When my spasmodic dysphonia first appeared

It’s been a long time (again) since I wrote in this blog. Time to start up again. In a previous post (years ago now), I started to write about how my spasmodic dysphonia first developed. It’s time to continue writing that story.

The following paragraph is where I left off. After that, it’s new content. As they used to say on TV, for those of you just joining us … I had been News Director and afternoon news anchor at news/talk radio station WILM-AM-1450 in Wilmington, DE, since 1992. Then, I started to have voice problems.

Even though I can’t name the exact date, I can remember the circumstances surrounding the first appearances of SD. I had been News Director and afternoon anchor for a couple of years. The station brought in two women who had started a voice coaching business. Seeing them wasn’t mandatory, but as News Director, I thought I’d set a good example for the rest of the staff and submit an aircheck tape for their critique. It was during this time that the first signs up SD started to appear. More about that in an upcoming post — part two of My Story.

(Part 2):

I remember, vividly, my first session with the two voice coaches. After telling me a bit about how they were going to help on-air staff at the station, they asked me to play a cassette (yep, it was the 90s) of a recent afternoon news shift I anchored.

A little background: If you live in or visit a large city, you may be familiar with all-news radio stations. Each half hour is its own newscast. WILM had that format in morning drive, an hour at noon, and afternoon drive. I co-anchored (much like TV) the afternoon block from 4-6 pm.

The format was always the same. At the top of the hour, we aired the network news. After that was over, we had the local portion of the broadcast. It always opened with a time-check: “W-I-L-M Newsradio time 4:06,” and went on from there.

So, I popped my cassette into the machine the two voice coaches had in the conference room where we were meeting. I pressed “play,” and there was my voice: “W-I-L-M Newsradio time 4:06.”

No more than those brief seconds had played when one of the voice coaches pressed “stop,” on the recorder.

“Dub-yuh?” she asked me.

Yep. I had a regionalism in which I pronounced the letter W as “dub-yuh.” (This was still years before George W. Bush entered the 2000 presidential campaign, and the pronunciation of W as “dub-yuh” became common nationwide.)

“You can’t expect to progress in this field if you’re going to say ‘dub-yuh,'” the voice coach said. “It’s double-u. You have to get that right before anything else.”

I should add here, that the tone taken by the two voice coaches was anything but kind, IMHO. I felt somewhat humiliated as one of them more or less mocked my pronunciation of W a few times, just for emphasis. “dub-YUH, dub-YUH. No one is going to take your seriously if you say dub-YUH.”

So, I became very self conscious about how I pronounced W. Here’s the thing: to drive home which news station (there were two in Wilmington) people were listening to, we were encouraged to do those time checks and mention the call letters on-air as many times as possible. “W-I-L-M’s Joe Smith has the story.” “Time for W-I-L-M sports.” “Now, W-I-L-M traffic.”

My own guess is that I was saying those call letters up to 30 times per hour for two hours each weekday afternoon.

It was shortly after this that my voice problems started.

At first, I thought I had a case of severe dry throat. My voice cracked when it never had before.

Then, getting those call letters out of my mouth, especially, as I put it, from a “dead stop,” became painful … in multiple ways.

The combination of the phonetics in “double-U- I-L-M newsradio time … ” became difficult for me to say.

I noticed. And other people noticed.

My program director (my boss) noticed. We actually started to get calls asking what was wrong with my voice.

To my amazement, outside of talking to me about my voice problem, the program director and the owner never asked me not to be on the air.

Since this was my dream vocation, and I wanted to “make it to the big time,” … to a large market like Philadelphia or Washington DC or New York City, I started putting even more pressure on myself to work out my voice problem.

I started practicing to say the call letter of the station when I was by myself in my car. Sometimes my voice was OK. Sometimes, it sounded awful.

Finally, after struggling with this for some time, I made the decision to offer to leave my on-air shift. I spoke to my program director and told him about my decision. I suggested my regular fill-in take the shift. I still had plenty to do as News Director. I cut back my on-air time to just when I was absolutely needed.

And even after all this, did I see a doctor? Nope. Why? Because I thought it was all in my head.

The idea of this possibly being nodules on my vocal cords or even throat cancer never entered my mind. I thought the pressure of working in news radio had gotten to me, and my voice problem was “all in my head.”

The owner of the station (a wonderful woman IMHO) even approached me one day. “You know, I can probably get you an appointment with a specialist who could help with your voice problem,” she said. I declined help.

Boy, was I stubborn.

I left radio, got a job in publishing as an editor, and it wasn’t until I was told they didn’t want me to interview job applicants anymore (see my post on that) until I got the medical help I needed.

And here’s a confession: Sometimes I still think it’s all in my head.

When I think about how my SD developed, I think to myself, I sure sound like a candidate for muscle tension dysphonia.

Pressure at my job. Focus on my voice.

But, I also know that if I had MTD, the Botox injections wouldn’t help it. And that’s not the case.

So that’s more of My Story. There’s more to come.

A couple of final thoughts. We don’t know exactly what causes SD. One theory is that it has three components: a genetic disposition; frequent voice use; and an event that kick starts the condition. Many SD patients talk about having had a bad virus just before the onset of SD. Others talk about it beginning after a traumatic event in their lives.

I often wonder whether this episode with the voice coaches had something to do with this. Could be just coincidence. Who knows?

And a final note to people with SD reading this … I want one point to be perfectly clear. You may think that because you have SD, you must be crazy … that is, this must be some sort of psychological condition. It’s not. (And even if it were, so what.)

You’re not the only one who has had that internal voice tell you, “This is all in my head.”

Trust me, it’s not. Well, at least it’s not in your head as far as being psychological. Neurological, yes. Psychological, no.

Not knowing a lot about SD can be scary.

But here’s one way I’ve found to make myself feel better. Get information. Understand what there is to understand about SD.

And with that information, know this: SD isn’t your fault. You didn’t cause it.

More to come.

– Fred

2 Responses to “When my spasmodic dysphonia first appeared”

  1. Barbara altman (@musician61) Says:

    I am really scared and depressed. I had my first botox injection two weeks ago. The breathiness is easing up but it is not gone. Please contact me at AltmanB@sbcglobal.net if you have any encouragement for me.

    • Fred Hosier Says:

      Barbara,

      Hi. Before my doctor and I came upon the best dosage (.3) of Botox for me, I sometimes had a breathy voice for four to five weeks. Two weeks is not unusual. However, I would encourage you to work with your doctor to reduce the dosage to a point where the maximum amount of time with a breathy voice is two to two-and-a-half weeks.

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