“My voice is, you know it’s my life. You know we take it for granted cause it’s just something that’s given. And for me, it’s not a given right now, it comes and goes.” – Brian Littrell
This blog post right here is a major reason why I wanted to start this blog for The Dark Side Forum to begin with. The forum is active but it doesn’t reach people quite like a website does. This was literally the first idea I had for this page but once we got rolling, I was also a bit terrified to write it. See, this subject has been one that’s been the giant elephant in the BSB Fandom. We all knew it was there but we were way too terrified to say it out loud. It was taboo. Something to be discussed quietly or in member’s only message boards. You couldn’t tweet it or ask about it. Mainly because we love those Boys quite a bit, of course we’d be scared to offend someone. Of course we’d be afraid to hurt their feelings. But, it didn’t mean we didn’t notice things. We did. We just didn’t talk about it. In fact the only place I saw the subject brought up was on The Dark Side Forum. But we need to talk about it, we should talk about it. How can we support Brian if everyone is afraid, even now that it’s out in the open, to talk about it?
Let’s go back in time a bit.
Around 2009 is the earliest anyone knew for sure something was different. Just before the album release Brian contracted Swine Flu while the Boys did promo in Japan. Once he recovered, fans noticed at times his voice simply gave out, like he ran out of air. But we simply attributed it to the fact he’d just gotten healthy enough to perform again and hadn’t even fully recovered so much as gotten past the period of contagion. Fans murmured a little but the poor guy was sick, and that was that. For the next couple of years we thought maybe the Swine Flu did more damage than we’d known.
It wasn’t until 2013 and 2014 that we started to get some real hints that it was more than Swine Flu that was hampering that angel voice we’d come to love.
It wasn’t an answer but we knew something was up because Brian was trying to heal it. In retrospect it’s probably one of the strongest moments for the fandom. We didn’t harass the Boys. We didn’t question them. We may not have known what was going on but we knew Brian needed our support, as Leighanne said. So, we gave it to him without question. A lot of fandoms don’t do that anymore. The furthest anyone went was to ask Nick in one of the private Skype Chats he’d sold, what was happening with Brian. Nick tried to explain it to one fan, and then to another said he wasn’t comfortable talking about it. Once again, the fandom let it be. We worried, we wondered, but we never asked. I still find that shocking in the age of social media.
Six years after the earliest signs of something happening, we finally got an answer. Muscle Tension Dysphonia. The revelation came in the Backstreet Boys Documentary. Rumors had circulated from the early screenings but once the showings became regular this year, we all knew. Brian was as emotional and raw as we’ve ever seen him, trying to talk about it. It still breaks my heart every time. He also stated in this interview from Cosmopolitan that he had Spasmodic Dystonia as well.
“It’s frustrating, it’s very frustrating. Because I wanna…you know I just wanna be me. I want it to be easy. And I wanna have the carefree attitude that I had years ago.” – Brian Littrell
So what are Muscle Tension Dysphonia and Spasmodic Dystonia, exactly?
For both, unfortunately there is no surefire cure. I hate saying that. I want one more than anything and I’m just a fan. Shania Twain struggled with Dysphonia as well, and her words mirror Brian’s in this 2011 Billboard interview. “My fears and anxieties throughout my whole life have been slowly squeezing my voice,” Twain told Winfrey. “I was losing it slowly and progressively.”
Shania Twain gives me hope however because she did do a two year residency here in Las Vegas. If she can battle it and keep at her love of performing, I know Brian can too.
Spasmodic Dysphonia is a neurological issue. The exact causes are unknown but it’s believed to caused somewhere in the base of the brain. Simply put, Dysphonia is the psychological aspect. The nervous system acts incorrectly and sends the wrong signals down to the vocal chords. The moments where we might have noticed Brian sounding particularly “airy” or “breathy” come back to this problem. As do the moments where his voice seems to just cut out on him. Some doctors believe this often follows a viral infection but there hasn’t been a conclusive decision on this either way. So perhaps the fandom might not have been completely wrong in blaming this on Brian’s bout with Swine Flu. I’m just a fan but it does seem to be a bit much to be a complete coincidence. There’s also mentions of anxiety and stress playing a part (like with Shania saying they were squeezing her voice), and once again my heart breaks. Because someone who’s music helped me de-stress over the years might have enough to be stealing his voice away. All I want is to hug him and show him just how much the fans love him.
So…Muscle Tension Dystonia. It’s often confused with Dysphonia but they are separate conditions though they may often accompany each other. Brian mentioned both, so I’m going with him and making the leap to say that’s the case with him. MTD is considered to be a more functional condition because it’s caused by too much pressure or exertion on the vocal muscles. Often it can be caused by those with Spasmodic Dysphonia because of the fact they’re trying to hold their vocal chords tighter so they might control them better. That extra pressure causes the actual physical condition of Dystonia on top of the Dysphonia. It becomes a vicious cycle because the anxiety exacerbates the Dysphonia, which makes them try harder, thus the Dystonia, and it simply keeps on going like that.
It’s incredible when you think about it. All this time he’s been performing, trying to act like nothing was wrong. Mind you this is his voice, his livelihood. It’s the only thing he’s done since the call (that changed his destiny) in 1993. He’s been fighting this the whole time. Brian says in the documentary he doesn’t want to stop the train. He said this was a big year for them and he didn’t want to ruin it, essentially. Brian goes to cities and to therapy all trying to fix this problem he hadn’t told the world he had. But then…he put it out in the open for us. And it wasn’t easy.
In an interview with the documentary producer, Mia Bays, she makes it clear. “Every time Brian did a solo, they would stop us filming and I asked them why do you do that – and it was my job to ask that”.
Despite his initial (and understandable) reservations, Brian managed to find a way to share it with us, to put it out there as boldly as he did. I can’t fathom how hard that must’ve been. Thinking about it alone is scary enough for me. Picture being Brian for a moment. Where you let them film you, knowing fans around the world will see you at your most vulnerable, see you fighting the battle you’ve been battling secretly for years. And you fight to keep from being anxious or stressed about it because those very things make your condition worse. It’s just mindblowing. And yeah, that’s our Brian. The fact he’s lived so optimistically even with this, is inspiring. The fact he’s been touring, facing this, is inspiring.
If you’ve watched videos and gone to concerts within the past two years you can hear the difference. Whatever he’s doing? It’s working. I saw them in 2013 and then I saw them a total of three times in 2014. The difference was incredible. I didn’t know what happened or what changed things at the time but I remember cheering as loud as I could after he sang his solo in 10,000 Promises. I remember fans around me with looks of joy on their faces because they had noticed the differences too. Had revealing the problem in the documentary, even if it hadn’t aired yet, helped? I don’t know. I’d like to think so. Does it matter? Maybe not. But his strength, and our support…that does matter. It matters more than I think most of us realize.
I just know Brian didn’t have to bust his ass. He could’ve taken the break, as Kevin suggested. He could’ve performed or lip synched, as so many artists do. How many so-called singers sound nothing like their albums these days? Too many to count. Brian didn’t go the easy way. Brian not only worked his ass off and likely continues to do so as therapy is necessary for both conditions. He’s facing this major challenge of his life dead on. There’s probably a lot of fear. Brian said himself he wants it to be easy but it’s not. He keeps trying, he keeps fighting, he keeps healing because of it. And it’s amazing.
Besides educating the fandom, the whole point of this post Brian, is for you to see that your fans support you. We want to give it to you. We want to help you. We may only be the voices of your fans but in this way we want to do our part in helping you heal. Why?
Because like Nick, we see you as Michael Jordan in the group. We know you can get that voice back. We want it back just as badly as you do. Just as bad as Nick does. Maybe more. We have faith in you. We will cheer for you and your efforts every step of the way. You’ve shown so much strength in this. You’ve shown us bravery in being honest with us. I can’t imagine just how hard that was for you. You didn’t have to tell us. None of us were going to straight up ask you, just out of respect. But you respected us enough to be honest about it.
Brian, you are amazing. We always knew that.
Now we realize you’re even more amazing than we ever knew.
And I for one, haven’t been prouder to be a Backstreet Boys fan.
Do you support Brian as much as we do? Show your love in the comments and tweets! We might do a future follow up post of your comments and tweets to show Brian how the Fandom is completely behind him :).
44 thoughts on “Muscle Tension Dysphonia, Spasmodic Dystonia, and Why Brian Is Even More Amazing Than We Ever Knew”
OMG, I loved how you wrote this post.. and expressed your/our feelings.
When I watched his problem in the movie I cried a lot..a lot.. then I went to their show here in Chile and I thought “Wow he has an amazing voice and he’s working on it”… When he sang during the concert all the fans sang strongly.. to show him our support. We support and love him anyway… and I proud of being their fan.
I always think to myself what would i tell Brian if i had the chance to talk to him for half an hour or so. And what could i possibly say to let him know just how much he means. I never get to any good answers but a hug. Hugshave no words, but maybe, just maybe, it can say more about feelings and love and appreciation than words will ever do. Will always – always – support Brian. No matter what. Because all i wish, From mto heart, is know he’s happy.
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I shared this on my tumblr, I love how you wrote it, very well put. I think coming out and saying what was wrong in the documentary and after, contributed to him getting better…because all of his conditions are a vicious circle if you’re not only strugging with your voice but struggling to keep the whole thing HIDDEN, which makes you tense, which makes the muscles tense…so you see…vicious cycle. After the documentary I noticed a big change, not only in his voice but his entire attitude. These past couple of years I noticed that he was acting too clownish…mind you he was ALWAYS the clown, but it seemed like he was trying TOO hard to appear cheerful and happy, and that’s a clear sign of depression, people like Robin Williams had it, A vocal condition like Brian’s takes it’s toll on the mind, when not only you’re struggling with something and you want it fixed NOW, and you can’t, and you get frustrated, and you start to think “this is my life, what if I lose it completly?”, and you don’t TALK about it, and you keep it hidden and bottled up, it can get REALLY lonely, and that can lead to depression real fast. I’m glad everything’s out now, cause he’s more relaxed, his singing voice is much better, and his speaking voice too, he was speaking on a higher pitch than normal, that’s where I noticed something was way off. He sometimes still goes back to higher pitch but not as bad as it used to be. He’s a lot happier now, honestly happy, which makes me happy, I saw him live in Buenos Aires, and I held my breath during DWYB cause I wasn’t sure he would be able to hold those long notes, and he did flawlessly, every.single.time. After the song was done we were all cheering his name and I could clearly see through a screen (I was far from where he was), that he was happy and teary, it was a wonderful moment. When he spoke his voice seemed to go for a bit but he sounded great the rest of the show.
A part of me wishes he had done this sooner, he had come out and say it what was wrong, for his sake, cause I’m sure it would’ve avoided a lot of lonely and stressful times for him, because noone should have to deal with anything alone, but he made a choice, and we respected it and him, I for one never left him, always worried about wether he would get better or not, and now that he is getting better, I couldn’t be happier.
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Okay. I would first like to state that I am a singer. I am a classically trained singer who was once fully capable of singing properly with control and ease. I could sing for hours and feel confident in my ability. I never worried about making it through a performance. I never imagined that I would ever have to question my ability or stress over getting through a show. I thought singing would always be natural and comfortable and carefree. While I was never blessed to have made it to Brian’s level of performance and notoriety, I too suffer from vocal chord muscle tension dysphonia. His story resonates with me on every level, and I do often feel alone. Most people think it is due to a lack of confidence or tell me that I just need to relax. While there may be some truth to just relaxing, it is so hard to do when the anxiety of getting through a performance kicks in. All you want to do is engage and connect. That is what you passionately want so very much! Observers and critics just don’t get it. Until you experience the condition, there is no way you can truly understand the loneliness, frustration and fear. As singers, we strive to the highest level of performance. We work hard to reach our goals and more importantly to share our talent and connect with our fans. Music is universal and brings us all together. We are so blessed to be given this amazing talent to sing, and when you are also blessed with the talent to engage an audience and allow them to become part of that experience, it is so frustrating to suddenly be to afraid your instrument will fail you. Your fear that you might not be able to get through what you passionately want to share makes you anxious. That stress takes away from your freedom and ability to enjoy what means the most to you. Then, of course, that anxiety, fear and stress only exacerbates the situation.
I fell onto this page while simply trying to learn more information about my condition. I wasn’t even aware of Brian’s condition. Once I read his story, I was compelled to share my story to help draw awareness to an issue that I think many singers are afraid to share for fear of judgement or for fear of others thinking they either abuse their instrument or simply don’t know how to use it. There is honestly a stigma surrounding singers whose instruments become damaged or dysfunctional, but it is a legitimate medical condition that is triggered not due to vocal abuse or lack if training but to a legitimate neurological condition.
I sing in the country genre. I had no idea Shania Twain also suffered from this condition. She is an incredible, extremely talented singer. While it pains me to know that she has faced the same challenges, it at least helps me to know I am not alone.
This is a lengthy post, and for those of you who remained engaged in my story, I thank you for doing so. It means a lot to me that I am not alone and that I have been given the opportunity to contibue to educating and hopefully help a fellow singer.
I am so happy to have fallen upon this honest, educational and supportive site. Thank you, Brian, for being courageous enough to step up and share!!
A fellow musician and singer, Lisa
What an awesome post!!!
I must admit I didn’t try to find out more about Brian’s condition just because I was too afraid to do so. Reading this makes me sad for him and scared but also incredibly proud of everything he’s done to get better. I just wish we could’ve known before so we could support him and love him even more!
I just hope that somehow this article will get to him so he can know, without a question, what we feel and think!
As you said, I’ve always known he was an amazing person but now I’m pretty sure he just became even more amazing.
So so proud of him for being so strong and for trying as hard as he could to get better!
I had the chance to see him and the boys in 5 shows last month and I could see what an awesome singer he is! To me, he never sounded better! When he sings nothing else matters.
I could not be prouder of him! I love Brian ever more now and I wish I could tell him that, looking is his deep blue eyes!
B, we will always support you and we will always love you! Thank you for sharing your life with us and for being who u are!
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It was the most beautiful text i’ve ever read about Brian’s issues and being supportive
I have faith he’s gonna get better every day!
He’s strong and we’ll stay forever by his side to give him all support he needs!
Maybe being honest with fans helped out..cause he’s not hiding from everyone so he doesn’t need to think about this thing as a secret. He can be himself and he knows we’re gonna be with him!
Wish this could have happened earlier…but since not, Im happy he’s getting better!
Saw him at the cruise in 2013
Then on the cruise in 2014 and know on tour in 2015!
Its truly working. Unfortunately, here in Brazil we had a lot of shows…he wasnt able to rest a lot, so the last day was not as good as the first one. But we can notice the difference for sure!
Brian, we will be by your side! Keep going! We love you! Chirp!!!
This is an amazing article! Brian is such an inspiration! I’ve supported him since day 1 and will continue to do so always and forever. I’m privileged to be his fan. ♡
Wow…what an amazing post about it!U touched my heart with ur words!
I hope Brian will read it one day…but I’m sure he does.😉
I can’t tell how proud I’m to be his fan….Brian inspires me in so many ways with his unstoppable willing to succeed even though it’s going to be a real hard fight to achieve it!
I’m so thankful for letting us know the truth about his vocal issues and we all know how strong he must be to shout it out to the world!
Maybe this step helped him a lot and took a little bit of the pressure off him!
He sounded amazing at the shows and we all were blown away by his heavenly voice again!
I will always support him,because he does all the same for us and the group!I will stand beside u through the ups and downs and still be ur biggest fan!U simply deserve to be loved by all the Backstreet Boys fans all around the world,because u never gave up even though it’s been hard sometimes!
Thanks for sticking around with us all these wonderful years!!!!!!
I thank the lord for sending us a gift like Brian in our lifes!!!!!😇
Perhaps not the most popular idea, but i truely believe he needs to stop singing as long as he gets treatment, this could be even 2 years. Fans should be patient with him, he gave us a lot in terms of music and personality, i think its time to give back and give the guy a break. If we think we are the best fans in the world, nows the time to show it. He must be on albums though 🙂
The way he sings sometimes gives too much strain on this vocal muscles, then i think, was that the best thing to do now, Brian??
“All I want is to hug him and show him just how much the fans love him.”
I’m so proud of him.
First, thanks to Rose for this excellent article. You used the right words to express what most of us have felt at some point.
Where can I start…If I admired this guy in the begging, now I really don’t know what words I can use to describe how proud I am of him and how much he has amazed me as an artist and as a person.
It was impressive, to see how even with the difficulties he was facing, he kept doing live performances. You notice in some presentations when his voice was trailing off. But this setback didn’t stop him, he did not resign, he did not change his live performances for any playback, like any other artist could have done. He continued doing shows, and therapy, and more shows, and a whole tour and you could see the improvement every single day. It definitely couldn’t have been easy for him, but it was, and it STILL is quite amazing.
Brian, if you ever read this, please know how amazing you are and how grateful we are to have you in our lives. You inspire me and I’m pretty sure you inspire many of us in different ways. Your courage to stand in front of thousands of fans and sing live, when only you know, more than any of us, what you’re going through, is impressive.
There ain’t no limitations, to be better at something every day.
I admire you, I have faith in you and I will always support you, no matter what.
God Bless you always, Brian, and God bless your wife and your family. We know they are the ones who are there giving you the best support you could ever have.
We ♥ You.
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We will always love him as long as he exists, because he made us happy and we know he can do it. Love u Brian, with all my heart. Always.
You put all the issue about his voice problems in such a wonderful and respectful way!
He’s gonna get through all of this. Michael Jordan doesn’t need to come back, because he never left! ❤
Just as you sang it once: I’ll love you forever.. Leaving you I’ll never!
Awesome post!! You wrote everyting that a real fan can do it! Congrats!! We Love Brian!!
No matter what happens to his voice, I mean, if he recovers or not, he’ll aways be our Backstreet Boy Brian. And everytime he opens his mouth to sing he’ll sound like an angel, exactly like the very first time we heard him. We love you forever, Bee!
I will always love and support this herd working man and I believein him stay strong I love u Brian.
Brian I am extraordinarly proud of you. You are a fighter, you are my role model, kind sweet, hilarious. I will always stand by you no matter what. 😙😙😙 I love you always.
Thank you for your amazing post!
Brian always makes us laugh even if he’s in difficulties. For the last couple of years, I noticed that something was wrong, but I thought it wasn’t a big problem because Brian looked cheerful and was always goofing. Now, I can say it was completely my misunderstanding. I’m ashamed of myself. He was suffering, but he was just acting like nothing was wrong. Probably he didn’t want fans to worry. After he opened his disease, I was shocked, because he experienced heart disease in the past and had just overcome it. Why does he have to suffer so many times? But I know it can’t be helped. He seems to accept it now, so we need to accept it, too. Also, I learned that I shouldn’t judge Brian’s feelings just by his outward appearances. I mean we have to remind that he tends to hide his true feelings and act cheerfully. But, yeah, he’s strong. The person who can be gentle to others when he/she is not in good times is strong. I support him whenever he is.
We always love you Brian!❤️
Thanks for this great post !
While I was reading, there was a song that was coming to my mind :
“All you people can’t you see, how your love affecting our reality / Everytime we’re down, you can make it right and that makes you larger than life” 🙂
16 years later and it’s still right !
Brian, we’re proud of you. We’ll always support you. We love you !
I write on behalf of myself and my sis @lola_noname
First, we wanna thank from the bottom of our hearts the person who wrote this post for describing perfectly how we think and how we feel. Tears were shed when we read it through.
We are very emotional when it comes to Brian and his struggles, we sympathize with everything that he goes through. We’ve watched BSB Movie over 16 times and every time it breaks our hearts, and at the same time it makes us incredibly proud to be Backstreet soldiers. We are indescribably proud of Brian for coming clean about his issues with his voice, we understand it was a tough thing to do. But that’s Brian, he overcomes everything, come what may. The way he always kept performing no matter what he was going through, he always went on stage and gave his 100%, is just remarkable and so respectable and amazing and he couldn’t possibly make us more proud of him. Not everyone could’ve done what he’s done. His strength, his soul, his faith, his spirit, everything about him…
Brian, if you read this… There are not enough words in the universe to even begin to tell you how proud of you we are, how much we respect you and love you. You have helped us through tough times, you have made us smile when life was too hard, and we want you to know that whatever happens we are always here for you, we have your back, you will always have our endless support and unconditional love.
Here’s a little video we made. Brian, you are our biggest inspiration in life. Thank you for everything. Thank you for being you. We hope you see the video.
Here’s the link:
Love from Finland ❤ ❤
ps, feel free to share the video ^^
WOW I love, support and totally agree with what u wrote. As a 20 yr fan of BSB and my favorite guy being the Angelic Voiced Brian himself. I feel blessed he trusted us enough to share his pain and fears with us. It makes us want to support and protect him from all of this issue. We love you Brian, not only for your voice but have grown to love you for the Man, Christian, Husband, Father, and personal that u are. You are an inspiration and my personal hero. Love ALWAYS @piepper
I have known you for 21 years since the group first started. You will make it. I I’m here for you all the way bar nun. I always have faith in you and always will. We ARE it. We ARE family, you , me, and the guys. I love you with all my heart. Believe that you can make it. if you believe you fee that much better. You are my big brother and I’m here to look out for you.
Rose – You have written this article very well and have expressed the support felt by fans all over the world.
Brian, if you are reading this, you are an inspiration and a great role model to us all. To share this with the world and show such vulnerability is not a weakness but a show of amazing inner strength. Please know that you will always have my prayers and support.
Love from Australia
I absolutely LOVE this article! Don’t believe that anyone could have said it better. It made me cry and made me smile. I hope so much that he has read this article and the amazing comments and knows that we are behind him all the way! And our love for him and the amazing person that he is will never waiver!
I am writing this in the October of 2016. I have been a HUGE Backstreet Boys fan since Never Gone to be precise and then the craze just simply kept growing and now I have the biggest BSB collection of songs among all of my friends and I am know to be the Backstreet Boy fan among all of my friends.
Now, Backstreet Boys songs all are amazing, but Brian’s voice is that one finishing touch to each and every one of the songs that gives them that soothing flavor. Its just beautiful. I had been reading about the trouble that he has been going through since 2009 post the ‘This Is Us’ album release, when I used to watch all of the videos of the live even of the band. It always felt painful just to watch him try to be him. Even he doesn’t want anything more. He just wants his own voice back.
Now, the boys are all over the place with their Vegas Residency, and even during the promotional events that the boys are performing at especially during the iHeartRadio show, when he sand the intro to Show Me the Meaning song, I felt that his voice is back. But again he had to go back to falsetto for some of the notes. And then when they sang All I have to give and As Long As You Love Me, we could still see the struggle in his voice. Not sure how long the treatment is going to take, but I so do wish that it works some how and gives him back his voice to the fullest,
Thank you for writing such a wonderful post.
Thank you! And thank you for your honest and kind comment. 🙂
Brian you were always my favorite member. You persevered through having a hole in your heart, and having heart surgery back in ’98, and I know you will persevere through this! Your music (including your Christian album Welcome Home) have been a comfort to me over the years and still are today. You are truly amazing and still an integral part of BSB. They wouldn’t work without you. We 💙 You! 😘 (And I still hope to meet you one day! 😊) With love, ~Tori~
I have this with my fibromyalgia and I used to be a singer. There are days it consumes me. Singing was my life and right now I’m trying to regain t back…by after 2 years I’m not so sure ;-(
My name is Pam and I have had this horrid thing for 10 years. Mine also started with a bad case of flu and combined with stress from a divorce. It is an awful way to live. I am a nurse and have had to succumb to doing phlebotomy for lower pay because I can’t talk on the phone. My heart goes out to anyone who has this. It sucks that there is basically no cure for it either other than Botox shots which stopped working for me.
I couldn’t have said it better myself. Brian, we all love you and pray for you daily! You are an inspiration and our hero! You continue to amaze us! Know that you will always have our support and we will always be thankful for who you are and what you do! God bless you Brian!
Thank you for this article.
Dear Brian you will always have my love and support. I hope you can beat this. I hope you can heal. Your voice is extraordinairy. I hope one day it will be easy again to sing. I am thankfull that you choose to share this with us.
I understood where he was coming from on this. When so much of your life is centered in what you do It easy to.feel bad when it is taken from you. On top of all his other health problems it must been frustrating. I am sure Nick’s confrontation was humbling especially since they were friends .
I still wonder wonder if post viral fatigue had anything to do with this. It still seems odd he got this after getting swine flu. Michael Crawford lost his voice as a result flu induced post viral fatigue. But of laryngitis is not the same as what Brian has.