Silence Speaks

Reflections on a weekend of silence

As I write this, I am sitting in a café drinking pineapple juice and it feels lovely on my throat. My throat – let me tell you about what happened, and I’ll do my best to make it interesting.

How did I lose my voice?

I couldn’t believe it happened to me but pirates came and took it away from me for a few days; they didn’t even leave a business card.

Okay – I’m terrible at lying so just going to stop there.

No pirates, no losing my voice – I gave it up, voluntarily, for a few days.

I had a sore throat earlier last week and it was improved by a couple of days off work. After going to work it started to hurt again. And then I saw a good friend I hadn’t seen for five years. We had a lot to talk about. Cue to my sore throat throat – it felt like knives sharpening as I swallowed.

So, after more chats and normal voice activities, I took myself off to the doctor. She said that things had actually improved since she had seen me a few days earlier but it was red and raw still; talking was the culprit.

I had no idea that talking could affect it. I had, of course, Googled all the remedies and Facebook-enquired for must-have remedies and saw the next few days involving lots of honey spoonfuls, garlic munching and salt water spitting out. Well, yes it did but the doctor had a new one for me.

“You need to stop talking,” she said. “Just tell your friend you can’t talk for a few days, you can do the listening.”

Inside, I was doing flips. What! My friend, from Norway, here for only three weeks and staying with me: I had so much to tell her. But I needed to also listen to my doctor’s instructions and get better.

First, I used a notepad and a pen to write to my friend. That was interesting. It kind of worked but writing detailed things felt like a lot of effort. It still worked.

That night we went down to Torquay beach, my husband and I took my friend there and we sat and ate fish and chips. It was a strange feeling to be there in a conversation but not be able to be involved more than giving expressive eye contact and basic gestures.

My first experience with a waitress: I found that frustrating to not be able to say “thanks” and especially “thanks” (with a general wave) when I left the venue. It was, however, interesting to see that I could still convey emotions without using words. Using my eyes, hand gestures and what I tried to convey even more – a “vibe”. A vibe that showed all the things I would say – the pleasantries.

woman looking out at ocean
Photo by Josh Adamski on Unsplash

That night, my pen ran out on my notebook. I threw it down in frustration and gave up using pen and paper to communicate with. I am, of course, all for pens and paper and writing but it didn’t match the pace or flow for verbal conversations.

A text-to-speech app became an interesting tool I used for a while. I quickly got the nickname “Robot Annie” but I shrugged that away after a few uses because it was hard to get past the “robotic” voice.

The next day proved interesting. My friend was still here so it was still about spending time with her. I also was hosting a family barbecue! I wasn’t daunted by the second prospect because I figure other people would do all the talking. (They did.)

Going out to cafes I normally go to, a staff member I normally chat with was surprised to see me not talking.

She looked at me with sympathy and apologised: “Sorry, I’m not good at sign language.”

“I’m not either,” I whispered.
“It is hard on Anna because Anna likes to talk.” My friend explained.

Lunch was lovely – my friend did the talking while I asked questions using the “Notes” section on my phone.

“Do u have that in Norway?”

“What happened there”

Other questions quickly typed.

She became very good at interpreting my own gestures and hand movements.

What I was starting to notice from the experience were the range of emotions which came from being silent.

Firstly, there was a feeling of isolation. Feeling “left out”. Feeling like a child in a world of adults. That was hard.

Yet, what was relieving was that, from a social point of view, there was hardly any stress at all.

I used to have a lot more social anxiety than I have now and I’m thankful that has improved, however it’s not unusual for me to feel slightly anxious at the thought of hosting a party with 8+ people.

However I had hardly any anxiety in that sense while I was silent. It felt like I had a social ‘pass’, which I kind of did.

The other thing I learnt is, that while words and speaking is beautiful, it is also beautiful to enjoy some non-verbal moments as well. Eye contact, reaching out to tap an elbow as a sign of comradeship and all the other subtle gestures. It was nice to do that.

I found I would also pray more, being silent.

Another thing I did was go opp shopping. When it came time to pay, I beckoned to the shop volunteer to my throat and my mouth in what I thought said, “sorry can’t talk.”

She thought I was deaf and spoke louder.

The next day at church, I didn’t sing any songs but I found myself swaying and moving to the music more. I watched the deaf community and the interpreter (a friend doing it that day) with interest and, in honesty, newfound interest.

Watching all the signs and picking up some of them: there is beauty and poetry and truth in those gestures. Something within me yearned to learn Auslan, sign language, in the same way I would like to learn French.

I met a guy a few weeks ago working in a kitchen. He spoke sign language and some of his work mates were learning it as well.

During my time of not speaking, I imagined myself back in that day retrospectively, but with the talent of sign language. I could have at least said ‘hey, how are you going?’ in sign.

The barbecue went well. By this stage I was being naughty, whispering a little, as I thought that would not strain my voice as it’s not technically speaking. (How wrong that is – whispering can actually strain the voice more, according to several Google result searches.)

What I noticed that, when I whispered, when I spoke, the person was silent and gave me their full attention. They waited on my words. That was interesting.

In terms of my throat healing, not speaking seemed to be working.

As well as bringing healing, I was also taught me a lot.

It gave me empathy to those who don’t have a voice.

And it made me realise that when people talk, no matter how softly they speak, we should stop and listen. And that includes using a “robot voice” too.

Post Script: I am now adding some basic sign language (Auslan) to my list of languages to learn. What about you, do you know any sign language and have you found it helpful/empowering?

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