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In elementary school my teachers, year after year, wrote basically the same note on my report card, "Kathryn is a good student, but needs to learn to keep socializing to recess." I eventually learned to keep my thoughts to myself when the teacher was talking, but it didn't stop those thoughts from flooding out the rest of the time. Most of middle school and high school after school activities were basically just hanging out together and talking in different places. In a college art class I was nicknamed "Chatty Kathy" because I liked to talk, sing and narrate while I worked. Most of my close friends and I bonded over hours and days of deep, long conversations.
These days when I work from home I might say a total hundred words over the whole day—to my dog, to people in the supermarket, and even to friends when we hang out.
For a while, that bothered me. I'd meet a friend and say maybe a dozen sentences over the course of three or four hours. I'd sit on the couch and listen to my partner describe their day or some drama in the video game world for hours. I would have a few minutes home alone and would put on music, thinking I could sing along, that singing was cathartic and good. And, I just couldn't muster the energy to sing.
The thing is, people were still asking me to talk. Friends would ask how I was doing, my partner asked me about my day. I just couldn't answer with more than a sentence or two. Things happened. I just, couldn't put them into words anymore. It was like the emotional distance that has settled into me, has rendered me mute too.
I'm not sure when the change happened. Somewhere between 2011 and 2014, I just—stopped talking. I hadn't lost the ability. I could still manage the small talk that customer service required, I could still throw a sentence or two into a conversation at a party or group. Sometimes on good days I could sing along with the radio for a verse or two.
While it has been worst with spoken things, this mutism isn't just when I'm hanging out though. Oddly enough, online discourse is a thing that I genuinely enjoy, and always have. Back in my early college days, I fell into forums and could easily spend two or three hours a night arguing and debating everything from religion to linguistics to the import of scientific advancement.
But, over the last several years I've stopped being able to manage more than a comment or two. Every week there is at least one comment that gets typed out completely, only to be deleted before I post it. I've unfollowed people that I find myself wanting to contradict, and I've blocked people for not dropping a conversation when I need it dropped.
And, I can think of factors that have effected it, but nothing that would excuse this total, absolute silence. It isn't like I like it. I feel suffocated, suppressed, isolated. But, I can't figure out why I just, stopped. Since I first realized this, I've spent hours trying to talk more, forcing myself to confide and speak up and write things, but the oppressive feeling continues, and if I don't make an active, exhausting effort, I slip right back into that land of silence.
Maybe it has to do with the loss of the friend who was best about this. When she and I had a falling out, I lost contact with the person who knew me best, who I could trust to value and respect my every opinion, even if she didn't agree.
Maybe it has to do with social anxiety. I've always had generalized anxiety, and I've always been a little socially anxious, but the last couple of years have seen my anxiety fly off the charts. Where before panic attacks were rare, these days I have them every couple of days.
Maybe it is tied to my actual selective mutism—and somehow the emotional tie that keeps me from baring my soul is keeping me from baring even a piece of my soul now.
Maybe it has to do with my waning certainty in the rightness of any idea I have, and maybe it has to do with my identity becoming tied up into my worldview and maybe it has to do with discourse becoming less polite and academic.
Maybe it is all of these things or none of these things, honestly, I don't know if it matters.
All I know is that if I don't start finding ways to talk, it feels like I am going to lose my voice entirely.
Read more of my meltdown.
Last Week's (Pt. 12)