No Nodes, Please
I was diagnosed with Vocal Nodules (Nodes) in 2011. This is my story on living with Nodes.
In 2011 I was diagnosed with nodes when I was halfway through the Music program studying voice & performance at Selkirk College, Nelson B.C. I went to see the Otolaryngologist (ENT) because I was experiencing pain during/after singing. I could not sing for longer than an hour without discomfort & there were large portions of my range that didn't exist and were replaced by air.
Let's go back a year...
I remember the first time I heard about "Nodes". It was in my Vocal Improv Class at Selkirk College. Taught by the amazing Cheryl Hodge. I believe this was day one of the class & she drops the "Nodes" bomb. I remember thinking to myself, "oh shit, what a terrible thing to have, I really hope this doesn't happen to me"...
What are nodes?
Vocal Nodules are bilaterally symmetrical benign (non-cancerous) white masses that form at the midpoint of the vocal folds. A.K.A little callouses that form on your vocal folds. Vocal Nodules interfere with the vibratory characteristics of the vocal folds by increasing the mass of the vocal folds and changing the configuration of the vocal fold closure pattern. Due to these changes, the quality of the voice is affected. The major perceptual signs of vocal fold nodules include vocal hoarseness and breathiness. Other common symptoms include vocal fatigue, soreness or pain lateral to the larynx, and reduced frequency and intensity range.
When I was diagnosed...
I was devastated. I could never imagine my life without singing. I had to drop out of music school and pursue different avenues. I call these the dark years... (to be a bit dramatic).
At first I was in denial & continued living how I was living, working late in loud environments, singing and losing my voice. I wasn't taking responsibility & was not doing myself any favours. I decided to quit music completely and believed I would never sing again. I went down a deep hole of depression and my anxiety was as bad as its ever been. I was lost and couldn't turn to music to help me because every time I listened, it reminded me I wasn't able to do what I loved.
I quit music and singing for approximately 3 years. To be honest I don't remember much about those years. Without music I felt incomplete and as if I had no purpose. I couldn't even strum the guitar or play a piano because I couldn't help myself from singing. If I sang during this period, I would lose my voice for two days then slowly get it back. I knew I needed to seek help and try to figure this "Nodes" situation out. After all, haven't all the great singers had some vocal issues?
Vocal rest, lifestyle change, & proper vocal training including developing your diaphragm properly. Some severe cases result in surgery. Hold up- Let's just go over what "Vocal Rest" means. Ever heard of taking a "vow of silence"? Ever tried it? Lets just say its not easy. I would keep quiet for as long as I could during the years of my recovery; going on spurts of 'no talking/singing' for weeks at a time. I would wear a sign around my neck at my serving job that said "I can't talk but I can still hear you". I'd like to brag that these small vows of silence have made me the amazing listener I am today ;).
I decided I needed to make a change & take control of my life. I started to research vocal care, and visited a speech pathologist once (keyword- "once" holy smokes expensive!). I trained my diaphragm every day (and still do exercises today). I quit working in loud environments and started treating my voice with care. I avoid speaking in loud environments. I still go to shows but I focus on listening rather than putting myself in the position of straining my voice. The reality is nodes can come back if you do not take serious precautions.
During my road to vocal recovery, I started working at a local music store teaching vocal lessons. This is what truly saved my voice and helped get me back on track with my music career. Because of my knowledge on training my own voice back to proper health, I was able to offer and apply my skills to these fresh singers to ensure that they wouldn't go through the trauma I had been through. I owe so much to all of the voices i've had the honour of coaching over the past 5 years. I am so passionate about teaching & being an advocate for vocal care. I still teach music lessons today from my own home studio.
Singers- don't be afraid to speak up (with your diaphragm;)) and request a proper monitor. Sound gear is key. Don't play a gig and put yourself in a loud environment for the rest of the night. Shouting over a loud speaker is a great way to ruin your voice. Vocal rest before and after the show is important. Use your diaphragm! if you don't know what a diaphragm is or how to use it, hire a vocal coach. Remember-hydration is key!
The Aftermath Prevention:
It is important to continue getting checkups with your ENT to make sure your nodes are gone & you are being careful with your new voice. Also, visiting a vocal coach/speech pathologist to educate and train your voice the proper way.
Go see an Otolaryngologist (ENT) if you are experiencing ANY pain, loss of range, increase in breathiness/hoarseness in your voice not only as a singer, but anyone who uses their voice at an intense level (Teachers, Public speakers, Radio Hosts, Etc.).
This is a journey that I would not wish upon anyone, but it has made me who I am today. I am strong & more resilient than ever. Plus I have this New Voice that I am proud to share with the world because it has fought damn hard to be here and to be heard.
Now that I have gained control of my health and trained my voice and diaphragm thoroughly, my voice is stronger than ever. I can sing and perform for up to 5 hours and my voice is still healthy. I can wake up the next day and have a conversation and now I don't need to hang out in silence.
This was a tough topic to post. Thank you for reading!
Seeking support? Please visit your local ENT if you are experiencing concerns regarding vocal care or email me @ firstname.lastname@example.org & I can lend an ear, assist with vocal coaching & offer advice.
Love to you all!