Back in November 2015, I started noticing that the timbre, resonance and fluidity of my voice was inconsistent. I began research on my symptoms objectively and at first thought it was vocal nodules...nope...didn't have true symtpoms...then Reflux....nope....meds didn't change my symptoms. I saw an ENT and, although his strobe machine was not working properly, he saw nothing out of sorts and told me I was probably just too stressed and that the full feeling in my throat was likely psychosomatic. This "diagnosis" was disheartening, to say the least. Feeling like something was missed, I asked to be referred to a Speech & Language Pathologist who specializes in voice. Unfortunately, that was going to be another 4 month wait.
In the meantime I made myself more aware of my vocal technique taught to me in college, I worked on de-stressing, I made sure to drink plenty of fluids, continue my good diet, gets lots of sleep, exercise, received reflexology and acupuncture, and even had a friend give me a chakra healing session. I was desperate. Symptoms persisted. Nothing made sense. I had good days here and there, but my voice was still unreliable and not performing well enough in the studio when I tried to record on my album. There was no rhyme or reason to the coming and going of my symptoms.
I finally saw the S&L Pathologist yesterday. She put microphones on and in front of me and tested the loudness and flexibility of my voice by having me speak and sing various inflections. She then felt my throat, jaw, and neck and asked me again to vocalize. She talked about causes of voice dysfunctions (emotional, physical and environmental), and had a look at my vocal folds with a scope just to rule out any nodules or cysts.
The diagnosis comes both as a relief and as a "well, duh!' moment. I have chronically tight muscles and ligaments in my larynx and tongue, causing a small gap in my vocal folds when I sing, and therefore prevents me from having the ease and flexibility in my voice that I'm used to! What is the cause of these tight muscles, you ask? Simply put: posture and environment. In my case, there are many factors in my poor posture.... fatigue causes the poor posture of slouched shoulders and a jutted out chin, and I noticed today at the gym that certain exercises cause the same problem, only with added strain due to exertion. This seems all easy enough to make changes on, however, there is one other factor that will take quite a bit more time and effort to fix. the environmental factor. When we hear noise, our brains perceive it as stress and our throat muscles subconsciously tighten. To speak over the loud noise, the muscles get tighter. Some of you probably know where I'm going with this....yep...my loud and lovely young boys are a factor in my vocal dysfunction! As a full time mom, the noisy environment is classified as a vocal hazard and in order to prevent stress and damage on my voice, I need to work on vocalizing less when I need to get their attention. Amazing right?! And think about this: vocal athletes actually speak more than they sing, so proper speaking technique is just as important as proper singing technique! A singer must ALWAYS carry oneself as a singer!
Here's a little bit of extra interesting info on that: You can download a decibel meter app on your smart phone, find an extremely quiet room (no fans, no computers humming, nothing!) and measure your comfortable speaking voice. Once you have that number, watch what the number says in other rooms. The noise in the room should be no more than 15 decibels below your comfortable speaking voice level in order to prevent a tight throat and vocal damage.
So that's my long-winded explanation. I'm really relieved and excited that I have no major or permanent vocal dysfunctions, that it is reversible and that I will sing again like I have before. To break the habit these muscles have formed, I plan on seeing my chiropractor, and acupuncturist regularly, and I'm going to partake in many, many yoga classes! Oh, and stop yelling at my boys :p