For years, my Selective Mutism made me feel so alone. I had always known that there were others out there who went through what I went through every single day of my life as I had seen a few documentaries on the TV about it. However, even through seeing the documentaries, I still felt alone knowing that there was no one that I could ever go to and talk about it that would understand. I could talk to people about it, but none of them would’ve had the slightest clue of what it was really like to live with Selective Mutism.
It wasn’t until I was 15 when I found out the exact reason why I hadn’t been able to talk in certain situations for all of those years, that I was finally able to chat to people online who also had Selective Mutism. It was the most incredible feeling in the world. Every story that I read online made me feel like I could’ve written them myself; everything I read was exactly me. It felt like someone had stolen my non-existent diary and had written exactly what was going on in my mind.
I would chat online to people who had Selective Mutism all of the time. YouTube, Selective Mutism websites, emails and Facebook were just a few of the places that I would find people who had Selective Mutism to chat with. It felt like a miracle that I finally had people that I could go to and I could tell them absolutely anything about my Selective Mutism with the reassurance of knowing that they weren’t going to judge me, but were actually going to say that they completely understood everything I said because they were going through exactly the same things themselves. I did have friends in real life that I would talk to about it, but even the most sympathetic of all people would never really know exactly what it was like for me.
The thing I had always wanted, more than anything else was to meet at least one person in real life who had Selective Mutism. Although chatting online to people with SM was one of the most incredible things in the world to me, nothing compared to a real life face to face meet up.
Before long, it wasn’t just Selective Mutism that I would chat to them about. I became very close friends with several of them and we would chat about all sorts of things, just like any ordinary friends would. We began to get to know each other and found that many of them had the same sort of quirky sense of humour as I did. It was nice that not only were we able to share our experiences and go to each other for advice about our Selective Mutism, but we were also able to become very good friends from it.
One of the people that I would email constantly was a girl called, Lizzie. We would write essays to each other every single time we emailed each other, we always found something to talk about. We quickly realised we were both complete nutters and we would have such a laugh every single time we messaged each other. We had always said right from the start that we would love to meet up one day, but we lived so far away from each other…
Then, on Friday 28th March 2014, after being friends for so many years, we finally met for the very first time.
We found out that there was a Selective Mutism conference run by a charity called SMIRA. We decided to go to it so that we could meet. This meant that since we lived so far away, we were able to sort of meet in the middle so that neither of us had a ridiculously long way to travel.
We were both very excited, but also very anxious about meeting. Although we had wanted to meet for such a long time, meeting new people when you have SM can be a very daunting task. However, we had wanted to meet for so long at this point, that we decided to try our hardest to push through the anxiety and do it anyway.
We decided that we would stay at a Premier Inn that was very close to where the conference was being held. As I had to travel overseas, I had started travelling very early on in the morning and got to the hotel before, Lizzie did. After going out and of course having some much needed retail therapy, I went back to the hotel to wait for Lizzie to get there.
For both of us, the build up to meeting was the worst part of it all. Luckily, all the travelling and shopping I had done throughout the day had helped to keep my mind of all the anxiety. However, when I was back at the hotel, all I had left to do was wait for Lizzie to arrive so at that point I didn’t have much to help keep my mind off of it.
Waiting for Lizzie to arrive was a very bizarre feeling. I was extremely anxious, but also extremely excited so it was as if those two emotions were trying to battle it out with each other; I had all the classic anxiety symptoms, racing heart, feeling really hot and feeling sick; I was also really excited and feeling very giddy like a kid on Christmas morning. During this whole time we had been messaging each other to try and calm each other down and were talking about how excited we were to finally meet which definitely helped with the whole build up.
Eventually, Lizzie and her Mum arrived at the hotel. We were in a massive hotel with about 8 floors in total, yet amazingly I was in room 609 and she was in 612! What were the chances of that?! When I heard a knock on my door, I felt like my heart was going to beat out of my chest, but when I answered the door and saw Lizzie’s Mum, I realised I had nothing to worry about; she was lovely! She made me feel so comfortable, and she linked my arm and we went into their hotel room where I was finally able to meet Lizzie for the very first time.
We talked for a little bit, and Lizzie’s Mum asked me a few questions about myself and apologised if I thought she was asking too many questions, but that she just wanted to find out as much as possible so she could help Lizzie as best as she could. I didn’t mind at all as at this point I was mostly fine with answering questions if I only had to give short answers, and if it helped her learn more about how to help Lizzie then it was worth it.
Then, Lizzie and I went to sit in my room for a little bit. We were like a pair of young teenagers just looking at each other and giggling. It just felt so surreal that finally, after all those years of feeling so alone with my Selective Mutism that I was finally sat in the same room as someone who had been through all of the same things that I had. Just knowing that it didn’t matter how much I did/didn’t talk made my anxiety levels drop so much. Usually I would put a tremendous amount of pressure on myself to try to talk, but with Lizzie, I knew she 100% understood if I didn’t talk much, so I didn’t have to put that pressure onto myself. Strangely, after a while, it felt like we had met years ago, it didn’t feel like I had only just met her for the first time that day.
The next day was the conference. It felt like all my Christmases had come at once. Not only had I just met a friend who had gone through exactly the same things as I had with Selective Mutism, but I was now about go to a conference where there was going to be a church hall full of people who had either gone through exactly the same things as us, or knew someone who had. I don’t even think there are any words that I could ever use to describe how it felt after feeling so alone for so many years. It was knowing that every single person in that one singular room either 100% understood SM, or wanted to understand and was there to learn more about it, that just made me feel so much less anxiety than I would have done if I’d have been anywhere else.
Spending the entire day with, Lizzie and being at the conference just felt absolutely phenomenal. There is no true word to describe what it was like. Although we sat at the back squeezing each other’s hands the whole time and didn’t talk to anyone else that was there, it helped just knowing that everyone would understand if we weren’t able to venture out and see anyone else; there would be plenty more conferences where we could do that once we felt ready.
After the conference, we decided that we would go round the shops for a bit before Lizzie had to go home. It felt like we had known each other for years and as if we went shopping together all the time. It didn’t feel awkward at all. We’d gotten to know each other so well through our many, many novel long emails that we had sent to each other, that we knew each other really well anyway. We felt like we had been through so much together already, we had been there for each other through all the highs and lows that we’d been through with our Selective Mutism. We were just two ordinary friends going round the shops and we were able to have just as much fun as any other friends would. I think what made it so relaxing was the fact that neither of us cared how much/how little the other spoke. It didn’t matter. We both knew that one day, when we were both ready that we would both be chatting away to each other like there was no tomorrow and driving everyone around us mad from not shutting up!
The hardest part, besides the build up was saying goodbye. Although we knew we’d still continue to talk online to each other, it was hard to go back to reality. We had spent all that time together with someone that we both knew completely understood, but we had to go back to the real world where no one in our real lives had a clue what it was like for us. Saying goodbye felt like the hardest thing I have ever had to do. I wished we lived closer so we could both have someone there who understood all the time, but unfortunately that wasn’t possible. However, it was comforting to know that we would both meet up again at the next conference, which we did!
Since then, we have met up a total of 4 times! I have also met many more people who either have Selective Mutism, or have overcome Selective Mutism. Seeing people with SM that are either further ahead of me with their progress or have completely overcome SM altogether gives me hope that I will someday do the same. It gives me hope when I chat to people online that have managed to overcome SM, but nothing compares to meeting them in real life and seeing that you would never have guessed that they had ever had SM. It is a piece of hope that every person with SM should have. Saying goodbye after a meet up never gets easier, but it’s always comforting that they are all only just a touch of a button away at all times to help with whatever I need.
Selective Mutism has been the biggest hindrance in my life. However, when looking on the bright side, without it, I never would’ve met all of the amazing people that I have met, whether it’s in real life or online. That is something that I wouldn’t trade for the world.
Me left and Lizzie right