Losing my voice


I haven't always gotten along with talking.

I was pretty late to start, you see. Much much later than my cousin who was the same age. Almost late enough that my parents got the doctors concerned (but then my next sister was born and by the time she stopped being a big deal and exciting new baby, I had caught up enough (and they could always tell what I wanted, the problem was just that no one else paid as much attention to what my points and one syllable sounds meant. The theory my parents have is that eventually I had to start talking because they stopped having as much time to pay attention to me, since they had a second child to watch, as well.)

Later in kindergarten, I ended up in speech therapy. I was borderline of needing it, according to the district guidelines, but it was discordant enough with my other abilities they had it go ahead (although, I must have been bad for people to notice, since I went to catholic school, but had public school speech therapy (my school was small, which was one of the reasons my parents had me go).

But after that I was set. Well, I didn't talk in public or to strangers or men, but that was just because I was shy. Other than that, I was set.

In high school, there were periods where I randomly would lose my ability to speak for an hour or so at a time. It always happened at school, as far as I could tell. It usually coincided with a cough, though, so I just thought maybe I had a tendency to get a strange variety of laryngitis that didn't make me feel sick at all but just randomly would take over my vocal cords (I had an unusually strong immune system, so that wasn't too implausible of an idea, since those speechless times tended to be clustered in time and only happened a few weeks a year).

This occasionally happened in college, too.

In high school, we had a public speaking class. If we said any filler words, "like" "um" and so on, we would get marbles thrown into a tin can. It was extremely loud. I used to be a decent public speaker (or at least not afraid of public speaking). It took me years before I was comfortable speaking in front of a crowd again (and then, it was only about my research). (It took even longer before I was able to speak on other topics in front of people. And giving speeches is relatively easy! You can know EVERYTHING you are going to say ahead of time. You can predict it all!)

And then it was time for grad school interviews. For those of you who don't know, grad school interviews (at least in life sciences) are generally a weekend. They fly you out, have a social activity, a day of interviews, and a day of social activities. Except the social activities are also partially tests because they include dinners with professors and such. On the actual interview-interview part, you mostly talk about your past research and the professor talks about theirs and its often a lot of monologuing. Although sometimes they ask you weird questions.  It's a lot of talking. It's a lot of people. It's a lot of new people and new faces (luckily, almost all the time they wear nametags, so I don't need to stress out about faces. I'm good at remembering names. Names are words.) And also, usually 50-80% of people invited to interviews are admitted (they spent all that money flying you out, after all).

On one or two interview weekends, I just lost my ability to speak. And that was horrible. It had never happened for such a long period of time. For days I couldn't speak. And I needed to more than ever. Because I needed to be interviewed. And explain my research. And show them I was a good candidate.

It came on slowly, though. At first, I could still whisper. So I had some interviews at the school whispering. By the end, I really could barely talk at all. So I drew pictures and words on my notebook and mostly listened to them talk about their research. It was strange and confusing and (most of all) inconvenient. (Oh why couldn't I just wait 2 more days to lose my voice, thinking I was getting sick. Come on, immune system, you're letting me down!)

The schools I lost my voice at were the ones I wanted to get in the most, and the ones I was most nervous about. They were also the only schools that split the interviews up into 2 seperate days.

I didn't get into either of those schools. (I was surprised I even got an interview, just because those were "reach" schools, though, so it was ok).

I think it was a combination of factors. One was just that I didn't normally talk that much. I would sometimes just not talk for a few days at school because there was nothing to say. So interview weekends, with the talking from the socializations and the interviews, were difficult on my voice already, just physically. I would generally get a slightly sore throat by the end of the day.

And I realize it must not have been completely laryngitis because when my mom picked me up after the last interview (because I was near home so I visited for a couple hours before the flight back to school) I could all of a sudden talk again. And I thought that was sort of weird that I managed to stop being sick so quickly (but hey, my immune system is weird?)

And then I got (semi) diagnosed with autism. And I read The Non-Verbal Fairy and some other stuff on the topic. And now I'm thinking that that might not have totally been due to some magical strain of laryngitis that selectively steals my voice away at inconvenient times while leaving the rest of me perfectly fine. (Maybe it's the non-verbal fairy coming and borrowing my voice for a while.) Maybe this has something to do with my brain and autism.

And maybe it will happen again so maybe I should be prepared.

Labels: , , , , ,