Sunday, March 25, 2012

Finding her voice

We hear this phrase a lot-

"I didn't have a voice."

Often it refers to a law being passed without a person having the right or ability to weigh in on the decision.  Sometimes, a person may mean it literally-like my father, God rest him, after his laryngectomy.    And of course, he didn't say that, nor did he write it, but he acted it out daily in those first weeks post surgery, nearly until the day he died nine months later.

Interestingly, two minutes ago, as I started to write this entry, I planned on going in a different direction with it, but being reminded of my father's frustration at literally losing his voice seems a more apt place to start.  Once again, I will take the liberty of imagining what it must have felt like to be a person I've never been, that is, one who had literally lost his voice.

My father had always been a forceful person in many ways.  He was direct and intelligent and we all agree that his gift was words-both written and spoken.  He was first generation Irish American and therefore was fluent in sarcasm;  he has since passed on his bilingual abilities to all three daughters, and so far, to both grandsons.  Flying Pig's children are too young too have absorbed that fine language, but I look forward to the day when I can hear the sarcasm drip off of their little tongues!!

When my father had his vocal chords surgically removed in an effort to save his life from the cancer that ate away at his larynx, I can only imagine into what world he had been plunged.  He had literally lost a barrier to germs and anything that didn't belong inside his body as he now bore the mark of his surgery in the form of a gaping hole at the base of his neck.  Anything could get inside him that could fit in that hole, and no words could come out.  Like the only cat I've ever had declawed, he was stripped of one of his major abilities to defend himself and exist, and it left him fearful.  His fear, just like my cat's, manifested itself as extreme cantankerousness and some timidness as well, which make for very strange bedfellows.

I leap from the literal loss of voice to the figurative next.  DJ, the previously fearless trailblazer,  has spoken of losing her voice, or feeling like she just didn't have one.  Well, it seems only natural that when one is invisible during the majority of her waking hours one would be likewise voiceless.  And that is how she felt this past fall when she began to struggle in earnest.

I try to imagine how small one must feel if they are not seen, nor heard.  Experiencing either of those would be frustrating, to say the least, and likely enraging.  Think of it:  You are to meet a friend in a crowded park or on the beach.  You tell your friend where you will be and you watch for her arrival. You see her when she arrives, but in spite of you telling her exactly where you'll be standing, she does not see you. What do any one of us do when we are trying to catch someone's attention?  We begin to wave our arms madly until the visual disturbance catches that someone's eye.  And why do we wave madly?  Likely for two reasons:  we really want to be seen and we are frustrated that we somehow aren't visible.  We are attempting to control our world.  If you can't see me, fine, I'll make sure you can see me by gesturing wildly.

In this day and age of cell phones, we are infuriated with dropped calls.  We will be in the middle of telling someone something that is important to us, only to realize after who-knows-how-long that we have been talking to no one except ourselves and the perfect strangers within hearing distance, because our cell phone call has been inadvertently disconnected.  Being heard is SO important to us, the ability to communicate is SO crucial to us, that mobile phone carriers will tout their low percentage of dropped calls as a means of enticing us to take our business to them.

If I lose my ability to see, or to taste, or even to hear, I don't stop BEING; but it can certainly seem as if I've stopped existing if I cannot be heard or seen.  So, DJ felt as if she was invisible, AND lost her voice too.  How frightening would that be?  I've experienced one, or the other, but not usually both at the same time for any significant length of time.  Now, part of this was her decision to NOT talk to people who wanted to listen and we will continue to work on that, but much of it was not a decision she made, but was more like she was surgically excised from the hallways at school, or from the classrooms.

She's getting her voice back now and sometimes it's hard to hear what she has to say.  She is, after all, a teenager!!  We've been encouraging her for months, nay, years, to speak her mind and she is taking it to heart.  She can get snippy and for the first 500 milliseconds, I feel stung by her words, but then I realize, "Oh yeah, this is what teenagers do when they actually feel like they have a voice - they sometimes mildly abuse the privilege!"  And not only is it ok, I actually kind of want to cheer for her!!

Last week she saw Dr. Carla Enriquez in New Jersey.  This woman is an awesome doctor.  She is a neurodevelopmental specialist for kids and has great experience treating ADD, ADHD, OCD, depression, bi-polar disorder, as well as gender dysphoria, and probably much more beyond that.  She had counseled DJ on the importance of realizing that she had to look out for herself and sometimes it was important to say, "I just don't give a shit" when people were out of line.  And that is a direct quote. So, when she disagreed with DJ's decision to be on progesterone, citing that her hopes of future breastfeeding were next to zero and therefore not worth the risk of side effects, DJ responded kindly, but assertively, "Well, it's important to me to try and if it turns out you're right, I'll just have to say, 'I don't give a shit.'"

Dr. Enriquez roared with laughter and approval.  So did I.  Our girl's got her voice back.  It must feel glorious to her.  We can give her some wiggle room.