Michelle Myers, 45, is no stranger to a jest. So when she one day addressed her family with a British accent, despite spending her life in Texas and Arizona, everyone took it as a joke. She didn’t.
“I started crying and they realized something was really wrong,” she said, India Times reported.
She was diagnosed with foreign accent syndrome. The phenomenon is rare, but documented, with about 60 cases mentioned in literature over the past century, a 2011 case report stated.
The syndrome can manifest as a plethora of different disruptions to speech patterns. In one case, an American started to sound Russian. In another, a woman in Norway started to sound German—a particularly inconvenient case, since it was during the World War II and the woman was constantly denied service by shops in the Nazi-occupied country on account of her accent.
Myers’s situation is especially peculiar since her accent doesn’t sound like a speech disruption—on the contrary, it comes across as quite refined.
“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!” she said.
The condition is usually triggered by an issue with blood flow to the brain, like a stroke or a head injury.
In Myers’s case, the symptom was a severe headache. And it wasn’t the first time. In the past, a headache once caused her to speak with an Australian accent and another time an Irish accent, but both disappeared after about two weeks, Chicago Tribune reported.
The British one, however, has lingered for about two years at this point and she has now come to terms with the possibility of speaking like Mary Poppins indefinitely.
It wasn’t easy, she said. She felt like a different person and it took her some time to define her identity. Her family, including her seven children, helped her. It wasn’t her personality or achievements that changed, she realized.
Once voted Miss Black Austin Texas in the 1990s, Myers now works as a public speaker and an advocate. She now says the accent may actually be a good thing.
“I believe everything happens for a reason, so, maybe this happened because it helps me to break the ice with people,” she said.
Myers also suffers from Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which causes her bruising and painful joints. It’s not clear if this has any connection with her accent change.