Updated on April 24, 2016
Despite suffering from social anxiety and Selective Mutism the majority of my life, I appeared much the typical child to everyone except my family, coaches, and teachers, who saw my struggle firsthand. Ashamed of my friendless existence and years of “not talking,” I kept my story deeply hidden within and firmly resolved that it would die with me.
But apparently, Someone had other plans… Two years ago, through a series of events I still have no explanation for, I slowly began to share parts of my story. Even more surprising, I continued to share my deepest thoughts and struggles until they eventually seeped onto the page before you and permeated each and every blog post.
And then an interesting thing happened—the more I shared, the less I felt the shame of my past…and the more I experienced freedom. I became so comfortable sharing that I didn’t think twice about doing so—it had become second nature to me. When others would comment that my writing “was an inspiration” to them, I didn’t know how to respond as it had become my new normal.
I didn’t know how to respond that is, until this past week, when I attended a Selective Mutism conference. The keynote speaker remarked that, in sharing the intricate details of my story, I was not only offering encouragement to sufferers and their families, but also to those who had since overcome their mutism, yet who perhaps still felt shame from their past. Those who (in an attempt to “move on”) had neglected to process the years of silence and paralyzing anxiety, had also failed to realize the beauty of their stories.
That comment broke my heart. See, I believe there is immense power in sharing your story. Wanna know why?
Consider the following five reasons as a love letter from me to you:
1. BUILD COMMUNITY:
Friendships are formed based on mutual interests, values, beliefs, and even struggles. Yes, struggles.
In fact, entire movements have been birthed because one person was brave enough to speak out and share their shame…the thing they erroneously believed defined them. And instead of being rejected, hundreds of thousands of people joined them and said, “me too.”
Whether it’s through a “real life” encounter or via the internet, even a stranger can help you step out of the darkness you currently occupy and guide you into the light…in fact, a stranger may even become a friend in the process. Don’t count people out—the world does that too much already. People care. Just be honest…be authentic.
Vulnerability begets vulnerability.
Personally, when someone is vulnerable with me and shares a part of their story, I’m not revolted, but rather, enamored and inspired to share a part of mine (even if it’s a messy part).
2. HELP OTHERS HELP YOU:
We all long to be “seen”…we all long for someone to walk alongside us.
However, when we feel anxious or unworthy, we tend to isolate…at least I do. But see, it’s extremely unhealthy to isolate. Very rarely does isolation lead to a boost in self-esteem.
How can we feel loved if we continually remove ourselves from the opportunity to cultivate love?
While there have been those who, over the past 24 years, have made it their mission to refuse to allow me to succumb to my self-destructive tendencies (and for them I am eternally grateful), they are the exception. I have found that most people in this me generation tend to subscribe to the “to each his [or her] own” philosophy and are more than content, without at least a gentle nudge to leave it from time-to-time, to remain in a world of their own.
Most people won’t stick around if you don’t make an effort to let them know they would be a welcome addition to your world.
It may be true that people can NEVER save you, but if you let them in, they can support you and give a new outlook on an old problem. People can periodically check-in and offer words of encouragement. Even those who don’t share your specific struggles have most likely shared your feelings of doubt, insecurity, and fear, and their successful journey can help pave the way for your own. Don’t believe me? Go ahead and give it a try.
Remember, people have the power to change people.
3. BREAK THE STIGMA:
Despite affecting seven out of 1,000 children, Selective Mutism is still a little-known disorder. I believe that by documenting my story and increasing awareness, I can change lives. Changing lives…that’s pretty powerful stuff…even more powerful than the hold fear has of me.
Consider the people you most admire—how did they get to where they are? Sorry to break it to you, but it wasn’t the result of their Fairy Godmother sprinkling pixie dust on them. Rather, it was probably through hard work, perseverance, and the courage to step out and take risks…perhaps even the risk of revealing their own hidden struggles.
Maybe you’re afraid to share your story because you’re not sure how it will be received. That’s okay, take small steps. Like I said, I was afraid to share my story for 22 years. And when I finally did, I didn’t start out by saying, “hey, I was so afraid of other people that even when I was in college and ‘cured,’ I barely left my room.” Share what you’re comfortable with.
Just say something. Begin a dialogue. Before you know it, you’ll be smashing that stigma like it’s a piñata filled with sugary goodness.
4. CHANGE SOMEONE’S LIFE:
You were given your story for a Reason (to be clear, you may not necessarily know that reason now…or ever).
Your story has the potential to reach others who are where you once were…still falling prey to the same demons that, in the past, held you captive. Sharing openly and honestly can encourage and help others realize that (1) they are not alone, (2) they are special, loved, and “worth it” (even when their feelings point to the contrary), and (3) they too can banish the lies they’ve bought into for oh so many years.
There is power in your story.
My story is one of pain and conflict, but it is also one of Mercy and Grace as I learned to find my voice. My story is a testimony that hope is real and I am here for a Reason. It can be a confirmation to others that they too are here for a Reason.
Your story can also be such a testimony.
5. FACILITATE HEALING:
For most of my life, I prided myself on the fact that no one really knew me. I was the enigma…the one who stood apart from everyone else. But after a year working closely with a small group of individuals (I’ll have to tell you about that experience sometime), I learned a very important lesson:
the truth is always much more interesting than the mystery
(even if that truth includes having too many animal shoes to count and a preference for rainbow sprinkles on most everything).
Your anxiety, your depression, your “____________” [fill in the blank], doesn’t make you unique or special. In fact, it only makes you human. And ALL humans are broken.
As long as you hold on to your brokenness and allow it to fester and grow, it still has control over you. It’s still the thing that will continually leave you feeling unlovable. But honestly, you ARE LOVEABLE. The more you share, the more you’ll realize this.
The more you share, the more control you’ll have over the thing that once controlled you.
* * * * * *
Whether you choose to write an op-ed, have a one-on-one conversation, create a vlog, make a cartoon strip, or really, engage in any other off-the-wall expression, please, I beg you…
…share your story.
You’re story is beautiful—from the mountains, to the valleys, to the bumpy roads in-between. It’s the journey that makes it all worthwhile.
You matter. Your voice needs to be heard.