Radio. Silence. — For those of you who are new in this space, I had surgery on my vocal cords. Nothing major and I’ll be fine, but I couldn’t speak for a week — at all. Doctor’s protocol.
While amidst my week of forced silence, I had so many thoughts swirling around in my head and I wanted to get them out into the world. Here’s my reflections during and following #chelseasforcedsilentretreat:
Gratitude. I’m grateful beyond belief. Going out into public for a week without using my voice has shown me how much privilege I have. Specifically, how much my health, in itself, is a HUMONGOOOOO privilege. I am so grateful to feel well MOST of the time in my life. I picked up on the confused faces as my family explained to servers that I couldn’t speak to order my own food. I felt sad when I couldn’t contribute to conversations people were having around me. I felt frustrated when my energy crashed mid day — to the point where I needed to stop whatever I was doing and take a nap. I’m privileged in other ways too. Like the fact that my parents could fly down to support me throughout the week — and the fact that they did, without me even having to ask. I felt grateful when I laid in my warm bed next to my husband who wrote notes back to me on my white board — even when he could speak. He got on my level and made this challenging time feel playful and fun, even just for a few minutes. Not to mention the fact that I could afford to take off of work for a week. I felt grateful for friends who reached out and showed their love in many ways.
My sincere gratitude became the most apparent when my family was finishing my sentences and my thoughts, faster than I could write them down. What a privilege to be heard, understood, and so loved by the people around me. It doesn’t for one minute leave my brain that that is unique. It’s something I will never take for granted. I am so dang grateful for the world I live in right now and those who surround me.
Communication. When I woke up in the hospital, the nurses were telling me the surgery went well and advising me not to speak. They handed me a pad of paper as they directed me on what the next hour would look like. The first thing I wrote down — “How do I say thank you in sign language?” I think fully conscious I probably could’ve remembered this, but in my post-anesthesia brain, I had no clue. When I was first diagnosed with this weird vocal thing, I remember looking at my mom in the doctor’s office and saying “Deaf people need therapy too, right? I could learn sign language..” as tears streamed down my face at the thought of not being able to use my voice. Don’t get me wrong. I am grateful, so dang grateful. This vocal cord hiccup turned out to be very minor. Nothing serious. This surgery plus the skills I learned in voice therapy (yes, that is in fact, a real thing), should leave me good as new but I guess I’ve learned that I hold a lot of my worth in my work.
I genuinely love connecting with other people. I crave communication and it’s something I think I’m pretty good at — talking, reflecting, and listening, but truly listening. Listening to what people say, and what they don’t say — hearing what they mean even when sometimes they can’t find the words. So, I woke up from surgery and wanted the nurses to know I was thankful for their kindness, their patience and their help. I wanted to communicate how much I appreciated them in that moment. Communicate with your people.
Stories. While I was unable to speak, I took notice of my thoughts A LOT more. I’m not sure if this awareness stemmed from practicing meditation and mindfulness so much lately, or if it’s because not speaking eliminated the action that usually comes right after a thought. Regardless, I realized I make up a lot of stories in my head. Like dozens a day!! This is nothing new and not unique to me but when I couldn’t distract myself by speaking out loud, these stories became SUPER loud in my head.
I noticed that someone might say something small, and I attach a buttload of meaning to it when really, I have NO clue if that’s what they were thinking or where they were coming from. Most of the time the story is made up around some belief that I hold to be true about myself or about the world. I’m noticing that other people do this a lot too. We attach meaning to our external experiences due to our own inner worlds. Like when someone asked me if I had heard from my co-workers at the college and if they’d checked in on me. I automatically started thinking that this person probably doesn’t value my self-employed, private practice work as much as they value my stable, normal job work. UH HELLO INSECURITY, I SEE YOU. I HEAR YOU. THAT STORY IS MY OWN BS.
Details. I noticed a lot more while I’ve been speaking a lot less. I ignited a stronger relationship with other senses. The smell of morning coffee, a touch of warmth from the gleaming sun, the way the light hits a certain corner of my apartment at a certain time of day, the wrinkles on my husband’s face when he laughs, the way my mom’s hand feels when she hugs me. I’m aware of more details. The way we show love to each other without our words. So many people have said to me, I could never imagine NOT talking for a week. You see, I like exploring. I like experiencing things from different perspectives. I like taking in the detail. I like making myself feel uncomfortable when I know I may learn something from it. I hope that now that I can talk again, I continue to pay attention to these details more often. They hold lots of great information that I think so many of us are often to busy to consciously take note of.
Self doubt. HMPH. Ran into this brick wall over and over again this week. Over and over again people, it popped up. I mentioned earlier that I hold a lot of worth in my work, well, I couldn’t work this week. I couldn’t see clients for sessions because of my voice, and I also didn’t have the energy to do nearly as much work on my computer as I had hoped. Self doubt came creeping in a lot. It looked a lot like .. What am I even doing with this business? Why do I place so much worth around my work? Am I missing something? Is this the right thing for me? Will I ever be “successful?” Have I been a good wife so far? Am I showing up and doing the same work I ask my clients to do? Do I need to take more classes and trainings? Am I good friend, daughter, cousin, sister, niece, person???? What’s next for me? … The questions went on, as you could imagine. See I don’t have an answer to many of these questions and for some, I don’t think the answer really matters all that much. I show up and I do my best as much as I can. I also thought it was RAD that I could stop, pause and just notice these thoughts as they floated by (most of the time) without getting super worked up and torn apart by them. (Though, I definitely did have my moments.) It feels good to know that they’re only just thoughts and there are as many good ones as there are challenging ones. I just haven’t been paying as close attention to those ones. So then I started to pay attention and I felt a sense of lightness.
Joy, lightness + building. These words kept popping in my brain space throughout the week. I’m going to take these with me as my guiding words for the year. When I think about what I’m seeking more of in 2019, it is this – joy, lightness, and building. I am a constant work in progress and I pride myself on that. I’ve come a long way so far but I’m always building on what I’ve learned. I hope to always be expanding – both personally and professionally. I have no end goal but I hope to always be evolving. I have no “right” answer but I hope to enjoy the little things – every fricken day. I hope to bring joy to the world, and to the people around me. Life can be pretty heavy, but I hope to always remember the light that shines through in big ways and small.
I recognize that so many of these reflections are not new to the universe. They’re not Earth shattering research — they’re simple and small. Some are things we hear all the time and yet, we still don’t make time to slow down and really emulate these things in our lives.
This week of not talking gave me so much time to spend with myself (obvi). I don’t have all the answers but here’s what I can tell you from where I stand today:
- The ways in which we communicate with each other are so important. They can be big or small, direct or indirect but regardless, they matter. They make us feel connected and a part of something bigger than just ourselves. Communicate with your people, tell them how you feel, love on them and let them love you.
- Feeling gratitude for little things opens up space for so much joy in your life. I know it can sound cheesy and it’s definitely not the “fix everything” solution but seriously, our lives in the grand scheme are pretty dang amazing.
- Don’t be afraid to get curious and playful with your own inner dialogue. It makes things WAY more fun. If you can explore and reframe a belief that’s bogging you down, why wouldn’t ya?!?
- We are always growing, evolving and changing. Learn to love the piece of you that doesn’t have all the answers because there are no “right” answers and there is no one “best” way to do this crazy life thing.
I’m a coach and a therapist but most importantly, human — just like you. Thanks for being here & sharing along this imperfect journey called life & #adulting. I’m glad you’re here.