In This Week's Podcast: A Teenager's Voice Slips Away

This week’s story comes to us from Brooklyn, from journalist Emily Mullin. When Emily was a teenager, she acted and sang and wanted to be a broadcast journalist. So naturally she developed a neurological condition that stood in the way of all of those things! As one does.

Emily's voice had started to become weak and unstable, and speaking was an effort. It turned out this was due to spasmodic dysphonia, a rare neurological disorder that causes spasms in the vocal cords. With Emily’s kind of SD, called adductor, messages from the brain aren’t properly relayed to the vocal cords and so the vocal cords just slam together.

“The voice that was coming out of my mouth wasn’t mine,” Emily says in her story.

Emily on stage at Union Hall. I call this one  "WTF, Spasmodic Dysphonia?"

Emily on stage at Union Hall. I call this one "WTF, Spasmodic Dysphonia?"

It’s something that seems bizarre, or even funny, until you think about what it would really be like to lose control of your voice. In an excellent article Emily herself wrote for The Atlantic in 2014, she pointed out that voice disorders can affect every part of the sufferer’s life, from their social life to their professional life to their emotional well-being.

“Our voice is our ambassador to the rest of the world,” says Dr. Norman Hogikyan, director of the University of Michigan Health System Vocal Health Center. “Often a first impression is based upon a person’s voice.”
For people with voice disorders, a part of our identity is stripped away. Our weak voices can be unfairly associated with emotional sensitivity, a lack of confidence, lower intelligence, and sometimes, physical illness.

To get the true picture of what it’s like to feel your voice slipping away, listen to Emily’s story, above. For more information, check out more of Emily’s excellent reporting on this subject (I have to say -- broadcast’s loss is print’s gain), including this recent story on speech recognition programs.

-- Erin Barker, Artistic Director