“You know I was really shy my freshman year of college. I rarely left my dorm room,” my sixth grade teacher, a graduate from Pitt-State, said to me once. She was trying to get through to me, but all twelve-year-old me sensed was an imaginary mocking tone behind her voice. Mrs. H continued on, “Eventually I learned that I had to get out and be social…” she said more words, but my ears had tuned her out, my body tingling with fury.
At every single parent teacher conference, my teachers always said the same thing verbatim, “She needs to speak up more.” I need to speak up more? As if I could simply open my mouth and words would come out. As if it were that easy. As if I chose every second of every day whether or not to speak.
Even in college – in my third attempt at college – a professor strolled up to my desk to tell me that she, too, was an “introvert,” but that didn’t mean I could just skate by without participating in class discussions. I was furious. I wanted to write her a strongly-worded letter, wishing it would turn into one of those howlers from Harry Potter. By my late teens into early adulthood, I had conjured up so much anger, I felt I was practically seeping fury. I was tired of being misunderstood. But because of my Selective Mutism, I was unable to lash out or express my anger. Sometimes I think that was a good thing. There were a lot of life-ruining ideas bouncing around in my brain – ways to express my anger unproductively – ways that would only hurt others, including myself.
Before I learned at 23 that I had Selective Mutism, I blamed a lot of people for my problems. I blamed my parents, my teachers, my classmates, and those who had caused me to experience any sort of trauma. Like most people, I thought childhood trauma had caused my silence. I could make it make sense. It fit in the timeline. But there are stories too old for me to remember – stories that include a warning sign or two of my disorder prior to trauma. Eventually there was no one left to blame. I was born with Selective Mutism. That was a fact.
“Why hasn’t the office told me anything about this?” My twelfth grade English teacher mirrored my frustration. Ms. F wanted to know why I didn’t speak. I had answered her matter-of-fact-ly, as if I was talking about somebody else entirely, “I have a social anxiety disorder.” It wasn’t false. I had been evaluated for social anxiety a couple years prior. In fact, my parents had warned most of my tenth grade teachers. But for some reason at future enrollments, my mom adamantly responded, “No,” to the school psychologist’s inquisitions.
Ms. F had stormed into the counseling offices wondering why I had to be the one to break the news to her. “The office has no record of this,” Ms. F crossed her arms as her eyes bore into mine.
I muttered a comment underneath my breath regarding my mother before deciding to play dumb, “Why would the office-?” I stopped, letting my voice trail off before briefly summarizing the whole tenth grade therapy incident, ending with, “Well, anyway, they think that’s basically what I have.” She bought it, for whatever that was worth.
“You guys don’t understand how hard that was for her,” my tenth grade Latin teacher clapped, beaming with pride following my project presentation – one I had pieced together very last minute. My mom had contacted her via email, having missed her at conferences. Judging by Ms. M’s reaction, I wondered what all my mother had told her. Ms. M continued on, ad libbing an entire speech regarding me. It was only slightly embarrassing. I was mostly glad someone was standing up for me – being my voice. Nobody ever did.
It’s crazy to think that growing up it never felt as if I had much of a support system. I didn’t have people fighting for me. Very few ever thought that something was wrong with me. If they did, they never acted on their suspicions. They left me alone.
That’s why my fury set in.
Mental health professionals focus on children with Selective Mutism. It’s supposed to be noticed first in childhood. It’s supposed to be diagnosed in childhood. It’s supposed to be treated in childhood. But nobody was fighting for me. Nobody was being my champion. Years went by. And more years. It seemed I was the only one fighting for me. But I was fighting without a voice. I thought silence was supposed to be louder than words, but apparently it wasn’t. I wasn’t diagnosed. I wasn’t treated. I became a teen with Selective Mutism… and then an adult. I’ve read the older that a person gets, the harder SM is to treat.
It sleeps in the pit of my stomach.
I try not to wake it.