In a room full of people I am most alone. Clinging to my neighbor can help ease the insecurities, but even then I am usually all alone inside myself. I may know every face in the room. It may be a classroom I’ve entered every day for months. It doesn’t matter the second I cross certain thresholds my throat closes and my mouth no longer creates audible sound.
I have not been officially diagnosed with selective mutism. But I can’t help but draw connections and relate.
I remember going through school it was impossible to pay attention to what a teacher was saying because I had such an overwhelming fear of being called on. If asked a question at random I’d struggle to deconstruct it in my mind, in an attempt to find some sort of meaning. Even when I knew the answer, in those moments it was impossible to find.
Triggered – I was Forced Back into My Own Person Prison
Being put back in a classroom environment more recently I found myself in the same personal prison that held me hostage throughout most of my adolescence. Living thru it all over again as an adult I felt out of control and at a loss.
Discovering I’m Not Alone
Only recently coming across someone discussing their personal experience with selective mutism I discovered I am not alone or crazy or broken. Connecting the dots and hearing other people’s stories I realized it wasn’t a “shy kid thing” at all… what I felt forced to believe until now. Rather I may have this particular condition. Knowing that may not be a cure, but at least now I can be more aware of what is going on and try my best to manage it.
Before I knew…
On a recent trip, I spent almost a month in a foreign country with one of my dearest friends and her family. Over a period of weeks, I spent there I became lost inside myself. I tried playing it off as I didn’t speak the language, I was in a completely foreign place and I was meeting so many new people. Yet in reality, it was more than that and I knew it. By the end of the trip, I was completely drained and at a loss. Worst of all I had no words to explain to my friends what was going on.
Trapped Inside My Own Body -Wanting to Speak but Having No Voice
With no ability to explain myself I felt trapped inside my own body. No matter how compassionate someone is if they have never felt like their voice box has been removed they just want you to try to speak up and be involved. And I understand that! Only my voice doesn’t always get the memo and the fear and anxiety bubble up inside because here’s the thing about not being able to talk in certain social settings; you don’t lose the ability to think and comprehend. So as people begin to draw awareness to how quiet or “shy” you are the anxiety only enhances and you and your want to speak only increases.
Totally Aware of the Social Pressure – My Anxiety Bubbles
The hardest thing about this condition may be people’s inability to relate. Not speaking may come off as cold or uninterested. When in fact and I wish people would know, when I’m falling silent in the same setting over and over again, I am inside myself screaming at myself to speak up. I spend the entire time I’m there thinking of what to say and then rethinking once an opportunity is missed. It is a torturous and completely draining experience. As I smile and nod along to conversation and blurt out one or two-word sentences as requested inside I am at war with myself screaming to be let out of my personal prison.
Upon further research I found:
Parents may not recognize the signs of Selective Mutism because most children are as normal and socially appropriate as any other child when in a comfortable environment (My mutism is definitely triggered in classroom environments among other things, where most close friends and family wouldn’t have been a witness. Even in recent years, I have found myself completely silent and at a loss while training for a job in a classroom environment. Yet as training ended and I was forced into my new career I became myself again and loving my job.)
Over 90% of children with Selective Mutism have social anxiety. And may also struggle with perfectionism, paruresis, and eating issues because of this anxiety (Three things I know more intimately than I’d like to admit).
People/children with selective mutism can be described as having a frozen-looking, blank, expressionless face and stiff, awkward body language. As well as lack of eye contact when anxious. (…Resting bitch face anyone. All too often people are concerned about my happiness or think I’m cold simply because my default face is blank.)
Verbal and even non-verbal communication can become extremely difficult when interfacing with strangers, lesser-known individuals or while in a “triggering” environment. (I know only to well how hard something as simple as waving Hello or Good Morning can be. I once worked at an office that triggered my mutism/anxiety and made me feel isolated. I struggled every day to make small efforts to socialize and as I continued to fail at my ability to be warm and outgoing my co-workers and bosses confused my behavior for lack of effort or care and my anxiety only increased.)
Often people/children with selective mutism have severely inhibited temperaments causing a decreased threshold of excitability. (The more I travel and put myself out into the world the more I am faced with the fact that my reactions to exciting, new, grand or even scary situations are muted. Where people may expect me to be in awe I struggle to express enough joy or excitement to let people know I am indeed enjoying/appreciating the experience. This can be both frustrating and draining.)
For more information: https://selectivemutismcenter.org/whatisselectivemutism/
The video that helped me put a label to my struggle 🙂