Talking is hard.
Talking can be hard for anybody even the most outgoing person from public speaking to awkward small talk with an old friend, from asking a question in class to meeting someone new.
As a society, we tend to define each other’s personalities by how outgoing or how shy we are. Everyone falls somewhere on the spectrum. Some drifting in the talkative direction while others lean more towards listening. We are so incredibly judgmental as we tend to think the guy who babbles on and on with these interesting stories has more friends than the girl who sits and writes in a notebook or that the one who answers all the questions in class is smarter than the one who resides quietly in the back of the room.
I began kindergarten nervous for a new school just like every other kid. My parents walked me to the bus stop in the morning as my pigtails bounced, my new sneakers glistened, and my tiny hand gripped my Cinderella lunchbox. I don’t remember too much of kindergarten, but I do remember not being able to tell the lunch lady that I wanted chocolate milk. I remember wetting my pants because I neglected to ask my teacher to use the bathroom. I remember getting pulled out of class to see a speech therapist because something was wrong.
It’s not that I didn’t want to talk. I really did. I felt as if I had a ton to say, but I couldn’t. I physically couldn’t get my voice to work like it just didn’t exist.
Contrary to popular belief, I wasn’t some anti-social child with a lack of personality or interests. I had a lot of friends. I laughed at their jokes and played soccer with them at recess. I took dance classes and danced on a stage in front of hundreds of strangers. I picked up drawing because that’s how I was able to communicate what I wanted.
I participated, but I observed. I took in everything around me from the conversations between others to all the little cracks in the wall. I learned about human nature. I would tell the stories I wanted to tell to others to myself in my own head and then draw them. I found a way to express myself without making sounds.
My voice may have been dialed down to mute, but my thoughts were blasting at full volume racing with ideas and my imagination running wild with fantasies and dreams.
I dealt with the occasional snarky comments from other kids. They would mimic me in ways suggesting I had some sort of mental issue or that I was stupid. The sporadic bullying didn’t faze me though.
Eventually, with the some help, I overcame this fear of my own voice. I just began speaking as if I was never keeping my mouth shut in the first place. All the other kid’s forgot, we all grew up, and now we’re dealing with other things.
I carry on conversations with strangers. I introduce myself to new people. I look up when I walk into a room. I have given oral presentations and have spoken into a microphone in front of an audience. I try to remember how far I have come when social situations affect me now.
Even though it’s been years and years since my struggle with selective mutism ended, the social anxiety is still there and probably always will be. Meeting someone new is terrifying, group activities make my heart feel like it’s going to beat out of my chest, and having too many social plans causes me an abnormal amount of stress.
I used to be ashamed of my struggles, but I when I think about where these struggles have taken me, I couldn’t be happier with how things turned out. Drawing turned into something I became passionate about. The passion for drawing sprouted other passions like poetry and music because I found solace in the self-expression of other people. I became a full-blown nerd and I couldn’t be prouder. Creativity became a skill. I made and kept friends who looker deeper than the “shyness”. I learned to be vulnerable with a select few people who I felt comfortable and safe with.
I learned that every voice matters no matter how small.
Writing is easier for me. My thoughts are more coherent when I can see them on paper because my voice can’t quiver and I don’t have to worry about speaking up, but even this type of vulnerability is difficult. I never thought I would ever share this story to anyone, let alone all of cyber space, but here I am.
To all those people who get called “quiet,” embrace it because it’s okay. You don’t have to be outgoing to have a voice, but remember that your voice is important. If you speak words with substance, others WILL listen. Your voice and your thoughts are beautiful so share them. It will be an absolute privilege to hear. People will throw labels on you because humans can be terrible creatures sometimes, but wear them proudly because regardless of what anyone else says, we are oh, so loud.