This post was written by Hazel, who bravely sent it to me to shed light on a rare condition called selective mutism. There are so many mental health conditions out there, and I think it’s so important to understand that although these are ‘invisible illnesses’, anyone could have them. You can find Hazel on Instagram.
Imagine being back in school, in a group of your classmates. Now imagine that every time you want to speak, you go over it hundreds of times in your head. Imagine worrying about what you’re about to say every time you speak. Imagine knowing that you want to speak making you physically shake and feel sick, your heart beat so fast you can hear it, and the conversation goes on without you. As you’ve nearly got the courage to speak, you realise the conversation has moved on and it’s too late. You realise you’ve not spoken that day at school, maybe even that week. Every lesson you sit there terrified the teacher will pick on you. Even saying yes to the register is something you think about constantly, not being able to concentrate until it’s over. No one wants to sit with you because you don’t speak – you’re at best ‘boring’ and at worst ‘weird’. You’re too scared to eat in front of others and leave your packed lunch untouched, even though your stomach is rumbling, and wolfing it down once you’re alone on the bus home. That was my experience for my 5 years at secondary school, every single day. It’s not that I refused to speak; I literally couldn’t. And it was only more recently that I learnt it was an actual, rare psychiatric condition – Selective Mutism.
I was always a quiet child, and teachers always claimed I’d ‘grow out of it’. Now, anyone with social anxiety knows that isn’t true. As I got older the severity lessened to the point I would talk to a small group of friends and started to go to parties etc by sixth form. But I’d still stand outside classrooms feeling sick if I had to walk in late, knowing people would look at me. I’d still sometimes be too scared to go and sit with my friends, thinking they didn’t like me or I wasn’t fun enough. Any group conversation I had I’d still rehearse; my voice would go shaky and I’d feel a massive adrenaline rush afterwards. So much so that I’d often be so deep in my thoughts I’d lose track of the conversation entirely. Social anxiety is arguably a very selfish mental illness as in you think about yourself a lot – how you act, feel, are perceived by others. I often cancel plans last minute because I’ve spent hours crying about having to go outside.
Moving to university was something I knew I had to do – to remove myself from my very safe feeling home environment and try to conquer my fears and finally make proper friends. I went out a lot and met a lot of new people. I loved my housemates. I started feeling like I was ‘over it’. This came crashing down in my second year when I felt unable to go to lectures, spent hours alone in my room crying and even began to cut my arm with a razor in a bid to shock myself out of particularly bad panic attacks. Pain was the only way to get out of my own head. I claimed this was a burn, a cut, and being clumsy no one ever questioned it. I’d go out and drink far too much, feeling too awkward unless I was blackout drunk. I ended up in hospital three times, and it could have been much, much worse. The embarrassment combined with the depressant effect of alcohol just made my anxiety worse, which was such a vicious cycle. I spent hours and hours crying to my boyfriend at the time, hating the way I looked, and the slightest thing could set me off. I wouldn’t meet his friends or go out when it’s be more people than just us. Feeling so self-conscious and low I knew I had to get help or lose him.
Having CBT and starting to take anti-anxiety medication was how I began to fight social anxiety, after suffering for over 10 years. I still sometimes shut down and want to be alone – being around groups of people or even close friends/housemates can be exhausting. But getting hep was the best thing I ever did, and I’m not sure I’d be about to graduate without it. I always saw people who turned to medication as weak, which is a stigma which needs to end. Mental health is something we need to speak about, and as the first time I’ve shared this to anyone, this is me saying that I refuse to feel embarrassed about my mental health.
Thanks so much to Hazel for sending this in! Sending all my love xx