Overcoming Spasmodic Dysphonia with Relaxation- Tatiana Faccini

by Tatiana Faccini
I am a speech pathologist with adductor S.D. I am 40 years old and I am from Colombia (SA). Two years after graduating, when I was 25 I began to notice some breaks in my voice. A short time after that the nightmare began and I could hardly speak. At that time I worked with children with learning disabilities and language problems in my private practice.
Although I had never worked with voice disorders, from what I have learned in university, I knew my symptoms were related to a disorder called spastic dysphonia, something that was supposed to had no cure.
My parents could not understand what was happening and neither did I. For the first six months after that, I refused to accept a psychological explanation and went to many doctors who could not find anything wrong in my body. One of the ENT’s I consulted told me to gave up, because I had spasmodic dysphonia and probably would never recover my voice.
I was having lots of pain and cramps in different muscles and I was convinced I had to have something that explained that. It was impossible to accept I was doing that to myself. My parents became impatient and even got mad at me at times, telling me it was all in my head.
A psychiatrist worked with me for a while and put me on tranquilizers, which only made me sleep all day but did not help at all. He told me I had to work with my deepest fears and feelings. Worried about his very high fees and knowing he was not helping me, the moment I entered his place my dysphonia worsened and I could not utter a simple word.
I felt I was losing everything I had, my career, my boyfriend and friends, my personality, my plans and dreams… The pain, hopelessness and devastation I was experiencing is hard to describe in words. Only God gave me strength to keep going.
A while after that, someone told my mother about a very good psychologist. Since I was desperate at that time, I decided to give it another try. From the beginning he agreed with the point of view I had: my voice problems could be more a reflex my body had learned to produce. He had me doing a half-hour relaxation exercise three times a day. Soon I was able to feel the benefits that deep breathing and relaxation produced in my body and my voice began to improve significantly in a three-month period.
I learned to relax my chest and breathe deep, and a year and a half after it had all began I was completely recovered.
For seven years my voice was completely normal. But five years ago, and very gradually, my voice problems began again. At first I didn’t worry too much because I thought if I had recovered once I could do it again. Anyway I promised to myself I was going to try to find out exactly the way SD was produced and the way to reverse it, so it would never happen to me again. But I never imagined it was going to take me so long and as each year passed without me having been able to recover, my fears deepened and stress increased.
During those years I had a mild SD, I had some control of it but I had not been able to overcome it completely, although I knew there was a way out of this. By making some changes in my breathing and chest tension and position before speaking, I was able to produce a clear voice at certain times. I didn’t know precisely what changes were required, and trying so hard to feel and identify the way SD was produced had made things much more complicated for me. Besides, I didn’t asked for help, because I didn’t know of anyone here in my country with experience in the treatment of SD. I hadn’t even heard about Botox, and Dr. Berke’s surgery. So even though I was convinced there was a cure, since it was taking me so long to find it again, I wondered if it was really possible and often felt desperate.
I kept a record of each of the tensions, sensations, slightest movements and changes in my body while at rest and during speaking. Of course it required lots of concentration, patience and time. I was a very busy mother of two girls, working two mornings with children at a small school, and was involved in the creation of a handbook for teaching, reading and writing. I had lots of activities each day, and could hardly find time for practicing, which I needed to do more frequently.
I was working mainly on these three things: reversing the inverse breath, keeping an open throat and monitoring chest movement and tension. Although in many instances I rediscovered the “channel” for an easy speech, and it would last throughout a whole conversation, reading practice or even a few days, I couldn’t maintain it longer.
In January Last year (2001) I found out about SD in the Internet. Until that day I had believed I was the only one in the whole world with this rare disorder. I have to admit it was a relief to know I was not alone in this fight. The things I began to learn gave me more insight into the problem and helped me in my healing process. This time my recovery was very, very slow and with many ups and downs.
My work focused mainly on the following goals:
1. Relaxing and repositioning my lower jaw by relaxing it with my mouth closed and head slightly moved back (this helps in keeping the airway open), after having exhaled fully.
2. Reverting the inverse breath by breathing from the abdomen.
3. Bringing my voice to the mask by humming, speaking as nasally as possible and breathing mostly through the nose.
4. Expanding and relaxing my chest, and making sure it didn’t rise or tighten while breathing.
The Jacobson Relaxation Technique was also extremely helpful to me. It was the best way to increase awareness and self-regulate my body tension and breathing pattern.
Even though my voice has been almost completely recovered for the last 3 months I continue to self monitor my breathing and tension, and whenever my voice tends to return to the old ways I know I need to go back to practicing.