Shared Journal Entry #4
Updated: Feb 11, 2018
February 8, 2016
I discovered the gift of my voice, my ability to express myself through sound at 1 years old. Honestly, I haven’t stopped talking since other than taking moment here and there to reflect. If you ask my father he would say I loved the sound of my own voice. If you asked my teachers, they would say I was an excellent student but I talked a little too much in class. If you ask me, I just think I have a lot to say so the spoken word comes naturally to me.
But shortly after I turned 33 I lost my voice. And I’m not talking about losing your voice because you have a sore throat. For three days in this past January I lost the ability to speak and no one could explain why. I got up one morning and I felt physically weak, disoriented and dizzy. I lived alone so I had no opportunity to say a word until I left for work. I remember taking an Uber in because I felt so unbalanced I could barely stand. When the driver said ‘good morning’ I attempted to reply and the words came out slow and slurred.
I immediately called my mother and when I couldn’t reach her I called my Grama Judie. I told her my symptoms and she said I should head to the hospital. For many reasons I dislike hospitals and refused to go, instead choosing the nearest walk-in clinic. I was barely in the door before I lost consciousness and collapsed. I was taken into one of the exam rooms and the nurse had called an ambulance. She was trying to keep me alert by asking question, questions that I tried to answer but I couldn’t. I was confused and terrified because when I opened my mouth the answers I formulated in my head just wouldn’t come out.
The ambulance arrived and transferred me to St Michaels Hospital. By the time I arrived to the emergency room I had managed to give them basic information about myself as well as my phone to contact my mother. The doctors ran every test they could think of, they feared I may have had a stress induced stroke. The MRI, EKG and blood work came back normal. Because I disclosed my history of mental illness, the next step was a psychiatric evaluation. This was what I had been dreading.
It has been my experience that when a person suffers with mental illness, doctors tend to overlook physical symptoms and label the problem a psychological one then pass you off to the ER’s Psychiatric Crisis Team for assessment. I was terrified of being admitted to the psychiatric unit. I knew that the likelihood was this was a reaction to a new anti-depressant I was taking but to admit that would be to risk getting admitted. Though it was a struggle I manage to make my wishes clear: There’s something physically wrong, I am not crazy, I do not feel like harming myself or others and I want to go home.
After asking me a series of questions that I was all to use to answering, the ER psychiatrist advised that she feared this may be psychosomatic but not something to be admitted over. My mother finally arrived and the doctors cleared me to go home and have her monitor me for the next few days. The relief I felt was overwhelming.
During those three days of silence I really started to question how I got there. Maybe there was another reason, hidden deep inside myself that I was failing to examine. Since the new year started I had been taking on more, pushing myself harder mentally, physically and emotionally. I was beginning to feel pressure at work, I was lacking in sleep, my appetite was non-existent and I was running from the depression that historically took over my mind every winter since I was 17 years old.
I was doing too much and I was wrestling with the darkest parts of myself. I was overwhelmed and I knew it had everything to do with my mental health challenges. I was tired of running from it, I was tired of keeping the secret of my mental disability from my friends, colleagues and anyone I had any significant connection with. It was like a gaping sore that refused to heal, that was a constant source of pain as if trying to tell me: Until you deal with me I am not going anywhere.
I had been thinking about telling my story, telling the truth for a while and during this experience my mind was in a constant state of remembering. Remembering the dark reality of my past, re-tracing my steps to see where I could have changed things, worrying that once the carefully constructed mask that I had relied on for so long was crumbling in the face of this truth. Even though my voice was lost, my thoughts were finding their way to the surface. All the lies I had told to protect myself, all the things that I could only remember pieces of from all the times I lost my mind, the overwhelming sense of failure I felt every day since I was a child. I knew it was time to face all that I had done, all that I had been through. My body’s betrayal at this critical juncture of my life was telling me that if I were truly going to move forward I had to speak my truth.
I was ready and I was not ready. I was certain and I was not certain. I was terrified and calm because I knew it was time for the words to come out. I knew if my voice returned I had to use it to tell the story of a woman who was abused in so many ways; a woman who lost her mind so many times only to find it again; a woman who has done things she was ashamed of; a woman who survived when the odds were stacked against her.
I knew my story could help people like me see that it is possible to go through things, terrible, life-changing, dark and destructive things and still come out on the other side fighting and hopeful and determined to achieve the impossible. To come through everything still having faith that the next step, the next journey, the next dream will be the right one, the better one, the one that will finally make you whole.
It is possible to believe that you can survive your pain, only suffering as long as it takes you to learn your lessons. Then you take that new found knowledge and change your life into something authentic. I want to be a force for this kind of change in people’s lives, giving them hope that happiness lies beyond the darkest waters.
I have always known this was my purpose but I hid my light for reasons that seemed far away and inconsequential in the face of losing my voice. It was a new kind of pain to think that I had wasted so many years hiding from the world, hiding from myself that now, when I was on the precipice of taking my place and serving my purpose, there was this new obstacle that I was not sure I could overcome.
If all the world’s a stage like Shakespeare once wrote, then those three voiceless days were my version of stage fright. I learned that as much as I was afraid of the truth, if I continued to hold it in, I was in serious danger of losing the opportunity all together. The labour of having to force out every word, syllable by syllable, at a snail’s pace as if I had never spoken before was eye-opening.
I thought to myself, “What now Onika? You have all these words locked inside your mind, you have hoarded all your experiences, all that knowledge and wisdom never really sharing it with anyone and now you have finally found some courage to speak your truth and you have lost your voice…you have lost your way.”
When my voice did return slowly over the following days, the relief I felt was palpable. It was like being given a second chance to start my purpose-filled, passion-filled journey.
It’s time to embrace something that has always been difficult for me—change. I need to be fearless and learn to embrace change like a warm hug instead of running from the danger of the unknown. I have to embrace the journey I am on and pray to God and my Grandmother that they will be there to catch me if I fall again and to keep me grounded when I finally rise.