What I wish I could have said when I couldn’t – exploring selective mutism

For the month of February I will be exploring Selective Mutism – yesterday I explored the way I used to feel when I couldn’t talk. I delved a little bit into the way I used to push down my emotions and also touched on the importance we place upon speaking in our society. Today I will explore the things I once wished I could say to others. 

“I wish I had” …

I suspect I am not alone when I sometimes leave a situation thinking of all the inspired things I could have said. Have you ever reflected back on a conversation, and only then realised “Oh! I wish I’d said that instead!” It doesn’t matter what the context was – the point is that we all sometimes think of better things to say after the event.

Sometimes we think of things we’d like to say right now – but something stops us. We might be scared of judgement or the reactions of others. We might not feel the time is right. Or (as is the case with selective mutism), we might be physically unable to say it.

“Why are you so quiet?

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Here is a question that haunted me for many years. I’ve mentioned it before – and I’m sure I’ll speak of it again.

Perhaps the biggest point I want to make is that it never felt quite right – and to be honest, the question confused me. I didn’t really understand it.

I didn’t feel quiet, you see … regardless of the fact that in many situations I found it difficult or impossible to speak. I actually felt quite the opposite to quiet. I felt like I had a lot to say; a lot to offer. I didn’t feel like the word ‘quiet’ did me any justice. In fact, it made me feel misunderstood and incredibly frustrated.

There are several ways you can perceive quiet. “Free of turmoil and agitation” is one definition. I was quietly spoken, if I ever said a word – but I certainly wasn’t quiet!

And so, when asked the question, not only did I feel a great deal of pressure to provide an answer to something I didn’t really resonate with or understand, I also found it impossible to speak, so I couldn’t provide the answer to redeem myself.

Words hold a lot of power, and words when taken literally can turn a person into something they are not. The number of times I heard my name associated with the word ‘Quiet’, I began to doubt myself. I was at a vulnerable age, and my head was in a vulnerable place. I believed the words that I heard. I began to lose who I was, and my sense of self began to plummet into a place of confusion. I began to lose touch with all those many things I had always wanted to say.

For many years, I simply wished I could say, “I’m not quiet. You just aren’t listening properly!”  I wanted people to take the time to really see me – instead of making assumptions based on my behaviour. I also wanted people to take the time to really see themselves. It seemed to me that life was all about finding your place in the world – instead of having the world expand a little to let you be. When the world didn’t expand for me, I realised I would have to find my place. I also realised it would be a struggle.

Here are the words I would have said if I’d known how to say them …

As people, we are all born into our own unique bodies and situations. We all face our own challenges, and we all react to these in our own way. There is no right, and there is no wrong. There is no one way that we all should be. We all behave differently, and we all communicate differently. 

It really is a miracle to me that we all seem so alike!

Perhaps we seem alike because we are all aiming toward a common goal. A goal of survival. A goal of normal. A goal of fitting in and finding our place in the World.

“Why am I so quiet?”

“Well, simply because, right now, I am. Accept it, and expand yourself to accommodate that and you’ll see that there is nothing wrong with my behaviour. It is simply where I need to be right now. When I feel comfortable enough, I will speak some more – but you must first allow me to be who I am right now. You must not put pressure on me to conform, or long for me to change simply so that you can feel better about yourself. This reason will not help me to be who I am. It will instead push me further away from myself.

I have a lot to say – I always have had – but I cannot say it until the time is right; until I am ready. When I am ready, the dam will burst. My voice box will melt and the words will come. Be there for me. Love me. Allow me. Accept me. Acknowledge me and all who I am. With all these things, I will become more. And then some more again. With all of these things I will continue to expand – and the places I will go will astound you. 

You will look back upon that original question, and it will also make no sense to you too. “Quiet?” you will wonder – and you will see that I am not. You will see that I never was. I was simply different. I was simply myself.”

Can you imagine any child, anywhere, saying these words? Probably not – but the things is, this is what children are saying to us all the time. They don’t use words, but they do use their behaviour. All kinds of behaviour. Quiet, annoying, naughty, rude, persuasive, friendly, overbearing, happy, creative, expressive, hyperactive … it all means the same thing. “Love me as I am.”

We can apply this to anyone, anywhere – not only those with selective mutism. We all have the same basic needs, regardless of how we express them. If you are an adult, and you don’t feel you can ask for these things from someone else – then give them to yourself.

Love yourself. Allow yourself. Accept yourself. Acknowledge yourself and all who you are. Become more. Expand the world a little by being yourself. Astound yourself with the places you go. 

Don’t let your situation drag you down – make it your reason for being all you can be. It’s not easy, but it sure is worth it!

I have much more I would like to share this month, on the topic of selective mutism. If you would like to make sure you are kept updated with my newest posts, please sign up to my fortnightly newsletter below – or tick the sign-up box when you post your comment. I’d love to hear how today’s story resonates with you!

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  • kerrie dowling

    OMG. I love what you say about the question ‘ Why are you so quiet?’
    My daughter feels the same way.
    She put me in my place from a very young age when l asked her why she wont speak to others. She said ‘Mum, that’s just me’
    I’ve never asked her again or hassled her. She knows what’s going on and she knows not everyone is the same. She has no answer for why she doesn’t speak but accepts it within herself for now. Maybe that answer is easier for her to deal with? That is ok though, she is 9 now and has had SM since birth basically so l need to listen to her side of the story and not make one up for her, hope that makes sense.
    THANKS SO MUCH ♡♡♡♡

    • Kat

      How amazing Kerrie – I love that your daughter accepts herself and I love how you accept her! xxx

  • Angel

    Congratulations for the website, my 5 years old boy is on SM, as I was for many years. I just finished reading this and I feel like someone is talking about my teenage years. I don’t remember anything of when I was younger, so, can you help me with this?

    People usually ask THE QUESTION to my young boy: why are you so shy? What is the proper answer I can give the people that makes my boy feel supported by his parents.

    Thank you very much

    • Kat

      Hi Angel – and thank you for your comment! I’m really happy to hear that you can relate to my words!

      Re. what to say to others, I’m not sure there is a ‘proper’ answer, I can only speak for what would have helped me as a child … I wanted to be seen for who I was, not dismissed as ‘shy’, ‘quiet’ or whatever. Maybe ask your son how he would like you to respond – give him some different ideas and see how he feels about them? How does he want you to support him?