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As I’m asking you to send in your own articles and stories for the magazine I thought I would share mine with you. I find it difficult talking about myself but here goes…
I’ve had sm for as long as I can remember. I recall the drive to school in the mornings when I’d start to go quiet and change into the person everyone at school knew me as. Luckily we only lived a couple of miles away from the school so I never had to endure school buses. By the time we’d got to the school gates I was a different person to what I was at home. I don’t remember crying when I went to school – I didn’t hate it but I was just so nervous and most of the time I’d be hunched up and looking at my feet.
Somehow I made a few friends and although I wouldn’t talk to them at school I was a lot more relaxed when they came round to our house and we were just like normal children. I went to after school clubs such as country dancing and went from brownies to girl guides. Although I didn’t speak normally I felt more relaxed at the clubs than I did at school, perhaps because they weren’t as formal and there wasn’t any pressure to speak.
Secondary school is where not being able to talk started to become more of a problem. It’s a more social environment and you’re too old for teachers to tell others not to leave you out at lunch breaks so for a while I’d sit on the bench by myself or spend longer than normal in the toilets just to pass the time until lunch was over. I was so grateful to the girl who first came up to me and sat next to me on the bench in the playground. I didn’t talk to her at first but she kept sitting next to me each day and we became friends.
It was early secondary school years when I started on Seroxact medication. We’d tried seeing a psychologist but it was horrible – he came round to our house (the one place I felt relaxed enough to be myself) and I couldn’t talk in front of him. I couldn’t talk in my own home and when he left I’d go upstairs to my room and cry. The medication slowly helped and I started to come out of myself a bit more at school. It was made clear that the medication wasn’t a magical cure – I had to try and push myself too. The turning point for me was when I took part in an English reading assignment where we had to read our work out in front of the rest of the class. I’d been given the option of reading it just to the teacher but I didn’t like to be treated any differently so asked to do the same as everyone else. It was only a couple of minutes of speaking but it was the most that anyone had ever heard me talk and everyone clapped when I’d finished. It wasn’t easy by any means but with everyone’s help I pulled through school and went on to finish A-levels.
The next obstacle was my driving test. I’d already failed three driving tests because I’d get so panicky and make stupid mistakes. After I failed my third test I was ready to quit but my parents kept nagging me (I think they’d rather call it encouraging me)! So I started with a different driving instructor who gave me some advice. He told me that if I make a mistake I should say to mysellf “OK, I made a mistake” and then move on, foget about it and clear your mind (unless I ran someone over!). Otherwise you’re thinking about the mistake you just made and your mind isn’t concentrating. With your mind not concentrating you’re more likely to make further mistakes and it’s a downward spiral. It’s that bit of advice that helped me finally pass my fourth test. The driving examiner and I were at the traffic lights when the left lane only went green and, sitting in the right lane, I looked at the red light in front of me and asked the examiner “is the light still red?” He did extremely well not to laugh at me and just told me to do what I’d normally do. I was on the verge of tears but took a deep breath and pushed the thoughts away and carried on. I didn’t quite believe him when he told me I’d passed at the end of the test!
Now that I’d passed my driving test I needed a full time job. I’d had part time jobs since I was 15 (waitress, children’s play centre assistant, cleaning at the local b&b) but finding a full time job was difficult. Not because of sm specifically but because I had no idea what I actually wanted to do as a career. I would have liked to work with children but I didn’t feel confident enough to believe it was a possibility. I actually found my job where I am now by accident – my aunt works for the same company and I called asking if they had any jobs available thinking I could do a packing job while I work out what I want to do. After emailing my cv to them they asked me in for an interview for a subscriptions executive. I was excied but really nervous! The job involved talking to customers over the phone which was very new to me and I wasn’t sure how I would be with it. In the interview they could tell I was nervous and asked how I would be on the phone. I was honest and said that I do get nervous but I’m willing to try and that I’m sure it will get easier after a while. I’m still at the same company six years later.
I know I’ve been lucky and my selective mutism isn’t as bad as others – I was able to answer yes/no or one word questions at school and when I’d finished school I could talk enough when needed to get by. But even so it’s been difficult and I couldn’t have got through it without my family and friends.
If you would like to send in an article for the magazine, whether it’s your own sm story, a hobby you enjoy, or even a fiction piece you can email it to firstname.lastname@example.org