‘I saw fear in my son’s eyes. My voice was imprisoned in my body. I couldn’t do it on my own.’: Woman and son diagnosed with selective mutism, ‘Help is out there’

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“‘How can I have had an anxiety disorder all of my life and not even know it?’ This is what I thought to myself when I realized I had selective mutism, an anxiety disorder where individuals are unable to speak, due to fear, in certain situations. I still remember the day I found out what selective mutism was. It was a life-changing moment in so many ways!

Courtesy of Sumaira Zaheer

I was sitting at the therapist’s office with my son. It was his first appointment with the therapist that day. I was grateful for my son’s teacher, as she had recognized he may have anxiety and advised me to schedule an appointment for him to see a therapist. I didn’t hesitate or question my son’s teacher, as I saw signs of fear in my son’s eyes too, and this pained me. I wanted to help him in any way I could, but I knew I couldn’t do it on my own.

The therapist had me fill out a form that went over questions about my son’s behaviors and habits. She took a look at the completed form and stated the results indicated my son had selective mutism. Before this, I had never heard of selective mutism. She started to tell me more about this anxiety disorder and the effects of it. The more the therapist went over the details of selective mutism, the more I was certain this is exactly what I had since childhood.

Initially, I was shocked to find out I had lived with an anxiety disorder for years, and no one had picked up on this. I had no behavioral issues and did well in school, so this was the main reason why my parents and teachers didn’t think I had an issue. I actually didn’t think I did either, but now looking back, I can say what I went through was not normal. It all made sense now!

Courtesy of Sumaira Zaheer

Selective mutism was the reason why I had trouble speaking up in front of my teachers, peers, certain relatives, and even my parents. It wasn’t because I was too ‘shy’ or that I didn’t know how to speak. It was because I had this immense fear hold me back, for even when I did want to express myself verbally, I could not. Selective mutism was the reason why I couldn’t reach out for help, held back my views, and couldn’t stand up for myself when I needed to. It was selective mutism that made my heart beat fast, my chest feel heavy, my throat feel dry and constricted when I was put in a position to speak up.

Courtesy of Sumaira Zaheer

All of my life, I felt like I was trapped, and I couldn’t escape. My voice was imprisoned in my body, and there was no way for it to get out for others to hear when it needed to be heard. Due to this imprisonment, I had no choice but to keep my feelings to myself. Whenever I felt hurt and in pain, I suffered on my own. Always known as that shy and awkward girl who didn’t talk, I became accustomed to this way of life.

Selective mutism has impacted a large part of my life, to the point where I could not reply to a very basic question. For instance, it was the first day of fourth grade, and I was sitting at my desk. Just before this, the other students and I were unpacking our school supplies in the center of the classroom and bringing them to our desks. The teacher held a package of lined paper in his hands and asked the class who the package had belonged to. I had realized it was mine, and yet I could not even raise my hand to indicate it belonged to me. ‘Hmmm, that’s odd. It has to belong to someone in this classroom,’ my teacher said after no one claimed the package. My heart started beating faster, and my throat was dry and felt constricted. ‘How will I go through the school year without any paper?’ I thought to myself, ‘Just say it’s yours! Say something before it’s too late!’ And yet, I couldn’t speak up. I could not say the words my mind was telling me to say. I could not even raise my hand. I just sat there staring at the lined paper in my teacher’s hands until he placed the package on his desk. All I remember during that time, and during other similar situations, is feeling scared and nervous. I remember knowing what to say, but being afraid to say anything at all. It was almost like my body would freeze, and I would enter into some sort of paralysis.

Courtesy of Sumaira Zaheer

Needless to say, there were many struggles I had faced with having selective mutism. What I am forever grateful for is the incredible family members and friends I did feel comfortable talking to. They were the reason I did have happiness and laughter in my life. Although I was unable to be completely vulnerable in front of them, and I still held back my feelings from them, I still was able to feel safe enough to be myself around them to a certain degree.

Courtesy of Sumaira Zaheer

Since gaining more information and knowledge about selective mutism, I have worked hard to overcome this anxiety disorder. Even though I have come a long way, I still feel triggered from time to time, and these are the days I have to be gentle with myself. I have to remind myself that, for decades, I had lived with no voice. I became a passive person over time, letting people walk all over me. Moreover, I found it extremely difficult to be vulnerable in front of others and to express my feelings in front of loved ones. For years, I let fear take over me, and I had become comfortable with this, it was the only way of life I knew.

Courtesy of Sumaira Zaheer

My advice for anyone who has selective mutism is to take it day by day. Each day is a new day to gain more knowledge about selective mutism and to apply what you learn. One step will lead to another when it comes to conquering this. You can do this, each day at a time! Moreover, going to therapy will help tremendously. I was grateful for my son’s therapist. She worked with him to overcome his fears, and now he is doing great! Help is out there for you, please don’t be afraid to reach out and seek it. You do not have to live in fear for the rest of your life, it’s never too late to get help.”

Courtesy of Sumaira Zaheer

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Saumaira Zaheer from Edmonton, Alberta. You can follow their journey on Instagram and Facebook. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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