Why are you so quiet?
I remember the question from my childhood – over and over and over. It is a question that hurt me beyond explanation. My only response would be wide eyes and the blinking back of tears. Perhaps the biting of my lip. ‘Why am I so quiet?’ Um, I’m not … I just can’t talk the way most people can.
Couldn’t. Today is a little different. But I’m not talking about today right now. This is how I used to feel …
Every day I had more words that I wanted to say. Every day they collected alongside my dam of emotions – just waiting for something or someone to help them out. It was like my voice box was frozen, I felt like there was a wall in my throat. Try talking with a tennis ball stuck in your throat, and perhaps you might understand.
I was never quiet. I simply found it very difficult to talk.
Where does selective mutism come from?
When I was four years old I was diagnosed with a little known condition called Voluntary Mutism. It was assumed that I was choosing not to speak in certain situations, because I spoke fluently at home with my family – but would not (could not) speak elsewhere. It wasn’t until 1994 that the name changed to Selective Mutism – as it became understood that people with this condition are not choosing to not talk. We are physically unable to speak in certain situations. My Mum has often told me how I would play happily with other children – there simply weren’t any words involved in my interaction with them.Rewind a few years, to a time when I was two years old. It was 1981. There was an economic crisis at the time; stress and worry affected many – and my family was certainly not immune! My brother was born, and four months later, my family and I moved to the big, strange city of Johannesburg. In our first six months, we moved house five times. Everyone handles stress differently. My brother let us know about it. I kept it inside.
We all handle stress and express anxiety in our own way
It is easy to make assumptions about where a condition may have emerged from. Perhaps there was one specific incident. Probably it was an accumulation. I have always been extremely sensitive to my surroundings – I can understand that my surroundings in 1981 would not have made sense to my two year old mind.
We are all different. Everyone is blessed with different challenges and experiences in their lives. Everyone reacts a little differently to everyone else when faced with their particular challenges and experiences. I don’t believe there is ever a ‘one size fits all’ explanation – but it is understood that selective mutism is an anxiety disorder.
A family history of anxiety, or exposure to anxiety and stress at a young age are probably going to increase the odds of developing selective mutism. However, it is not an exact science – and I am certainly not qualified to say too much about what might cause selective mutism. All I can tell is my own experience. I will reveal more of this over the coming month.
Love and acceptance
For now, I will leave you with a simple piece of advice. If I have learnt anything through my life it is that Love and acceptance are the most precious gifts you can give to any child. Let them be who they are right now. Let the person they are right now help them grow into who they will become. Sometimes we all go through challenging times – it is what helps us to grow and develop as people.
We cannot tell a child how they should behave or react in any given moment. When we do, we stifle their natural expression. If a child’s natural expression right now is frozen, we need to help them to find it. Telling a child what we want to see or hear will not help them to find their words. Helping them to feel accepted and loved will.
If you know a child, teen or adult with selective mutism, I hope I can help you in some way. Perhaps it will be nice to know you are not alone. I wish you luck in your journey – and hope you can grow through it as much as I have!
In this blog, among other things, I explore selective mutism in depth from my own experience. There is very little currently understood about selective mutism – and although I am not qualified to provide answers, I can certainly provide the perspective of someone who felt different, alone and misunderstood for a big chunk of my life. Today, these feelings (and many more!) have developed and I have been able to embrace the strengths that they contained.
Please comment below if you, too, have been able to grow as a person from a challenge you have faced in your life.
If you like my thoughts and ideas, maybe you might like JANX, journals for children and adults to help relieve anxiety. Please have a look at my current campaign to fund their production …