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The Voice Within: Postscript  

They couldn’t believe I was going to take the plunge and talk about my past



he first time I spoke up about my selective mutism was in my last year of seminary. I was chosen to speak on a panel during the overnight trip at the end of the year. I begged and pleaded with the coordinator of the trip to choose another girl, someone who would be more than happy to be a panelist. She wouldn’t hear of it. I was doomed.

The theme was “Overcoming a Nisayon.” I didn’t feel like sharing anything personal with a bunch of people. Speaking in front of a crowd was a challenge of its own and it was taking up all the available space in my brain.

The night before the trip arrived and I still hadn’t a clue what I was going to say at the panel. Then the idea came to me. It was a nisayon for me to speak up, so why not be honest about it? I opened a Word document on my laptop and began typing.

Surprisingly, the page filled up quicker than I expected. I shared it with my parents. They were very excited. They couldn’t believe I was going to take the plunge and talk about my past.

On the night of the panel, I showed it to my close friends. I’m so grateful that I had such wonderful, nonjudgmental, and supportive friends who cheered me on. I could never have done it without them.

My stomach was in knots by the time I sat down at the long table alongside my fellow panelists. They all looked pretty tense, which made me feel slightly better, but it didn’t steady my trembling hands. I shivered as I observed my seminary principal taking her seat in the front of the audience next to my teachers. My friends winked and waved from behind. I returned an anxious grin.

The teacher in charge began calling out the questions. I was glad to be sitting in the middle, so I wouldn’t have to be the first to answer.

“Please share an instance when you felt your intrinsic chains weighing down on you, causing you to act in a certain way.”

Most of the panelists spoke about small issues, like sibling rivalry and overcoming jealousy. Mine was huge compared to their stories.

My turn came. I unfolded my scrunched-up paper and began talking.

I didn’t need to hear the feedback after I had finished to know that my words had made an impact on the audience. Their facial expressions said it all. Eyes were wide. Mouths were hanging open. Eyebrows were raised.

One teacher approached me at the end. “Your speech was so inspiring. I have a student in another school with the same challenge you were describing. It was so enlightening to hear it from your perspective, so I can understand what she’s feeling.”

For days after the overnight trip, I kept receiving positive feedback about it. I didn’t regret for one moment that I had shared my story. My parents’ pride was through the roof.

Hashem brought me my bashert soon after and I was married to the boy of my dreams. I couldn’t be more grateful to the One Above for blessing me with everything I could only ever imagine, and for granting me the gift of speech.

I could never have overcome my selective mutism without the endless support and encouragement of my parents, friends, and teachers.

To those of you who know someone who has selective mutism, they don’t need to be asked a thousand questions they aren’t going to be able to answer. It takes time, resilience, and acceptance. They don’t need overpraising or singling out. They just want to feel normal, whatever “normal” is. Give them breathing space, and if you’re the person who they feel comfortable talking to, let them talk for as long as they need.

To all those who have been in or are going through a similar situation, the path to your future is as clear as day, as you are the only one with the power and choice to break through the obstacles. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. I found my voice, and you can find yours, too!

The end


(Originally featured in Teen Pages, Issue 976)

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