A former American beauty queen has been accused of sounding “like a Spice Girl,” after waking up with an Irish accent, that quickly morphed into English – despite having never left the USA.
Michelle Myers’ accent is now so strong that her daughter Rose, 16, calls her “mummy,” rather than the US version, “mommy” – leading people to think she has been raised abroad.
“I’d had a splitting headache and when I woke up, my voice was that of a completely different person,” Michelle said.
“I found it really difficult to begin with and people would think it was a joke – saying things like, ‘You sound like a Spice Girl,’ or, ‘Are you Mary Poppins?’ It was hard, because I was really struggling.
“I have come to terms with the fact I might sound like this forever. I realise it’s part of me now.”
Now an author and public speaker, Michelle, of Phoenix, Arizona, a single mum to Destiny, 22, Diamond, 19, David, 17, Rose, 16, twins Tyler and Tyson, 14, and Sunshine, 13, started suffering with severe headaches in 2011 and the excruciating pain would last for days.
Told by doctors it was probably due to her hormones, in May 2011, she suffered a particularly bad headache and, trying to shake it off by taking a nap, she woke up and noticed her tongue felt different.
“I tried to speak and my voice came out really differently,” Michelle explained. “I started screaming and my family came in.
“At first, they thought I was just joking around, because I am a funny person.
“But I started crying and they realised something was really wrong. It was a joke in my family that I’m terrible at accents, so I think when they heard how good it was, they knew I wasn’t kidding!
“I was scared to go to the doctor, though, because I thought he’d say I was just crazy, if I started sounding Irish, as I did at that point.”
After eight days, during which she hid at home, feeling self-conscious, Michelle’s voice returned to normal.
With no further symptoms, she put the incident to the back of her mind, until it happened again three years later.
She explained: “I had moved to California and was on a swing in my back garden when, suddenly, my head started hurting really badly.
“My ears were ringing and I felt pressure in my head. I passed out on the swing, which was the kind with a back to it, so I slumped over on the side. When I woke up, my face felt funny on the right side and my left hand felt tingly.
“I hollered and this time came out with an Australian accent. My mother was insisting that I should go to the doctor, but I was still reluctant and it went away after a day or so again, so I just tried to forget it.”
But a year later, a third incident changed Michelle’s life completely.
“It was in May 2015 and I will never forget it,” she said. “My eyesight went funny. I couldn’t see out of my right eye and my whole left side just wouldn’t work.
“My brother drove me to the emergency room. I was losing my cognitive function – I would try to say something and completely different words would come out. It was like I couldn’t process words.”
After a night in Mercy Medical Center, Redding, California, Michelle woke up and found that most of her cognitive function had returned – but she was speaking with an English accent.
Unlike the pattern following previous incidents, her voice did not return to normal.
She said: “We’ve never been overseas, but my family keep teasing me, saying I sound like I have emigrated to America from England.
“During the election season, I would voice my opinions about politics and people would tell me off, saying, ‘You aren’t from here.’
“Sometimes, people can be quite hostile. I try to explain that I am American and they say, ‘Why, because you got your green card?’ thinking I’m foreign, but have married a US citizen.
“My younger children have started picking up on my accent and saying ‘mummy’ rather than ‘mommy.’
“Sometimes I get asked if I’m their nanny. And if I say strange things like ‘I’m just going to the loo,’ it’s really weird, as I sound just like a Brit.”
Diagnosed with foreign accent syndrome in April 2016, apart from thinking there has to be a connection with her headaches, Michelle has no idea why this has happened.
“For most people with the condition, it’s caused by a brain injury or a stroke, but all my MRI scans came back clear,” she said.
“The only thing the doctors noticed was that I have a smaller than normal brain stem, but that could just be something I was born with.
“I have been diagnosed with hemiplegic migraines – meaning my headaches are accompanied by temporary weakness on one side of the body and numbness. But doctors aren’t sure how exactly the migraines relate to foreign accent syndrome.”
Initially, Michelle struggled to come to terms with her new voice, but now she had learned to embrace it.
She said: “I felt like I lost a person. I named my son, Tyler, but I pronounce his name completely differently now.
“I am an author and public speaker, so when my voice changed, I lost the person that did all those things.
“I was Miss Black Austin Texas when I was younger, but I feel like I’m not that person anymore.
“I fell into a deep depression about that when this first happened and for about three or four months, I would only leave my house to go to the doctor.”
But, supported by family and friends, Michelle has now come to terms with sounding English and realises it is just her voice and not her personality, or achievements, that has changed.
She continued: “I have some amazing family and friends, who’ve helped me to realise I’m still the same person – I just sound different. I do see old videos sometimes and tear up a little bit.
“In my work as a public speaker and advocate, I think it can actually help, too. I believe everything happens for a reason, so, maybe this happened because it helps me to break the ice with people.”