When I get really upset, I can’t speak. Literally, I can’t speak. I am sure this is immensely frustrating for my husband – God bless him – but I don’t know if I can ever explain just how horrible it is for me, too.

It can start with a stupid argument or minor annoyance that just builds and builds inside me until I’m really upset – it can be either the mad or sad variety of upset. It can start out so logically, where there’s an identifiable trigger. But like an explosive meltdown – which may or may not have an irrational (or even discernible) cause – I can get completely trapped in my own head and unable to speak. It’s called selective mutism. [More accurately, the preferred term is now situational mutism.]

It’s not that I don’t want to say anything. I just can’t. I will have dozens of thoughts running through my head, things I want to say, words that want to pour out of me, but I physically can’t open my mouth. Or if I do manage to get my mouth open, I can’t make my voice work. No sound comes out. It’s sort of terrifying, and so it upsets me further, and so it gets harder and harder to just say something. The tears are often pouring out of me as this is happening. Sometimes I wonder if this is what it’s like to have a nonspeaking variety of autism. Do nonspeaking people have this burning need to talk, to tell someone what is going on inside their heads, but they are just unable to do so? How incredibly maddening. I can’t bear it when it rears its head for 10 minutes.

Perhaps the strangest thing is what breaks me out of it: permission. [Update: This is no longer accurate as of ~2020.]

The permission isn’t literal. But when I’m stuck in a silence loop, I need my husband to ask me a question that I can answer. It can’t be complex, like, “What’s going on?” or “How are you feeling?” The words won’t come out. I’ve tried. I’ve hurt my throat trying to talk before my brain said, “Go.” But if he can ask me a simple yes or no question, like, “Are you ready to talk?” That’s what I need.

Of course, it doesn’t always work. I can’t be stuck too deep in the loop. If he tries to draw me out before I’m ready, it doesn’t happen. Sometimes, he tries to talk to me, realizes it isn’t going to happen…and then just lies there next to me as I’m curled up in the fetal position in bed for the next 20 or 30 minutes before he tries again. Sometimes, this is exactly what I need. Sometimes, I’m desperate after five minutes for him to say something again, and completely unable to do anything about it.

I’m sure this sounds ridiculous to many people. I mean, how hard can it be to say a few words to your husband, the man you love more than anyone else in the world?

It can be infinitely hard.

Sometimes, as I’m ruminating about whatever set me off in the first place, I have all of those thoughts in my head alongside something like this:

“I just have to get it out, get it out. Say something. Say something, dammit. Oh God. Talk to me, please talk to me. If you talk to me, I can tell you, tell you what’s in my head. I can’t talk, I can’t say anything, please say something to me. I’m going crazy, this is crazy, Oh my God. Oh God. Gotta say something. Gotta talk. Want to scream. I could scream forever, but I can’t even open my mouth. Oh please, say something, let me talk. Talk to me, why won’t you talk to me? Please, just ask me a question. Help me. Please help me…”

I find myself blaming him for not giving me an opening to talk again, but it’s not his fault. When he does try, he’s sometimes “rewarded” with me burying my face in the pillow, covering my head with the blanket, or renewed sobs when I’d started to settle down. How is he to know? It’s not his fault.

How can I be physically unable to do something one moment, but able to do so the next, if and only if my husband talks to me first? I don’t know. I don’t understand. It doesn’t make sense. And I hate it.

This is one of the reasons I write so much. Speaking…it doesn’t come easily to me. When I have something I need to talk to my husband about, it’s infinitely easier for me to write it down, although I hope that’s not too impersonal for him…

Read my Big Fat Medical Update for more details.

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