I’ve called this blog “Finding My Voice” but it probably should have the more unwieldy title of “How Two Leaps into the Unknown Gave Me a New Purpose in Life”. I think you’ll agree I made the right choice of title 😉
My wife is a teacher in a primary school with over 400 pupils; a stressful, time consuming and demanding job but occasionally, just occasionally, I’m jealous that she’ll be fondly remembered by many of her pupils in their later lives. Once in a while she’ll find an affectionate note from a child stuffed into her coat pocket which makes the hard work and long hours seem worthwhile.
I can still name and picture all of my primary school teachers although my experience of my teachers at grammar school was less positive. By this time my teachers were more often referred to by a nickname many of which are still with me decades later. “Gran”, “Basher”, “Caesar” still recall a mixture of feelings from dread to admiration although there was one teacher to whom I attached a particularly unflattering nickname that I couldn’t possibly repeat but one I did shout at the television on many occasions as he rose through the ranks of the Labour Party. This may reveal his identity but he became the ‘cabinet enforcer’ in Tony Blair’s government, a role he honed to perfection by bullying a 12 year old schoolboy during algebra lessons years earlier. It’s irrational I know but for a very long time I refused to even consider voting Labour because of that teacher.
Which brings me to my voice, not the voice referred to in the blog title but rather my singing voice. I lost it after standing in a hall full of 150 children that comprised the new intake into the grammar school. The music teacher, “Jasper”, was slowly working his way up and down the rows of the assembly leaning in to listen to each child as they sang a hymn. Those who he thought may be able to contribute to the school choir were greeted by a quiet “Well done, meet in the hall at 12:30”, the less gifted received a nod and a smile as Jasper passed on to the next child. I however received a look of pained horror as he quickly stepped back and moved to the next child, pausing only to look back to make a mental note of the child who had inflicted such trauma to his delicate sensibilities. To this day I refuse to sing in public however I will acknowledge that this fact will not be mourned by the world of musical entertainment!
I lost the ‘voice’ in the title of this blog following a period of frequent illness and depression after my kidney transplant. Some of the illness was life threatening the rest live changing and I became more and more inward looking and less sociable as I increasingly feared that I was becoming defined by illness. With the exception of two very close friends I would actively try to find ways of avoiding people and situations and became a virtual recluse, lost all self-confidence and self-esteem. With the help of two renal psychologists at Salford Royal I slowly began to emerge from my self-imposed social exile but never quite regained the previous levels of self-confidence I once enjoyed.
The road to recovering my voice began with an invitation from Hope Kidney Patient Association to join their newly formed Facebook group and when I joined there were only 20 or so members. (Six months later and the group is approaching 130 members!). I’d already had two attempts at using Facebook and didn’t really ‘get it’ but thought that there might be some merit in joining a group that had the aim of supporting fellow sufferers of Chronic Kidney Disease. The next stage in the process of regaining my voice started after I read about a research programme based around the Greater Manchester Kidney Information Network (GMKIN) and decided to apply for a position on the project. The first of two leaps into the unknown.
I had my first meeting with the research programme leader, Cristina Vasilica, at Salford University and enjoyed the discussion and looked forward to becoming a study participant. A week or so after our meeting Cristina contacted me to ask if I’d be prepared to speak about my experience of GMKIN at a research event at the Reebok Stadium called Healthy Kidneys, Healthy Lives. To this day I still don’t know why I said I would but I did. I hadn’t spoken at a ‘public’ event for many years but I didn’t hestitate and didn’t regret it for a second even when the day of the event arrived. The second leap into the unknown.
Six months later and I’ve made a number of friends within the GMKIN community but have also branched out and discovered a new world of communication, primarily via Twitter, that has given me the self-belief to re-discover my voice and speak with confidence. Yes, the voice still wavers now and then, the self-confidence has the occasional wobble but overall I feel that I’ve made enormous progress and it’s all due to unconciously seeing something within GMKIN that to this day I can’t quite put my finger on.
If there are any lessons to be drawn from this then I suppose the main one is to occasionally trust one’s instincts even though part of you is silently screaming “Just say no!”. And while Jasper was undoubtedly correct in condemning my singing voice I’d still win Britain’s Got Talent. Easily!