Writer's Corner

I Dreamt I Lost My Voice

April 15, 2020

Two nights ago, I had the most horrible dream.

I dreamt I lost my voice and I couldn’t move my hands. I pushed and pushed for the words to come out, but all that I could hear was breathy slurring. I tried to pick my hand up, but it wouldn’t move.

What made it feel even more real was that in my dream, I was lying down on my bed next to my husband. Exactly where I was when I fell asleep.

I woke up to my husband, gently stroking my hair and softly hushing me back to sleep. I was drenched in sweat, and my heart was pounding so quickly. I looked up at him and hesitated to talk. What if I couldn’t speak?

My husband asked me if I had a nightmare. I found out my struggles translated into real life as sad whimpers and uncontrollable shaking. I took a deep breath and said, “I had a bad dream.” Imagine my relief.

I can still talk. I still have my voice.

Your voice is the very essence of who you are.

Now, you might be thinking, “It’s just another nightmare. We all have that.” You’re right, but this nightmare came at a very specific time.

Just before I fell asleep, I finished reading Christopher Hitchen’s Mortality. It’s a collection of essays he wrote for Vanity Fair, all while facing esophageal cancer, or “Tumorville”, as he called it.

In the book, he explains in excruciating detail the pain he was experiencing, though he tries his best to explain it candidly without us feeling sorry for him.

Threatened with the loss of his voice, Hitchens’ wrote:

Deprivation of the ability to speak is more like an attack of impotence, of the amputation of part of the personality. To a great degree, in public and private, I “was” my voice.

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS

Hitchens was not only a talented orator, but he was also a fearless writer. Even though he could feel his voice withering away, he knew he could still depend on his hands to write and to convey the messages that his mouth couldn’t.

And even if my voice goes before I go, I shall continue to write polemics against religious delusions, at least until it’s hello darkness my old friend.

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS

However, in one particular essay, Hitchens’ writes about how he had just received an injection to reduce pain in his hands. The side-effect was numbness, which filled him with fear of not being able to write again.

Without that ability, I feel sure in advance, my “will to live” be hugely attenuated. I often grandly say that writing is not just my living and my livelihood but my very life, and it’s true. Almost like the threatened loss of my voice, which is currently being alleviated by some temporary injections into my vocal folds, I feel my personality and identity dissolving as I contemplate dead hands and the loss of the transmission belts that connect me to writing and thinking.

Christopher Hitchens

I had this paragraph stuck in my head until I fell asleep. And then I had that terrifying dream. Years after his passing, Christopher Hitchens manages to enthral people, even in their sleep.


Your voice is a weapon.

I am in no way as impressive as Christopher Hitchens, but for the past few years, my “voice” has been me. I don’t only mean this literally. My voice is not merely a tool I use to communicate my thoughts and ideas, but metaphorically it is also an extension of my self.

I will not sit here and try to understand how Hitchens felt going through cancer. Still, I will say this: His tenacity and willpower to keep writing, to keep his “voice” alive, even while his health is deteriorating, is admirable.

Although his body was growing frail, you would never have guessed he was suffering by reading his writings. Until the day he passed, his mind remained steadfast and sharp.

People like Hitchens dedicated their lives, in health and in death, to speaking about their truth unabashedly. I find it is only fitting that other writers continue their legacy by doing the same. When Hitchens first started writing, I’m sure he never expected his voice to have the impact that it did. He changed the world and thousands resonated with him.

This is why, writers, we should always keep writing. Our words aren’t just senseless babbling as we may sometimes perceive it to be, but it is also us. There will be people who depend on our voices to speak the truths that they dare not to.

If something is worth hearing or listening to, it’s very probably worth reading. So, this above all: Find your own voice.

Christopher Hitchens

This article was originally published in Writer’s Blokke.