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When Your Anxiety Disorder Is a Disorder of Silence

Wispy little flames dance around my lungs. Smoke laced inside my chest like innocent decorations. Yet the embellishments are celebrating that I didn’t speak today.

My silence is a fire. Raging. Burning my insides. The fire itself is silent. You don’t hear the crackling cacophony as my unspoken words are engulfed. You don’t see the sparks as each second of silence is praised. You don’t know. My battle with silence is a silent battle. A war I wish to share with you but I’m not allowed to. It’s not a question of whether I want to speak. It’s not a refusal to speak. Rather, the burning flames wrap themselves so tight around my vocal chords. Squeezing, strangling. Taut. So tight that I can scarcely breathe. The words, they get trapped. My feelings, they too get trapped. I’m trapped within myself. I’m a prisoner in my own body.

The conflagration; ignited by the words I don’t speak. Fueled by the words I do. It rages on. It rages on with self-animosity and anxiety.

But at least it keeps my heart warm.

Regardless of the fact that my silence presents my personality as cold and vulgar, my heart stays warm. I, of all people, know that the most important things are known without being spoken. I’ve learned how smiles speak thousands of compassionate words. Understood wherever you go, known in every language. The words that do escape through my lips, they have meaning. Full to the brim with emotion. I don’t speak nothingness. My heart is fireproof. My words come from that very place. Undamaged and spoken with a warm love. Maybe that’s why I smile when you tell me not to play with matches.

As a selective mutism survivor, it can be extremely easy to give up hope. How do you receive help when you can’t even use the words to ask for it? Living in a dark silence, where the days last forever with an overwhelming numbness that is impossible to express. Unable to distinguish the difference between day and night. Some people live by the motto, “a problem shared is a problem halved.” I long to experience that. To be able to walk into a room and be able to speak the words that whizz around my sad, anxious mind.

Being a teenager with selective mutism, I am very aware of myself. I like to believe that I am aware of others too. I’ve tried nonverbal therapies but my social anxiety disorder makes me believe that the nonverbal activities are embarrassing. Despite the choking heat of the fire, it freezes me to the very spot. I can’t move, I can’t speak, I can’t breathe. I’m stuck. But you don’t see. Internalizing and privatizing my worries and concerns, I’ve been captured by intrusive thoughts. Controlled by notions that are not my own. It can sometimes send me spiraling. Fear that my actions will cause harm to others. But only through my silent battles have I become the autonomous, strong soldier that I am now.

I’ve taught myself a very valuable lesson, or rather, the silent inferno has. I don’t expect you to understand what goes on in my head, for I don’t discern it myself either. I don’t expect anything from people. Now, that isn’t a reflection of what I think of people, more willingly, I don’t want people to put themselves down because I expected too much. I do not wish for people to be hurt at my own expense. As a selectively mute person, there is a perpetual feeling that I’ve left an atmosphere of dissatisfaction wherever I leave silence instead of words. Consequently, I feel a constant burden to exceed in every other area other than speaking. I’m unable to complete such a “simple” task and therefore I feel an intense obligation to please others at any other given point in time. I don’t think I’ve ever felt frustration and failure like that which selective mutism has presented me. But I anticipate that this internal purgatory has helped to shape me into a better person.

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Getty image via KatarzynaBialasiewicz