What not to say to someone living with Selective Mutism
And... I'm back! My apologies for going MIA the last bit. I could say life got busy, however lets be truthful here. I will own it. This particular blog post I wrestled with a lot. Likely due to the depth of how it impacted my life. Therefore facing some of this and reliving some of the memories were more challenging than I had expected. Facing and processing it was truly needed before I opted even writing about the matter.
There are so many misperceptions, stigmas, and wrong beliefs associated with selective mutism. I've heard so many things while I struggled with it. Believe me. It's surprising and outright heartbreaking what people will say in a moment. Not realizing how it will taint your lens for "life".
"What is wrong with her?" I heard that line so many times in life. When you hear it time and time again while growing up, an abnormal mass of shame opts to make it's home within you. And you believe it. It is how I saw myself for years. I cannot tell you the countless times I would sit in my room crying and yelling at God while growing up asking Him the very question people were asking me. Begging my parents to tell me what the heck was wrong with me and how we could fix it. At the age of 34, I am finally seeing myself through a different lens and realizing that having selective mutism did not mean that there was anything physically or mentally wrong with me or with how I was made up. It is factors that came to play in this thing called life that brought me there.
"She's doing this for control." Yup. You've read that right. I outright had people, family friends, you name it, tell me this... to my face... as I was growing up. Knowing outright I could not say anything back to them. With utmost arrogance. Stating they read articles and that I was merely trying to control my family. That this was because I was no longer the focus of attention. Seriously. Imagine hearing these words as a child. Tell me that will not mark or scar you. Tell me that will not distort the view that you have of yourself. Tell me that does not play with your worth. In those moments I wanted to scream "can you not take a moment to get to know me and really see that this is not the case and really see that I don't want to be in this prison". But we as people are quick to judge others without giving it a second thought.
"You cannot be in the school choir because you can't show me your voice." I had a music teacher in grade 3 tell me this. It was the first time I was taking a risk and venturing to even attempt in participating in something like such as school. I can still picture the exact moment. Our class room was in a portable. I was so proud of myself for lifting my hand. That music teacher broke me like a vase falling off of a table. Humiliated me in front of all of my peers. Made me feel so worthless and truly had me believing exactly what she said. Fortunately, our church had a children's choir every Christmas. The lady who organized it was a music teacher at another school and she allowed me to join her choir every year. She was also the mother of one of my friends at the time and really took the time to really get to know me and understand me. I'll forever be grateful to her for doing so.
"You should have told me you had to go pee." This instance occurred with the grade 3 music teacher/librarian. We were getting books during our library session and I really had to go pee. None of my little friends were around me. I was at a table with students I was just starting to get to know. No one I truly felt comfortable with. I could not hold it any longer. Sadly, I peed my pants at school in grade 3. Again, she made me feel so awful about myself and made quite a scene. She had no patience for me. I can tell you that today I really feel sad for her. But her response to me was not right in any way. My mom had to come to the school that day and take me home. I did not want to stay. I believe I shared what happened with my mother afterwards and that it was addressed as that teacher never spoke to me like that again.
"If you were normal, maybe your brother wouldn't have problems at school." First of all, I cannot even imagine what it must have been like for my mother to have a child that is selectively mute and it being out of her ability to fix it or make it better. I do not know what she was going through that day, but it's very likely that she had a rough day. I came home one day, I'm guessing my brother had some things go down with some little friends/schoolmates. I remember that I was in our hallway stairs when she said this to me. I escaped to my room and cried quite a bit. I think it took me years to tell her how much that cut me deep inside and affected me.
"Why don't you just talk?" If I had a dollar for every time I heard that one... I'd be rich. If it was so easy, believe me, a person struggling with selective mutism would talk instantly. But it's not. It's truly a mental prison you end up within. All this fear overtaking you. Feeling unsafe all around you. Not understanding why you are scared and anxious all the time. Feeling like you want to scream but nothing will come out. Wanting to say something but thinking you'll be ridiculed or rejected. Trying to say something but freezing. It is not easy. I am telling you. It's literally like you are chained on the inside with no real way out. Feeling like you are crazy but you are not. Part of you hates this place but it has been so familiar and so known to you that it is what feels safe, to run to this deep dark alone space inside and remain silent.
There are so many other things I can list, however these are some of the ones that really marked me. If there is one thing I can ask of anyone reading this is if you come across someone who is living with selective mutism, please be kind towards them and find words to build them up, let them know you believe in them, and that you are on their team to see them come out on the other side of it.