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When I was little, I thought it would be a neat experience to lose my voice. Don’t ask me why; kids are weird. Well, I should’ve been careful what I wished for because voice loss is something that I’ve dealt with extensively as an adult. Recently I realized how much my journey with my voice loss parallels what I see pet parents going through with their behaviorally challenged pets, especially when it comes to thinking something will get better on its own, so I wanted to share my experience with y’all.
It started out as “not that bad”
I started routinely losing my voice 5 years ago, around the time I was diagnosed with a chronic illness. Voice loss for me takes many forms, but the most common is a deep, husky, seemingly testosterone-fueled voice that’s still audible but not as loud. Sometimes it goes into a high-pitched “squirrel-voice” territory, sometimes only a whisper, and sometimes absolutely nothing can come out. But usually, voice loss for me resulted in what everyone around me calls my “man voice”.
It wasn’t that bad. I could still talk, be understood, and ultimately it didn’t impact communication. I could still do my job. It was annoying and though I recognized that it was a problem that I should probably do something about, it wasn’t bad enough that I did anything about it. This might sound familiar, huh?
It started getting worse
My voice loss started getting worse about 1.5 to 2 years ago. It started happening more frequently and for longer periods of time. Before I would lose my voice for a day or so every few months. Now it was happening for days at a time without more than a month or so of normalcy in between. Last August I lost my voice for 2 weeks straight, with 3 days of absolutely no sound coming out. I had to reschedule all of my clients. It was no longer annoying, it was now affecting my livelihood.
I started googling what was going on and considering seeing a doctor, but then my voice returned and I went back to my daily life. It still wasn’t bad enough that I was willing to overcome the barriers I had to seek professional help.
The breaking point
At the beginning of this year, I lost my voice. Period. Seemingly permanently. Two weeks stretched to three, then to four. I could muster some version of a normal voice just long enough to meet with someone or record a presentation, but those who have heard me speak a bit started commenting on how weak my voice was even with the musterable version. And, afterward, I wouldn’t be able to talk almost at all. My voice loss was no longer a nuisance; it was an emergency.
After the third week, I decided I needed professional help. Enough was enough. Plus, I had googled enough that I was worried I was causing permanent damage to myself and that’s a scary thought when speaking is your profession. I scheduled an appointment with an ENT.
But maybe it’ll still get better on its own…
It took a couple of weeks to get an appointment; I was now 5 weeks into this most recent bout of voice loss. I was resting my voice much more frequently because the more I used it the worse it got. The Pet Harmony team kept me in check and picked up pieces that I couldn’t do (thanks, ladies!) I primarily communicated with my husband via hand gestures and written text. I scheduled fewer clients. Once I finally admitted that I had a big problem, I finally started treating it that way.
And, because of that, my voice returned a few days before my appointment. It wasn’t great, it was still weak and didn’t sound quite right, but it at least didn’t hurt to talk for a bit. And I found myself thinking:
Maybe I don’t need professional help after all. Maybe it’ll just get better on its own.
I, of course, overdid it that day or two and ended right back into the position I was in when I scheduled the appointment in the first place. Okay, enough kidding myself, it wasn’t going to get better on its own. What problem actually does?? I’ve yet to truly find one (aside from the few times where age does make a big impact).
The barriers that keep us from seeking help
I know I said the purpose of this story is to talk about the thought process that maybe it would get better on its own and I’ve already done that, but it feels weird to bring you along this journey without finishing it. So, we continue.
I had my appointment and I started realizing all of the barriers that I had to seek professional help. While not all of them are relevant to the behavior modification journey, two of them are:
- What if they don’t believe me?
- What if there’s nothing they can do to help me?
I hear variations of these two fears frequently when I meet with new clients, and here I was thinking about them as I pulled into the parking lot. I was worried that, because I was sometimes able to pull off a seemingly normal voice, that the ENT wouldn’t believe that the problem was as severe as it was. What if my voice was fine during the appointment?
And, even if it wasn’t and he did believe me, what if there was nothing that they could do to help me? What if it’s something that’s just part of my chronic illness, never destined to get better than manageable? What would that mean for the career I’ve built on using my voice?
I wasn’t able to articulate the reasons why it took me 5 years to seek professional help until I was there.
I wish I’d found help sooner
My appointment went better than I imagined it could. Their team worked efficiently and soon I had an answer; the doctor explained to me why my voice sounded the way it did. They were compassionate about how much this was affecting me and didn’t say anything about how I should’ve sought help sooner. The doctor prescribed speech therapy and explained why that was the best course of action. I walked out of the office feeling empowered to change my problem for the first time in 5 years. And I wished I could’ve done this for myself sooner.
Putting in the work
Speech therapy reminded me so much of the behavior modification process. Both scaffold exercises, moving from easier, foundation skills to building on more challenging skills. Both require management, to keep the problem from getting worse in the meantime. And both require looking at the entire picture because one of the root causes may be something that seems entirely unrelated (did you know you can breathe wrong? And that can impact your voice?)
But what reminded me most of the behavior modification process, is that you get out of it what you put into it. Halfway through, the grad student helping with my case started commenting on how quickly I was progressing. I knew exactly what she meant. She could tell that I was doing all of the exercises they gave me twice a day like I was supposed to. My voice didn’t lie. It wouldn’t be getting better if I wasn’t putting in the work, even the work that I wasn’t quite sure how it could help. Of course, there can be a lot of reasons why progress happens at different rates, but this was a clear case of where it’s all about following the plan the professional gives you.
I ended up being able to graduate from speech therapy a week early because of this. Again, she commented about how quickly I progressed. I told her that I was a consultant as well and that I understood that a plan only works if you follow it. And boy was I determined to have my voice back as quickly as possible.
The other part of speech therapy that reminds me of the behavior modification process is the need for maintenance after you’ve finished the plan. Even though I graduated from needing weekly sessions, I’m still not done. And, because only some of the root causes are likely changeable in the long run, I’ll probably never be truly done. I still have to keep better care of my voice. I still do my exercises on a maintenance basis, instead of twice a day. I still have good days and bad days depending on how hard I was on my voice. The difference now is that I know exactly what to do to keep it from getting worse and to improve it once more.
- If you’ve been in the same boat with your pet’s behavior problems that I was with my voice, be honest with yourself. What are the barriers you have to seek professional help? What are your fears and doubts?
- Talk through those fears and doubts with someone. This could be someone in your inner circle, it could be one of our professionals (email us at [email protected]), or with another pet parent in our Enrichment for Pet Behavior Issues Facebook group. You’re not alone, nor should you have to feel that way.
- Start seeking professional help. Problems don’t get better on their own. Check out our new Roadmap For Behavior Solutions Program for the most cost-efficient, comprehensive solution we offer: http://petharmonytraining.com/roadmap-for-behavior-solutions-program/ Or our Beginning Behavior Modification on-demand digital course if you’re raring to get started now: http://petharmonytraining.com/beginning-behavior-modification/