Learning to Yell

You probably think the title is a joke or some nice irony or a typo. It is not. It is not even a feminist manifesto about reclaiming my “voice.” This really is a story about me re-learning to yell.

I used to yell. No problem. All I needed was a slight provocation woman_pulling_hair_outof a two-year-old throwing my phone in the toilet or a stray cat spraying in the garage. I could open my mouth, fill my lungs and screech. I had no trouble yelling, “Come eat dinner!”; howling “shut the door!” when air-conditioned air flooded out into 101 degree heat; or bellowing “back on the sidewalk!” when a little one toddled toward the road.

Then there was the day I stood at the top of the stairs, frozen. Precious moments ticked away before I understood the horrific scene: my four year old decided to change her brother’s diaper. So sweet, so thoughtful. And only four. My son, apparently ill with diarrhea, decided to run away, half-diapered, weaving under and over furniture and in and out of various rooms. My daughter chased after at high speed, clean diaper and wipes in her soft hands. My mind whispered, “She was trying to help. She was trying to HELP. SHE WAS TRYING TO HELP…” as I felt the hysteria dam up inside then burst out of my mouth. Looking at the poop-stained carpet and poop-smeared walls (Yes! The walls! streaked with diarrhea-brown brush strokes!), I shrieked and hollered, “What were you thinking? Stop! Stop! Stop it!” I did not swear out loud. I think. Almost positive. But a few choice nouns might have been flinging around in my head–all stunningly appropriate words to describe the stinky, smeared diarrhea on my walls and carpet. Can you blame me?

So I yelled. It was so easy and natural. Screeching came up and out as easily as raspberry sorbet slides down.

But easy or not, I saw my daughter’s face that day. And the fear on my son’s face on a different yelling day. And the tension on my other son’s face on yet another yelling day.

So I changed. Not overnight. Heavens, no. It took years of individual days… sometimes making it until 10:30, 10:45, 11 (in the morning, of course), and some days barely making it until 7:36 a.m. before screaming and pulling out my hair because of the latest spilled milk/obstinate child/mortgage stress crisis. But I did change, and, after a decade of trying, I was not much of a yell-er at all.

Then my dad died. I could not endure anything loud for months. I do not know why. It was just my reaction, my sadness. I walked to the other room to ask my children to come to dinner because I could not stand to raise my voice to call them. I could not watch movies or listen to loud music; I would retire to the kitchen–near, just an open doorway away, but far enough to muffle the noise.

It seemed right, this soft stance, this quieter, more peaceful me.

But God continues to throw curve balls; this time it was Parkinson’s Disease. In my understanding, as the disease progresses, the neck muscles –like every muscle–can get weaker. People not only lose their ability to project their voices muscularly, but low dopamine levels in the brain contribute to a neuro-processing error: my brain thinks I am speaking in a regular voice when I am actually whispering. A few months ago, my doctor suggested speech therapy because I am already speaking softer; my words could become garbled and unintelligible, my speech eventually inaudible. I needed to learn to yell.

With my speech therapist, I yell and yell. When I go home, I practice–singing as loud as I can, sliding my voice up until it screeches and down the until it growls, and hollering “functional phrases”: “Come to dinner! Please pass the salt! Will you come help? It is time to read scriptures!” I yell in my car and in the shower. I try before bedtime so I do not wake up my kids. I have yelled into the refrigerator (to muffle the noise), in the garage, and outside. I yell, “I love you!” at my husband and “Have you done your practicing?” at my kids. I yell, “Hello! How are you?” when I answer the phone, “Your essays are due on the 30th” to my students and “Hey! How’s life?” to my friends.

I yell all the time.

It’s exhausting physically and devastating emotionally. Because I hate being a yell-er, even if it is only in my mind.

If I am talking to you, and I suddenly start crying, assume that I think I am yelling at you. Giving in to that horrid habit? I hate how it feels, the bitterness of self-betrayal, the acrid flavor of guilt and incrimination.

I hope you hear appropriately-modulated words when we are talking, but I do not know if you do; my brain does not understand the difference between a whisper and a yell. I am sorry if I speak so soft you cannot hear and even more sorry if I screech at you. Why did I have to learn not to yell, just so I could learn to yell again?

Maybe I had to learn silence before I could hear.

Maybe I had to understand in a very concrete way that my five senses and my brain do not perceive reality nearly as accurately as I suppose. I can insist all day long with absolute certainty that I speak as loud as everyone else. But I would be mistaken.

I think I “know” things. But I may be wrong–not that I have not learned yet, or that someone else has a different opinion than mine, or that I mis-analyzed the data and arrived at an incorrect conclusion. Those are understandable errors. This is much more terrifying: I do not know what my voice sounds like to you, what is loud, what is real. It is as scary as the monster under my bed, as humiliating as wearing my shirt inside-out in seventh grade, and as humbling as my first Calculus test in college.

Obviously, this lesson is aimed at me, my voice, and my misperceptions of audio levels; it is about my brain, my central nervous system, and my low dopamine levels. But the lesson feels bigger, somehow.

I do not trust myself anymore: Do I know what I know? Do my eyes see brown-smeared walls and clearly see my daughter’s compassionate nature? Do my ears register the tone and pitch of my child’s implied “I love you” when the front door is shut nicely? Does the cat stink in my garage curdle my nose because it truly reeks or because I have a garage graciously filled with winter snow gear and camping accessories? Do I have ears that hear? Eyes that see? A voice that speaks truly? I question whether I can rely on myself or on my senses alone or even on my low-dopamine-brain logic to perceive reality. Actually, I “know” I cannot–and that is one of many reasons I reach out for God.

Yet, to the stray cats of the world, I must announce this abiding truth: I am not sorry to berate you. I use my deep belly breathing and all my stomach muscles to belt out what I hope is an ear piercing scream. I pretend it’s my voice exercises. (The therapist says that’s fine.)


Cross-posted at my lightly used blog: plainwords.weebly.com

8 comments for “Learning to Yell

  1. Kylie, this has so many implications. Thank you for sharing such a personal experience.

    On merely the issue of senses, I don’t really smell much at all (due to a 16-years-long chronic sinus infection and surgery trying to correct it). Mistrusting one of your senses is such a disconcerting thing, even when (in my case) a minor one.

  2. Thank you for taking the time to write this. Beautiful. Your writing inspired a complete stranger this afternoon. Thank you.

  3. Thank you for your kind words–I do not necessarily expect anyone will comment on posts like this, so I appreciate the feedback all the more.

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