For years and years I’ve suffered. “You’re just shy, you will get over it” is what doctors and other people told me and my parents. Now being 22 years old, I finally have a diagnosis on what’s wrong with me. I finally have a name. I can finally explain why I’ve always had anxiety, literally all my life — Selective Mutism.
But what is that?
“Selective Mutism is a communication disorder in which a person, often a child, who is normally capable of speech is unable to speak in given situations. This condition is often misinterpreted, as a child being shy is overlooked, and it is often not until the child goes to school that the gravity of their symptoms are revealed. What is confusing is that at home the child is able to talk and most often talks too much, which leads to why it is also described as a situational anxiety disorder.”
I remember how during kindergarten it always took me at least an hour before I was able to move and respond at all. I’d just sit somewhere, pretending not to exist, sweating in fear. Only slowly I’d be able to talk, very quietly, sometimes only whispering, which lead to a weak voice over the years. I cannot talk very loudly and if I do force it, then it quickly dies out and my voice breaks and struggles. I only talked to very specific people which was my friend, my parents, my sister and Kindergarten-teacher and my cousin (I talked about him, he’s the one who caused me to write this).
I was literally terrified of being alone with people. They’d tell me how it was as if someone turned me upside down: at first I’d laugh and talk because my friend was there, the next, when the friend was gone, I’d shut down completely. They asked me why, they asked what’s wrong, and then laughed saying “you’re so shy it’s adorable” while as a matter of fact, I was suffering, unable to speak, even though I really, really wanted to. I was not shy. Being shy means you can just grow out of it, you can overcome it by trying and learning. But imagine having a panic attack and nobody can notice because you freeze. People often said I refused to talk, being disobedient or just daydreaming. Not a single person even considered that I could be mute. Too many times I cried because I couldn’t go somewhere and do what needed to be done. Too many times was I forced to rely on my parents to talk for me. They had books about shy children, trying to figure out how to treat me, how to behave around me. They trusted the doctors. So I’ve never received treatment. And you may think now “Hey! You’ve turned out fine!” but the truth is I’m still suffering. I developed social anxiety due to the fear of not being able to talk again. On some days I am unable to leave the house. I didn’t talk to a single teacher, no matter how hard they tried to force me, no matter how many times they punished me for not answering, until I was 18. Yes, I spoke, but not without anxiety and during that time I took strong medications that are prescribed to people with major anxiety. When I was done with school, I stopped taking it. But that’s another story that I’ll tell you later.
When I’m with other people I tend to make fun and joke around “You need to go to the toilet? Then ask someone where it is! Haha I bet you don’t dare to!” while in reality I wouldn’t dare to… I wouldn’t be able to. On most days I’m not able to buy myself food or something to drink, the exceptions literally only being when I am not alone.
The truth is, I am still mute.
Just not to the same extent. I avoid eye contact, only being able to hold it for two seconds at most. I tend to walk in circles or pace around when talking to someone or simply look away. I started pretending to be someone else in order to at least be able to function to some extent. I pretend to be someone who’s bold and who will slice you right up with his voice. But it’s extremely exhausting and at the end of the day I shut down, often not being able to talk properly for days, meaning I communicate with expressions and humming-sounds, if even.
My family thinks I’ve outgrown my shyness. Everybody does. And I wish that they’d have been right. I wish I was just shy. I wish that all I have is anxiety, but the root of the issue is so much bigger.
And because of that something awful happened to me.