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Teaching myself to talk

Marion, the main character in Because You Loved Me struggles with Selective Mutism, using her ‘Mute Busters’ to try to manage the social anxiety. I didn’t use Mute Busters to cope with Selective Mutism, but like Marion, I did find my own way to overcome this life-limiting condition, which until adulthood, I’d simply thought was just me being ‘weird’. 

In my earliest memories, I was afraid to speak and unsure how to connect with people. Unlike Marion, I grew up in a loving family and the mutism wasn’t trauma related, but there is a genetic element. I had a great-uncle who was mute throughout his adult life, and my sensory processing difficulties are strongly linked to Selective Mutism. 

During my early school years I rarely spoke, so had no friends. I tried to avoid drawing any attention to myself, and social situations could be incredibly difficult. However, when a new girl moved onto my street, becoming best friends with her transformed my childhood. With my friend, I was confident, sometimes loud and often mischievous –it’s called Selective Mutism, because in certain situations, we can be the loudest people in the room. 

But throughout school, basic things like answering my name in the register left me nauseous. I would leave a shop rather than have to address the shopkeeper. I developed a small group of teenage friends with whom I could be myself, but dropped a grade in two G.C.S.E.s because my pen ran out in the exams, and I couldn’t put my hand up and ask for another one!

After becoming a mum in my early 20s, things started to improve, although the fears were still there. Health professionals and new friends thought I was depressed as I seemed so quiet. I often came across as standoffish, grumpy or uninterested until people got to know me. Basic tasks like getting the attention of a waiter or phoning a plumber caused significant stress. Going to the hairdresser was a nightmare. If I saw someone I knew in the street I would hide, unable to cope with saying hello. 

The road out of selective mutism was a long slog – these days, I generally cope well, but am not sure it will ever truly go away. The central factor in overcoming the fear was my Christian faith, believing that I am loved as I am and created as ‘me’ for a purpose. I use positive affirmations, repeating phrases to deal with the fear and shame – “I don’t have to be ashamed of who I am”.  I practiced self-kindness: “I said something stupid, but that’s ok. I don’t have to be perfect”. I also had a few sessions of voice therapy. 

I set myself the challenge to do something scary every day – make a phone call or say hello to another mum in the playground. And gradually, I started to change. Eventually I made a decision never to say no to anything simply because I felt afraid. 

I began public speaking in my thirties, and to my surprise found not only did I enjoy it, I was actually quite good! I’ve spoken at conferences, on the radio and even in a prison. It took me longer to be comfortable chatting to people I don’t know, but I’ve reached the point now where I barely think about it. If you are friendly to people, they are usually friendly back! 

Another breakthrough was teaching myself to smile. I was amazed at the positive reactions I got. 

Now in my forties, life is unrecognisable from how it used to be. I’ve learned that change is possible, even if that did start with learning to accept myself as I was. I absolutely loved helping Marion discover that in Because You Loved Me. I hope you enjoy her journey, just as much!

Because You Loved Me is out now, and you can pick up your copy here: 🇬🇧 🇺🇸

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