Growing up with extreme social anxiety & selective mutism

My life began under a mental condition known as Asperger’s Syndrome. Because of this, most of my childhood involved having to deal with a very complicated social life. I couldn’t adapt to the ways of the other children. I was different.

My biggest problem was that I was a selective mute. Within the confines of my home was the only place I would talk. At school however, I didn’t utter a single word. This lasted for nearly nine years, and the challenge to overcome it was near impossible.

It began in Kindergarten. I didn’t talk much to the people around me. I would whisper in my teacher’s ear to avoid being heard by the other children, because somehow I felt more comfortable that way. At first, it was thought that I was just shy, but in fact, I was displaying examples of autistic behaviour. It was soon afterwards that I was diagnosed with Aspergers. It’s a condition which affects us mostly when we are young, but today, I call it a gift.

In my year after Kindergarten, I was actually talking a little bit more, as there were only four kids in our classroom, so I felt more comfortable in that environment. At the end of that year, I went for a holiday in Greece, and I was talking there with all my relatives, but I didn’t feel comfortable speaking any Greek, even though I could speak the language, and it’s probably due to extreme lack of confidence, which is yet another trait of autism.

After I returned home from Greece, that was when I suddenly stopped talking to everyone at school. I never truly understood why it happened. It was from this moment that I would spend the next 9 years not talking to a single soul at school. I had to be transferred to a school for children with Autism for the remainder of my second year. In third grade, I settled into my final primary school, with the company of an aid. I didn’t talk at all, but at the time, I actually didn’t care; I managed to enjoy school without talking. I was unaware of what I was missing out on. I was bullied a fair bit, but I always seemed to be able to get over it easily. I became used to it, and couldn’t care less. Over time, I was developing a lot better, and I actually made a close friend named Chris, who remains my best friend today. We continue to hang out and help each other. He himself has a form of ADHD, but mentally, he is quite talented. To this day, I’ve learnt more from him than anyone else.

After I finished Primary School, I went to Greece again. This time, I wasn’t talking to my relatives at all. My selective mutism seemed to have become worse. Then after returning, I settled into High School for the first time. I still wasn’t talking. In eighth grade, I was maturing up, and soon started to realise the reality of the situation. I realised that at some point, I was going to have to start talking. Although I hit no point of major depression, this is where I started having the desire to talk. I felt that if I didn’t, there wouldn’t be much of a future for me. So it was something I needed to achieve, and guess what? It was nearly impossible.

By my tenth year of high school, I was fifteen years old. I had made a promise to my dad that I would talk by this age. I knew I had to get serious and pursue it, and so I started seeking help from a psychologist. He helped me gain confidence in little steps at a time in order for me to be able to start talking. After enough counselling and when the time was right, he asked me to approach my school Year Advisers and try to say “Hi,” to them.

So, a few weeks prior to the end of the year, I faced this challenge. It was a lunch time, and I walked up the stairs and encountered one of my Year Advisers. The challenge began. She was pushing me to talk, as she knew of the psychologists plan for me. I knew this was when I had to get it out, otherwise, it would never happen. The perfect opportunity was now. I gathered up all my strength and confidence, and I could actually feel it. I knew that I had to not walk away from this, and as soon as I found that tiny ounce of confidence inside me, I grabbed and held on to it, and pushed myself to talk. It was very hard, and I was very nervous. Eventually, when time decided, I just acted without thinking too much more, and I was able to holler the word “Hi”. My body felt like it was struck by lightning. And I knew that was it. From then on, I knew I was going to be able to say “Hi” much easier the next time. The first word, was indeed the hardest. Soon after, I repeated the procedure with other teachers, and each time thereafter it proved to become much easier, almost instant.

On the day of the formal, I spoke to the School Counsellor and actually got involved into a conversation, rather than just saying “Hi”. It was the next step up, and it heightened my confidence. I didn’t expect to talk at the school formal – I had not yet spoken to any students. But later that day, I came home thinking about it. I arrived there with a group of friends, and we seated ourselves at the table. The party started soon after and we all got up to dance. As I got up, one of the guys that used to bully me all the time, named Jake, came up to me and made fun of me in front of his date, telling her that I didn’t speak. Boy, they were in for a big surprise. His date stood there, and asked me to say “Hi”. That was when it happened. I had enough confidence to say “Hi,” to her, which resulted in a very surprised reaction from Jake, which caused a chain reaction as he spread the news around the entire formal. The girl wasn’t too surprised, as she didn’t know me at all.

Yep. Sure enough, students were coming all around me to hear me talk as Jake continued to spread the news. It spread very quickly amongst everyone, and people were gathering all around our table, asking me to talk to them, as none of them have ever heard my voice. It was a truly memorable experience for me.

Towards the end of the party, it was time for the awards presentation, with awards such as, best looking boy, best looking girl, etc. I was one who got an award for “Never Shuts Up”. It was a sarcastic remark, in which people knew I didn’t talk, they used to tell me to shut up. But it was always in good taste, not intended to offend, and something I always took as a good joke. It was time for me to act though. I stood up, went onto the stage and took my award. As I did, people sitting at the tables who had no idea I spoke yet, sarcastically persuaded me to give a speech. I don’t think they ever expected me to grab the microphone, and tell them to shut up. I did that without any lack of confidence, and it had a great result, where everyone cheered for me and I felt very happy. It was a very memorable experience that I will never forget. We all partied for the rest of the night, and had a lot of fun dancing. I realised how much more fun it was when I could interact with others verbally. I would never allow myself to go back to a mute. Very importantly, I accomplished this challenge because I believed in myself, and the confidence continues to grow.

Ever since, I have only been on further quests to discover myself. I have been on a life-long mission to travel and discover the world in all its glory. I have gone on many great adventures, and as I have travelled, I’ve learnt more and more things about myself that I never knew were a part of me. I hope you’ve enjoyed my story, and I hope it gives you some inspiration, and an idea of what it’s like to live my kind of life. I hope that this story will reach others who are struggling with the same issues. Do what I did, and believe in yourself. Believe in yourself, and you can accomplish anything. There is something to learn from every experience. This is my story, and this is what I have to offer. Take from it what you can.

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