Your Voice, Your Identity

Close your eyes. Can you hear what your favourite singer sounds like? Can you do an impression of a famous actor like Sean Connery (“Bond, Jameshhh Bond“) or Marilyn Monroe (“Happy birthday, Mr. President!”)? What about the voices of your loved ones? Chances are you would be able to pick out all of these voices in a crowded room.

Why is that?

Our voices are highly unique. Each one of us quite literally sounds just like ‘me’ – and no one else.

But unless it’s in your job description to know your own voice intimately (like a professional singer, actor, or voice-over professional), how much time do you really spend honing in on your own voice? What does it sound like; what does it feel like; and just how exactly are you making your own unique brand of ‘you’? This thing we all possess, this tiny voicebox between the size of a dime and a quarter, is something that defines you from me, and me from everyone else.

Lots of people can go a lifetime not having to really ponder this question. But what if something happens to your voice that focuses the spotlight onto those tiny vocal folds; something that begins to affect your comfort level, how you communicate with others, or how others begin to perceive you?

Perhaps you begin to experience changes, such as:

  • feeling sensations of pain;
  • having a weak voice;
  • sounding abnormally high or low;
  • experiencing frequent voice breaks;
  • speaking with ‘glottal fry’;
  • losing out on professional work because of ‘uptalk’;
  • frequent voice loss;
  • straining your voice to be heard;
  • inability to project your voice like you once could;
  • no longer identifying with the voice you are using.

If you recognize any of the above statements as ringing true for you and your voice, a speech- language pathologist (SLP) is someone who is there to help.

What is a voice disorder?

There are several factors that can lead towards the diagnosis of a voice disorder, including:

1) an abnormal vocal quality (a harsh, strained, strangled, and/or weak sound );

2) an abnormal pitch (a voice that is too high or low sounding);

3) an abnormal loudness level (a voice that is too loud, or a voice that can’t project at all);

4) a voice that conflicts with your age, gender, cultural background, or geographic location;

5) a voice that disrupts your ability to meet your daily needs (even if others do not perceive it as ‘abnormal’)

When should you seek help?

You should seek help if you are experiencing any of the above challenges, or if you have a diagnosis of a voice disorder from an ear-nose-throat (ENT) doctor. An SLP can perform a thorough assessment to determine the underlying cause of the issues, and the exact needs that will help you find, regain – and use – your optimal, best voice.

What is a speech-language pathologist’s (SLP) role in helping you with your voice disorder?

The SLP is there to help determine your voice and communication needs and set you on a therapeutic path to healing. It is the role of the SLP to help you strategize, cope with, and/or regain any vocal challenges that are detracting from your overall quality of life. This includes how it feels to produce and use your voice (with ease being the main goal!); how confident you are to use your voice professionally and socially; and how to sustain a healthy, consistent, and reliable voice for a lifetime.

On a personal note, I have had first-hand experience with vocal trauma. I have felt my identity dismantle, having lived and worked through a voice disorder myself as a young singer. Therapy with an SLP not only retrained my voice, it restored my identity as the unique individual I am.

It is my sincere hope that anyone experiencing issues with their voice understands the importance of seeking help from a speech-language pathologist and voice advocate. Regain your own unique brand of ‘you’, so that someone can pick out your beautiful, healthy, unique voice from a crowd!

 

Samantha Berardesca is a registered speech-language pathologist at SpeakAble Speech and Language Therapy in Toronto, ON. She is also a Singing Voice Specialist with a Bachelor of Music in Voice Performance and a Masters in Music and Music Education.