In 2011, I wanted to do something challenging to raise funds and awareness for Multiple Sclerosis, as unfortunately my father has this incurable disease. I am a publicist by profession and I talk all throughout the day, pitching and persuading. I therefore decided that a 48-hour silence would pose as the ultimate challenge. To me this was more of a mission than running a marathon or climbing a mountain. Where the average person says around 20,000 words a day, I think I must say 40,000! I have two iPhones and if one is not ringing then the other is. I have had it reported to me that I talk in my sleep.
It was without a doubt the most challenging 48 hours of my life. It's our natural instant to talk and the mental energy it took to stop the words in my mind from escaping my mouth was exhausting. For the first few hours I felt it necessary to have tape over my mouth.
I continued my days as usual. On my commute to work, squashed in a carriage, even though we Brits rarely strike up conversation with the person next to us, I still felt a sense of isolation and fear knowing that I couldn't talk. In such a rush to escape the crowds and get to the office, I collided with a stranger, and I had to use all my restraint not to apologise. He looked me in the eye horribly irritated, so I handed him one of the business cards I'd had designed that read, "Do Not Disturb My 48 hour silence," to justify my rudeness - he ended up sponsoring my cause!
I sat for eight hours in a bustling office in silence, ignored my colleagues when they tried to provoke me with tedious jokes and ignored the ringing phones. My email signature warned not to phone me as I was doing a 48-hour sponsored silence. My two mobiles and my office phone, had answer machine messages stating that I was unable to talk as I was fundraising for MS. I was shamelessly promoting my silence any way I could, and if it annoyed anyone I didn't really care, as my mission was to ensure I raised as much funds as possible for a devastating disease that can render a person disabled and has no cure.
At home it was a struggle not sharing my silent journey with my partner - I desperately wanted to reveal the details of what it was like to endure a working day in silence. It was even harder not talking to my dog - I think she was unnerved by my silence and would just stare and bark at me wondering where the frequent commands to sit and offerings of treats had gone. When I watch TV I like to provide a running commentary and as Gogglebox shows I am not alone in that. I couldn't sleep as my head was buzzing with all the words I hadn't been able to release throughout the day.
On the weekend I challenged myself further and had a silent haircut - not being able to direct the hairdresser as he hacked away at my hair was particularly distressing! I went out for dinner with friends, causing hysteria as I tried to explain through gestures that I wanted my dish without this and with an extra bit of that - people on the next table joined in trying to guess what exactly it was I wanted. It was like I was stuck in a never-ending game of charades. I was silently amazed at how far you can actually get without using words.
It was the constant reminder of how important the cause was that kept me from breaking my silence. In the beginning I was desperate to communicate with those around me and would frantically write down what I wanted to say but my mind was working far faster than my hand could write and I soon gave up. It was a strange thing, listening to all the conversations around me and not being able to engage. It was like I had a heightened sense of hearing and absorbed a lot more. Not speaking does make for a better listener, as you can't jump in with your opinions. I came to realise, that a lot of what we say is not worth saying anyway.
I accomplished my mission - I did not say a single word for 48 hours and when my time was up, although I appreciated that I had the freedom to speak once more, I was unusually quiet for a good few hours.
The next day I returned to my usual self, speaking on two phones, releasing tens of thousands of words!
This year I have teamed up with proactive Multiple Sclerosis charity, Shift.ms, who provide support to those recently diagnosed with the disease, reducing the isolation that many feel following their diagnosis. We have started a brand new initiative and what will be the world's first 48 hour sponsored silence - Mission Silence: we're encouraging as many people across the world who have a friend or relative with MS (or who just want to support a great cause) to embrace a 48-hour silence (7pm 20th Nov to 7pm 22nd Nov) and fundraise for Shift.ms.
We are essentially building a silent army in order to make the world's loudest silence, raising awareness of an incurable disease that affects over 100,000 people in the UK (2.5 million worldwide) and is not talked about enough.
George Pepper, the co-founder of Shift.ms, who has Multiple Sclerosis himself, says,
"Shift.ms wanted to create an inclusive fundraiser that can even involve the very audience it's raising money for. Unlike many of the common fundraising activities - climbing a mountain, cycling, a marathon - Mission Silence is something anyone can do and it's just as challenging, if not more! I look forward to taking part in the silence, although my baby daughter will be nine weeks old by then and soothing her in silence may be tricky!"
If you would like to take part in Mission Silence (7pm 20 Nov to 7pm 22 Nov 2014) you can sign up here
Or to sponsor Nicole Ettinger's second silent journey