Hi there. Nice to see you again.
You know, it never really hits home until you’re in it yourself. Only then do you fully understand the power of the mind to affect the body, the power of the body to affect the mind, and the power of that interminable chicken-egg conundrum that can swallow you whole.
Knowing that I had had a panic attack only made it worse. Now, not only did I still not know what was going on with my body, but I also felt more conscious of my anxiety and the possibility of another attack.
Anxiety locks you inside yourself in a recurring wave of a-okay and...not. Lying in bed, trying to fall asleep, I would slowly feel my chest tighten and my neck constrict as tingling nausea and fear slowly spread like a virus through my veins.
I'm a pretty sensitive soul. Headstrong like an ox, but sensitive. And now, that sensitivity burst forth like a bat out of hell, screaming for recognition. It climbed steadily toward the surface -- and recoiled at the slightest touch. I lost myself over those few weeks. I lost my lightness, my hope, the optimism that helped me heal a radial nerve that supposedly had little hope of recovery.
I’m slowly unsticking. As a family friend told me, “Anxiety is just a symptom.” Simple things like mantras take away its power versus feeding it with an endless loop of thoughts and sensations. You need to continually reset your brain and find different pathways. It’s an opening up of both mental and physical constriction.
In short, “Free your mind...the rest will follow!”
The Big UNstuck came in the form of a magical older neighbor. J is one of those Manhattan gems who has lived in the same apartment for about 50 years. One of my favorite quotes of his: “New York City is not conducive to creativity. But people focus here.” It’s true: We hole up in our little pockets of isolation amidst the unceasing stream of chaos all around us.
J is a voice analysis teacher, and he most adamantly and eloquently makes the distinction between this and voice coaching. He says that many voice students fall into the trap of focusing on the end result. J doesn’t help people “sing better”: He helps them use the voice as an instrument, through breath.
He told me that many singers tend to lead with “voice”, focusing on lyricality at the expense of language. In other words, they sound great, but you can’t understand what the heck they’re singing about. He told me that I tend to lead with language. He spoke about the musculature of the throat in voice and the importance of diaphragmatic breathing. Though I thought I breathed efficiently, I soon learned otherwise. In a way, I breathed everywhere except my diaphragm: Belly breathing, check. TVA muscle, check. Yet my chest moved up versus out, and my extrinsic muscles kicked in to pick up the intrinsic slack. In other words, I basically breathed with very part of my upper body besides my diaphragm.
J told me that I needed to (1) reconnect with my diaphragm, and (2) return to writing on a regular basis. In short, he affirmed what I already knew: I needed to, step by small step, return to thriving.
He said, “I don’t want you to lose your voice. That’s a disservice to you.” J wanted me to connect how I breathe with how I use my voice. He wanted to help me learn to use my voice efficiently by lessening the use of extraneous muscles that the mere act of breathing had tightened over time. My right upper trap and left "lower strap" were higher than their counterparts, and my left inner throat muscles tighter -- not to mention the fact that my tight and shallow breath neglected the lower lobes of my lungs.
J talked about constriction and how the body holds emotion. I knew this, yet until that moment, I don’t think I had ever really understood the role that stuttering played in my life. After about spending an hour with the man, the clouds opened, and, like a burst of song – or an atomic explosion – it all made sense.
Though quite expressive, speaking has always been somewhat mechanical to me: Over thirty years of using to learn my mouth, my breath, and my brain so that speech flows as smoothly as possible. And, come to think of it, the smooth voice that I sometimes use to find my “speech flow” has a slightly higher cadence than my “fully Jamie” voice. Odds are, this all leaves me stuck in my head and chest – and leaves my diaphragm pretty useless.
Fun fact: The diaphragm falls within the third chakra – our source of personal power. And the fifth chakra, is located in the throat – our source of emotional expression and speaking our highest truth...
I thought about one of the bodyworkers who understood, within minutes, that having a sense of control was very important to me. She said that voicing “being in control” actually demonstrated the opposite. She said that if I really felt in control, I wouldn’t need to voice it.
I also thought about how much I had recently been missing creativity (which is what inspired me to start this blog).
And now, here was this wise man, bringing in the whole piece about how, as a stutterer, I literally didn’t – and still don’t, apparently – have control over my voice.
Talk about re-evaluating your entire life.
J asked if I wrote poetry, and I told him that I used to write almost daily. He told me to read my poetry out loud, and the sudden stab of tears behind my eyes jarred me. It was a shudder of truth and the opening of space I didn't know needed release. It was boundless gratitude for recognition. J saw me. He somehow understood me within a single hour – and then he empowered me. As he says, "All communication is intentional."
My Big Stuck was my body, my creative-self, and my Jamie voice all crying to be freed.
J helped me return to my foundation and, in so doing, helped me unstick more than any of the myriad of medical and bodywork and alternative professionals I saw before him. Now that is my kind of healing.
So, with that, cheers to the journey of healing, my friends ~ Until soon.