At 28, corporate high-flier Emily Lim's life was soaring to dizzying heights.
She had just married the man she loved. Her career as a business development executive with hotel chain Raffles International was gathering speed. She was acquiring hotels all over the world for the group.
Then one day, her charmed life crumbled.
Ms Lim woke up one morning in 1998 to discover that she had lost her voice.
'I have always believed that a person's voice is what defines him or her. Its loss was devastating for me,' she said.
To the self-confessed control freak who loves to take charge and plan everything, 'this sudden onset of voice disorder was definitely not part of the big plan'.
'It had definitely thrown a spanner in the works for me,' she said. 'And it was a terribly confusing period of my life. Like everyone else, I questioned God, asking Him why it happened to me,' she said.
'Other fears and doubts then crept up, like whether I'd be able to continue working and whether I'd be able to go for another job interview and duly impress the panel,' she said.
Ms Lim was lucky.
The very first otolaryngologist - ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist - she consulted at the Singapore General Hospital recognised her condition almost immediately. It was spasmodic dysphonia.
This is a disorder in which the muscles in the voice box that move the vocal cords form spasms, causing the voice to break or to have a tight, strained or strangled quality. (See report at right.)
The first three years after Ms Lim was hit with this disorder were the most difficult for her.
'What was supposed to have been my honeymoon years were spent shuttling from one doctor to another looking for treatments. ENT specialists, speech therapists, traditionalists, herbalists, acupuncturists, you name them, I've seen them all,' she said, laughing.
She felt hopeless and wanted to throw in the towel at work. She felt she could not function effectively.
'But my bosses were very kind. They told me to take a year off to seek proper treatment before 'talking' about me quitting,' she said with a smile.
Dr Ravi Seshadri, who is currently Ms Lim's otolaryngologist, helped arrange two trips to the United States for treatment. She went to New York's Mount Sinai Medical Center, considered the best for the treatment of this disorder.
'There, I was given botox jabs to relax the muscles in my voice box. You can actually say that before Hollywood discovered botox, I was using it,' she said, laughing.
But Ms Lim discovered that botox was not a permanent solution, just temporary relief.
'I had to have a jab every three to four months. I was also told that another way to relieve the muscle is to cry, laugh or sing. That was easy but I couldn't possibly do that at random or people around me would have thought that there was more to this disorder than just losing the voice,' she mused.
Learning to listen
Although Ms Lim lost her voice, she did not lose the love and support of her family, friends and her husband Benjamin Leh.
'At first, I just felt sorry for myself. The whole issue was about me, my voice and how I had lost it. Although Ben was supportive and patient, he merely became the person who took me to and from the doctor's,' she said.
'Just imagine what he must have been going through. He married a woman who talked his ear off. Then one day, she suddenly became silent.
'It took me some time to realise that life for him changed, too, and that he too needed support and comfort.
'Even the doctor joked that MrLeh was the envy of all husbands because he had a very quiet wife.'
|Prince Bear was me before I was stricken with the condition, while Pauper Bear resembles me after. Like me, Pauper Bear discovers goodness and kindness from different people and is given a second chance.
- Emily Lim, on her children's book
Ms Lim's parents were also very supportive.
'They were my constant crutches, trying their best to prop me up,' she said. 'They didn't want me to lose my confidence. Mum and Dad would pretend they understood what I was saying. And they gave me totally irrelevant answers - every time,' she laughed.
But not everyone was kind. The worst experience she had with her voice disorder was in Beijing.
'I had just visited the Forbidden City and wanted to go shopping. At the mall, I tried to ask the salesgirl the cost of a bag I had wanted. Instead of telling me, she declared that my voice was weird and horrid and she began to announce that to everyone around,' she said.
But her ordeal never let her lose her faith in God. Nor did she give in to bitterness.
A Christian, she turned to her faith whenever she felt despair.
Paying it forward
She also felt it was a humbling experience.
When Ms Lim speaks now, her voice still trembles uncontrollably but her diction is clear.
And, wanting to tell her story, she decided to do so through a children's book.
'Prince Bear and Pauper Bear is the first story I have ever written. There are parts of me in the two main characters.
'Prince Bear was me before I was stricken with the condition, while Pauper Bear resembles me after. Like me, Pauper Bear discovers goodness and kindness from different people and is given a second chance,' she said.
Wanting to repay the support and kindness she had received during her dark period, Ms Lim decided to pay it forward.
'The proceeds from 100 books sold will go to Club Rainbow (a charity for chronically ill children). At my book launch, we also auctioned off a teddy bear to raise money for the charity. I never thought a generous soul would bid $5,000 for it, but she did,' she said.
The successful bidder was MsJennie Chua, chairman of the Community Chest.
Ms Lim was too touched for words. 'My tears just flowed,' she said.
Prince Bear & Pauper Bear by Emily Lim is available at all major book stores.