What is it like to be selectively mute?
Happy January, everyone! As I sat down this evening, pondering what to share in this current blog post, I took inspiration on this year of "2020". The expression 20/20 we most relate to is of clarity of vision. So, I am opting to share as to what living in a selectively mute world looks like. From someone who's been there and lived through it. PLEASE keep in mind that this is my personal experience and perspective on the matter.
Selective Mutism is like a prison. In every way and sense possible. Your thoughts remain captive to you alone. Your emotions. Your words. Your voice. Your perspective. Anxiety becomes a normal reality and feeling. It is the most hellish place and feeling that you cannot escape. You are constantly at war with yourself. Your thoughts swarming round and round in your mind. Often times, you will rehearse what you want to say... in hopes that some day or at some point you will truly be able to say it. You do not see yourself as valuable. Instead, you see yourself as a complete oddball due to the fact that pretty much every person around you can use their voice and words without skipping a beat but you cannot. A selectively mute person will sit there struggling with themselves. Their reality is that they want their words to be heard, but to no avail will it trickle out of their lips. And they will get frustrated. At a later date I will share how I started speaking, but I can assure you that for years prior to that moment I threw myself in front of classrooms. On several occasions. Putting myself in the most uncomfortable state, trying to speak to my friends, classmates, and teacher. To "beat/overcome" Selective Mutism. Not due to anyone pushing me but merely because I wanted to be able to do so. Although people celebrated my efforts, every time I attempted and failed at it, I would be beyond discouraged with myself. I could never seem to understand in the moment why I just couldn't do it. I would see every attempt as a failure. HOWEVER, typing this today, I truly see how this made way and progress for me to be able to speak. I am grateful that I pushed myself beyond my limits and tried. Again, key factor here is that it was on my own terms and my own will. That is a HUGE thing to keep in mind. No one forced me. I was constantly the one requesting to attempt.
Selectively mute people for the most part are very social and extroverted people. I know this may sound surprising, however from those that I have met that have also lived through this, the above statement is true of them also. Living with selective mutism did not stop me from being involved in sports, dance, choir, events, activities. Often times a creative way of communication simply had to be implemented. Whether it was by writing, having someone I knew that I could speak to and have them convey things for me, or by simply getting to know those that I would be around. For example, when I started skating lessons at age 8, I had coaches (Jennifer and Michelle) that were working with me. They took time out of their personal lives to spend 1:1 time with me in order for a friendship, familiarity, and bond to occur, which then allowed me to feel comfortable around them during skating lessons, trust them, begin whispering to them, then actually speaking full voice to them. It is the anxiety of the selective mutism that will have a child panic in a setting such as a sleepover, birthday party, field trip, activity, etc.
Selectively mute people have a hard time trusting people with their thoughts and feelings. Unfortunately, due to the fact that you are stuck in your mind in a more complex level than someone who is not struggling with this, there are a lot of scenarios you play in your head. Things/matters you sell yourself on. You see things through a very specific lens. Lets take for example attending a friend's birthday party/sleepover. I do remember one particular birthday sleepover that I attended (likely around age 8) that I completely freaked inside and begged my friend to have her parents call mine. I wanted them to come pick me up cause I was feeling unwell. The real truth/reality of this was that I was making myself sick with my thoughts. You see, I was sure in my mind that one if not a few of the other little girls at the party did not like me. I could not cope with it. It made me feel unsafe. I sold myself on these thoughts, even though there was no proof that this was in fact true. I will be absolutely vulnerable in this moment and say that up until 1.5 years ago, I was a very and overly guarded person. Even the people I loved most in my life (family, friends) I would doubt and hesitate to share things with. I trusted only myself 100%. If I opened up and shared, it would only be a measure, or I would then question their trustworthiness right after. Seriously. I could be in a moment of sharing something with one of my best friends and then seconds after doing so questioning whether they were safe or not. Even though I knew they were.
A selectively mute person will often times think that their voice does not matter. I mean, when you cannot use your voice it is the reality you see things through. On a daily basis. You cannot express yourself audibly like everyone else. You're the "quiet one". The "non-speaker". You simply want to be heard. To anyone reading this, I challenge you not to simply listen audibly to those around you but to find various ways to "listen" to someone. Especially someone fighting selective mutism. Everything inside them wants to be heard. Listen with your actions. With your heart. With your words. Pick up on body language. Ask questions. Be patient. Give them the space to grow and make steps. Do not assume you know what they are thinking; ask. I know that for myself, emotionally, I was quite a shut down person. You could ask me what I felt in regards to a matter and I would say "I don't know". Sometimes it was truthfully because I didn't know. Often time it was simply because I did not want to go there. I did not want to have to dig deep into emotions of potential pain because being numb to it was far more normal or "safe". I've started to feel again in the last two years and I must say it has been the most freeing and rewarding thing. I've come back to life in so many ways!
There are so many other things I could write or share in this post, but I feel like these are the pieces I wanted to focus on this round. I will likely expand on the topic of "living with selective mutism" at a later date. In the meantime, I would be more than happy to answer any questions any of you may have in regards to Selective Mutism. Send them my way. Who knows, it could be inspiration for a future post!