A Life Less Ordinary
When I was younger I was part of the 0.8% of people suffering from selective mutism, a disorder with which people aren’t just shy, they actually can’t speak to most people, even though around others like their family they are completely fine and capable of talking. Selective mutism is usually either inherited or a result of social anxiety, mine was inherited meaning the area of my brain called the amygdala which receives threats was over-reactive, 97% of people who suffer from selective mutism, develope social anxiety and so did I, social anxiety is the fear of social situations and the fear of others judgment. I would cross the street when people I knew were walking towards me, cower away from the sound of a ringing phone in fear of answering it and hide under my bed whenever somebody knocked at the door. As most people get older they grow out of their selective mutism like I have, but it has already changed who I am, how I act, and how people perceive me; it can go away but it leaves you changed. It has affected who I was, who I am and who I will grow to be.
When I was little my parents didn’t even suspect that something was wrong with me because I could speak to them easily, but when school started, my teachers became concerned. I could only talk to a few people outside of my immediate family. Whenever people spoke to me, my whole body would freeze, my mind would go blank and breathing became hard like something was physically stopping me from speaking. I wanted to talk to people but no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t; It felt like I was trapped inside a box, confined by so many obstacles that I’d set myself. My mind saw people as a threat and so put up a defence against them. It affected my education because of my inability to talk to the teachers and communicate. My first year at school was one of my worst because the teacher didn’t handle me very well. Every day I came to school she would try to force me to speak and every day I couldn’t; she often wouldn’t let me go outside for lunch until I’d spoken to her. I would sit there for the whole hour in tears and she still wouldn’t give up. This, however, was the worst way she could have reacted; it made me angry, and frustrated, not at her but at myself. It made me hate the way I acted and was, It made me hate the fact that I could do nothing to change it and it made me feel like who I was was wrong. I already worried about my inability to talk to people and when she singled me out like that it made me realise just how different I was; because what she saw as a simple thing was to me, an impossible task. I began to experience anxiety attacks because of the fear of being faced with the challenges at school, to the point where I would feel physically sick in the morning just dreading the day ahead, and home soon became the only place that felt safe. This continued for months until I had to be taken out of class each week to see a psychotherapist, she gave me a ladybird puppet to use in the class called Susan, which embarrassingly enough worked and I was able to get out one-word answers to people through this puppet. As I moved up through the school things became easier for me, I could talk to more people yet I still felt alone and never had more than 2 or 3 friends; it affected me socially because I found it hard to meet and talk to new people. I could barely speak to people I’d known for years, even my grandparents, aunts and uncles. I became really self-conscious about everything I did or said and my confidence quickly dropped. Who I was was overshadowed and my personality was overlooked by people only being able to see me as the ‘shy kid’.
Over the years to today, things have gotten relatively easier for me. Things began to really get better in the later years of primary school when I swapped therapists, instead of just getting me to write in a diary, she actually tried to help with the small issues first, the basics; even today when the anxiety gets too much I remember her telling me to just breathe, she didn’t force me into anything but instead just spoke to me which really helped, I never even said a word to her until the end of the year. But over the years that I lived with selective mutism, I developed the fear of actually talking to people, so by the time I could physically speak to people, mentally it was terrifying. Today I get anxiety over nearly every social situation but I’ve just learned to handle it better, however, there are still limits: I can’t go to parties, I find it hard to approach people and it’s still a struggle to ask for help in classes. I feel like I’ve missed out on so much in life because I was just too scared, so many times I have to miss certain events and stay home because I know that I just can’t handle it. I’ve had to learn to prefer being at home with a book than being out there with everyone else because it’s just easier for me. So much of my energy is put into just speaking to people, to battle with my own mind every day which becomes exhausting. When I leave the house I leave my comfort zone and everything starts to make me nervous. I often struggle to fall asleep at night because of negative thoughts that busy my mind, usually, I just lie awake thinking about something embarrassing I did years ago or worrying about the events of tomorrow. This got really bad around the age of 14 and my lack of sleep was interfering badly in my day-to-day life and school work, it also made my anxiety even worse. I fear that any conversation I’m not in is about me, that anytime someone laughs it’s at me, I feel like I’m being constantly judged by people waiting for me to mess up. I over think the things I say or do, so much that by the time I’ve said something I’ve thought about every bad possible outcome. Logically I know I shouldn’t be scared of these things but instinctively I fear them because of what I experienced as a child, and it’s this subconscious fear that restricts what I’m able to do. One thing that’s helped me through this is the support from my family and friends, who’ve stayed with me long enough to get to know me. So much has changed in the past 10 or so years I’ve lived without it, I’ve become more comfortable with who I am and more accepting of myself, which probably wouldn’t have happened without their help. I’ve grown out of my selective mutism but it’s stayed with me until today and will stay with me into my future, it’s part of who I am.
Even though my anxiety is getting better with every passing year, I still fear how it will affect me in my future. How am I going to live a life in which it’s still a struggle for me to pick up a phone or answer an email? I’m going to university next year and I am terrified of it. I’m going to be meeting and talking to so many new people, creating new friends, living in a hall with others and I’m expected to do this on my own. Now, these prospects may seem exciting and appealing to many of you who enjoy that kind of thing, but to me, it’s a nightmare. Especially the first year at university, where I’ll be faced with new and different people and no one to help me. I try to handle my anxiety one step at a time and it’s getting gradually better, things have improved considerably since last year when I wouldn’t have even considered doing this speech, and at this rate, I hope to be even better by this time next year. I’m currently seeing a therapist again now to help me with this coming transition in my life, which at the start felt like a step backwards, but if I’ve learnt anything from this it’s to ask for help because it really does make a difference. But even so, I know that the year coming will be a struggle and the years after that when I’ll have to go to job interviews and become independent, but I know that because of what I’ve already been through I will be able to handle it.
I want you to be able to understand how hard it is for people who’ve been through this kind of thing and realise that some of the things you take for granted are the things that people like me have worked their lives to achieve. Growing up with Selective mutism has had both positive and negative impacts on my life, changing who I was, who I am and who I will be. It’s caused me hardships and I struggle with the effects of it every day. Although I sometimes wish I could change the past, I know that I wouldn’t change what has happened to me, or what I’ve been through because as cliché as it sounds it’s made me the person that I am today.