A case of laryngitis has left me completely without a voice for several days now. Navigating the world of doctor appointments, pharmacy visits, and generally trying to get assistance with things like finding someone to mow my grass while I’m sick have turned out to be more challenging than expected without a voice (and the associated inability to make a phone call).
Being voiceless has led to inaccessibility when I can’t use a phone, frustration when trying to express myself via writing in a notebook, and misunderstandings (like the poor pharmacy tech who thought my inability to speak must mean I couldn’t hear either).
It’s given me a much greater appreciation for the barriers and limitations that those among us who have different physical abilities must deal with all the time!
I’ve also found myself thinking about how voicelessness appears in so many other ways in our world, and the ways those forms of voicelessness create similar barriers and limitations that are much less visible.
There are, of course, the many who are voiceless not because they can’t speak, but because their voices and the truths they speak are ignored. This form of voicelessness leaves people and their needs just as invisible as if they couldn’t speak at all.
There’s also the form of voicelessness that comes from the internal suppression of my own voice. This form of voicelessness is the one that has captured my attention the most because it’s the only one I much control over.
Although there’s nothing preventing me from speaking and people may be hearing and acknowledging my voice, I often render myself voiceless my withholding (or downplaying) my truths for a wide variety of reasons.
Sometimes I simply don’t want to worry or bother other people with my truth, so I keep them to myself or make them more palatable. I found myself doing that often with loved ones during this illness (which is not COVID related, by the way) as I would downplay my symptoms to minimize their worries about me.
Sometimes I don’t feel safe expressing my truths. I’ve had jobs or been in relationships in the past when I didn’t believe that my truth would be safe to share, so I would render myself voiceless about certain topics.
Sometimes I wish to avoid conflict, so I may muzzle myself to avoid expressing contradictory opinions or experiences to those others around me are expressing.
Sometimes I don’t wish to be a burden or to appear weak (or unskilled or ignorant or incapable), so I swallow my requests for help before they can be uttered.
Sometimes I don’t believe that I’ll be heard anyway, so I preemptively avoid the frustration of being ignored or dismissed by not speaking at all.
In every case, I render myself just as voiceless and unable to access help or be fully heard as this current bout of laryngitis is doing to me.
Ironically, I recognize that I am most likely to impose this kind of voicelessness on myself at the very times when I most help. When I’m in emotional pain, feel lost, or am most needy, I also feel my most vulnerable. I have fewer resources for dealing with the challenges that speaking my truth or asking for help might cause, so I’m even more likely to muzzle myself into silence.
On the other hand, while there are structural barriers that I have not been able to overcome (like places that provide no other option than speaking on the phone to accomplish things), my experience with this bout of laryngitis has demonstrated that most people were more than willing to work with me to provide the help I needed despite my voicelessness than I had expected.
I’m actively looking for ways that I can take what I’m learning about voicelessness with me once my voice returns. I’ve found so many ways that my self-imposed voicelessness is limiting me when it really doesn’t need to and that perhaps not everyone will treat me as harshly as often anticipate.
Perhaps learning to use my voice more proactively in the wake of this illness can the gold in this particular scar once it’s all over.
How have you experienced voicelessness in your life? In what ways have you imposed voicelessness on yourself at times? What might help you to be more courageous in using your voice?
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