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  • 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.

If you would like to publish your story on my blog please email me at Sharing our stories is a powerful way to inspire and help others who are also on this journey with Selective Mutism.

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