I recently lost my voice due to overuse, and I found myself in bed for a little over a week. Having never experienced that before, it was a scary thing to go through, especially as a teacher, where I am required to use my voice in order to earn money. Here’s what that experience taught me.
What Losing My Voice As A Teacher Taught Me
1. Your body will take a break when it needs to take a break
In order to compensate for the costs of moving from Taiwan to Tokyo, I started working almost immediately after I arrived and settled in Japan. On a surface level, I understood that I was not a robot, but I quickly fell into a pattern of teaching many lessons a day, and I would neglect my own needs in the process.
Looking back, I realize that with the exception of my weekly days off (which everyone needs), I did not take a break longer than 3 or 4 days since I started working in earnest.
However, I continued to push forward, ignoring the physical signs that my body was sending me, which included dehydration and a dry scratchy throat. I would simply increase my fluid intake, and it would usually be gone by the next day. My body was clearly screaming at me that it needed a break, but I was not taking one. Losing my voice as a result of overuse was my body’s way of physically stopping me and taking the break that it wanted.
There is no denying the importance of work; we all need money in order to survive. However, your body is also a very good judge of your emotional and physical state. If you do not take the signs it is sending into consideration, your body will take a break for you.
2. There are things that you can’t control, no matter how much you would like to
During my recovery, I experienced an overwhelming amount of anxiety about not working for an extended period of time. A significant portion of my anxiety was due to the fact that I was not earning income and living in a very expensive city. Additionally, I had several upcoming commitments that I couldn’t back out of at the time.
In my mind, this was the worst time in the world for my body to break down. I knew that I was incapable of delivering the quality lessons that my students expected, but it didn’t change the fact that I was frustrated. The truth was that I could not have foreseen the fact that I would lose my voice from overuse.
I could not control the fact that I was sick, no matter how much I would like to. I could have spent a lot of time thinking “should have, could have, would have,” but I also understood that that sort of thinking was a waste of time.
There are things that you can control and things you can’t. I am by no means an expert, but this experience has allowed me to begin learning how to let go of the need to control.
3. Your health is the most important thing.
Until recently, I believed that a part of having a strong work ethic was to prioritize my job over my mental and physical health.
I now fully understand the danger of overestimating your physical and mental capacities. Your health is the most important thing and should be treated as such. If you feel the need to make changes in order to give yourself time to prioritize your health, do whatever you feel you need to.
For me, this meant refraining from working on weekends, adjusting my schedule as much as I could without compromising income, and increasing my fluid intake.
Hard work is important, but your health is more important; if you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to produce your best work.
4. Exhaustion as a status symbol isn’t good.
In order to demonstrate that we are working hard, many people in various countries use exhaustion as a status symbol. In every country I have lived in thus far, I have heard people make statements along the lines of, “ I’m so exhausted,” or “I only got (fill-in-number-of-your-choice) hours of sleep” or “I worked for (fill-in-number-of-your-choice) yesterday/today/last week.”
The simple fact that I did not take more than 3-4 days off aside from my weekly days is a prime example. There were a variety of factors that went into that decision. However, my point is that in many societies, those simple facts are met with surprise, sometimes even praise, something that many of us have learned to thrive on.
I don’t wish to discredit the importance of letting of steam or a strong work ethic-those things are necessary. However, using exhaustion as a status symbol is detrimental to our mental and physical health as individuals. There are other ways to prize a strong work ethic rather than working to the point of becoming ill (as I did).
If there is anything I’ve learned throughout this process, it’s the fact that working more doesn’t necessarily mean that you will produce better work.
Taking time off doesn’t mean you don’t have a strong work ethic or mean that you’re lazy. You can still work hard and take time to enjoy yourself. Being exhausted isn’t an indicator of your work ethic: it is a sign that you are exhausted as a result of a variety of factors, whatever they may be.
As you can imagine, losing my voice was certainly an anxiety-inducing experience. Balancing your health with your career is a struggle for everyone, and I am by no means an expert. However, I am grateful for the lessons this experience afforded me.