Michelle Myers grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, but she speaks in a way that is completely different from everyone in her family. It all started in 2011, when she had an excruciating headache that would go on to change her life.
The mother of seven went to take a nap to try and stop a particularly bad episode, but when she woke up something had changed. She said that her tongue felt different when she woke up, but that wasn't all; her voice had changed.
“I started screaming and my family came in," Myers remembered. “I’d had a splitting headache and when I woke up, my voice was that of a completely different person." Her voice no longer sounded American, she was speaking with an Irish accent.
"At first they thought I was just joking around, because I am a funny person. But I started crying and they realized something was really wrong," Myers recalled. "It was a joke in my family that I’m terrible at accents, so I think when they heard how good it was, they knew I wasn’t kidding!"
Myers was too afraid to go to the doctor's because she assumed they wouldn't believe her. “I was scared to go to the doctor, though, because I thought he’d say I was just crazy, if I started sounding Irish, as I did at that point.”
It took eight days before her voice returned to normal, but when it did she tried to put it out of her mind. But three years later, the headaches returned, and her voice once again changed...
“I had moved to California and was on a swing in my back garden when, suddenly, my head started hurting really badly," Myers said. “My ears were ringing and I felt pressure in my head. I passed out on the swing, and when I woke up, my face felt funny on the right side and my left hand felt tingly."
This time it wasn't an Irish accent she heard. "I hollered and this time came out with an Australian accent. My mother was insisting that I should go to the doctor, but I was still reluctant and it went away after a day or so again, so I just tried to forget it.”
But after another year of ignoring her condition, it kept getting worse. in 2015, her eyesight started to go in her right eye and the left side of her body went numb. And finally she couldn't ignore it anymore.
"My brother drove me to the emergency room. I was losing my cognitive function," she said. "I would try to say something and completely different words would come out. It was like I couldn’t process words.”
When she woke up in the hospital, she was speaking with an English accent, and her voice has not returned to normal since. "We’ve never been overseas, but my family keep teasing me, saying I sound like I have emigrated to America from England. During the election season, I would voice my opinions about politics and people would tell me off, saying, ‘You aren’t from here.' Sometimes people can be quite hostile. I try to explain that I am American and they say, ‘Why, because you got your green card?’ thinking I’m foreign but have married a US citizen."
The migraines she has been experiencing have been diagnosed as "hemiplegic migraines" which is what causes the weakness in her body. But the accents are caused by a different issue.
She also suffers from foreign accent syndrome, which causes the change in her tongue and her vocal chords. The symptoms are known to appear and disappear in connection to head injuries or traumas, and can affect the rhythm, pitch, and tone of the voice. She suffered a "mini-stroke" which has led to the issue, so it's unlikely that her voice will return to normal at this point.
“I have some amazing family and friends, who’ve helped me to realize I’m still the same person – I just sound different. I do see old videos sometimes and tear up a little bit," Myers admitted. “In my work as a public speaker and advocate, I think it can actually help, too. I believe everything happens for a reason, so, maybe this happened because it helps me to break the ice with people.”
While she is working to accept her condition, it has been challenging for the mom. “I felt like I lost a person."
Have you ever heard of this condition? How would you react if you woke up speaking with a completely different accent?