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How Laryngitis Gave me a new Voice

T/W: Rape references and bullying, depression and anxiety, references to cancer,

Most of my family members are singers. All of them are naturally talented and since we’re Filipinos, karaoke is part of our family gatherings and events. That includes me, but that was before I developed chronic laryngitis due to my Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), most commonly known as Hyperacidity. 

GERD runs in our family, and we always have antacids in our bags and we’re always dealing with upset stomachs. According to statistics, GERD is common, and 20% of people in the US have it. By 2010, the prevalence of GERD had risen from 2.5% to 8.5% in Eastern Asia.

I was very young when I developed GERD. I barely noticed it damaging my vocal cords or my laryngitis growing. I vividly remember the doctor explaining how the acid was rising from my stomach and was eroding my esophagus and larynx, which is why my voice has become what it is today. 

As the years passed, my passion for singing and dreams to be a successful musician were crushed when my full and strong alto voice turned into a hoarse, husky voice.

I no longer enjoyed singing in public nor aspired to be a musician; I even gave up playing the piano and learning to play the guitar. I was devastated. Losing my voice meant I would be losing my dreams, and a part of my identity was shattered.

Depression and anxiety engulfed me as I desperately held onto my dreams of being a singer. I thought that it could go away with proper rest and medications. I followed my doctor’s orders, from the antacids to the lifestyle changes, even following the one-week prescribed voice rest, but nothing happened; weeks, months, and years passed and my voice remained hoarse. 

One thing you should know about me is my ability to persevere in dark times. Since I could no longer get my voice back, I naturally turned to writing; it was one of the things I’m passionate about and excelled at. I wrote many things to make sense of the world around me, from songs to poems. Writing became a cathartic release from the pain and disappointment I felt.

Living with a voice disorder can be highly challenging because doing everyday things such as paying your bus fare becomes an ordeal. Sometimes the driver can’t hear you and you have to scream at the top of your lungs. If the driver is rude you get a playful mock of your voice.

One of my worst experiences was when a classmate in school bullied me, saying that if I got abducted and raped in public, no one would help me because I couldn’t scream.

I’ve learned to deal with these situations daily, including strangers or clients asking “is that your normal voice? Are you sick? Why is your voice like that?” I know some people mean well while others are just curious.

Eventually, I no longer focused on getting my voice the same way it was before, but focused on it becoming healthy and not triggering my hyperacidity. This would worsen my voice disorder and symptoms which could, according to doctors, lead to me developing a throat cancer or losing my voice completely.

Sometimes we associate our identities with our disabilities, but it doesn’t completely define who we are. I refuse to let my voice disorder define me, or to give up my dreams of becoming a successful writer. I knew I had a voice. My singing or speaking voice may not be strong, but I knew my writing voice was, and could make a difference.

I was 17 when I became a communication major in college so I could pursue my passion of becoming a writer. I knew being a communication student could break me but it was worth the risk. I became stronger and wiser. I graduated college with a Bachelor’s degree in Communication amid a global pandemic. My writing got published, I became a mentor and became a speaker at events. 

Living with a voice disorder isn’t a walk in the park. There are times when I face difficulties. I’m the person you see silently scribbling on scraps of paper, writing poems like the main character of my own story, but that’s just the romanticized version. 

I wish I could say having a voice disorder is easy, but it isn’t. You have the power to make your voice heard and to reclaim your identity the same way I did. I have too many dreams and ideas to let my laryngitis get in the way and make me be silent.

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