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My Speech, My Voice

June 2022, Issue 10 “The only way to find your voice is to use it.” -Jen Mueller

My Speech, My Voice

By Harper Klay, Shonkinite Founder

6 minute read

Smelling Red Series is birthed from the Founder’s personal journey recovering from a Traumatic Brain Injury.

Click on the video to hear this Sketch in the author's voice

Years of permanent migraines prompted self-isolation and disconnection

but my brother’s Memorial Day death required discourse. A relative said to me the day of my brother’s funeral, “I can’t stand the way your voice sounds.” They acknowledged my head injury in the moment, and excused themselves from continuing any bond with me, past or future. The sting from that comment is now a memory that lights my own choice with how I speak to others.

June is my anniversary month of living with a Traumatic Brain Injury. This year is nineteen years. My voice has changed in my healing journey, my speech slurred on a slip and slide some years, and other times echoed someplace deep within my body, strong and sure. My memory stumbles, and long pregnant pauses occur. I rock back and forth in silence. I only know because people tell me. I would write, only to reread a confusing smatter of incoherent jumble on the page. And I would cry. Instead of the movie title “Men in Black,” I would say “Black in Men.”

My voice has changed in the healing journey that is nearing two decades. The feedback I would receive from the neuroscience crowd was a detection that something neurological was going on. Being hit in the head changed sound placement and projection, as well as articulation. I still have hiccups of slurred speech when I’m tired or after a glass of vino. I can live with that.

I have auditory sensitivity, my hearing reverberates in my skin. If a feeling, word, and sound don’t align, I sense it right away. One could say I have a radar for inauthenticity. I find myself rattled when words are not congruent with the body’s support in the tone and sound shaping the word.

I sought out help along the way. Acting and Alexander Technique classes connected my voice to my body and I craved the weekly classes. I often overdid it, only to lie in bed for days waiting for my head to calm from the speech and breathing exercises.

My theatre voice and speech teachers were empathetic and kind, a salve to the external cruelty that my sound was not considered normal or acceptable. Coupled with speech impulsivity, I became paranoid with a deep fear of rejection. I recognized that those who rejected me were not for me in my new life, and I returned to acting. The structure allowed me to focus, the repetition created a safety and assurance, and the drills steered my pitch, pace, and cadence into targeted categories of resonance.

I found comfort and pride that my speech teachers taught Tupac and Jada Pinkett Smith. That my Alexander Technique teacher is globally recognized in her field. If they accept me, maybe I can accept my new sound and discover my new voice too.

Gone are the excruciating days in which I calculated who I would speak to and for what purpose. I routinely smile and say hello on main street, driven by the innate human need for connection and a haste to make up for lost time.

Pick a topic, any topic, and I have so much to say. I am compelled to express my life stories and the scripts, movies, and tv series that Shonkinite is developing.

To have speech altered, and voice found is an unfolding self discovery. My greatest dream for my recovery is when I perform a main character in a Shakespeare play live, from beginning to end. Because that is when I know that the rebuilding of voice, speech for stage performance, and breath is complete.

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