Welcome to the second part of this fascinating real story. You will find the first part on my page or by clicking on the underlined word.
I always say that it is so important to ACT EARLY, to make sure that everyone is aware of the dos and dont’s so the SM is treated early and will not have an affect later on in life. However in this story SM affected this person a long time.
What happened when you became an adult?
At University I discovered alcohol. I found out that if I drank I was able to be the kind of social person that I wanted to be. Unfortunately, I came to rely on this too much.
On nights out, if I was feeling anxious or inhibited I would drink to feel more comfortable.
This was difficult to manage because there was a point at which I would then drink too much and black out. I hated myself for doing this- as I often got myself into embarrassing situations and this made me feel awful about myself. However, I was willing to put myself through this again and again because of the feeling of freedom that I felt, the freedom to express myself.
I had a small group of very close friends but didn’t speak to anyone from my classes. Any new friends that I made were mostly people I met on nights out. I went through periods of depression but managed to make it through and finish with a first-class degree.
What happened after University?
After University I was in the real world. A world full of adults. Job interviews are something that have proved difficult.
I would arrive at interviews and only be able to talk in a whisper. Or I would find it impossible to put a coherent sentence together. If people made assumptions I would find it difficult to correct them. For instance, one person mistakenly got the impression that I could drive and that I had driven to the interview. I let her believe this and then after the interview she walked me to the carpark. I was terrified she was going to wait until I got into my car, which didn’t exist. Repeatedly not being able to come across well at interviews made me feel hopeless and I was terrified that I would not be able find work.
For many years I worked in Social Care, supporting people with learning disabilities. When I was out with people that I was supporting I was forced into situations where I would have to communicate with other people that we would interact with, sometimes on their behalf. I was able to do this, because I was acting in a role, albeit still speaking slightly quietly and softly, but loud enough to be heard and understood.
Gradually I was able to build up my self-confidence. However, there were times when colleagues would casually mention that I was talking too quietly or ask me to repeat myself. I can’t explain how devastating these moments were.
How it felt (and still feels, because this still happens to me from time to time) to repeat yourself at the same volume or quieter when someone asks you to repeat yourself or speak louder. Most of all I felt shame.
I was an adult and I felt like a child.
I was building up a new idea of myself by pretending that I didn’t have a problem. I thought I could force myself to become someone else. I put myself into situations where I would be forced to talk. After being promoted I chaired meetings. Someone might comment that I was talking softly. Although this was painful I tried to ignore it and keep moving forward. I set up a music group for people with learning disabilities. I ran the meeting for the people we support. These were big steps for me and showed me that I could do something. I forced myself into these situations despite a big part of me wanting to run away and hide.
Although I am proud of what I achieved working in Social Care there was a niggling doubt that I was not there because I wanted to be but because it was a way to avoid attending new job interviews and feelings of not being good enough.
I continued to experience periods of depression, but I noticed that during periods of acute depression I somehow felt more alive. Perhaps this was because there was some change inside. The depression was telling me something. That I was feeling unfulfilled and needed to make changes in my life. I could only truly begin to make these changes once I really went back to my childhood and the humiliation I felt at not being able to talk and how this trauma affected me.
I have found the courage to change careers and so have found myself in many different new work environments on placements and in new jobs.
Suddenly I feel like this little boy again.
I find that I am getting stuck or that I am speaking too quietly. I am not able to give a proper representation of who I am. A part of me still feels a sense of despair and a hopelessness. The difference now is that I know that I can do this. I am able to offer myself compassion, support and encouragement and to find an inner confidence. I am comfortable with who I am and what my value is. I have chosen jobs that are about relationships. This is because I am a social person and I enjoy social interaction.
I have also surrounded myself with talkers and assertive people. My wife’s family jokes that she is ‘famous for her assertiveness skills’. At times I have taken advantage of this to avoid talking but she has been a positive role model and helped me push myself to stop avoiding something, when the avoiding is making me unhappy. She has offered me support and acceptance but also encouragement.
I recently attended a conference about Selective Mutism. One of the speakers was a 17 year old girl who had experienced Selective Mutism as a child. With the support and advice of a Speech and Language Therapist and with the work of her parents, found a way to navigate past her Selective Mutism. For me there is no clear line between having selective mutism and then overcoming it and in some ways I am still fighting with myself and my feelings. I still find myself whispering in some situations or talking very softly. I am so tired of this now. I just want to be able to talk loudly and clearly at all times; to feel in control of my voice.
I know I am almost there, and I believe that I can do it.
I am so grateful and thankful to this man who shared his inner thought and feeling for us all to understand his life long difficulties and I know that he will continue to find his voice and perhaps help others too.