Selective Mutism in What I Couldn’t Tell You
What I Couldn’t Tell You was published in May 2016, and the story centres around a 15 year old girl called Tessie, who is selectively mute.
The chances are you will not have heard of Selective Mutism, so I wanted to put some words down about it here.
“Selective Mutism (SM) is an anxiety disorder that prevents children speaking in certain situations such as at school or in public.” SMiRA (Selective Mutism Information and Research Association)
If someone has SM it doesn’t mean they don’t have language or that they are stubborn or wilful and are choosing not to speak. It’s that the anxiety that they feel around speaking in a public place is so acute that however much they want to speak, however desperate they might be to say something, they truly can’t.
“When I cannot see words curling like rings of smoke round me I am in darkness—I am nothing.” (Virginia Woolf, The Waves)
I first heard about SM when I listened to Sheri Pitman talking on the radio with her mother about her past experiences of suffering with SM. Sheri didn’t speak outside of her home for 9 years, and yet at home she would talk freely, just like any other member of the family. Home was a safe space. Outside of her home was not.
Hearing Sheri made me want to find out more about SM and my research led me to understand the condition more, and write What I Couldn’t Tell You. Here is an exclusive sneak peek from the book around what Tessie says about her SM when she describes it in the book:
The front door has to be PROPER SHUT for me to speak in my house. That’s just the way it is for me. The way it’s almost always been, since I was 5 years old. And no, I don’t know what started it and no one else knows either. I was shy. I was always a bit shy. I didn’t really talk much. I don’t think anyone even noticed that at first. But then I just stopped talking when I wasn’t at home, and when I was at home I only talked to the people I know really well – like my family and really close family friends. And by the time everyone noticed there was nothing I could do. If anyone talked to me, asked me to speak, I couldn’t. In fact it made it worse if people did. Way worse. I mean if you’re scared of spiders and I give you a spider, it’s not going to make you better, is it? And it’s the same with me and talking. If you try and talk to me, or ask me a question, you’re going to make it worse because all you’re doing is pushing me to try and do something I really can’t do. I’m selectively mute. Selective Mutism. That’s what they call it. Or SM, for short. Some people think I don’t have SM. They just think I’m really rude or really stubborn. They think I am choosing not to speak. And I guess that is how it looks – to them. But they don’t know how I feel when I’m outside my house. And the nightmare is, I can’t really tell them.
What I Couldn’t Tell You was published on 1 May 2016.
You can read the first two of Tessie’s chapters here
When love turns to jealousy, when jealousy turns to rage, when rage turns to destruction…
Laura was head over heels in love with Joe. But now Laura lies in a coma and Joe has gone missing. Was he the one who attacked her?
Laura’s sister Tessie is selectively mute. She can’t talk but she can listen. And as people tell her their secrets, she thinks she’s getting close to understanding what happened on that fateful night.
You can find out more about Selective Mutism by clicking on the link to SMiRA’s website above.