self-acceptance

Losing (and finding) my voice.

finding menopause losing voice dysphonia

The symptoms started last summer vacation in Colorado. In the car practicing scales, my voice cracked — a common enough for a 14 year-old boy, but never me. The more I sang, the more hoarse my voice became. It was terrifying.

I was 52, had left a good job in marketing to be a jazz singer only a year and a half prior — and now this. As always, I jumped to worst-case scenario and cried on my husband Dave’s shoulder that night. “Will you still love me if I can’t sing?” I half-seriously asked him. More important, I wondered how much I’d love myself if I couldn’t sing.

Googling “vocal problems, hoarseness, perimenopause,” I discovered women often experience a loss, changing or lowering of their voice at mid-life. Opera singers, in particular, age out and quietly retreat from public performance, avoiding the public humiliation — often, only in their forties.

A life-long singer, I had taken my voice for granted, wondering instead if age or looks would be the determining factors in success (heck, even those few extra pounds), all the while not realizing my entire career rested on two tiny vibrating pieces of tissue less than an inch long. Talk about feeling vulnerable.

Of immediate concern, was my rapidly approaching debut at the Lewiston Jazz Festival. How ironic would it be that after years of applying to the festival, my first performance there would be diminished or, God forbid, even cancelled?

The more I researched, gastric reflux (a common malady of menopause) appeared to be the direct cause of my problems. Simply, stomach acids were frying my vocal cords and affecting their ability to vibrate properly and produce sound.

The next morning, I hit the pharmacy and started taking Prilosec – which belongs to a group of drugs called proton pump inhibitors (PPI’s) or acid-reducers. Within days, the vocal cracking stopped. My range returned, and the relief was as big as the surrounding Rockies.

My performance at the Jazz Festival was a success, but vocal problems continued to dog me. Again, I turned to the internet to research my condition. In addition to preventing reflux by not eating large or late-in-the-day meals, modifying a number of habits would keep my voice limber: avoiding caffeine, alcohol and decongestants and raising the head of my bed six inches.

Just how important was it to keep singing? I even gave up my beloved red wine. And, as averse as I am to medication, hormone replacement therapy soon joined my medication regime.

Finally, having exhausted self-diagnosing, I visited an otolaryngologist. He confirmed reflux, but to great relief, my vocal cords were only irritated, not permanently damaged. It also turned out (in danger of having doctor creds removed), I had been taking Prilosec incorrectly.

So, I’m singing again. The range is back and doesn’t skip. And yet … this is not voice I had in my thirties and forties. It’s not quite as lush or round. It sounds (gasp!) older. I hear the difference in my recently-recorded CD and am not entirely happy.

These days, I have to work much harder to maintain vocal fluidity and limberness. The passage from chest voice to head voice is not as easily navigated. I have to sing every single day to maintain tone and flexibility.

And yet, there is something I did not have in my thirties and forties — vulnerability and connection. These songs have been lived, revealing both broken hearts and simmering passions.

Now 53, I also believably project sensuality and playfulness. I take myself less seriously and am more confident. I’m not sacrificing the message of the song to attain perfect tone – the phrasing is more conversational. You also hear that on the CD.

This last year has seen the death of a number of friends, most of whom were artists. The world is the lesser for it. I wish I could hear just one more of their songs or see another of their paintings. Yet, here I am, alive, sometimes tempted to stop sharing my gifts out of vanity or perfectionism.

keep-calm-and-sing-on

Funny, when singing, my flaws and limitations are forgotten. In that moment, I am a conduit for God or Spirit. I’m lost in the song, creating joy, and often (especially with the elderly) making someone’s day. My audiences connect, and through the music, buried emotions are unearthed. My work matters.

Yes, I am an older woman with an older voice, but I have a compelling story to tell and hearts to touch. Until my audiences stop listening, I’ll keep singing.  

5 tools to supercharge your resolutions!

2014 tools resolutions weight loss improvement

I hate New Year’s Day. It’s that time of year when I flog myself over holiday misdeeds of over-eating, not meditating and being too sedentary. My diet for the last month has mostly consisted of cookies and meat — a kind of of modified Paleo. I rarely got to the gym and didn’t eat a single fruit all Christmas, if you don’t count the raspberry jam in the thumbprint cookies I snarfed.

I scramble for a resolution that will shortcut me to greater fitness, flexibility and the loss of those extra pounds that have overstayed their welcome like a bad holiday guest. But, the good thing is, at the age of 52, I’ve had some success in personal transformation.

It’s times like these, when the inky darkness of winter and post-holiday doldrums threaten to engulf me, that I think on past victories and remember the principles and practices that have led to lasting transformation. Maybe they’ll help you too.

Acceptance
Nine years ago I had an uncomfortable moment of truth when unexpectedly viewing a photo of myself in a bathing suit. It was a brown, ruched affair and I looked exactly like an unhappy potato on legs. After a fat caliper test, I was appalled to learn of a body fat percentage of 30% — sneakily close to obese. Instead of denying reality or hating myself and drowning in a sea of Ben & Jerry’s, I calmly made peace with my body as it was — then lost twenty pounds.

Forgiveness
The best time to make a meaningful change in life is (insert number) years ago. The next best time is today. I stayed in a sad and unfulfilling marriage for 25 years. It was tempting to blame myself for the lost years and all the love not gotten, but it was pointless. I could not have left a moment sooner than I did. I looked kindly on the girl I was, embraced her anyway, and learned from her mistakes to build a new life of love and fulfillment.

Teachability
I was a stiff-necked kid who couldn’t be taught a single thing — an unfortunate result of being a naturally talented, overly adored first-born girl in a competitive family. But, talent is a bus that doesn’t go to the end of the line without a refuel — that’s where teachers and receptivity come in.

When I entered my thirties and wanted to progress in music, my father delicately suggested I take voice lessons from his choirmaster. The teacher could not have been more encouraging, and soon I quit bellowing like a moose and started really singing. A good teacher (and a willing attitude) has been the fastest way to learning new skills and making big life changes.

Moderation
When I was 18 and a freshman in college I started running with the cross-country team. I went from being relatively sedentary to running five miles a day — every day. On the advent of our big first meet, my lower legs were in excruciating pain. A doctor’s visit diagnosed shin splints — painful micro-breaks in the shinbones — a result of over-training.

As an adult, I’ve learned to pace myself and get some form of exercise every day, even if it’s just a leisurely walk with a friend. On icy, windy days I might choose the stationary bike in the basement with the latest from Netflix. At times I take it easy on myself and do almost nothing physically. After 34-some years of mostly continual fitness, I’m in it for the long haul and realize that slow and steady truly does win the race.

Courage
Two years before quitting my job, I knew I wanted to walk away. But, the idea of leaving a 30-year career filled me with anxiety. For all my blather about taking chances and being adventurous, I am, essentially, a groove creature.

After crunching the numbers with my husband and determining we could (frugally) live on his income, I hit a wall. I called it every name in the book, but it was generic, yellow-labeled fear. I drew on the wisdom of Mark Twain’s bromide, “Courage is not the lack of fear. It is acting in spite of it” and jumped into the abyss and got to work. I have not looked back. Now fear is taken as a sign that I’m onto something. Let the adventure begin!

This year, I have made some resolutions: put away my clothes after wearing them; lose five pounds; write a business plan; complete that book I’ve been talking about for years; write thank you notes; de-clutter the house. Some of them I’ll honor, others will burst like yesterday’s champagne bubbles. What I won’t do is hate, nag or be unkind to myself. That’s one resolution I’m planning on keeping.

 

Be kind. Start with you.

vulnerability kindness self love hand butterfly

The contrast between the women in the two videos could not have been more stark.

The first woman kept her head down, talking lovingly to a baby in her lap, not looking up until addressed directly by the cameraman. And then, she looked pained, as if she found showing her face excruciating — for good reason. She was heavy — lumpish, her face shiny with oil and beet red with acne. Her hair was short, manly and dishwater blonde. Her glasses were thick, large and unfashionable, as were her clothes. After awkwardly facing the camera, the woman’s head dropped back down to the baby in her lap — closed again to scrutiny, trying to hide on a front porch in the mid-day sun.

The second woman is seen from a distance, singing to a crowded, buzzing concert hall. She’s wearing a low cut, body-hugging, cherry red dress revealing a shapely, lean figure. Her arms are flung wide to the well-dressed audience, face open and happy as she moves smoothly to the music on glittery black stilettos, accentuating muscled legs. Her fashionably cut, shoulder-length blond hair swings to the music — The Way You Look Tonight.

Both women are me. The first video was shot 23 years ago, when I was a mom in my twenties, the second, from a concert I recently performed while visiting relatives in Minnesota. Not long after that event, those same relatives and I viewed that first video of our kids … and a much different version of myself at 29 years of age.

It was fun to see our now-grown children as babies and toddlers, but I had not reckoned how viewing my younger, tortured self would feel. I had all but forgotten that girl, destroyed old pictures, and expunged my mental palette of her sadness, agony and ugliness. Viewing her, I felt the old shame and revulsion, but something more — deep compassion.

I wanted to reach into the screen and pull her away from that peeling porch, that ramshackle house and take her to a place of love and gentleness. I longed to undo the ridicule she received in middle school, free her from the cage of apparent security that conservative religion had provided, enlighten her to her latent musical talent, but most of all, show her the inherent beauty her body possessed, the tenderness in her blue-green eyes, uncover the radiant smile hidden for so long.

I yearned to tell her that she deserved kindness and respect from everyone around her. I needed to let her know that as long as she hated her body and waged war on her face she would mistreat it and feed herself poorly. I wished to reveal that most women know tricks — magic tricks to play up their beauty and minimize flaws to stunning effect. I could teach those tricks to her!

I felt desperate to rewind time and save her, but realized, with a jolt, that I already had. The massive changes which began shortly after that first video, had transformed me and culminated with a powerful metamorphosis; I finally accepted myself — no exceptions. I embraced flaws and fears, then parted with an old self-image that thought unkindness was OK, that not being loved was my lot. I learned that the most important person to impart that love was me.

Secure in that love, I left a marriage that was long dead, built a new life, and created an exterior as beautiful as the interior I had always possessed. And, in a surreal reversal of fate, now publicly performed with exuberance, power, and femininity — about as far from that 29 year-old as a housefly is from a phoenix.

My reaction to the first video made me wonder if I’d accepted my shadow side: what Carl Jung described as the “aspect of the personality which the conscious ego does not identify in itself” — in this case, vulnerability, weakness, fear of abandonment and self-hatred. But, it turns out, the aversion to the video was a merely a vestige of an old self.

I am not the insecure and critical girl I once was. The gentleness and patience I now grant to myself is given to everyone in my life. I can walk into the burning buildings of people’s misery and troubles, with warmth and empathy. The alchemy is complete.

But sooner or later, age brings deterioration and illness. Looks are lost and talents may fade. Careers end, fortunes evaporate, loved ones die. What then? In making true peace with the awkward, unattractive girl I once was, I will return to that same bedrock of love and acceptance for the aged, diminished woman I will surely become.

I deserve it — we all do. Then, now and forever.