How do you just... not talk?
July 17, 2013 10:21 AM   Subscribe

My voice is possibly damaged; I can speak, but I probably shouldn't. Any tips on how to remember this?

I'm a professional singer, and have a fair bit of work booked for the rest of the year; I'm trying not to stress over the troubles with my voice, but my teachers and my doctors are all convinced that something isn't right.

I'm not going into detail about the vocal issues here; I have an appointment with an ENT and vocal endoscopy in a week to sort those out. In the meantime, I don't want to make anything worse, so I'm trying to avoid talking, especially when I can hear the vocal fry creeping into my voice. My doctors have concurred with the sense of this, but it's easier said than done!

It was much easier to not talk at times when I've actually lost my voice, since the hoarseness was an instant on-the-spot reminder to stop trying make sound. However, since my voice is there and my throat isn't actually sore unless I've overused it, it's easy to forget at the moment. My neurological illness affects my concentration and memory, which isn't helping at all.

SomePartner will ask me a question from behind me and I'll answer without thinking, I'll find myself humming or singing along to a song without having noticed as I always have, I'll tell off SomeCat or respond aloud to something I've read. Even when I'm carefully avoiding words, I'll gasp in surprise, yelp (or swear!) at pain, laugh, or sigh in exasperation at how long it's taking to type out what I'm trying to communicate... all the little things that one does with one's voice.

I'd also like to not give up things like my therapy sessions (which I need more than ever with this hanging over my head). I'm hoping that if I "save" my voice for important things like those, I won't have to stop them, but I'm not having much success with this not-vocalising business.

So short of gagging yourself, how do you stop yourself from vocalising without thinking? I'm looking for practical tips here to overcome my cognitive/memory issues and the instinctive impulse to respond vocally. "Just don't do it" won't help me, since if I could do that, I wouldn't be asking the question.

Thanks, MeFites!
posted by Someone Else's Story to Health & Fitness (12 answers total)
An eyepatch for your mouth?

Wear heavy red lipstick?

Be in a room that echos?

Hold something in your teeth?
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:26 AM on July 17, 2013

What if you wore a heavy, chunky necklace? That might offer enough of a constant reminder in the right area.
posted by phunniemee at 10:28 AM on July 17, 2013

You could try keeping a small smooth object in your mouth-- marble, seashell, even a big piece of gum? Held under your tongue, it'd be unobtrusive until you tried to flex your tongue to talk.

You can also get bite guards pretty cheap on Amazon-- I'm not sure how cosmetically attractive they are, so it might be more for times when you're by yourself or just running to the store, but trying to talk through one would certainly garble your speech sufficiently to remind you to be silent.
posted by Bardolph at 10:36 AM on July 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

Tie a scarf around your face, under your nose, knotted behind your head.
posted by jabes at 10:36 AM on July 17, 2013

Chew gum. Every time you want to talk you'll have to make an adjustment with your tongue, which will remind you not to talk.
posted by googly at 10:37 AM on July 17, 2013

I was also gonna suggest keeping something in your mouth, like a little flat stone. Clean, of course! If you're seeing a doctor in a week, it might not be too bad to do this.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:38 AM on July 17, 2013

How about a surgical mask over your mouth?
posted by Liesl at 10:43 AM on July 17, 2013

What if you wore a heavy, chunky necklace? That might offer enough of a constant reminder in the right area.

During one of U2's tours, Bono was in danger of losing his voice, and was under doctor's orders to not talk at all in order to save it for the shows. He had a sign around his neck that said something like "Sorry, not allowed to talk." Maybe the chunky necklace with a sign would be a good reminder to yourself and others, especially if your cat reads English. If not, you'll need a bilingual sign.
posted by The Deej at 11:02 AM on July 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

To echo what The Deej said, I had to not speak for a week back in university because of a throat infection or something (it was a long time ago, I don't remember). I did the big sign around my neck thing and it worked. I remembered because I had this big annoying sign around my neck, and other people didn't attempt to engage me. Plus, my sign was actually a dry erase board that I attached a string to. kept a "i can't talk" message on it usually, but it allowed me to write a response to a person's question on the board if I needed to.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:08 AM on July 17, 2013

Some good suggestions here. Could you maybe stick a bit of scotch tape on your lips when you are hanging out at home? It's cheap and could be an easy way to remember to not to speak.
posted by jillithd at 11:39 AM on July 17, 2013

Best answer: I used to be a speech and language therapist doing voice therapy, though I am not familiar with your case and you should listen to specific advice from your Doctor once you have seen one. The only people we recommended complete voice rest for were those who had just had surgery on their vocal cords. I guess the professional opinion might be different in the US, but we recommend our patients have frequent periods of at least 10 mins voice rest throughout the day and reduce use the rest of the time, but do not stop using the voice. The rationale for this is that muscles get deconditioned if they are not used - think of how wobbly your legs feel if you have to stay in bed for a couple of days.

In the meantime, the things you should avoid are whispering, singing with less than perfect technique and raising your voice. This means getting rid of all background noise (especially if you're tempted to hum along with it - just turn it all off), walking to where people are rather than raising your voice and using non-voice noise to get attention (clapping, for example).

Good luck, let us know how it turns out.
posted by kadia_a at 11:55 AM on July 17, 2013 [5 favorites]

When I was on vocal rest for nodes on my vocal cords, I wore a notebook around my neck on a cord for communicating. The unusualness of having this thing on my chest often helped me to remember that, oh yes, can't talk, must use the notebook.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 6:01 PM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

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