Selectively mute? Nope

Going Mute for the first time

The first time I remember going mute was in 2006. I was twenty four years old. I said my destination to the bus driver, bounced off an internal wall of the bus – the divider separating the driver from the passengers, and sat down.

Telling the bus driver my destination had been like trying to squeeze past a cow in a cattle crush. Basically, I was overwhelmed. You may hear and read other Aspies say “I’m in overwhealm.”

A lady gets on after me and asks how to get into Brisbane City. Building up my nerve to help her out, I got sick of opening and shutting my mouth like a fish and scribbled a short note to her. She gives me an odd look. I generate feeling compassionate and accepting,  for her and myself, and sit back in my chair. It was actually relaxing to not have to verbalise. I figure that I didn’t have to talk to anyone that day if I didn’t want. I relaxed, naturally this time, a set of concerns now taken care of themselves.
The next time I saw my psychiatrist, she told me I was “Selectively Mute”. I disagreed. It didn’t feel like a choice. Or it is was, it was a choice between walking across a busy main road with non stop cars, and walking through a burnt house declared unsafe by the fire department. The former is dangerous immediately, the latter is potentially dangerous with each step.

brown chairs inside a room
Photo by Wendelin Jacober on

I was telling two friends the other day why I was stuttering sometimes when I talked to them that day. I have a thought storm in my head. I simultaneously feel foggy, with dull, inexplicable electrical currents, and non-stop racing thoughts. “Somewhere”, I told them, “out the back are the words I want to say”. To be able to talk “I have to somehow scatter the clouds of this thought-storm enough to let the words through”.

Then the next challenge is my physical reactions. There may seem to be a solid block of air in my throat. My tounge won’t obey orders, and the thought storm will gather and roll again and again. No matter how much emotional intelligence, CBT, or willpower I gather.


Saying personal information is intense

How much I stutter can also be influenced by shame. “How hard is it to answer this!” I’d internally rage when asked my address by a taxi driver. I say my address and they drive. “Why do I have to force it?!” Hand rubbing my head, shoulders rocking gently back and forth, as the thought storm visits almost weekly in my taxi home from the shops. Still, they start driving away as I stutter, expecting me to tell them where to go. I gesture towards the street to my left, a series of “heh, he, j, ju, sss, sss, sss’s coming out of my mouth.

I manage to demand they use a GPS, panicking now, as they continue driving, apparently with no idea where to go. Finally, a kilometre down the road, they put my address in the GPS.
I usually look out of my window. I want to be polite and make small talk, try to ask how their day is and finally get the coherent words out on my third round of stuttering.
Once we’ve turned into my street, my house soon in sight, my throat unconciously unclenches and the fog and racing thoughts starts clearing. Not enough though. Now short term memory issues join the party.

I forget the steps one by one

I recite two or three things to do:

1. Pay the driver

2. Get all my shopping out of the boot, and

3. Take all shopping upstairs in two trips.

I forget them one by one as I think of the next step – in an effort to hold them all in my memory. I have to take my actions one step at a time.

Oh crap, the driver just got out of the car.

I grab my purse for safekeeping and start unloading my stuff from the boot. My hand misses a number of shopping bag handles as I pile them on my wrist. I pause. “Come on darl” I say out loud, and concentrate more on what I’m doing. One thing at a time.

Get my shopping somewhere safe.

I go back to the boot to check. Good, there’s nothing left. He’s not going to drive away with anything. I walk back to my shopping. What to do next? ‘Shopping inside’. I gather bags up from the ground again and start walking up my driveway. I’ll have to take two trips. Ok. Lets do it.

“Hi, are you going to pay?” the driver asks.

Disappointment and shame rush over me. I bloody did it again. I forgot what I needed to do. I twist and apologise profusely. I set my bags down and pay the fare. As I’m typing in my pin, I sense him staring at me with a quizzical look on his face. The money goes through and the driver’s receipt prints. Tiredness washes over me as I wonder, again “Who the hell forgets to pay a cabbie?”. ‘Me’, my thoughts say, ‘Me and people like me’.

The shame plus compassion for myself mix. I try to get on with my day, like “normal” people do.