?”  I speak understandably, for the most part, but my speech gets worse as the day goes on or when I’m tired.  People hearing me for the first time soon realize that they have to really pay attention to understand me.  Not a bad thing in my book.

image source:  https://www.flickr.com/photos/danielavladimirova/

12 Comments

  1. People having to listen closely to understand you is a good thing. Many time people are so unconscious that they don’t hear a word when someone else is speaking to them. I never found you speach a problem. I knew I had to listen closely but that made me a better listener. The first time I hear my voice on tape I swore I’d never speak again because it didn’t sound like I thought it would and hated the sound I did hear. Eventually I got over that one. Another thing, the sound of one’s voice is a powerful motivator of attention. We can use the sound of our voice to direct our attention inward or outward, wherever it’s needed. Another great article.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Yes, I kind of like that people have to stop and pay full attention to me when I speak to fully get it. I speak a hundred times better than when you heard me, however, I think, it takes people by surprise when they first hear me. For some reason, it is still very challenging for me to be understood on the phone. I guess because there are no non verbal cues. Just this morning, I had to repeat myself 3 times.

      I think the speaking irregularity has made me detach from my physical self and ego even more because I am who I know that I am regardless of what I sound like. By your example, I guess we all have to do this, speech problem or not.

      • Hermelynda Reply

        “I am who I know that I am regardless of what I sound like”

        Indeed. <3

    • Hermelynda Reply

      You made a great point. Many of us are rush when we communicate …always trying to move seconds ahead of their conversation or activities. Have to pay attention puts us in the NOW…in the **present**.

      And that indeed makes us better listeners.

  2. I have always been very aware of my voice. Because when I was young my friends always thought my mom was mad at them – she used a very frank, matter of fact tone. I hated it. Then, as I entered the workplace, guess what? I had problems with people thinking I was angry or upset because I had a very straight-forward matter-of-fact tone. I even went to voice coaches to try and change it. Now, I just embrace it. But yes, voice matters. Thanks for the article.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Leisa. It can be very frustrating when our voice does not match our intent or is misinterpreted by others. I find it ironic that, now, I feel confident and strong and my voice does not reflect this at all. Before, my voice was clear, strong, and sure and I was anything but. It has been yet another lesson in self acceptance.

  3. Hermelynda Reply

    Woooow, my heart is reaching out to you Roger Ebert. <3 <3 <3

    I pray that when the time comes especially when I least expect, that I will have the strength and awareness not to do the same as others.

    My eyes are so much more open to how much we take the sound of our voice for granted and our flawless ability to speak, for granted.

    W0w to…"He points out that not being able to speak creates a distance, a disconnect between him and others and a separation from the human main stream. He also points out that people have little patience for his speaking difficulties. I would agree with both."

    I will make sure to pull my greatest of patience when communicating with someone who is newly developing their ability to speak again because I do not wish to make them feel frustrated about their new life condition.

    Wow to …"The voice that I heard in my head sounded nothing like the voice that came out of my mouth."….expressing such an experience pulls so much empathy from me because when I can relate to such an experience when I speak; so I can only imagine how frustrating it is when I cannot speak fluently/efficiently.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Hermelynda, I am glad this post resonated with you and invited you to think about things from a different perspective. We never know what is going on with someone else or what struggles they might have or have had to overcome to present what the rest of the world sees. My whole experience with everything has made me much more compassionate and less judgmental of others. How does the saying go? “Everyone is fighting their own battle.”

  4. Thanks for sharing Debbie – we tend to take so many thing in life including speech for granted. I know what having hearing loss can do to a person as I knew someone with slight hearing loss and the impact on their life. I became so much more understanding of hearing loss because I knew the impact it had on that person’s life. And now speaking too. I know what you mean by more compassion and less judgment!

    Also, time to be grateful for being able to speak and hear! THings we take often hardly pay attention to and take for granted so much in our lives.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Hi, Vishnu! We truly never know what battles someone else is facing. The reality in which we live is so different from anyone else….with any kind of difficulty….and let’s face it we all have our own of one kind or another. I am with you …more compassion and less judgment!

  5. Weazel Watts Reply

    Reading this has just blown me away, I have always tried to take the extra time necessary to communicate with people with speech problems, reading this has just confirmed that it is absolutely imperative that we make people aware of the fact that we need to be more patient and understanding, not just with people with speech problems but in the all aspects of our lives and with all people. I have been an offender of being impatient and also of not listening properly, thankyou for bringing this to my attention so that I may work on this flaw in my personality. You all have great minds even if you have difficulty in expressing yourselves. Thankyou again May Peace, LOVE and

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Weazel, thank you for commenting and I am glad the post resonated with you so much! Your extra awareness and patience will be much appreciated. I guarantee it. I did not even go into how people tend to talk to you as if you were unintelligent because you have speech difficulties. I am sooo grateful for the computer for I can express myself adequately and intelligently. I think of how limited people with communication challenges were without it. Yes, we would ALL benefit by extending more patience and understanding to one another.

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