Last month I caught a cold. After six days of ignoring it and hoping it would go away, I felt worse than ever and I'd also lost my voice. My doctor prescribed antibiotics and told me not to even attempt to talk until I was a lot better.
So I was silent for about seven days in the middle of December. It was a time of reflection and discovery. Here are the insights that emerged during my week of silence.
1. Some people do this voluntarily
Opting to not talk for an extended period of time is actually a thing. Silent retreats and silent resorts are peppered all over the world. Bali Silent Retreat, Bali, is just one example; here "you can reconnect to your true self". I saved a small fortune in airfares and accommodation by reconnecting with my true self without leaving home. Plus I didn't have to endure yoga, meditation classes or a "healing fire ceremony". My true self was truly pleased about that.
2. There's serenity in silence
The impact of silence can be complicated. Sometimes I felt my inability to speak made me invisible, easily overlooked. At other times I felt almost liberated by it, as if I'd moved beyond the need for mere words. The silence could be deafening yet there was also a sense of tranquility.
3. Would I speak again?
When you can't talk you spend a lot of time pondering. Your imagination runs wild. I started wondering if I secretly liked not talking. What if I chose to never speak again?
There would be stories about my case in women's magazines: "It all started back in December 2016. She got a cold, lost her voice and then she never spoke again. Not one word." Doctors would be perplexed: "There's no medical reason for her inability to speak." Psychologists would try to explain: "Something about not speaking appealed to her on a deep level. She found comfort in silence."
4. You're excused from engaging
If someone calls my phone and I don't pick up, there's a voice message along the lines of: "Sorry, I can't take your call right now. Please leave a message and I'll get right back to you." Am I the only person who wishes they had a similar feature in real life?
If you're out in public and a Greenpeace representative wants you to save the planet or someone wants to have a deep-and-meaningful discussion when you're in a hurry, I've often thought how handy it would be to somehow convey: "Sorry, I'm unable to engage with you right now." For seven days I could do just that. I'd point at my mouth, shake my head and do my best impression of a sad-face emoji. Of course, in reality I was all like: party-popper emoji, martini-glass emoji and thumbs-up emoji. It was fantastic.
5. My voice was missed
Despite the predictions of the two men who said my other half would be loving the fact I was unable to nag, my husband was somewhat discombobulated by the situation. Our house was much quieter. I think he missed the usual soundtrack of verbal instructions, meaningless chatter and random observations. "We don't talk anymore," he said, channeling his inner Charlie Puth.
6. How to get attention
Here's a brain-teaser: "You're curled up on the sofa with a bad cold. Suddenly you realise you need a lemon drink or tissues. You are too lazy to get up so you will need help from a family member who is in a different room. How do you attract their attention since you have lost your voice?"
It's a conundrum to be sure. In the absence of a small bell, I simply clapped my hands and hoped someone would take pity on me. It worked with my husband but our thirteen-year-old was having none of it.
She sent me a Snapchat selfie (with the deer lens applied) which contained the message: "Stop clapping." In doing so she revealed her preferred communication mode. I used that to my advantage and simply sent her a Snapchat if I needed her attention. Genius!
7. My handwriting is terrible
If you're temporarily voiceless, you can always communicate in writing. Or so I thought. Thanks to technology, I don't often put pen to paper. I hadn't realised quite how much my handwriting had deteriorated until my family members were unable to read even the simplest word I scrawled. To make it legible to others I would have to painstakingly rewrite each letter with all the concentration of a preschooler. That's a worry. My handwriting used to be just fine.
8. Dining out was tricky
Having someone else order food for me in restaurants was a new experience. As I sat there mutely listening to the order being made on my behalf, I wondered what impression this was conveying to the wait-person. Was I too helpless to order my own food? Was I unfamiliar with the rituals involved in dining out? Did I consider myself too important to have to deal with such trivialities? Was my husband such a control freak he chose my meals for me? I felt like a cross between an invalid, an alien, a celebrity and a mail-order bride. I quite liked it.