Diane Rehm,

Diane Rehm,

A weeklong electronic journal.
May 13 1998 3:30 AM

Diane Rehm,

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       Last week a friend at NPR, Martha Raddatz, called and suggested we might have a lunch this week. I readily agreed to meet her today at Arucola, a restaurant here in Washington that we both love. Last Friday, however, when I realized I would have no voice other than a faint whisper, I suggested an alternative: that we have a virtual lunch, each of us seated before our computers, permitting the words and messages to fly back and forth, even knowing that some of them would overlap. I never imagined how much fun it would be. I loved her use of language, I laughed out loud at some of her observations, and I felt her expressions of concern for me. Yes, I missed looking into her face, reacting to her choice of food, sharing her animation. But nevertheless, it worked. When I mentioned the idea to someone else, he said he was going to set up a virtual breakfast with a friend of his.
       It is the friendship, both virtual and real, that I've felt these past weeks and months. It has been overwhelming. Of course, I knew I could count on my family and my very closest friends, but I had no idea there would be such an outpouring of concern from people whom I've never met. So many writers have lamented the demise of good relationships, but in my view, friendship is alive and well.
       When I first went off the air on Feb. 23, I had no idea I would be off the program for so long. I thought that with the help of various doctors, including a psychopharmacologist, a behavioral therapist, a speech therapist, and a physical therapist, I'd be back in shape in no time. It shocks me to realize that nearly three months have passed since I last spoke into a microphone. But what an extraordinary learning experience it's been.
       During this entire period, I've seen a different therapist each day, trying to sort out what was going on in my mind from what was happening to my voice, looking for the right treatment, the magic pill, the exact gesture that would make it all fine again. But no such luck. I realize that medical treatment is an art and not a science, and that physicians and therapists alike must work with a patient or client to try to find the key to unlocking a particular disorder.
       I've learned a great deal about myself during this period that, at age 61, I would have thought I already knew. But the fact is, there is buried inside each of us so much that we believe we've put behind us. Perhaps that's just as well, in many cases. But for me, what has long been buried has had a profound effect. I've learned that old patterns and ways of thinking become almost automatic in the brain. Extreme self-criticism, for example, has become a learned behavior in my case, and while it has been useful in the creation of a radio program, it has, at times, been very difficult to bear. Fear of failure goes right along with that, and for too long I regarded my voice problems as an indication of failure.
       One of the most urgent questions I've asked myself over the past several months as my voice troubles became more apparent to me and others was not "Why me?" Rather, it was "Why now?" After nearly 20 years of daily broadcasting with what I acknowledge was not the usual professional-sounding radio voice, why should this kind of difficulty hit now? Was it, as many had suggested, simply an overwhelming schedule made up of too many demands, both professional and social, that left too little room for relaxation, from morning till night? If so, why hadn't many others who work just as hard and just as long as I in this demanding city succumbed as well? Was it, ironically, growing anxiety over the success of the program? An almost irrational need to keep proving myself, even though people all over the country had welcomed the program into their homes, offices, and cars?
       It remains a question I cannot answer, except to say that I find my habits changing. I feel open to new experimentation, from virtual lunches to a diminishing fear of the unknown and letting go of some elements of control. That could even mean some minor changes in programming, but we shall see.
       I've always been one to believe there are very few accidents in this world. For some reason, my faith tells me that there is something I am being drawn to do as a result of this experience. I have no idea as yet what that might be. But I'm beginning to have a sense that I'll know before too much longer.

Diane Rehm is host of radio's Diane Rehm Show, nationally syndicated by WAMU/NPR. She is the author of a forthcoming book, Finding My Voice.