That day, the 27-year-old woke up at her usual time to get ready before a job interview. Feeling good, she started to sing in the shower when all of a sudden, she didn’t recognize her voice.
“It felt like a Freaky Friday moment,” Yen told In The Know. “It felt so surreal — I was in complete shock.”
Yen got out of the shower and called one of her well-traveled friends and asked if they could identify her new accent. Yen’s friend thought it sounded slightly Irish.
“They were dumbfounded,” she said. “My Aussie accent of the last 20 years was gone overnight and I sounded like a different person.”
The friend forwarded Yen a bunch of YouTube videos and articles about foreign accent syndrome (FAS), a very rare condition that has baffled scientists for years. The little-known ailment causes people to start speaking in a different accent, seemingly out of nowhere. It’s not usually a perfect, singular accent either — FAS affects the pattern and intonation of speech, which can sometimes sound like a mix of accents or, sometimes, a speech impediment.
“I don’t sound Aussie or native Irish,” Yen said. “I’m stuck in between … I can’t control how I speak.”
One U.K. FAS patient, Julie Matthias, was recovering from a car accident when her voice suddenly changed in 2011. Just like Yen, her accent was also “stuck in between.” She told BBC that she had been told her accent sounded vaguely French and Chinese.
“People take it as a joke condition,” Matthias told the outlet. “They focus on the fact that we speak with a [funny] accent.”
Neurologists have yet to pinpoint the exact cause of FAS, although Yen has speculated with her doctors that the cause of her condition may have been related to her tonsil removal surgery, which happened the previous week.
“I was panicking,” she said about the first day she began exhibiting symptoms. “Previous FAS cases were commonly caused by neurological triggers, [so] I thought I was having a stroke or a seizure of some sort. I went to the emergency department after my [job] interview and was dismissed because I had no signs of a neurological condition. I was so confused.”
While FAS isn’t common — only about 100 people have been diagnosed with FAS since the first known case in 1907 — feeling “dismissed” is a familiar problem for patients with the condition. After Yen was discharged from the emergency room, she decided to start posting about her FAS journey on TikTok because she felt like nobody was taking her seriously.
“I was sick of being taken as a joke by laypeople and medical professionals,” Yen explained. “This is a serious medical condition with neurological implications.”
“I wish it was fake,” she said in a comment to a doubter. “A neurologist, Dr. Muller in [Brisbane], I’m seeing in June charges $460 for a consult. Medicare does not rebate 100% … God knows how much one speech therapy session costs. My EEG at Mater Hospital costs $300/$104 rebate and apparently I need regular EEGs … Each time I see a specialist who cannot give me answers is money I am burning.”
An electroencephalogram (EEG) is a test that picks up abnormalities in brain waves.
“Imagine me faking an accent and the joke went so far I am still stuck with it,” Yen said in another comment.
“Foreign accent syndrome has ruined lives and relationships. I am not immune to that,” Yen added to In The Know. “I still cannot understand why anyone would want to fake a speech impediment that turns your life upside down — just for TikTok views?”
Despite the trolls, Yen plans on maintaining her TikTok account until her Aussie accent comes back. This is in part to serve as an educational tool about the rare syndrome and as a possible reference for doctors to study to learn more about the condition.
“I’m still working my day job and haven’t cashed in on my ‘fame’ to become the next Irish Kardashian to retire before 30,” she joked about her viral TikToks. “If my videos can help just one person who one day gets diagnosed with this bizarre syndrome, at least they now would have a rough guide of what’s ahead of them.”
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