I’ve got good news and bad news

What do you want first: the good news or the bad news?

Take a few seconds.

And while you’re thinking, read this:

According to research published by The University of California, Riverside– the receiver of bad news (in this case you), 75% of the time, will want the bad news first. However, the news givers (in this case me), 65-70% will choose to give the good news first.

Time’s up.

I’m going to lean on the research here and say you want the bad news first.

Me too.

I want to have the phrase “silver lining” locked and loaded before a bad news bullet tears a hole through me.

The bad news is:

I’m losing my voice. I can hear it and feel it. In my tongue. In my vocal chords. In that mysterious place in your chest where your voice comes from. Sometimes I strain to talk. I suspect others can hear it too. But since I only associate with fine people nobody has said anything to me yet. Fine people are often too fine to tell you the truth. That’s the problem with fine people.

My voice disruption is not a puberty reboot. Puberty Part II: Acne Strikes Back.

Sadly no. My voice is dissolving because I have ataxia ( 7 years this September).

(And yes, I would trade ataxia for puberty any day.)

Ataxia attacks your Central Nervous System and your CNS, among other important things, controls speech.

When I listen to people who’ve had ataxia much longer than me I don’t like what I hear. Literally. Words are bent and stretched and gargled and pushed out too fast, or sometimes, too slow to make audible sense.

Words are dragged across concrete and beaten to a pulp and left unrecognizable.

Right now, for the most part, my speech still resembles speech. Normal at times, slurred at others. But I know what is coming. Sometimes, when I talk, the consonants and vowels crash like drunk drivers on my tongue. You can, for the most part, still understand me but you may have suspicions. (Remember, you’re a fine person). Like maybe, before you and I begin conversing, I was tucked in the backseat of those cars sharing a 5th of Jack Daniels with an unfine person. But I wasn’t. I don’t like Jack Daniels.

The more I talk throughout the day, the more difficult talk becomes. My tongue gets tired. It’s weird. If every word is a push-up I only have enough strength to do X amount of push-ups a day before my strength fades, before my back arches, my butt rounds, and my arms begin to wobble.

Unfortunately, the loss of sharpness in voice– the clarity and audibility issues caused by Ataxia are permanent. Therapy helps but it does not cure.

I can see the words in my head. The words are as tangible as bricks, leaning on each other, building something I recognize. I just have trouble telling you what they’re building. It’s frustrating.

Ataxia will progress. Symptoms will worsen over time. And there’s not a lot anyone can do.

Now. I imagine you’re shaking your head and you have that half-smile, half-frown I make when I hear bad news. As I try to digest the bad news.

But then you remember, there’s good news.

“Okay, so what’s the good news? You told me that there would be good news. I’m in desperate need of good news.”

The good news is:

I found a voice.

A strong, honest, humorous, reflective, unashamed, clear voice which is unafraid to speak up and unafraid to articulate multi-syllabic words. Cerebellar. Degeneration. Responsibility.

I have found my writer’s voice.

Okay, maybe I haven’t unearthed it completely. I still have some digging to do. But after 5 years of writing on this blog I have followed the map to the X, stuck my shovel in the dirt where the treasure is buried, and begun the hard labor of unearthing every writer’s treasure–a writing voice.

So what is a “writer’s voice”?

There’s not an easy answer. It’a a mixture of word choice, tone, point of view, and sentence structure that makes sentences sound a particular way. It’s the writer’s personality. Their perspective. It’s how the writer chooses to tell their story to the reader.

Writers find their way in and out of their voice all the time. I know what I want to say but I don’t know how to say it. This is almost a daily struggle for me.

Finding voice requires patience, work, and a willingness to learn who you are.

And, I think (40 years later), I’m finally learning who I am: a white man whose been gifted white man privileges, a father, a husband, a suburban dude wearing slip-on Skechers, a reader, a writer, an athlete, a lover of family, literature, sports, and all music except country music, a teacher, a jokester, a sarcastic ass, a pain in the ass, one of the guys, a cool cat, stubborn, honest, loyal, thoughtful, passionate, proud, humble, nostalgic, and an almost handsome man stricken with a humiliating disease who doesn’t want to talk about the disease but the disease is he thinks about.

Take all of that, put it in a blender, add some ice (the cool cat part), add some scars, two soft blue eyes, blend, and you’ll have a tall drink of me.

Write on Fight on turns 5 this July. You might realize—I’m losing the baby fat. I’m asking better questions. I’m using my words to articulate ideas instead of making gibberish. And I’m not slobbering as much either. I’m growing up.

In recent months many new people have stopped by to read, to say hello, and ask me questions about writing and health and forgiveness and finding hope. And in this crease of time, when social distancing is the declaration, you’ve helped me to uncrinkle myself, iron out my torn edges, and find a voice.

And I can only hope I’ve helped you in your search to find yours.

Your voice is authentic to you and is unique to others. Your voice is limited to you and the way you see the world.

And your voice allows you to connect to someone on a deep, human level.

Everybody discovers their voice in a moment of time. At that moment your voice becomes a composition of everything you’ve ever experienced. The sound of history. Your victories, insecurities, disappointments, joys and failures. Your hometown. Your first car. Your first love. And even those memories you can’t remember. Your voice is a product of your self-doubt and secrets and vulnerabilities you store deep inside yourself. Below the skin, under your ribs, hidden underneath the important things inside. Your voice is your past, present, and future. Your voice carries the dreams you never achieved and the hopes you hope will one day come true. If anything, your voice proves you once existed.

It has taken me 5 years of writing this blog to figure out how I want to sound. A blog that is insightful, funny, and a slightly heartbreaking conversation.

A blog that is time well spent.

And a blog that is a clear, authentic, articulate, and an ironic examination of life.

It’s funny–it only took losing a voice to find a voice I’m unafraid to let roar.

But such is life.

You must lose something in order to appreciate what you have.

Be well,


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Need some encouragement? Some perspective? This hardworking, almost-handsome, suburban soccer dad can help. Subscribe and, like a pizza, get my posts delivered to your door (your email inbox). No spam. Just posts.



Jay Armstrong is a writer, blogger, speaker, and an award-winning high school English teacherDiagnosed with a rare neurological disease that resulted in a hole in his brain– Jay presses on. He hopes to help you find joy, peace, and meaning in life. For Jay, a good day consists of 5 things:

1. Reading
2. Writing 
3. Exercising
4. Hearing his children laugh
5. Hugging his wife
(Bonus points for a dinner with his parents and a beer with his friends)

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2 comments found

  1. Well written
    Beautifully sentimental
    Heart string tugging
    Balls on accurate
    Well done Jay!

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