“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 …
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.