To celebrate the release of A Quiet Kind Of Thunder (Sara Barnard), some bloggers are doing silences and other things to experience the impact selective mutism actually has on a person’s life. On Thursdays, I have work experience at a dog kennels and then agility with my dog in the evening, so it’s not very easy for me to do a silence (yes, I realise I could do it another day, or just note how hard it is to stay silent all day, but since everyone knows me there, it would be a little awkward and I’d rather write this). The story follows Steffi, who has selective mutism, and Rhys, who is deaf. It follows their relationship triumphs and struggles and their life at school, home and in the big, scary world. It’s out today (12th January) and I would recommend it to anyone, you can read my review here: Review.
For me, (not having selective mutism myself), having anxiety has really given me a very brief experience of the kind of emotions the main character, Steffi, feels throughout the book. I have social anxiety and I have good days and bad days. On good days, I’ll smile at you and say hi if we pass on the street. On bad days, I’ll pretend to look at my phone, avoid eye contact or even cross the road to avoid you.
I worry about what people think of me, I worry about what they say and I worry about how I come across to people I do and don’t know. When I have bad days, I don’t speak to people I don’t know at all/very well. Yet, when I don’t speak and people look at me funny, or even if they don’t acknowledge me, I worry that I’ve offended them.
As it’s mentioned in the book, I too worry that when I get off the bus without saying ‘thank you’, the driver thinks I’m rude. Or I worry that people think I’m rude when I wait outside fast food restaurants while friends buy the food, or worse still if I go in with them and they order on my behalf. But that worry can’t motivate me to talk; if anything it makes it a lot harder to talk.
Everyday, those of use lucky enough to be able to talk and hear, speak hundreds of words. We take it for granted; we can thank the bus driver, we can call a friend, we can say hi to someone walking past with a cute puppy, we can order food, we can buy books, we can ask directions or opinions or questions and we can give answers or advice or encouragement. Everyday, we choose how we use this voice. We can be kind, we can help people or we can be cruel and we can bring other people down for no reason other than pleasure.
If you had a limit on your oral wordcount, if you had days you couldn’t say anything, would you use your voice for good things? Or would you insist on proving your point, forcing people to see things your way and essentially just hurting people?
To be silent encourages thinking. Thoughts which can’t be spoken are difficult and complicated since often, those thoughts would help explain a situation “no, I’m not rude, I’m just extremely shy”, or they’d save a friendship “I’m not ignoring you, I’m just stressed and can’t talk at the moment”. Next time someone doesn’t thank you for holding a door open and instead glues their eye to the floor, or you see someone ordering food for someone else, think about how they might be feeling.
Your words matter, even if they’re not said out loud. Use them for good, because you’re lucky to be able to communicate.