Quickly glancing over everyone to make sure the kids were happy, I smiled.
I was grateful to have such a fun job managing a children’s home in Bournemouth, Dorset, and I loved being able to help so many young teenagers. It had always been my dream career.
Just as I had everything in order and was about to go and check on lunch, I was suddenly hit with a killer headache.
It literally stopped me in my tracks.
I tried to power on and continue my work and hoped it would go away, but the pain kept getting worse and worse.
After a while I couldn’t even think straight, I just couldn’t really focus at all.
I went to my boss to ask if I could leave early as it was starting to affect my work.
‘Oh my goodness, are you alright? What’s wrong with your voice?’ she asked, looking quite worried.
I had no idea what she meant… but then I heard it.
My voice sounded a lot deeper, and my words were starting to slur.
‘I sound drunk,’ I thought, totally confused about what was happening to me.
I left work and made it home, but as soon as I walked through the door my partner, Bradleigh, 27, took one look at me and took me straight to A&E.
After arriving at Bournemouth Hospital, the medics rushed me in for lots of scans and then broke the news that I would have to stay in overnight.
‘You’re going to be OK, I promise,’ Bradleigh tried to reassure me.
‘OK,’ – I tried to respond, but the words couldn’t come out of my mouth.
I tried again, but no sound came out.
‘What’s wrong?’ he asked, panic rising in his voice. ‘Can’t you speak?’
Shaking my head, I brushed aside the tears that were starting to stream down my cheeks.
I had completely lost the ability to talk.
I knew what I wanted to say, and how to form the words, but they just wouldn’t come.
It was terrifying.
‘What is happening to me?’ I cried silently to myself.
I spent the next few days in hospital undergoing lots of tests.
The doctors suspected that I was suffering from a stroke, but when my results came back clear, they were baffled.
After two weeks I was released and allowed to go home, but my voice still hadn’t returned.
After numerous follow up visits with the neurologist, various doctors, and several more trips to the hospital, I was placed on medication – amitriptyline – to help with the tingly sensations I was experiencing in my arms and legs.
The doctors were unable to diagnose me with anything and just told me that I had been suffering some form of neurological episode which resembled a stroke but wasn’t one.
‘Your voice should come back eventually, but how long it will take is hard to say,’ my specialist told me apologetically.
I was still unable to speak. It was difficult communicating at my doctor’s appointments – especially when they were over the phone.
They’d often ask me to consent to discussing my details, but without a voice, I couldn’t.
It was very frustrating. Bradleigh was so supportive throughout and would come with me to the doctor’s appointments to help me communicate.
It definitely put somewhat of a strain on our relationship – when I was getting frustrated and upset because of what I was going through – but he stuck with me and helped as best as he could.
But the inability to speak was still plaguing my life, and was worse than the headaches, and the nausea, and the tingling feeling in my body.
I had to use an app to communicate with my family – typing out what I wanted to say.
‘It’s OK take your time,’ Bradleigh would say to me. ‘Just act it out.’
But it would never work.
I’d try basic sign language, or acting out what I wanted like my life was a game of charades, but I was hardly ever understood.
The frustration would often get too much for me and I’d burst into tears and walk away.
I had been placed on leave from work at the request of my doctor.
It was horrible being stuck at home, I just wanted to get back to normal.
About a month into dealing with it, Bradleigh and I had a holiday booked to Thailand and my doctors recommended that we still go.
‘Relaxing a bit and getting away from your normal life might even help your voice come back,’ they said.
Just a few days into our holiday we were on a gorgeous boat trip to a nearby island when I noticed a bird in the distance.
‘Bradleigh, look,’ I croaked, pointing.
His head spun around.
‘Bradleigh,’ I spat out again.
‘Did you just say my name? Say it again!’ he asked, delighted.
After that I began to speak more and more often. But despite feeling relieved, it wasn’t totally good news.
My voice just didn’t sound right.
I had lost my characteristic Essex accent, and instead sounded foreign.
Back at the hotel later that evening, I rang my dad, David, 66, and my mum, Caroline, 65, over FaceTime.
‘Hello,’ I said, tears appearing in my eyes.
They were blown away at hearing my voice again and they burst into tears.
But they were also worried.
‘Why do you sound Eastern European?’ my dad asked. ‘What happened to your voice?’
He was right. I sounded Polish.
Once we were back at home in England, we slowly started to notice a pattern.
My usual accent was gone, and instead I would flit in and out between four different accents – Polish, Russian, Italian, and French.
Some people thought I was putting it on – as if I’d ever be able to keep it up for this long!
It wasn’t until I was watching a show on This Morning where a guest they had was discussing a condition she had – called Foreign Accent Syndrome – that we began to piece the puzzle together.
A few days later I had an appointment with a speech therapist through the NHS.
‘There are only around 100 people in the world who suffer from it, so what you’re dealing with is extremely rare,’ she explained.
A few weeks of speech therapy, as well as seeing a counsellor to help me deal with the emotional side of what I was experiencing, and I slowly began to improve.
The accents were still there and I was still struggling to speak, but I was learning how to deal with it.
A couple of hours of meditation and mindfulness in the morning put me in the right frame of mind to be able to speak for the rest of the day.
But there were other difficulties that came with it too, which I never imagined I’d experience.
I was in a shop with my mother-in-law, Tracey, 50, shopping for new clothes, when a woman I didn’t know pushed her trolley into me.
‘Dirty foreigner,’ she glared at me.
‘Excuse me?’ I asked, taken aback at her rudeness.
‘Go back to your own country,’ she spat at me.
I was gobsmacked.
Tears started to appear in my eyes, and all I wanted to do was run away.
Thankfully my mother-in-law stepped in, and tried to explain to the woman that I was suffering with a neurological episode which had changed my voice and even so she shouldn’t be so racist.
Despite all the problems that have come with my condition, I feel grateful to have such amazing family and friends around me.
I will never give up on getting my old voice back but I’m doing all I can to feel content in my new situation too.
It’s a big journey I’m going through, and one I’m still learning to get to grips with, but I’m just grateful to have got my voice back – even if it’s not quite mine.