If you’re a student, chances are you’re familiar with First Thursdays – the first Thursday of every month, when art galleries open their doors free of charge and students and city-goers alike flock to these establishments. Perhaps the free wine has something to do with it.
But last year, mid-semester, when my friends and I decided to take a much-needed break from textbooks and human remains, we ventured into town. I remember feeling a little under the weather at the time, but there’s something exciting and whimsical about dressing up and getting lost in the sea of faces as you comb through the narrow streets of Cape Town. The galleries are noisy. The streets are crowded. It’s often stifling, but these evenings carry their own sort of charm. So, I ignored my slightly raspy voice as set off into the chilly evening air of late winter, wandering gallery after gallery. Now and then we’d yell over the rumbling crowd to make a comment or two. I was happy. I was having an amazing time. That is, until we sat down to have dinner (If you can call a meal at 11pm dinner) and I realised my voice had become nothing more than a hoarse whisper. Within fifteen minutes of laboured conversation, it disappeared altogether. I survived the evening by scribbling on napkins.
I returned to my room that night, sucked on a throat lozenge and hopped into bed, thinking that I’d at least be back to an audible whisper by morning. No such luck. I wasn’t sick or anything. My throat didn’t even hurt. It was as if my voice had packed a suitcase and flown to the opposite side of the world – payback for all the stupid things I’ve said over the years, I suppose. Regardless, what followed was one of the most uncomfortable weeks I’d experienced in a long time.
Imagine for a moment what it must be like not to be able to speak – acknowledging that this is a reality for some. It changes your life more dramatically than one would think. There were so many small things that had me frustrated: missing out on conversations, not being able to ask questions in class, being super dependent on others, having to explain myself without being able to. That week was a subtle reminder that many people live in a world that isn’t designed for them and we should be conscious of that.
But, more recently, I lost my voice in a very different sort of way. My vocal chords vibrated just fine. The problem was less physical and more to do with a state of mind. My filter was broken. Or rather, my filter had been replaced by fear. Who knew that fear could be so dense, that it would only let the tiniest specks of thought filter through?
I feared judgement and self-censorship became the norm. I stopped writing because everything sounded stupid and awful in my head. But then, I had a light bulb moment (you have to be grateful for those) and realised that sometimes you have to allow yourself to be vulnerable. You have to trust yourself in the hands of others. Your words may taste bitter in your mouth, they may come out jumbled, they may flow from you like spilt ink, they may be ignored, but you have to say them anyway because shouting into the void is better than bottling everything up until you burst.