I was sitting at a telephone. Telephones! I hate telephones. Of all the jobs they could have given me, why - oh, why - did it have to be calling patients to remind them of their appointments. I didn't know what to say, how to say it, or what to do if I got a family member or voicemail. I mean, come on, I even dreaded calling my own friends to chat. Ahhhhhhhhhh! Somehow, I forced myself to make some calls, but it was excruciating. After that day, I was assigned the task of hanging up and filing x-ray films. This was a job that I was well suited for and enjoyed.
I was standing in a U-Haul truck, watching people make voice contacts with an amateur radio. I was a newly licensed ham and eager to learn how to do this myself. After a few hours of observation, refusing to take my turn, I finally sat down at the radio. I was eager to make contacts, but I was also terrified. I sat down and looked around anxiously. The gentleman beside me told me what to say in order to complete a contact exchange and told me that he would log the contact information for me. A few calls came and went and I just sat there. So, the gentleman wrote out the exchange for me, word for word, and told me that he would press the button for me when I was ready to make the contact. That seemed like a good idea. I didn't have to log or even press the PTT button - all I had to do was speak. A few more calls came and went. The other station was running, coming in loud and clear, but I couldn't speak. Finally, with the help of this other ham, we pressed the button and I gave our call sign: "Whiskey Three Echo X-ray Papa." We then made the contact. Whew! Over the next few months, I made a handful of contest contacts, but each one felt as insurmountably challenging as my very first contact. I only succeeded due to the patient support of fellow hams and my own intense determination to actually GOTA (get on the air) as a newly licensed amateur radio operator. I desperately wanted to be a ham radio op, but for some reason, it was really challenging for me.
I was standing idly in the church kitchen. I had volunteered to help at the Ladies' Christmas Tea, but I currently found myself alone with no work to do. I was invited to come upstairs and join the tea. I cautiously climbed the stairs and peeked in the window. The sanctuary was gorgeously decorated, filled with smiling faces, fine dishes, and music. At my side, volunteers encouraged me to go in. The longer I stood there, looking in the window, the more intimidated I became - and the more kindly those beside me encouraged me to join. "There are empty seats," she said. "You can just listen to the conversation and drink tea." Without warning, I broke into tears and sought permission to leave. I couldn't explain myself. Later, I wrote the woman an email apologizing for "not feeling myself," "feeling overwhelmed," and seeming "lost."
I was standing in a corner as the Easter crowds pushed by me after Sunday morning service. I had made it as far as the door, but was met by a wall of people. Feeling trapped, I fell back into the corner at the door and shoved myself flat against the wall. I held my bag before me with both hands and looked very helplessly at my roommate, who stood on the other side of the hall. From her expression, I could tell that she sensed my discomfort. When I got home, I got some food from the kitchen and sat down at the table to eat. Another roommate was there and asked me how I was feeling. I burst into tears and started shaking. She asked if I was sad, but I shook my head. It was just sensory overload.
In the course of group discussions, I rarely have "insight" to contribute. I may think of things later in writing. If I do have something to say, I often hesitate and miss the opportunity to share. In Bible study, I sometimes feel a burning urge to speak and have to fight against an ocean of hesitation to get the thought out. I've wondered if this is the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
Sunday 9pm house meetings with all 5 roommates have ended with me speechless, in tears, and awake for hours afterwards. My roommates are sweet sisters in Christ and they dearly love me, so why do I get so upset? It's late, I'm exhausted from the day, I can't handle news and prayer requests from 5 people's weeks -- I feel like I can't even keep my own head above water. Maybe another day or time would be better?
I dread it when my phone rings or when I see a voicemail light on my phone. My stomach sinks.
Are these types of experiences near approaches to selective mutism? Perhaps not, since it seems like they're more emotional meltdowns rather than simply losing the ability to speak. I don't know much about this, so I'm trying to sort out my experiences in order to compare them with what I've been learning from books and other blogs.
Edit (4/19/2013): I asked my doctor about this and she gave me the following information - "Selective mutism is observed and diagnosed at a very young age and children will not speak at all in certain situations (typically school or public settings). Children I have worked with are literally mute (except when at home or with a parent). What you describe and experience is behavioral responses of anxiety related to social situations (social anxiety). The commonality is the social aspects. In Asperger's it is social anxiety, whereas in selective mutism it is a severe social phobia. It's interesting that children with selective mutism are sometimes misdiagnosed as autistic. You will find there are overlaps of some features in several disorders."