Lucy Dhegrae was a young, successful singer riding on rave reviews and high-profile concerts. Then, in 2013, she lost her voice.

Doctors diagnosed her with paresis, which weakened the vocal folds in her throat. She was stunned to discover the condition is often triggered by psychological trauma. 

Suddenly everything in her life made sense. As a freshman in college she had been sexually assaulted, but tried to bury the memory and get on with her life. Over the next few years though, she found herself increasingly anxious and traumatized by the very event she was trying so hard to suppress.

"It was just like my body saying, 'OK, now you really have to deal with this. We're going to take away the one thing that you need, and that you use to make money, that you use to survive,' " she told AFP. "It forced me to look at [the trauma], and honestly, I'm not sure I would have." 

Paresis, which is sometimes called partial paralysis, can be caused by a host of underlying medical conditions, including injuries, diabetes and chronic illnesses such as multiple sclerosis. But it can also be caused by psychological trauma. The mechanics are not well-known, but it’s been widely documented.

Paresis itself is part of a larger group of neuropsychological symptoms called conversion disorder, which is thought to affect up to 0.5 percent of the population, with most sufferers aged between 11 and 35. The stress of trauma can not only cause paresis, but also temporary blindness, tremors, numbness or convulsions. Treated with a combination of psychotherapy and physical therapy, symptoms can linger for months, years or even decades.

Dhegrae treated her paresis with the therapy she knows best — music. 

Years after her vocal chords became partially paralyzed, she slowly regained her ability to sing. Now, she’s hoping to use her music for another purpose — to raise awareness of this little-understood condition that changed the course of her life. She has commissioned a series of contemporary musical pieces from several composers that chart the emotional toil of her trauma, her loss and her recovery.

She has her voice back — as a singer and as an advocate.

Published on Feb 27, 2020