When it comes to overcoming Selective Mutism, it is not as simple as many people may think; particularly if you’re in your teens or into adulthood. It is not just a case of once you’ve gone through all of the techniques that you’ll be able to be a complete chatterbox absolutely everywhere.
I have a very big problem with talking in new situations. Even if it’s a situation that my anxiety is low enough for me to be able to physically speak, often I may not say anything. This is not through choice. Spending almost your entire life not speaking in certain situations can have many negative long term effects. For me, it means I will constantly be trying to think of something to say, but my mind will just go completely blank and I won’t be able to think of a single to thing to say. As a result of this, I often end up saying nothing. My mind will be going at a million miles per hour just trying so hard to even think of one word to say, but no matter how hard I try, nothing will come to me. Even if it does, my mind tells me that it’s the wrong thing to say. I will try so hard to think up of something to say because I know that if I don’t, it will be quickly recognised that I am “quiet” and no one will expect me to say anything. Once others don’t have the expectation for you to speak, it makes it so much more harder to talk because if you do, everyone will be shocked and will either make a comment about it or everyone will look at you all at once. Often, I will have to just hope that someone will ask me a question so that way I’ll have to answer and then everyone will know that I do talk. If this doesn’t happen, it makes it so much harder to talk in that situation from then on. I can rehearse over and over again different things that I could say, but once I get there, my anxiety makes me forget absolutely everything I’ve thought about saying. If it’s for example, a doctor’s appointment I can write notes and that won’t be looked at as strange, but it would probably seem a bit strange if I had notes that I looked at before each time I said anything during any other time.
I also have a lack of social skills. Since I spent very little time socialising, or if I did I usually communicated via writing, I often haven’t got a clue what certain social cues mean. Due my anxiety being high about giving others any eye contact, this also makes it harder because I sometimes don’t know when it’s my turn to talk. Eye contact is such an important aspect of communication because it allows you to know when the other person has finished talking. For me, I often don’t know if they’ve finished so I either end up unintentionally interrupting them or there will be a pause before I start talking back when I am completely sure that they have finished talking. Part of me wonders if the social skills are there and that it’s just anxiety that stops me from picking up on them because when I am with others that I am 100% comfortable with, I have no problems at all deciding when it’s my turn to talk and I don’t have any problems picking up any social cues. I think that high levels of anxiety can have a severe impact on your memory and can make you forget even basic things until you leave the situation and your anxiety levels become lower.
I often get comments from others when this happens such as, “how come you didn’t talk? I thought you were getting better?” Please don’t ever say this to anyone with SM. It’s a very discouraging comment and can make them think that they’re not doing as well as they thought they were. Other times, I may manage one or two words and I might get a comment such as, “how come you didn’t say much? You could’ve tried a bit harder!” This is also something that you should never say to anyone with SM. I can be really proud that I even managed just one word, but when someone comes out with a comment like this, it can just put such a downer on my previously proud mood. Even if someone with SM is now very talkative in most of the situations that they go into, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t some areas that they still need to work on.
I think that once you begin to be able to physically speak, the anxiety can displace itself into other areas. The reason why I say this is because when I am physically unable to speak, I can think of a million and one things that I want to say, I just can’t get the words to come out. However, when I am able to speak, the anxiety is often still there but it presents itself in different ways; being that I can become so anxious that I can’t even think of anything to say. This is the most frustrating thing ever especially since I know that I can physically talk, I just can’t think of anything to say.
This is the reason why I mention so much that you should never consider someone with SM to be recovered once they begin to talk even minimally in situations where they previously couldn’t before. There is so much more to Selective Mutism than being unable to speak in certain situations. You have to remember that is an anxiety disorder and so not only do they have to begin talking, but all of the anxiety (and I mean all of it) needs to be dealt with before they can be considered fully recovered enough for treatment to stop.