Selective Mutism – 10 years on into adult life (spoiler for Drifting away and then Toward)

‘It has been eight years since Drifting in and out of my Two Worlds, part-one of my candid, riveting (pardon my forthrightness), edifying autobiography was born once I had left the icy grips of my schooling career tarnished with my debilitating social anxiety disorder, Selective Mutism, which rendered me physically unable to speak at school.

I wish I could say I lived happily ever after and the anxiety did not beset me again. I wish I could. But of course, without being therapised, it was still apt to govern and control my life, and be managed by a detrimental crutch.

Writing opens deep wells of memory (many of which, however, are naturally unobtainable on account of my three bottle of wine a day for years on end drinking habit) and if you delve deep with me within this next chapter of my appalling succession of further events, you may find that I could be classified by one as an epitome, a text-book version of an individual suffering the negative repercussions of undiagnosed Selective Mutism.  My life, consequently, has been like one continuous adjustment to loss, perceived abandonment, whilst hell-bent on self-destruction, including meeting my father after twelve years and impotently watching him demise until his death, turbulent relationships with ex partners and my ex fiance, until I finally found the light and blossomed thereforth drifting along the bright, long road to recovery. Resentfully, so many precious years withered away, much like my health, in a cruel heartbeat. My mind was a kaleidoscope. I have been intimately honest in this account, because it is to warn about undiagnosed and untreated Selective Mutism, the affects of alcohol and addiction, and the resiliency, to turn your life around regardless of where you are in life. If there is one thing I have learnt about life over these past eight years, is it goes on. It goes on in quick succession. In this story, I hope to bring about positive change, being a catalyst for inspiring others to choose goodness. You can’t start the next chapter of your life if you keep on re-reading the first and second one. I believe in the healing power of story-telling. ’
– Jessica Thorpe – Drifting Away and then Toward.

Anyway, that was the foreword of the second part of my journey after Selective Mutism (to be released next year if I stop procrastinating).
My brother Rowan (I have a brother? Sounds a strange notion) and I drifted as we grew older. Mother mollycoddled him and learned to detest me. I can only assume the main reason being on the grounds that I was ever so much like my father in looks and personality. An example to show the degree of this would be Rowan pointing to a red fire-engine proclaiming that it is green whilst I would voice that, no, it is red and Mother would transpire with a mocking laugh that ‘It’s green, Jess.’ From the time we left school (me being three years Rowan’s junior), he never came out of his bedroom again and my Selective Mutism dispersed once seventeen. Their close relationship made me very close to my father throughout his last years.   Rowan has never got out of bed in the years since with the exceptions of briefly going into the bathroom or kitchen, and four holidays which he reluctantly went on. He has never had a job, has no friends and probably doesn’t even know the first thing about women. I don’t know how many months ago he had seen the sun shine.

Mother always had somebody to shift the blame on to. I was told in my adult years by her “You are just like your father. Exactly like him.” As she shook her head in disgust wrinkling her murderous looking face up. I was always the only person responsible for the disease which so terribly affected me. It was only natural for me to hit the bottle. Being socially anxious, she felt the need to ‘please’ authority. It gave her problems because it of course gave her a hard time getting her needs met. Because she was very defensive, she would often come across cold. It’s a defence mechanism which seems to have been a barrier so she didn’t get hurt.

Her over-protection, particularly towards Rowan, delayed us from growing up. I recently watched a video which my auntie had admiringly filmed during my fifth birthday party and my mother’s behaviour manifested the most transparent signifiers of this. Rowan was two years old, with his white blonde, ringlet curly hair and each and every time somebody called his name she swooped towards him, picked him up and carried him into another room. I followed her around every step she went, almost clinging onto her dress whilst she carried Rowan around everywhere. She ignored me and my chronic  distress following her round and round and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I had never seen children act so strangely before. Nobody was allowed to speak to us or to go near us. She did not know how to act in public and was for the most part of the time emotionally unavailable and responsive towards us because my grandmother had treated her and her brother in the same way throughout their childhood. A typical avoidant-attachment.


I suppose every generation blames the one before.

How did I get through my adult life with the social anxiety still lingering?
You guessed it. Alcohol. It was my most important and only relationship. It was my handrail in social settings. I can grudgingly remember the days of being plagued with deep denial concerning it. I was always doing such things as: Going into a different shop each time to get a bottle of wine (even if it meant paying a few quid more), refusing a carrier bag when they went to bag up the alcohol depositing it in to my bag instead to hide the shame of carrying yet another cheap bottle of wine. It’s when you are drinking at a table with friends, or ‘so called’ friends not being able to concentrate on the conversation at hand because in your mind you are dividing up the portions so you can be sure that you will have more than a sufficient amount of alcohol for yourself. And when in the toilet, being prudent to urinate on the bowl whilst seated so others can’t hear how much you have drunk. It defined me then.  I was nineteen. We all need food and water to survive. But I needed a third…  I couldn’t speak spontaneously at school. Not unless somebody asked me a question. I become my vision of ‘The Ideal Person’ around others. It meant I didn’t have to suffer in silence. My heart raced round others. Sweats. Panic whirring in my mind. This was years ago. It got to the point where your body needed it and you could not function without it. It was self- destruction. You would rather live for just a few more years, doing what you love, and all you know rather than spare no effort to dry out and live for the rest of the years which you should be entitled to. You have abused your body, most relationships around you, and it’s so much easier to continue drowning and blocking out those further escalating issues than confront them. So one continues. It is a selfish act, yes. Incredibly selfish.
“Don’t you know what you’re putting those through around you? Don’t you know you’re wasting all that you have to give to the world?” Well, no. Or maybe I was too intoxicated to want to acknowledge it. Acknowledging it would mean I would have to stop drinking. Alcohol will take, take, and keep on taking. It will take your money, your relationships, your home, your dignity….and keep on taking until it finally takes your life.

Today, I am sober.

I am living again. As one should live. I have a full-time job as a painter and decorator in North London and Hertfordshire, and am building my life up more and more every day. Having grown up with Selective Mutism for seventeen years, I hated structure and I hated authority. The last career I could have seen myself pursuing is an office job – sitting at the same desk, around the same people, at the same times, every day – not a chance. It would be like being back at school all over again. Being a decorator, I am very lucky to work with fantastic company, and the jobs are different every time. I work all over the place, there is no pressure, little structure, if I don’t fancy sanding or filling, I will go in another room and paint instead – that kind of freedom. My Selective Mutism was also a lot severe around women as well, since I sensed more of an expectation in the past to speak to women. I like the diversity of it. It has given me a new-found confidence in life and very rarely do I suffer with anxiety. I have a lot more self-esteem and confidence within myself, as well as often being too busy, to worry too much about the things which I used to worry about.

I speak with such intimacy because it is the reality if this condition is not addressed as it should be. Rowan is terrified of people and human interaction. He sufferers with depression, avoidant personality disorder, agoraphobia, social phobia and Selective Mutism. My mother’s brother is exactly the same as Rowan at fifty-something. So I have resigned myself to the fact that I will still never have or know my brother. In an affectionate way – the mother’s did breed them to end up like that. That life has held me back enough, it’s time for me to forget about all of that now.

Jess at SSM

 

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Printout for teachers/professionals working with a child with Selective Mutism

Top tips for teachers/professionals when dealing with the child’s mutism this Selective Mutism Awareness Month-

 

1. Speak to the child in an ‘offhand’ sort of way. However ill-mannered it may sound by not directly addressing the child, talk to them without completely acknowledging them. Direct confrontation, on the flip side of the coin, will  induce more anxiety in them, and sensing that you’re not so ‘in their face’, they will feel more comfortably relaxed and capable of following what you’re saying.Don’t, of course, get into the habit of ignoring them completely since feelings of loneliness could begin to manifest.
2. No direct questions. This is rather an important one. There is nothing worse than asking the child a direct question whilst they are sitting there riddled with anxiety worrying about when they are going to be put in the spotlight again next. The only thing frequenting their mind is when you’re going to go away. This will induce more anxiety and fear, negatively reinforcing a lack of response.Instead of saying, ‘Have you done your homework Tobias?’ say ‘I wonder whether Tobias has done his homework?’ with no eye contact. This way, there is no pressure and less anxiety for ‘Tobias’ to speak, and sensing this, maybe some sort of response (verbal or non-verbal) might follow.

3. Minimal direct eye contact. Concurring with the previous tips, Selectively Mute children do feel threatened by direct eye-contact. When suffering as a child, I genuinely found I had a very difficult time even thinking about speaking to a teacher who’s eyes always locked onto mine, and compared to others who took a more vacant view in this regard, I felt no pressure, and could even at times manage a few words.

4. Ask the child less ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ questions. Try not to make the mistake of falling into the habit of asking the child too many yes or no questions. These, of course for the child require a nod or shake of the head and within time, this is going to become an established response and they are going to become too familiar answering non-verbally.

5. Have regular chats with the child’s parent’s/carer’s. A child overcoming Selective Mutism needs a network of teachers, doctors, family etc all working together to help understand the main triggers of and ease the child’s anxiety. Make sure the child is happy at school and has no fears or worries. It is very easy for a Selectively Mute child to very quickly feel isolated, and even possibly ‘unworthy’ especially when compared to their class peers given their mutism. Just make sure that they are not left out in other respects.
6. Give the child more one to one attention when you can. In the same way as the former tip, the child can very quickly become more and more isolated owing to their stubborn and oppositional-like tendencies isolating themselves even to the closest people to them (particularly teenage sufferers). Often, most of the focus in the classroom is directed more at the talkative, naughty children so that the child with SM feels even more isolated. Make sure (better still in a slight offhand sort of way) that you do acknowledge them, help them with their work and let them feel they matter equally.
7. Watch out for teasing/ bullying. Keep an extra eye out, checking the child (without their knowledge) in the playground or cafeteria etc. So much teasing and bullying goes on these days, and especially at a young age, it can rip their souls apart being bullied and feeling so helpless to do anything about it. If they appear to often be alone, why not take the initiative to ask another couple of timid students in the class to allow them to tag along with them. It would increase the chance of verbalisation with the others too. Somebody has to take the responsibility to help the child, ask yourself where the child is going to end up if everybody keeps on passing the buck with the child’s responsibilities.
8. Make special arrangements for the child. I don’t know how often (if) they hold school assemblies these days, but when I was very young, I used to make sure I deliberately missed a few days of school each term to ensure that I would not be called up in assembly in front of the school year at the end of every term to collect a certificate for full attendance. There was nothing I feared more than going up on that stage. If you sense that the child cannot handle a particular situation (school trip, sports day, presentation) facilitate it to their needs. Trust must be built with them, and it is important that they can trust you so that they can work with you.
9. The main approach should be focusing on ways to reduce the anxiety. Do everything you can to reduce the child’s anxiety. This is a social anxiety disorder, and they cannot speak fundamentally because they feel such real, intense, gripping anxiety when they are expected to speak. Do not make them do anything you sense that makes them feel uncomfortable. Sit them at a table with the more timid children perhaps. Do anything which you feel will reduce their anxiety.
10. SM children do not speak when they feel the ‘expectation’ to do so. So what do we do? Make sure they perceive that YOU DO NOT EXPECT THEM TO SPEAK! That is the advice in a nutshell. Lay off the child, take a more relaxed approach and just do not demand or even expect anything. This moulds together with every previous tip having been said. Leave them to their own devices and let them shine when they are ready to.
 Jess Thorpe at SupportSelectiveMutism.

Just another day.

He wanted to just pull the plug on the whole thing. Why bother? He knew he could not painfully endure another eight months of it. Eight months of solo uncertainty, emotional and social torture, limbo; mock interviews for University, presentations in front of scrutinising, judgemental fellow college classmates… Yet, to his family, he was selfish, self-important and self-indulgent. Yes, stupid, self-centred Leon – the rotten apple in the basket, with the spine of a dying jellyfish his so-called father would tell him. Why couldn’t he be more like his perfect brother and sister? Perfect Percy and Patricia. Still, he had long ago resigned himself to the fact that he would never level up to the likes of his perfect siblings.

He shifted his rucksack (deposited with those Godforsaken Psychology and Sociology books which he been accustomed to despise just within the space of two months, and gin and lemonade) more securely over his right shoulder as he approached the double electronic-door entrance gaining admittance into the college. The burly college’s security man, who stood aloof, stared him daggers (in his deluded opinion) contemplating the bag of unorganised sh*t which stood in front of him as he was withdrawing his college card, declaring it to his eye level and then passing through without further ado before feeling it thud down to the bottom of his front pocket. Realising he was already five minutes late, he bolted up the stairs like a rat up a drainpipe, and crunched another polo just in case.
“Look what the cat dragged in.” Derek the D**khead announced. This opinion was trodden into long grass by Mr Green who pretended to be deaf to it. As he got to his usual desk at the back of the classroom, he sat down in the dreary slowness of the habitually depressed with thoughts on nothing but the next time that heavenly long sip of his favourite golden poison would touch his lips. Each move, a conscious act. Tragically aware of the staring eyes boring into him.
“Only two weeks time now,” Mr Green said in his boring, monotonous voice, “until I shall be interviewing each and every one of you, as a practice in light of your interview with your University interviewer.” Interviews. The creation of the Devil himself. Half a bottle of gin should do it, but then he hadn’t the foggiest about the requirements, what he needed to do…say…know…
“I find it pays to have written down and memorised a collection of questions and answers written in …shall I say…a sublime manner, guaranteeing your seat for the ticket to your future!” and he for some reason then gestured a horizontal line going across the air – not much unlike Hitler, earning a puzzled look from some of the students in the room.
“Here I have a sheet which shall now be passed around the room (thank you, David) and I would like you all to answer the questions stating why you should be given a place at your chosen designated University next year.”

Hope eroded even faster for Leon come the end of the next two lessons. You never quite quit in your mind, but you must in other demands, he had often thought. As the flood of students passed out from the classroom, near came a flood of tears from Leon. So today was apparently not going to be the day when one of the boys asked him if he wanted to hang out the front with them, play PokemonGo with them or do do whatever it was boys his age did these days. He was only a trifle surprised. He loathed them for it as he walked half-heartedly down to the toilets. Bang went the door, thud went the bag, and whizzzzz promised him entry into his rucksack. May as well have a whizz whilst in here, he thought. His heart lifted slightly as he picked up the litre and a half bottle split into divisions of gin and lemonade. No saint in heaven could have resisted it. Sixteen was too young to drink, sure, but it wasn’t going to be forever, only it dug him out of this hole (which seemed to be becoming deeper) he thought begrudgingly.
He would have to drop out, just drop out and hope for the best the following year. Yes, he thought slyly, as he necked more of the gin. He imagined the little devil on his right shoulder morph into an angel (and thought nostalgically of Tom and Jerry or an old Loony Tunes cartoon) reassuring, ‘Yeah, Lee, why put yourself through all that emotional abuse, stress and hurt, you’re going backwards. And don’t feel so guilty about the booze, it won’t be forever, besides, it’s the only way you can cope.” He took another swig, this time in a more vulgar fashion, and thought that’s enough for the day and decided to trek home. I can no longer gin and bear it, he agreed, with a flicker of a smile etching onto his face, his rapid thoughts considering and rejecting the idea of quitting college.

“Ah, Leon! Come! May I have a moment?” although she sounded as though she had already had her mind made up about taking that moment. “Who’s ruffled your feathers, now?” interrogated Mrs Richards. Ruffled? His feathers felt as though they had long ago been plumed.
“I wanted to give you the last module. I believe you were absent when it was handed out.”
He nodded quickly, a bit quicker and he might have succumbed to whiplash.
“Want to drop out.” The words came easily, gracefully only this time. Having been burdened with Selective Mutism for sixteen years, he had discovered that he could only speak when there was that expectation to speak. This expectation removed the intensity of that anxiety
“I’m sorry, I…” she queried whilst walking along, “dropping out, did you say? Of the whole course?”
He nodded, almost imperceptibly. “Yes.”
“Well, well, well. Is there a method in this madness?” Eyeing him with narrowing eyes. What was that look? Was it pity? Yes. That would be it. Pitiful Leon. Of course. It was quite at odds with his usual teacher’s scowel. He was a worthless, pathetic worm. What was she even doing speaking to him. Was he even worth her words?
He walked back down to the bus stop, swigging at his gin more eagerly this time. Gin was a pussies drink, as he had more increasingly been told. A pussies drink it may be, but a discreet pussies drink which left little aroma on your breath. Win.
The prospect of the looks on his parents faces when they would find out that he dropped out drained the world of colour (and of the colour on his face, he thought as an afterthought).
He sat at the bus stop, his zitty face each bit as spotty as his attendance had been over these past two months at college. Di**head Derek, Chris and Tom passed, no doubt on their way to the Golden Arches. Leon doubted Mcdonald’s would even take him on. Even take Derek on for that matter. Although Leon had a sneaking suspicion he might end up in prison first.

Surely, he had exhausted all efforts now. What would he do? Where would he go? Who would help him? How much more difficult would things get for him? he thought as he, subconsciously, tightened his grip on the three little pots of paracetamol hidden deep inside his interior jacket pocket.

 

 

The 10 Commandments of Selective Mutism

390698_2066914571462_1332796364_nChildren suffer with Selective Mutism because the cave men had to have a group in order to be safe from sabre tooth tigers.

Confused?

If being alone meant that a sabre tooth tiger was going to eat you…

That would mean pain.

And this expectation of pain is what causes anxiety, and in extention, Selective Mutism.

Retrospectively, I have always proclaimed that the main problem of SM sufferers eliciting speech lies in the expectation.

1) Do not let the sufferer feel as though there is an expectation for them to speak.

The expectation to speak produces a ‘freeze response’ (fight or flight response) accompanied with feelings of panic rendering the sufferer to feel physically unable to speak and they make an association between this distressing, panicked feeling provoked each time they perceive they are expected to speak. They may be very talkative and boisterous, however, when they are at home, in a public place (the supermarket etc) or at a friend’s where they sense no expectation to have to speak thereby eliminating their sense of anxiety.

2) Reduce eye-contact as much as you feel is possible.

A sufferer sensing that they are being watched irrefutably adds to their perception of being pressurised to speak and reinforces anxiety doubling the difficulty. As a child, I could almost physically feel the other’s eyes burning into my skull construing my thoughts and sensing my panic (sufferers do not want you to know that they are afraid) with the beleaguering stare (however dulcet the eye contact). They neither perceive as much of an expectation in like manner.

3) Minimalise direct questions.

Again, this will reduce the anxiety and pressure that they perceive. Quite crucially, it may rather be a better bet to end your sentence in ways such as ‘isn’t it?’, ‘Don’t you think?’ and in like manner changing the direct question into a statement by initiating it with for instance ‘I wonder if…’  thereby giving them the opportunity to respond eradicating the ‘deer in headlights’ feeling they may experience.

4) Do not try to trick them into speaking.

Do not use the typical, methodical approaches of attempting to trick them into speaking. They will rebuke these ways, probably begin to distrust you, and it will add to their anxiety levels.

5) Ask unambiguous questions.

When I was about seven years old at school, I can still with fluid transparency envisage the time when the teacher gave the class a question (the question has now escaped me since all these years have elapsed) and asked us to put our hands up if we thought it was the first option. I caught myself lowering my arm when it was a fraction of the way toward the air when I discovered I was the only student who agreed with the first option. A surge of hands erupted into the air for option two (me included) and that always stayed with me. I would, in contrast, answer maths ones in immediacy given that there was only one right answer. If they feel their participation is correct, they will respond (usually verbal or non verbal) and more anxious if they feel their contribution may not be accepted. They do not take risks.

6) Introduce new opportunities.

Since sufferers are able to speak in other environments away from school usually, if financial circumstances would have it, why not ask them if they would like to join a dance or football (soccer) class, learn to play an instrument, join the scouts etc? This way, dependably, they may or may not feel comfortable to intermingle with others since the other children might not know about their mutism and so the sufferer will henceforth perceive no direct expectation from them to speak. Think, too, of the skills they will learn!

7) Accept their stubborn behaviour.

A gargantuan factor in all of this. How extraordinarily frustrating it can be when the switch is flicked and they go into stubborn mode, but the worst way to go about it is by your futile attempts to prevent it. A decade on from my SM induced days, and my stubbornness is still as resentful as it ever once was. The key point to stress here is, the behaviour is deliberate self-protection, and not deliberate opposition. I must highlight absolute that they do not refuse to speak, they physically cannot. I almost felt the physical constriction of my throat closing up given the intensity of the anxiety back at school. When feeling stubborn in other respects (e.g go and tidy your room’, ‘go finish your dinner) and the brow furrows, the nose wrinkles, and their mind is made up, do not shout or express your anger towards them, instead, simply take the approach of understanding them, negotiating, staying calm and respecting them.

8) Keep an extra eye out for teasing and bullying.

They are more vulnerable than other children. Ask their teacher etc to pay them extra attention since owing to their lack of contribution, they can feel left out too. Be sure that they are not being too ‘watched out for’, since this can have a detrimental effect if they sense they are being watched doubling their anxiety in turn.

9) Focus on methods to combat the anxiety, opposed to methods to promote speech.

Self-explanatory, really. Penultimatly, the problem doesn’t necessarily lie in the child speaking, but the anxiety perceived once again.

10) Be patient.

It won’t happen over night. A jug fills drop by drop, Rome wasn’t built in a day… and so forth. Have a little patience and faith, and it will happen.

 

This is what happened when I, an alcoholic, gave up drinking for 80 days

Site Title

collage-2016-12-28.jpgIn the approach of the new year, we all have resolutions which we hope to fulfill, and for many, it’s to go sober. As a twenty four year old upon discovering that I had liver disease, I went from drinking 2-3 bottles of wine a day, to abstaining from alcohol entirely and lasted eighty days. To inspire others to do the same for the new year, I will be sharing the incredible, wondrous results.

Absence of pain – For me, this very one primary factor on it’s own made the whole abstinence worthwhile. The pains I chose to endure in my stomach through drinking were chronic. Secondly, the inflammation and pain in my liver completely subsided. About five weeks into my sobriety, I became aware of my liver regenerating, like a light stitch and spasming. The feeling was incomparable. Cherished.I generally felt about five years younger again.

Job – Since…

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Selective Mutism and Shyness – Where to draw the line

Site Title

Selective Mutism is a rare childhood anxiety condition which renders a child unable to speak in select social settings due to fear. They may appear mute at school, but as talkative (or perhaps even sometimes more than) as any other child in their home and environments in which they feel comfortable. The difficulty speaking arises from the expectation perceived for them to do so.

So what really are the main differences between the two?

The key differences in a shy child and a child suffering with Selective Mutism lie in the persistence, avoidance and intensity.

Persistence – A shy child in any given situation would slowly gain confidence and begin to speak appearing to just need a bit of time to warm-up and become used to their surroundings. They would give you perhaps a nod or a half smile and would welcome your support. Selective Mutism sufferers, on the other…

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17 years a Selective Mute and how it felt

hhhhh

“Are you looking forward to starting school, Jessica?” My teacher looked at me. I looked at her. I looked at my mother. She looked at me. I looked at the door.
“Talk then, Jess.” My mother began. “I wouldn’t worry about it. She’ll soon grow out of it; it’s just a phase.” said my teacher. This was the statement which had been said time and time again throughout the initial years of school. It was more than just a phase though, it was Selective Mutism …

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I remember sitting in assembly every Friday morning whilst every child in the hall sat there desperately hoping for their name to be called out for a certificate for good work throughout the week. I’d sit there, throat dry, heart racing, terrified, as anybody would be in a situation where they faced their biggest fear, be it spiders, heights, small spaces, the terror was as real. Please don’t call my name out so I have to go to the front, please don’t. I was useless at maths, but the day before I copied the answers down from the boy sitting next to me on my worksheet because I could not ask for help. I wish I hadn’t now in case I received a certificate for it. My nan would have bought me a new toy for it which I would have been delighted about, yet it was not worth the fear it evoked in me.

I’d sit down during circle time on my knew whilst everybody else crossed their legs because I did not know how to cross my legs. I’d sit there, the only child in the room, without a little carton of milk because I was the only child in the class too fussy with food and drink and did not want to try milk because I was too scared to. I’d, too, be the only child who did not answer the register when her name was called, because my brain would not let me. Nor would I ever raise my hand in the air when I knew the answer to a question. I’d clench my fist round a crayon or pencil because I did not know how to grasp one properly. I did not speak at all.

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I remember spending the whole of break time and lunch times running away from a boy who used to follow me everywhere and wind me up because I was the smallest in the school and did not react to what he did to me. It was only when the silent tears started to run down my face did a teacher approach us and, not ask him to leave me alone, but talk to me. I remember the other two in the year above me as well who would do the same. I cannot express how happy I was when they moved into the bigger playground when they went into the Juniors school the following year.

I made a friend in my class after that. She was the only person in the school I was able to speak to and that was only when we were alone. When we had to read a short story to our teacher so she knew where we were with our reading abilities, my friend was called over and I’d whisper each word of the book into her ear and she would repeat them back to the teacher.

I hated lunch times. I hated the smell of other people’s lunches, especially some of the things they’d have in their sandwiches. I was even sick a few times because I couldn’t stand it that much and my mother’d have to collect me from school. The smell of cheese and onion crisps was putrid to me. I’d have sausage rolls but I’d take the sausage out in the middle, put it back in the tin foil and screw it up in a tight ball so it looked like I had eaten the whole thing because I didn’t like it. I’d never have crisps in my lunch box because they did not smell very plain. Image

Thereafter, I made another friend when I began the Juniors school and we quickly became best friends. I’d speak only when asked a question and never spontaneously because I was not expected to speak when not asked a question. People in my class used to say I made her quiet because she used to be louder before she had started to hang around with me. I used to cry all of the time at school. The cat was sick on my spelling folder once and so I could participate in correcting that week’s spellings one day so I cried for two hours straight and refused to smile even when my teacher said he would give me a sticker if I would.

I remember queuing up for school dinners in the canteen and seeing that I would not have eaten any of the food there, I ran out of the line into the toilets until my friend had finished her lunch. A lunch lady had caught on that I had done this so dragged me back into the canteen, so they chucked the slabbed onto my plate, and panicking, I threw it into the bin and went without.

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I remember starting secondary school. I cried quietly in the line whilst waiting to be called out into my new class because my mother had left and I felt completely alone. I had no friends for days. I was mistaken by a teacher for being foreign because I could not respond. I just put my head down and got on with it.

A bunch of girls from the year above me would bully me whenever they see me, I seemed to have spent most of my school career hiding and running away from people who wanted to bully me. In the girl’s toilets, they’d hit me, spit at me and be verbally abusive not allowing me to leave the toilets. They’d also follow me around the school, even when I’d stand outside the classoom for my next lesson nobody in my class waiting outside too would defend me.

I had OCD tendencies, everything I did had to be spot on. I remember I had filled the first ten or so pages of my English exercise book and thought I could have done my writing a bit neater so I ripped all of the written on pages out, copied everything out again word for word and then with a red pen, shamelessly copied out all of the ticks and comments the teacher had written in what I thought looked like her writing. At home, everything in my room had it’s place and if something was out of place, I would get angry and frustrated to the point of tears until it was rearranged. When I was about four years old, I asked my mother how the letter B was spelt, but because it is is a letter, it cannot be spelt obviously, and I had a terrible temper tantrum where I screamed, cried, kicked and shouted until I was finally convinced that letters of the alphabet cannot be spelt out in words.

I began to stutter in my second year of school. I hated French lessons because the teacher had a knack for picking on me to answer questions. I could as always only speak when asked a question. I remember once she asked me what ‘Sept’ meant and I replied “S … ss .. sss … sssss … ssssss … seven.” I would lose sleep over French lessons.

When I got home from school, I would go out with all of my mates and play football an hang about at the playground. I spoke excessively, shouted and spoke to everybody like I had never known Selective Mutism. It felt fantastic feeling so free. The Summer holidays were incredible. Being able to speak to whoever I wanted, wherever I wanted however loud I wanted is something I would have chosen above anything else in the world. Hide and Seek, Runouts, Bulldog, Kirby, football, ice-cream, late summer nights swinging under the stars expressing myself like I hadn’t a care in the world, my first boyfriend … it was quite different from school I’ll just say.

It was so frustrating and difficult not being able to fit in and have a laugh with the rest of my class. There were some characters in my form class and it was at times difficult to suppress a laugh. I feel I missed out on so many laughs and being able to grow up at school as my classmates did.

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I developed Social Phobia, Agoraphobia, Seasonal Affective Disorder, Depression and Social Anxiety Disorder in my teens as my Selective Mutism had become more entrenched and naturally, growing up, I had become more and more conscious about what those around me thought of me. I remember finding out I had SM when I was about fourteen years old, and could do nothing but keep it to myself.

After having left school, I overcome all of my anxiety issues and I look back on my Selective Mutism as though it was in another life. I like to dedicate my life advocating and helping others with their SM, so that one day, they can look back on it just as I do now.

Purchase my autobiography on my life with Selective Mutism below.

http://www.lulu.com/shop/jessica-thorpe/drifting-in-and-out-of-my-two-worlds/paperback/product-21291048.html

Drifting in and out of my Two Worlds

Drifting in and out of my Two Worlds follows the fascinating journey of a girl with the anxiety disorder, Selective Mutism. Based on a true story and written in the first-hand knowledge of a sufferer who overcome Selective Mutism, it is a unique story which will grip readers from all audiences. The story highlights the stark contrasts between her lives within and without of the school grounds, the nation’s incredible ignorance towards the disorder, how to deal with selective mutism, and the harrowing consequences of it being left untreated. Captivate yourself with the distressing twists of bullying throughout the years, a near-death experience, how she spoke in front of hundreds of people whilst entrenched with the mutism, and how she, being the only person in the knowledge of her disorder, spoke out about it to a teacher. As well as an engaging read, it is therapeutic, most informative and of great interest when understanding the difficulties children are faced with when they have an actual fear of speaking. 

 

Reviews – 

  • By Christina Harrison
    This book was an eye opener for me. My daughter was diagnosed with SM in 3rd grade. I learned so much in this book. It was a very emotional book for me because I had no idea how my daughter feels since she doesn’t open up. The part about not holding the pencil right, that is my daughter! So many similarities, and it’s nice to now know a lot of these things mentioned in this book are linked to SM. I bought multiple copies to share with friends, family, and teachers!
     
  •     
    By Debbie Moore
    This book is a blessing (particularly to parents) if you want to get inside the mind of a selective mutism sufferer. I could not get over how much Jess reminded me of my 8 yr old son when she was his age thanks to the great insights about the condition. Thank you so much for being brave enough to write about your challenging, dramatic experiences, I am amazed at your achievements. You are an inspiration to all selective mutism sufferers. Well done.
  •     
    By roger.close
    I read this book in one evening: couldn’t put it down. Thorpe lays bare what it is really like growing up with selective mutism in the home, at school and in her neighbourhood. Not only does her knowledge make it a “must read” for anyone wanting to learn more about the condition, the way her experiences are so honestly described make it a captivating read. Her descriptions of classmates are great. I particularly enjoyed the role cage football played in her well-being and how she first spoke to a teacher about the disorder. I have a son with selective mutism and this book was a godsend. It helped me think more about the importance of relationships. I suspect that many of Thorpe’s classmates will be surprised that they had such a talented author in their midst, but I believe that all top people have some obstacles to overcome that others may never know existed

 

Book can be purchased in Paperback and ebook below.

Thanks! 

 

Jess x

 

http://www.lulu.com/shop/jessica-thorpe/drifting-in-and-out-of-my-two-worlds/paperbImageack/product-21291048.html

 

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Drifting-out-my-Two-Worlds-ebook/dp/B00ECYH9WW

 

5 most valuable things I’ve learnt after having had Selective Mutism

Family is one of the most essential things in life (especially with a child with SM)

I discovered this more to the fact that as a family whom I lived with we were distant and ‘dysfunctional’ than us having been close. I grew up with my mother and brother (three years my younger who also has SM) and I am sure that my mother’s side of the family had been born with a predisposition to anxiety, as I feel I too was, and taciturnity – having the trait of sometimes being a bit uncommunicative in public at times and not volunteering anything more than necessary. Being gripped with the disabling affects of Selective Mutism especially at school, I felt lonely, isolated and even to an extent unloved (particularly as a teenager) despite my family showing it in every other way other than in a physical or verbal manner. Feeling deprived, it lowered my self- esteem, made me feel unhappy at times and less able to function at school etc than those of others around me. Spending nearly seven hours at school five days a week in resounding silence and having no or few friends and then going home to a family you did not get on with nor hardly ever speak to was quite the loneliest feeling. I had experienced countless times when I had needed somebody to speak to when I was bullied and needed someone to make it stop, when I needed help with my SM, health, when something was wrong as a child and when the family is so distant and it is unnatural to communicate, I had to suffer. I remember once when I was around eleven years old and the lower right of my abdomen was in excruciating pain and I was terrified it might have been Appendicitis I could not even go and tell my mother something as serious as that. Give your child opportunities aplenty to sit down and communicate with you so they are not afraid to tell you anything. Characteristically, SM sufferers have trouble expressing how they feel (something I still have trouble with at 21) if somebody was to ask, I’d reply ‘I don’t know’ ten out of ten times in my childhood and teens. Also give your child plenty of opportunities to spend time and socialise with friends, even though they may be very quiet and withdrawn in other settings, it’s great for them to express their vivacious, talkative side elsewhere. As reflected in many cases of SM (particularly teenage boys), which I have been familiar with, they may stop going out and seeing their friends almost completely and get into the habit of staying at home all the time and keeping themselves to themselves. The family (and closest friends considered as family), in summation, are the main source of help for the SM child. As a family, you should also take the responsibility to educate yourself about SM because there are a lot of people out there willing to help who in a lot of cases will misinterpret it or not understand it – this way your child will receive the most suitable intervention and treatment. It has been proven that those with a supportive family behind them perform better in every way and generally live a ‘happier’ life.

Do not procrastinate. Time will fly by before you know it.

SM sufferers tend to put things off until the very last minute. I was always doing it and to this day can often still be a chronic procrastinator. I would do my homework five minutes quickly before I left for school the day it was due when it was given a week in advance, get dressed for school last moment or tidy up my room last minute. Procrastination is an anxiety related symptom. If a child leaves their homework, it might go straight into their bag with little comment, if they dawdle getting ready for school they might just hope for you to say ‘It’s too late for you to go to school now, you might as well take the day off.’ A way to eradicate this behaviour, which is the only thing which sometimes worked for me, is the ‘Two Minute Rule.’ If something is started quickly and suddenly within two minutes, it is easy to just go for it. Try asking your child to do this if they seem to be experiencing this problem. During anxiety provoking moments when the flight or fight response would erupt, particularly at school, I would shut down and freeze – I’d find it physically difficult to move or get up at all and I suppose that that was in a way another form of procrastination taking the time to move. I’ve wasted so much time of my life leaving everything until later on and doing nothing in the meantime. It can be a difficult habit to break.

Make the most of your education whilst you’re young.

Most clinicians who work with large groups of children with SM say that they find they tend to have above average intelligence and emotional intelligence. They are also said to be introspective – more curious and perceptive of the things going on around them. However, teachers can often have difficulty in evaluating the sufferers academic ability. I was unfortunate enough to have missed out on an entire GCSE qualification even though I had gained high marks in most parts of the course just because I could not take part in the oral part. It felt so unfair and unreasonable after I had put so much work into it and passed the rest of the course when the oral part made up such a small percentage of the final GCSE grade. Left untreated, it can lead to dropping out of education early and discourage the sufferer from undertaking further education. I wish I hadn’t dropped out of sixth form when I had – I had great opportunities going on for me and the thirst to study but let my anxiety once again get the better of me. My brother was an A* student in several subjects but refused to go into his exams and has very few qualifications despite having the mental capacity of an A* student in particular academic subjects.

Take responsibility for yourself.

This may be difficult for a sufferer in many situations, especially when you are unable to ask for things, express yourself and let alone talk. My Selective Mutism went undiagnosed for seventeen years which says it all really about taking responsibility for yourself. Although it took a few years, I had to bring myself to attention and it was the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life. When I told my teacher about my SM I was literally breathing out loud being so nervous, pulse vibrating within my ears, tears about to leak down my face … I still received no further help after that apart from a referral to the school counsellor. Naturally, talking therapy did not help with the Selective Mutism but it helped having somebody to see who cared, acknowledged me and never forced me to speak. We are the only people who can change our lives. If you ask for something, it is often statistically likely that you will get it. Not things like winning the lottery though unfortunately. And if you don’t ask, you will always wonder. The sad truth is that people do not care, rely fundamentally on nobody but yourself.

Do what makes you happy and not care what other people think.

Sometimes it was difficult to evade unhappiness having Selective Mutism and having other anxiety disorders but that did not stop me from doing what I loved when I could. Having Social Phobia, I had a mindset where I worried profusely about what people thought of me and was terrified of looking different from everybody else or out of place but it didn’t always stop me. I was the only girl who played football in my area and people, even some friends, used to laugh about it and even tell me that I shouldn’t and that I couldn’t join in. Football was an escape from the SM, an outlet, especially for speech and made me feel simply ‘free’. Different people tell me all the time that me and my boyfriend should not be together because he is much older than myself, even family are harsh and not accepting but I do not care because it makes me very happy. As Social Phobia sufferers which statistically 90% of all sufferers are said to be, they care hugely about what people think of them and do not want people to know that they are afraid, more than anything else. Sufferers actively avoid activities in which they would usually enjoy because of fears of being criticised, rejected or humiliated. I grew up avoiding some things for this reason and the older I got, the less I really cared about what people thought of me. It does sound to silly, to try to forget what people think of you and to do what you want to do. But for a sufferer, the fear is incredibly crippling and thought-consuming. People do not really care as much as you think, you are just merely a tiny drop in the bucket when putting everything into perspective.  I have always believed that Social Phobia (characterised by the fear of speaking too) is pretty much exactly the same thing as SM. When children speak for the very first time at school or in their most anxiety provoking environment, thereafter, they will only speak when asked a question but remain reluctant to ask questions. I feel this is an important point to stress.

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What parents should do to help their child with Selective Mutism

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Having suffered with Selective Mutism for 17 years and after studying it and sharing my experiences with the world, I feel I have rather extensive knowledge into the nature of this debilitating childhood anxiety disorder. An outcome of writing my autobiography on these experiences, I have been described as ‘The Voice of Selectively Mute Children’ and would like to share my advice based on my experiences which I hope can facilitate the process of your child overcoming Selective Mutism. 

Firstly, owing to such lack of awareness on this condition, it is often unusual for a lot of doctors, speech therapists etc to never have even heard of Selective Mutism. I once asked a speech therapist of 20 years what he understood Selective Mutism to be and he replied, ‘It’s when a child chooses not to speak.’ That really says it all. As parents, you must be responsible for educating yourselves as much as you can on Selective Mutism and advocating it to everyone involved in your child’s life such as their teachers, family, friends etc. Make them understand that they have a genuine fear of speaking and that the way to combat it is by making them feel comfortable and easing the anxiety not by pressuring them or tricking them into speaking which will of course exacerbate it. Some professionals may ‘get it’, but because SM is rather unheard of, others will try to convince you of it being something else. So read and find out about SM as much as you can identifying the symptoms so you can help your child. 

Get professional help for your child. The sooner they are diagnosed and receive treatment, the greater chance they will have overcoming it. A combination of Stimulus Fading, Desensitisation, and perhaps medication is the most recommended method of treatment. Common medications prescribed to help reduce anxiety to allow speaking and interaction include fluoxetine (Prozac) and other selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Get help for your child as soon as possible. Waiting will only reinforce the maladaptive behaviours and will make it more difficult to overcome later.

I feel, that despite having had no help for my SM for 17 years, the thing which helped me the most was belief in myself. I focused so hard on how confident, talkative and bubbly I was away from school and convinced myself that the mute girl at school was NOT me at all and I did not let the SM define me. Naturally, this will apply more to an older child or teenager along with interpersonal skills. 

Next, understand that Selective Mutism is simply based on the ‘expectation’ of speaking. Have you noticed that when your child meets somebody new for the first time or sometimes speaks to a stranger they can talk straight away but will have trouble speaking to someone who has always known them to be mute or hardly speak? The chances are, in the child’s mind, they know that the stranger will be expecting them to speak so there will therefore be little pressure on them to speak. With somebody they know, on the other hand, the child will know that they will not be expecting them to speak and that if they did speak, it would provoke an extravagant reaction so the attempt to speak will be accompanied by anxiety. 90% of children with SM also have Social Phobia and a Social Phobia sufferer’s biggest fear is embarrassing themselves or looking different from others around them. So, if they spoke all of a sudden, can you imagine how distressing that would be for them? This is often why when children start at a new school with nobody they know or have seen before, tend to progress and speak. So ideally, give your child the impression that you are always expecting them to speak. 

Encourage your child to get involved in a sport or occupy themselves with a hobby etc which they enjoy and which will inspire and exhilarate them. I grew up playing football and after spending every school day drowning in silence without uttering a word, I would come home and go straight out and play football with my mates. I was the loudest one out the lot and I picked up tremendous leadership skills from it. It worked wonders for my self-esteem which had been wrecked by the SM at school and my confidence. Whatever it is they enjoy doing, they will eventually become ore advanced at it and it will boost their confidence. 

Show your child that you care and are not concerned about the mutism. I never had a close relationship with my mother so I never had anybody to speak to and had nobody to tell when I was being bullied. Children with SM, moreover, tend to spend a lot of time alone with nobody to talk to at school and also have difficulty expressing themselves so I think it is consequently very important to show your child plenty of love, verbally and physically, so they know that they can speak to you regarding anything. Furthermore, treat them as you would with any other child and do not bring up the SM as though it’s a real problem. 

Ask less yes or no questions. The more you allow your child to communicate non-verbally, the more ingrained the mutism is likely to become. In other respects, I am often asked if it is a good idea to allow a child to communicate with sign language or with picture cards. This is a bad idea because the child will get too accustomed and reliant or non-verbal communication and it will become a replacement for speaking. The child will then think that it is OK to not communicate verbally and the longer this goes on for, the more entrenched their mutism unfortunately would become. 

Although this may only really apply to older sufferers, acceptance is a significant part to overcoming this condition, I feel. If you are in denial about the problem and just can’t face that you have SM, then you may have trouble becoming more confident. Now 21, I wrote an autobiography ( http://www.lulu.com/shop/jessica-thorpe/drifting-in-and-out-of-my-two-worlds/paperback/product-21291048.html ) at 17 about my difficult experiences having grown up with the fear of speaking and by reflecting upon everything in writing, it gave me peace of mind about the debilitating experiences I had endured in the past and I was able to move on from it all. Therefore, I feel it is important for your child to be given the opportunity to express themselves about their SM regarding how they are feeling etc, even if it’s written down or expressed in another way. 

Jessica Thorpe