I’ve never liked my voice.
I went to speech therapy as a child, and people have struggled to understand me for as long as I can remember. I learned at a young age to let my parents talk for me. Even now, at 22, my dad serves as my voice in loud, crowded rooms. It’s not just that it terrifies me or that the thought of repeating myself fills me with endless amounts of anxiety, it’s that I’m literally not strong enough to project my voice, to make myself heard. I can only yell for so long before my voice peters out and becomes a whisper.
High school was a nightmare for this very reason. Presentations, debates for my advanced placement classes. I took Spanish all four years, and my teacher in senior year insisted on having us verbally participate in class discussions. I tried so hard to get out of it. I even got my case manager involved. But my teacher’s mind was set, which made graduation all the more of a relief.
Thankfully, my voice has gotten better over the years. Yet, people still misunderstand me. I had to attend group therapy last semester for a class I was taking, and I realized several weeks into the program that somehow, for some reason, the group’s facilitators thought my name was Fiona. I introduced myself as Brianna each session, but Fiona just … stuck. But instead of getting anxious about it, as I would have in years past, I simply went along with it. I still hate my voice, but at least I’ve gotten better at coping with it.
I’ve gotten better at coping with my anxiety, but it is still debilitating. I avoid talking in front of people, even people I know and love. I don’t really play video games anymore, but when I did, I consistently muted myself in programs like Teamspeak or Discord. Some of the friends I’ve made online have never heard me talk. And I like it that way. It’s safe, comfortable, familiar. It doesn’t involve risk.
I remember the first time I Skyped with a long-distance friend. I was practically vibrating with anxiety. But we talked for over an hour and, when the call ended, I couldn’t believe how well it went. It was a moment of euphoria, of relief.
That was several years ago, and since then, I’ve been trying to get used to the concept of talking. I send voice messages to my friends when I don’t feel like typing. They don’t always catch every single word I say, but it’s not as humiliating as it used to be, because I know they understand. There’s just something special about hearing a person’s voice, especially when they live states away from you, or in my best friend’s case, across the ocean.
This past semester, I had to record myself role-playing a counseling session. As part of the assignment, I was supposed to transcribe up to 15 minutes of audio — which meant I had to listen to myself talk, rewinding certain bits to make sure I caught everything. It was hard. Humiliating. I didn’t want such a visceral reminder of how ridiculous I sound, how abnormal. But as with most things, it got easier. By the end of the semester, I actually got used to the sound of my voice.
Just the other day, I sent my best friend a voice message, and when I listened to it later, I was struck by how normal I sounded. Finally, after years of hard work, of learning to accept my voice for what it is. I still don’t necessarily like it. But it’s mine. A little awkward and clumsy, but mine nonetheless. And I will learn to love it, just like I love my body, just like I love all the other parts of me.
Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.
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