My Song Has Been Silenced
By Maria Myrback
When I was young, I dreamed of performing on a Broadway stage so I threw myself into acting at a young age. I got a few roles in community theater and I even co-stared in one production. Then, when I got into high school, my popularity as an actor declined. I did get a few small roles (remember, there are never small roles, only small actors), but nothing like before. Which was okay. I was still performing.
Since I was in my middle school choir, I was admitted to my high school choir as an alto. In spite of the small roles and complete lack of solos, my dreams of Broadway continued to grow. But when a parent is diagnosed with cancer, dreams have to be set aside. Singing lessons are no longer on the list of priorities when a family member is fighting for survival. Fortunately, that parent has been cancer free for over 30 years.
College demanded a career focus and even though I took acting classes, my major took too much focus. Children came soon after and the pressures of being a parent made the dreams of a life on the stage impossibility, though I still got into a few community theater productions over the years.
Finally, the kids were independent enough that I could start singing lessons again. At 42, I knew I was too old for Broadway. The dream that had been put on the back burner had eventually burnt out. I mourned the loss of it for a very long time. Once in a while, I still do.
I was excited to be taught by a friend who is a professionally trained opera singer. She encouraged me to learn for my own enjoyment and put behind me the criticisms and hateful voices from my past. So I started learning vocal exercises and breath control. That’s when I started noticing a problem.
Of course I ignored it at first, especially since my friend complemented me on the natural vibrato in my voice when I sang. I was also told repeatedly that my control would improve with time. But I couldn’t help being concerned about the stuttering exhale that became more evident during breath control exercises.
It wasn’t long after that I noticed a shaking in my right thumb that I had no control over. I also noticed that a few of my other fingers did the same shaking thing to a lesser degree. So I went to my doctor and he told me that I probably had what are called Benign (or Familial) Essential Tremors, a chronic nervous system disorder that causes involuntary rhythmic shaking. My neurologist later confirmed this diagnosis.
Have you ever seen an older person whose hand shakes back and forth? That’s ET. Unfortunately, this disorder can affect any part of the body. But it usually appears in the hands, head (nodding) and…voice. Yeah.
Imagine trying to give a presentation at an international conference when you sound terrified. I did that and I sounded horrible. I sounded like I had no idea what I was talking about, even though I had been working on my research for a year.
At a workshop on ET, I learned that the only way to temporarily fix the problem with my vocal chords is to get injections of Botox. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want anybody sticking needles in my throat.
Thus I have joined the ranks of Samuel Adams, Audrey Hepburn, Sandra Day O’Connor and others who dealt with this disorder. It’s nice knowing I’m not alone and that this condition can be improved with medication. But stress and anxiety make the tremors worse in spite of the medication. I found that out the hard way.
Since then, I have tried singing along with the radio and I found that I cannot hold a note. The acoustics in the shower are no longer my friend. I had dreams, but those are impossible now. My song has been silenced.