Stray Thoughts in 2017: Being a Person, Community, Unexpected Good, and Loss, Like a Peculiar Fruit, Like Something Burning

Hey, we’re officially two months into 2017! So far, it’s been a mixed bag. A lot of great. A lot of no good, very bad nights and days, with the kind of trauma plot twists that are so horrific that all you can do is laugh. And a lot of unexpected good in between.

I thought in this post, I’d just mention a few things on my mind lately. Because there’s no one huge topic I want to write about right now – just a couple competing issues orbiting me like moons…

Just for some context, 2017 is a big-ass year for me. I’m now working 3 jobs (it sounds like a lot, even if it’s only 6.5-10 hours a week, and all very chill). I’m involved in leadership and community on campus like always. And I’m also taking the enormous step of trying to recover – from situational mutism, from depression, from Christianity, of trying to turn on my heel away from everything that has shackled me for so long and just peace on out into a better life. One that is both hell and heaven to make.

Been thinking lately about how to be a person. It’s probably no surprise that with everything I’m doing lately, I burned straight out two and a half weeks in. Right now, I couldn’t tell ya what kind of place I’m in, but it’s not where I was. I’m realizing that I don’t know how to relax, have fun, and casually exist. So my life right now includes a lot of me saying “nah” to commitments I would’ve jumped on before. “Fuck it” is the power phrase of the day.

Been thinking lately about belonging to a communityFor quite a few nights, I was really messed up (we’re talking suicidal), freaked out that the communities I’m in now would turn out to be toxic just like my church was. That I’d lose this home too – the first home I’ve had since I lost my church, everyone I loved and trusted, and the person I was. And that I’d just keep going through life finding and waking up to and losing homes. 

And then I realized that I’m thinking about people and communities all wrong. Can you guess who the culprit is? (That’s right. It’s Christian indoctrination. Gold star.) I guess if you grow up being taught that people are divided into groups of goodness, joy, love, and safety vs. wickedness, blindness, deceit, and danger, well. Let’s just say I never explicitly realized that humans are not whole good or bad.

But they are flawed – sometimes inexcusably, sometimes not. And that’s up to you. You decide who you want to stick around, who you want to stay the fuck away from, who you enjoy for the time being. Just because someone turns out to have fucked up, or to do something wrong or that you don’t agree with, doesn’t mean you have to shun and condemn them. All this time I thought I did. But instead – you trust your heart, but keep your eyes and ears open to the person in question, to other people’s experiences with that person, and to your own blind spots. Love wisely. 

Also been thinking about unexpected goodnessThe first week back in college was amazing. Recovery felt like it was going great. Then came the second and third weeks, and just… WOW. No. They were horrible on my mental health. But the Monday of this week, it was unexpectedly so easy to be a person and to work toward recovery, it felt like. And quite a few people care about me, it’s been revealed to me, in ways I didn’t expect, from places I didn’t expect. And I’m taking note of that now. I’m lucky and I’m glad.

And I’m thinking about how what I’m going through now is survivableI know that to other people it might sound crazy, but in the end, it’s chill. Just today, for example, I found out that the church that I have to go to in order to keep my family thinking I’m still a Christian? Yeah, it was founded by a former cult leader. And that’s just the most recent plot development with this situation. But my response was to just laugh. Honestly still is.

Thinking, last of all, about loss. So strange, going through hell yet knowing that you would not exist like you do now if you hadn’t. I lost someone, and I miss him in many ways, but they are littler and fewer and easier to breathe through as time goes on. I know that his sudden leaving was something I had to survive for months and months, that left a mark which shaped the body of the spirit I have today.

And I will always miss him and wish he hadn’t left and hope by some chance he’ll come back to work here, but I also have learned in the raw agony of losing him how to love and let go in a dozen different times and ways, to do life while knowing he’s out there doing life too, and that hopefully he’s happy-healthy-safe-secure as he does it —

And one day, maybe as we do life in separate parts of this planet, our paths will cross and we will do a little of our lives together. I know he’d like that. I didn’t make what he said up. I won’t forget it. And when that time comes, I’ll come look him up.

Strange, how the loss of another person will morph and ebb in you as time goes on, how it changes shape and taste and shrinks and rubs away at the edges, like a peculiar fruit, like something burning.

Situational Mutism: All the Things I Never Got to Say

I’m Max, and I have situational mutism.

I always thought it was just me. It was just in my head. Just a personality flaw. I was just shy… I was just too quiet… it was just out of my control.

As long as I can remember, I’ve had trouble speaking. To classmates. To teachers. To professors. To waiters. To strangers. To friends. Even to my parents.

It’s not something I can fully explain, even now at age 19… but sometimes when I want to speak, when I need to speak, I just can’t.

Imagine writer’s block for your vocal chords. You’ve got a conversation you want to join or start and you want to speak. You have the words right there, swimming in your head. You know what you want to say. You open your mouth. You try to speak…

But you can’t.

And you don’t even really know why. You try to talk, try to move your vocal chords, but your throat won’t let your voice out. You could try for hours and it wouldn’t work. You’ve tried before. You’ll try again.

I’ve lived like this for a long time. Far longer than I’m willing to stomach. These “mute attacks” rule my life. I couldn’t speak to my classmates, my teachers, the school nurse, other kids I didn’t know. It took massive efforts to break the silence, and now I’m way better at speaking than I used to be, but muteness still prevents me from so much conversation I desperately want to have.

Of course, I wasn’t mute all the time. When I was around people I was comfortable with, like my brother, my parents, or quiet friends at school, I could talk freely… and when I was most relaxed, I spoke my fair share! I screamed, yelled, laughed, annoyed the hell out of my parents, joked, conspired – everything kids are infamous for.

But being mute always got the fattest slice of my time. I was known as the really quiet girl, and I’ve been living under the weight of that label for a long time. It’s so lonely, so frustrating, so depressing. Imagine being an extrovert who goes mute (it’s… wild. Trust me.) People lose interest… and they treat you like an object.

Both kids and adults seem to think that a person without a voice is a person undeserving of respect. They mock you to your face, and when you don’t laugh they mock some more; they get angry and punish you; they ignore you. They think you have no personality, no opinions, no intelligence, nothing worth listening to.

Dead wrong. 

But how would they ever know that? They can’t hear that joke you cracked, that point you made, that tidbit of information you had to offer. They can’t hear you desperately hoping you’ll finally break the silence this time, repeating the dog-eared words you wanna say over and over, but failing time and time again to get them out.

They don’t know that deep down, you believe that you’re a radiant, funny, playful, affectionate, dimensional person trapped in the labyrinth of your vocal chords. You are the only person who’ll believe in you, because you’re the only person who knows. But the years go on and you keep being that boring quiet kid… how can you prove who you really are when you can’t say a word?

I don’t know how to begin to describe how trapped, stupid, useless, cowardly, boring, bored, frustrated, enraged, isolated, etc. ad infinitum living like this has made me feel. See, I never knew that this “mute switch” was something that other people suffered from too. Until a week ago, I thought it was just me. 

Because a week ago, I realized that all of the above – the silence that’s swallowed me whole, trapped me in my head, crippled my voice – isn’t normal. I realized that my quietness is a pattern. I realized that even though I’ve made huge strides in overcoming my mutism, I have a long long way to go. I realized that this is not living, and if I want to start, I have to overcome this. So I did what any self-respecting person with a question and a keyboard would do. I Googled it.

Selective mutism – sometimes known as situational mutism – is a childhood anxiety disorder in which a child is physically unable to speak in certain social settings because the expectation to speak makes them so anxious – 90% of children with SM also have social anxiety. It’s caused by genetic predisposition, an inhibited personality, childhood loss, even seemingly nothing at all, and it’s most often diagnosed between the ages of 3 and 8. The earlier you spot it, the better chance you have at beating it, because it’s not something you just “grow out of” yourself.

My first thought: oh my God! I’m not crazy! IT’S NOT JUST ME! I’m not a freak! It’s not all my fault! There’s a name for this!

My second thought: holy shit, I’ve got a LOT OF WORK to do.

I have a few thoughts bouncing around my head about how religion and my situational mutism intersect… and I’m sure I’ll share ’em soon. But for now, I thought I’d make this rambly post just to celebrate, get out 19 years of silence for the first time out of my system, and spread some awareness! Maybe there’s someone else out there whose AAH! AHA! moment is waiting for them. If so, here it is 🙂

If you wanna learn more, check out Amber Colon’s blog (she’s an advocate, making a documentary, & recovered from SM), iSpeak (by actual people with SM), and SMIRA (lots of good resources for parents & teachers).

PS: I know this post is not the most concise or eloquent… but my whole life, I’ve been held back by wanting to make things perfect, being afraid of how people will respond. I refuse to do that today. My hands have got a lot of slack to pick up! 🙂

Photo credit: Pedro Ribeiro Simões, Flickr ]