In eighth grade I talked to volleyballs.
I realize what a strange sentence that is, but hear me out.
Eighth grade (2009-2010) was a weird time. Actually, keeping with the theme of my last blog post, junior high (2008-2010) in its entirety was a weird time. In fact I had spent the final quarter of seventh grade (spring 2009) growing increasingly paranoid. I had always been a little strange, but this tipped it over the iceberg into possible insanity. I had developed an irrational fear of mind readers, granted, this was the year Twilight (2008) had come out in theaters, increasing the saga’s popularity. One of the main characters, Edward, was a mind reader, which is possibly what sent me spiraling. I desperately desired to be like the character, Bella, whose mind was closed off to mind readers. It was like I wanted some guarantee that not only could people not hear me speak, but they also couldn’t hear me think. Nope. No personal sharing for me, thank you.
At one point I had convinced myself that a boy named E, whom I never interacted with nor did he with me, could read my mind. I could practically hear his laughter in my head. An introductory poem I wrote for the acting class I shared with him heavily involved this fear and one day after a dramatic reading of a children’s book, my friend, N, teased, “What are you thinking?”
Perhaps this should have concerned people. But then again, maybe I didn’t make this obvious enough.
A few months later (June 2009), a few of my friends witnessed another example of my paranoia. It was embarrassing really, but I was worried about the existence of tiny, minuscule, impossible-to-see hidden cameras. I actually scared a few of my friends when I slammed a yard stick against the corner of my closet door, where I was convinced one was embedded. I knew I sounded crazy, but I was the kind of person to believe in the impossible.
I’m not an expert, but I wonder if my anxiety at the time had experienced growing pains, manifesting itself into these bouts of paranoia. After all, junior high is a time and age when all kinds of new anxieties appear. Whatever its intention, it didn’t last longer than a few months – the paranoia, I mean. However, it was a pre-cursor for what was to come.
In eighth grade I talked to volleyballs. I think I mostly just whispered or moved my mouth, but for me that was talking. I patted them on their little volleyball heads as if they were kittens, gently scooping them from the floor and placing them in the basket. I was the volleyball manager, something both my mother and gym teacher thought would help me get involved and socialize. A couple of my friends were on the team, so the job basically allowed me to watch them play at every game. But that’s basically what the job was – watching. I was an observer as always and I mostly enjoyed that role. I didn’t have to speak too much. Talking to volleyballs quenched my boredom throughout that fall (2009) season.
It wasn’t until Christmas 2009 that I noticed a shift in perspective. The world suddenly felt heavier, darker. In the literal sense it was darker. Christmas season in the Midwest allows darkness to fall earlier and longer. But this darkness was different, more metaphorical than anything. It was like I was underwater, staring up at the ice that had formed on the surface. Every emotion relating to happiness and joy was more difficult to pass through the ice. I remember opening Christmas gifts and, although I was excited to receive my first cell phone, I sat in my sister’s green saucer chair feeling empty.
I had just turned fourteen.
I guess I’ve always been fascinated with the morbid. I liked sad stories and sad songs and sad movies… drawn to the darkness. Ironic, considering I was afraid of the dark. My dad jokingly blames himself for this fact. When I was young he let me stay up to watch My Dog Skip (2000), not knowing that the dog dies (of natural causes) at the end. He thinks he scarred me for life. When I was a little older I watched Old Yeller (1957) on repeat. I’m not sure these instances are related, but worth a mention.
I started 2010, the new decade, haunted by this darkness, but it wasn’t until the spring when it decided to attempt to seriously altar my life.
The thing about Selective Mutism is that the isolation it creates breeds a myriad of mental health issues. Sure, I had friends in junior high whom I spoke to on a semi-regular basis – M, A, O, N… sometimes R. In fact I think I spoke more in my two years of junior high than in my four years of high school. But my relationship with them felt distant, like there was always a Plexiglas wall between us. It was this feeling that the darkness fed on and soon most of these friendships felt as if they had been pretend all along.
“They don’t care about you,” the darkness whispered. Everything he said seemed so true in the moment, his words became increasingly difficult to argue with. One night I collapsed on the living room floor in tears, staring up at the ceiling in my semi-lit surroundings. My parents walked on by as if nothing about my behavior were strange or out of the ordinary. Wow. The voice must have been right. My family didn’t care about me either.
I tried to scream out for attention in the only ways I knew how. I would arrive home after school feeling defensive from holding in my thoughts and emotions for eight hours. My mom needed to recognize I was crazy, so I jumped in a large cardboard box and screamed about imaginative adventures on a sailboat. When that didn’t work, I pranced up and down the hallway with my arms waving in the air, “La la la la la la la!”
“Are you on drugs?!” my mother screeched. But even that thought seemed ridiculous and was quickly dismissed. It was no use. The voice was right. I was alone. And what was the point of living if I was alone?
To be Continued in “To Be A Captive”
U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 (Click this link to chat online or for Spanish or Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing Assistance)
Crisis Services Canada (Click this link to learn more about Canada’s Suicide Prevention Services and connect with responders now)