I read Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday (#SoCS) almost every week, but I’m not often inspired to write something for the topic. Today though, the theme is “silence/silent” and I was immediately reminded of something. As a teen, I would often go silent or “locked up inside”. I couldn’t speak. This would last for minutes to sometimes an hour. It was related to stress. I would often fall silent when talking to my tutor. He was a kind man, but he acted more like a counselor than a teacher and I couldn’t cope with his questions.
At one point, this tutor had decided he could no longer help me and he was looking for a psychologist to refer me to. He said this shrink would have to be very intelligent, because so was I. He added that he felt I was manipulating with my silence. Well I wasn’t. I was scared.
I learned when I was around seventeen about selective mutism. This is a condition that’s related to social anxiety, in which children (usually preschoolers or a little older) can speak, but won’t in certain situations, such as at school. The diagnosis is not to be made in a person who has autism, unless it is very clear that the symptoms are not merely due to autism. I was at the time not diagnosed with autism, though I was self-diagnosed. I joined support groups for parents of kids with selective mutism anyway. That’s where I learned the expression “locked up inside”.
I rarely have nonverbal episodes like this now, but I still do on occasion. Usually in this situation, a younger part is trying to come forward. I can often hear chatter in my head, but it somehow won’t cross my lips.
This situation is different from going “blank” inside, when I can still function but seem not to have any thoughts in my mind, or am detached from them. These moments usually are a lot briefer, lasting from seconds to minutes. They are also related to dissociation, like “zoning out” or something.
The tutor who witnessed most of my nonverbal episodes, indeed eventually referred me to a psychologist with the blindness rehabilitation center. Said psychologist had been educated in the Rogerian school, which is not really suited if the client is nonverbal for the most part, as I was at the time, at leasst in session. I continued to experience these nonverbal episodes for years when seeking mental health help. Now I am thankful I can sometimes talk openly in session. Not always or often, but sometimes.
It helps that my nurse practitioner asks the right questions. He phoned me yesterday for a check-in. He asked directly about possible suicidal thoughts, so I was able to be honest and say I had them, but not as badly as I’d expected given the latest in my long-term care application. I’m mostly glad I have him.