World Voice Day

RAISING AWARENESS: "It's a time to reflect, particularly for occupational voice users like teachers, coaches and performers," Ms Bale said. Picture: Isabella Lettini

RAISING AWARENESS: "It's a time to reflect, particularly for occupational voice users like teachers, coaches and performers," Ms Bale said. Picture: Isabella Lettini

The ability to talk, sing, laugh or scream is second nature to most.

But for Louise Bale, her voice isn’t something she takes for granted.

In 2006, she noticed small breaks in her voice, what she described as “a bit like poor mobile phone reception”.

“I was referred to a speech pathologist and after six months of trying different things I was referred to a neurologist, who confirmed the diagnosis of a neurological condition called Spasmodic Dysphonia (SD),” she said.

There are many different kinds of chronic voice disorders. SD is a form of focal dystonia which affects one set of muscles, in this case the ones which control the function of the larynx.

“It’s like a tic or eye twitch, but occurring on the inside. It is an unusual condition which often appears for no reason, however research suggests it may be genetic,” Ms Bale, founding president of the Australian Dysphonia Network (ADN), said.

“SD can cause the voice to break up, chop words off, be breathy, or to have a tight strangled sound. Either way, communication can be tiring and extremely frustrating.

“I was devastated to hear there was no cure. Management involves regular botox injections directly into the vocal folds. These worked initially but over the years the results have become a bit hit and miss as my condition has changed.”

Ms Bale, who works in hospitals across western Sydney, said she is a naturally outgoing person, but life with a voice disorder has changed that.

“I find it very difficult to have a conversation with more than one person at a time and only then in a very quiet place,” she said.

“Restaurants and bars are uncomfortable places for me, so my social life has change dramatically. I much prefer to see friends at home or out on a picnic.

“Buying a coffee is almost impossible. Speaking through an intercom is impossible, and I find the telephone very, very challenging – thank goodness for SMS!”

Ms Bale said it was hard to accept her condition and she needed time to grieve for parts of her life that she’d lost.

“Fortunately I’m an optimistic person and decided to travel to the US to meet up with the national support organisation and meet someone like me,” she said.

“Eventually I felt ready to connect with, and support others who were going through similar experiences, so together with one of my local dysphonic friends, we held a forum to bring others together and explore the establishment of an Australian support network and that’s how the ADN began.”

Like anyone with a life changing condition, I asked 'why me', and felt that life as I knew it would never be the same again.

Louise Bale

Throughout April the Australian Dysphonia Network will present a series of concerts featuring the magic of voice. The concerts, including Voices in the Valley, will celebrate World Voice Day on April 16 and raise awareness of life changing voice disorders.

“World Voice Day is a great time to stop and focus on those teeny little vocal folds that work so hard for us, from the time we are born until the time we die – if we’re lucky,” Ms Bale said.

“The day isn’t all about disorders, it’s a time to celebrate what an amazing instrument we all have but rarely even think about – until it doesn’t work.

“Our voice is able to entertain, communicate, teach and express emotions. Like our fingerprints, our voice is unique to each of us and no two are ever identical.”