so those of you who know me, or follow my facebook page, will probably know that I have been having a bit of trouble with my voice for a while now.
It all started a couple of years ago when I kept feeling like my throat was dry and sore, and would lose my voice quite a bit. I was referred to the ENT department who, after having a look at my vocal cords, diagnosed me with pre-nodules. At that point this wasn’t too much of a worry (or a surprise!), as pre-nodes are just the beginnings of the formation of a callus and I had a course of speech therapy to avoid doing any more damage. The reason for getting the pre-nodules in the first pace appeared to be over-use (singing, lots of teaching and socialising, filling every free night with another gig and every free hour with more teaching), mis-use (too loud, wrong breath control, too much laughing) and pretty bad acid reflux.
So, after that I was a bit more aware and spent a few months being careful. I used a steam inhaler most days, got a bit better at my mic technique etc. However, it didn’t take long to make the silly mistake of slipping back into old habits.
This year has been one of my busiest ever for teaching and gigging – As well as gigging with Jenn, The Shee, Kinnaris Quintet and The Daddy Naggins I teach 2 evening classes, private students and uni students, workshops during holidays and sometimes week long residentials. When I’m not away gigging/teaching I’ll play pub gigs in Glasgow, and if I’m not doing that then I like to catch up with friends in the pub and play tunes. I’m a very sociable person! With every summer gig there were friends to catch up with, after hours sessions to be had and lots and lots of long drives where we spent hours blethering. Unfortunately that has lead to my current situation which is now fully developed nodules with the beginnings of some scarring.
The good news is, it looks like the scars aren’t developed enough to be irreversible (still soft) so I am back to speech therapy, but this time I have had to have a month of vocal rest – no singing, no teaching, no speaking unless its very quietly and in a quiet environment. I also need to make a conscious effort to remove acid-creating stuff from my diet (she says, drinking a coffee in Fika – one a week is my limit).
I’ve done my month of vocal rest now – I managed to avoid singing, shouting etc, but had to do some quiet chatting to avoid losing my head. Notebooks have become my replacement voice for the majority of the time.
I had a follow-up appointment yesterday, and things are getting better. The next challenge will be to re-learning, with speech therapy, how to use my voice in different situations so that, if we get rid of the calluses, they don’t keep returning. They are going to help me get rid of the tension in my throat/larynx too.
Its really frustrating, but actually I almost needed this shock to take all of it more seriously. I have spent a year feeling uncomfortable when I use my voice, but worrying people would think I was being awkward or a diva if I refused to sing/talk. I also spent a lot of that time WANTING to sing and talk, so just ploughed on through the pain. I think I even know one of the days that did the most damage; I was lucky enough to get to play Cambridge Folk Festival with Kinnaris Quintet AND The Shee this year. On the morning of The Shee gig I had barely any voice, so I pretty much attached myself to my steam inhaler for hours then headed for the main stage and belted out ‘Troubles’ on a mixture of Dr. gig (adrenaline) and pure determination (or perhaps stubbornness to give in). What came out wasn’t the voice I wanted to use at Cambridge, and I actually felt it break during the song. Turns out that steam inhalers are great BUT make your vocal cords soft and fragile. Singing straight after using it for hours probably did more harm than good.
Anyway, I’m on the mend now, and can’t wait to get back to singing. Its loiking hopeful that’ll be in a month or so. I’m very grateful to the NHS and the MU for their help, my band-mates for singing for me and being patient with me and to all of the friends who’ve stepped in to cover my teaching.
I can’t really offer much advice as I’ve been my own worst enemy, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned, listen to your body. If your voice hurts don’t use it. Being self employed, I find it hard to turn down any work, but if there isn’t a night off in 2 months then you need to factor in some down time and not feel bad about it. It might be the recovery time your voice needs to keep going!
PS – If you are an MU member, their vocal health workshops are really useful and free.