The Long Road to Recovery

One hour, forty-nine minutes, and forty-seven seconds. That’s the length of the first chapter of the audio book I’m narrating at the moment. 

If audio book narration is your bread and butter, a chapter of that length may be no big deal, but to me it’s an eternity. It feels like running a marathon in wet sand.

You see, after I had a stroke on March 26th, 2018, I woke up out of my sedation, unable to utter a coherent sentence. My emotions were all over the place, but I wasn’t able to express myself. It seemed that the signals from my brain to my mouth were completely distorted. (click here to read the full story of my stroke)

At one point I feared I would never be able to speak fluently and passionately again. That’s not exactly ideal if your career consists of talking into a microphone all day long. I felt like a concert pianist who couldn’t use his fingers.

BRAIN PLASTICITY

Thank goodness our brain is this astonishing three-pound organ. In the time after my hospitalization, some of my grey cells started taking over from the ones that were forever lost. After months of speech therapy, I was finally able to read short sentences that eventually turned into paragraphs. 

However, due to a persistent tremor in one of my vocal folds (probably a result of Atrial Fibrillation), I was only able to read for a brief period of time before getting hoarse. I had no vocal stamina whatsoever, and it looked like long-form narration wasn’t going to be in my future anymore.

But once again my body surprised me.

Months and months of exercises gave my vocal folds some renewed strength. Within a year or so, I was able to resume my voice over work starting with short scripts, and eventually I took on some longer eLearning projects. But still, after forty-five minutes behind the microphone, my voice would be shot.

During the rest of the day it would be very quiet in our house. 

Now, more than two years later, I am happy to report that things have improved considerably. Recently, I felt confident enough to take on my very first audio book, post-stroke.

AUDIO BOOK NARRATION

As you can imagine, being an audio book narrator involves much more than the ability to read for hours at a time. It requires mental strength, focus, and flexibility.

Above all, the narrator needs to keep the listener engaged, especially if the material is quite dry and not so well written. To give you a quick example, here’s a snippet from the book I’m narrating at the moment. Let’s read it out loud together, shall we?

First, take a silent but deep, diaphragmatic breath:

“Capital goods have no value except as intermediate products in the process of turning out final (consumer) goods later, and insofar as the production of final products is more productive with than without them, or, what amounts to the same thing, insofar as he who possesses and can produce with the aid of capital goods is nearer in time to the completion of his ultimate goal than he who must do without them.”

Feel free to breathe in again…

It’s paragraphs like these that made the client call for a professional narrator, rather than a volunteer with too much time on his hands. The entire book is pretty much like this short selection. It’s a fascinating read, but rather dense and academic.

Could I have picked something less challenging to celebrate my reentrance into the underpaid world of spoken books? Certainly, but I had already narrated a couple of other publications in this genre for the client, and he wanted a familiar voice who could comfortably handle a few other European languages.

I’m always up for a challenge, and this one proved to be particularly therapeutic. As I said, it’s like running a marathon in wet sand, and I’m aware that I’m not cranking out the pages the way I used to. Some days I resent ever taking on this project. Other days I feel proud of myself for not giving up. In the process, I have discovered a tremendous benefit of having had a stroke. 

MAKE IT STOP

When I started my rehab, I noticed it was very easy for me to be in stimulus overload. My brain simply couldn’t keep track of everything that was happening around me. Hospital waiting rooms, supermarkets, and department stores were the worst. The constant barrage of light and noise was too much for my brain to handle. It didn’t know what to pay attention to. After a while I felt an urgent need to vomit and escape. 

You may argue that this is a normal, human response to these relentless triggers, but my reaction was extreme, and it prevented me from functioning. Till this very day I am still not allowed to drive a car, because my brain cannot keep track of traffic.

What it can do very well, however, is be in the moment.

As long as I’m left alone with no distractions, I can concentrate on whatever I am doing in that instant… such as narrating an audio book. When I’m involved in an activity, it’s as if I’m operating in a bubble outside of time and space. In fact, I totally lose my sense of time and will forget to take my medications if I don’t set the alarm.

I once had some milk on the stove and went down to my studio to get on Facebook, and my wife had to tell me that something was burning in the kitchen. I had already forgotten about the milk. People like me are the reason why nice homes burn down.

In my recording studio, however, this renewed focus that comes with being in the moment, is tremendously helpful. I find myself reading entire pages without making any mistakes! So, you can understand my joy when I received the following note from my proof listener:

“Hi Paul, just wanted to let you know that chapter one audio is proofed with no mistakes found.”

We’re talking about one hour, forty-nine minutes, and forty-seven seconds of pretty challenging audio.

A NEW BEGINNING

Two years ago, I thought my voice over career was as good as over, and I was struggling to communicate. Now it finally feels like I am back in business, ready to take on any script clients would like to throw at me!

Looking back, I could not have gotten to this point without the help of my doctors and therapists, nor could I have done it without the ongoing support of my wife and friends.

And lastly, I want to thank you, my readers and colleagues.

You have been checking in with me periodically, and have sent words of encouragement and hope. Whenever I felt down in the dumps and disappointed in myself, you were there to cheer me up. You probably didn’t even know you did it, but I heard you loud and clear. It meant and means the world to me!

So, my wish for the new year is to stay connected.

Soon, I will have a new website which will enable me to keep telling stories that I hope will both entertain and educate.

And yes, I promise to ruffle a few feathers too. I’m afraid I can’t help myself.

Be well. Be safe, and don’t be a stranger!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

About the author

Paul Strikwerda

is a Dutch-English voice-over pro, coach, and writer. His blog is one of the most widely read and influential blogs in the industry. Paul is also the author of "Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs."

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal

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