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What You May Not Know About That 'Rude' Person Who Didn't Say 'Thank You'

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I have always known exactly when I should say please or thank you. The problem with selective mutism is it can make you unable to use manners, despite knowing exactly when you should be using them. Throughout my life, instead of saying thank you, I instead smile; this has always been my way of saying thank you when I am unable to use my voice. Likewise, if I want say something such as “yes please” to someone, I will nod and smile as my way of saying please. Some people do accept these gestures as a please or thank you, but for whatever reason many people do not accept them. I have been subjected to being called rude more times than I could ever count.

I am not a rude person. I am very appreciative when someone does something for me, and the fact that I am not always able to thank the person and tell them how much I appreciate what they’ve done for me is extremely heartbreaking. Due to my high anxiety about communicating with people, even writing a thank-you note down to someone is sometimes impossible to do. There are also times when I experience such extreme anxiety around someone that communicating in any way, even smiling, is impossible.

If you do something for me and I give you a blank stare, I am not being rude. I am also not being rude if I seem to be giving you some sort of unappreciative look; this is just my frustration coming out. I may not even look you in the eye; eye contact can be difficult someone with selective mutism. My eyes have a tendency to wander around the place but never directly look at someone due to the extreme anxiety I am experiencing. If I do experience anxiety this severe around you, I want you to know it is nothing personal. I cannot choose who I can and can’t communicate with; my anxiety is the decider of that. I am also not behaving like that because I am ungrateful. In fact I am very grateful for whatever you have done for me.

Wherever possible, I will try my best to use manners. If there is a way I feel able to use them, I will make a point to do so; if I don’t, it means I really feel unable to do it. Sometimes, this can mean asking someone who I am able to communicate with to tell the person I want to thank for me. Of course it’s not the same as doing it myself, but it does help give me peace of mind that they won’t think I’m just being rude. I am extremely thankful for the technology we have in this day and age, as it means even if I am unable to thank the person at the time, I can sometimes send them a message later on. Of course this does depend on the situation because for example, I can’t exactly send a message to a stranger.

One of the problems I have to deal with is when I actually am able to speak and I say thank you to someone but they don’t hear me. There have been times when, for example, I have gotten off a bus and said thank you to the driver, only to have a sarcastic, “Thank you!” shouted back at me. This at first confused me, especially when I had only just started to be able to talk in public. I couldn’t understand why this was happening; I had said thank you! It’s only when I’ve mentioned it to friends that I’ve been with at the time and they’ve told me I do tend to talk pretty quietly that I’ve realized the driver just simply didn’t hear me.

Volume is a big issue for me. I often think I am talking at a reasonable volume for the other person to hear me, but really they can barely hear a word I am saying. One reason for this is because when someone with selective mutism is completely unable to talk, their throat muscles tense up and they can’t get a single word to come out. With me, there are times when I am able to physically talk, but only just; this means my throat muscles aren’t too tense to not allow any words to come out, but it does mean the words may come out very quietly and even a bit more high pitched than what my usual voice is. This can create a massive misunderstanding because I don’t actually realize how quiet I am talking, so when I do say thank you to someone, I know I have said it, but the other person hasn’t heard me, which makes them presume I haven’t and that I am just being rude.

Although these days I am able to talk in most places in public, I still have good days and bad days. My anxiety can also switch from being low to high in seconds. For example, if I go into a shop to buy something, I may not be able to say anything at all to the cashier, or I may be able to manage a little bit of small talk. However, since my anxiety can switch from being low to high in seconds, I can go from suddenly being able to talk perfectly fine, to not being able to talk at all. Of course since the very last thing you say before leaving is thank you, it then makes me unable to say thank you, so I have to go with the smile. This can create a lot of confusion since I was able to talk perfectly fine to them seconds before. They know I am able to talk so they will expect a thank you before I leave, but when I smile instead of saying thank you, it can make a lot of people think I am being rude.

Another issue I have is the fact that if I am to smile at someone as a way of saying thank you, they have to be looking at me. Sometimes, for example, if I am in a shop, the cashier will be looking to see who the next customer is while listening out for me to say thank you, instead of looking at me. This means there are times when I do have to walk away without ever being able to thank them in any way whatsoever. Believe me, I feel just as rude as they believe I am when I am unable to thank them. It is one of the things on the never-ending list of all the frustrations you may deal with when you live with selective mutism.

So the next time someone smiles instead of saying the words, “thank you,” please don’t presume they’re being rude. They could, like me, have an invisible disability. When you look at me from the outside, you wouldn’t be able to tell I have any kind of a disability. This is one of the many reasons I am working to spread the awareness of selective mutism because I know it is not the fault of anyone else when they believe my silence is my way of being rude; they just don’t know what selective mutism is.

When someone doesn’t say thank you, please keep an open mind. They could have selective mutism. And that smile or very quiet thank you they gave you? That could’ve taken every last piece of strength they had.

Follow this journey on Leanne’s Selective Mutism Awareness Month Blogs.

Image via Thinkstock.

Originally published: October 7, 2016
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