- Toni Pakula
Antje’s Journey with Selective Mutism.
© Written by Antje 2022 --- When I was a child I enjoyed being at home. I felt relaxed and free there while talking with my parents and siblings. But when I was at school it seemed I had changed into a different person. It was still me but somehow it was also not me, not the real me. I usually felt tense and I was quiet, very quiet. The school report said: “She finds it difficult to get into social contact with others.” During my first year at school I usually sat in my seat and hardly moved. We were not allowed to chit-chat during lessons. The teacher would make a tick on a tally list for misbehaviour. At the end of the year I had none. But I could not even ask the girl sitting next to me a question during break times for months. I usually did not raise my hand during lessons and in oral exams I did not say everything I knew, which was not beneficial for my grades. I could not complain about any wrong moves during chess games or offer my opponents a draw and I could never win card games where you had to say a word when only one card was left. Greeting people always was a big issue. Usually I received a harsh reminder before relatives arrived: “You have to say good morning to your uncle!” And I was told to say “thank you” when I got presents. The teacher wanted me to greet adults and other children. I was also struggling with eating lunch at school. The other kids had to check and tell the teacher whether I had said hello in the morning or finished my food in the dining hall. I could have never had breakfast before school (I must have been too anxious) but when I came home a proper meal was waiting for me. On a different occasion I was unable to tell the driver where to go when I was in the backseat of a car with others and I was told: “Can the girl not say where she lives?” My classmates once asked me: “Why don't you talk with us?” I had no answer. And when I finished school they wrote in the leaver’s book: “The miracle of nature, all this quiet - how does she do that?” ---------------------------------- As an adult I was still struggling with taking part in group discussions. It seemed impossible to start speaking in front of others and to express my opinions. Sometimes I knew exactly what I wanted to say but I would never make it heard. I hesitated a lot and it was hard to get people’s attention. After all I felt I was in competition with everyone who wanted to say something. I perceived it as a massive barrier between me and the other people like a giant wall I could not break through. It made me invisible. As I believed I was the only person in the world suffering with this, I wanted to hide it and I felt embarrassed. Then I met people with similar issues. I started to educate myself, read everything I could find and watched videos online. I realised that there were strategies to overcome this and I heard from people who had actually done that. This gave me the motivation to face the problem in small steps. What I needed was exposure to the fearful situations in a manageable way. I started to give myself more and more challenging tasks. Slowly I began to see progress. When I finally spoke up in groups I was astonished that people would actually listen. To my surprise they would usually discuss and elaborate on a topic I had introduced, which gave me a feeling of proud accomplishment. Saying something felt a bit awkward at first but I soon had the confidence to know I could do it again and again.
Antje has also written and published a poem about selective mutism and you can find it by clicking on this link. https://antjebothin.wordpress.com/publications/
If you would like to publish your story on my blog please email me at email@example.com. Sharing our stories is a powerful way to inspire and help others who are also on this journey with Selective Mutism.