Learning from the silence, when a lost voice never comes back

Anna Weggel
Analyst
Public Insight Network
Chris McNaught of Nampa, Idaho, is thankful for silence. "I'm thankful for the quiet times in my life that let me understand another soul." (Photo shared by Chris McNaught)

Chris McNaught of Nampa, Idaho, is thankful for silence. “I’m thankful for the quiet times in my life that let me understand another soul.” (Photo shared by Chris McNaught)

Chris McNaught would frequently pick up colds and coughs from the kids at the school where he worked. He was used to losing his voice every winter. But three years ago when he lost his voice, it never came back.

The doctors didn’t know why it happened — even the ones who worked in specialty voice clinics. It could be a symptom of the medication he takes for rheumatoid arthritis, they told him. Or it could be an unexplained amount of eosinophils — a subset of white blood cells — in his vocal chords. Either way, having his voice reduced to a whisper meant he couldn’t effectively do his job as a school counselor, and had to leave the profession he loved.

“Working at the elementary and middle schools was the best job I’d ever had — the best job I could ever have hoped for,” he says. “I loved the kids, the staff, the families, the community. I had a clear purpose and was making a positive impact in the community. Now I often feel useless, meaningless and purposeless.”

McNaught, 46, moved from Wendell, ID, into a rental home behind his parents’ house in Nampa, Idaho. He receives disability checks, but tries to keep his days full: he’s writing a book, he blogs, he takes photography classes and ukulele lessons and he spends time at his local gym.

And despite his condition, he is back in front of a classroom. He’ll be leading a class in family counseling at Northwest Nazarene University next spring. While most of the course will be taught online, it will also include some face-to-face class time where McNaught says he’ll use his condition as a reminder not to talk too long.

“I see myself as the facilitator of their learning and not the expert in the room,” he says. “I like to ask questions and let the students do most of the talking.”

One of the things Chris McNaught has kept busy with since losing his voice is photography. "Photography has always been my creative outlet and I want to become a more purposeful artist with a clear vision," he says. (Photo shared by Chris McNaught)

One of the things Chris McNaught has kept busy with since losing his voice is photography. “Photography has always been my creative outlet and I want to become a more purposeful artist with a clear vision,” he says. (Photo shared by Chris McNaught)

McNaught says he also plans to get a Ph.D. in counseling education that will focus, in part, on overcoming the limits of his voice.

“I will never be the lecturing type, which means part of the doctoral program will be me learning how to creatively facilitate communication and instruction,” he says. “How will I do that and still protect the voice I have? I’m not yet sure. I think –hope — it will force me to be a creative professor.”

McNaught doesn’t feel bad for himself. And in some ways, he’s thankful for the life change that arrived when his voice was lost.

“Before I lost my voice, I thought I was a good listener. After all, I am a trained counselor,” he says. ”But not being able to talk meant that I spent much more time listening, and learning to listen on a deeper level.

“I discovered that all those things I’d been saying for years, because I thought they were important, turned out to not be so important. Listening — to my family, my friends, my students, even strangers — is much more important than anything I could ever say. I’m thankful for the quiet times in my life that let me understand another soul.”

>>Share your story: In one photo, what are you thankful for?

 

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Anna Weggel Analyst
Public Insight Network

Anna Weggel is a Public Insight Analyst, which means she spends her time crafting questions about upcoming story topics to send to sources in the Public Insight Network and then produces web, audio and video content featuring those sources.

Before finding her home at APM in 2008, Anna received her B.A. in journalism, was the editor in chief of The Minnesota Daily, and internship hopped through Mother Jones, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Pioneer Press, the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal, and the Downtown Journal. Anna's non-work life is held hostage by the stage -- where she performs improv comedy and shows with her lady bluegrass band.