I read this book as research for a novel I’m expecting to write next Easter, in which one of the two main characters is a selective mute. What I didn’t expect was that the book would be relevant to me in a personal way. I usually steer a balanced path when researching such things (for instance, shell shock in Tommy Catkins), so that I have on the one hand a grounding in the subject, but also plenty of freedom to imagine what my character will be like.
Selective mutism is a condition sourced in sensitivity and anxiety. A child with selective mutism is unable because of high levels of anxiety to speak in all but the safest circumstances. So, a selective mute can usually speak at home despite not being able to speak in any public or social circumstance.
Although I’ve never had this condition, as an HSP (highly sensitive person) I immediately grasped the reasons for its appearance. HSP is not the easiest thing to live with, for all its benefits in certain areas, and it is still much misunderstood. For example, I find it difficult to forgive people who have lied to me, especially if that person was somebody I previously respected, or liked. I do not wish to be lied to.
Add anxiety to an HSP and you have a recipe for selective mutism in a child, or even, on occasion, in an adult.
This book is an honest and moving read. Kathryn Harper went through her teenage years and into her twenties suffering because of the consequences of her undiagnosed anxiety. She struggled with alcohol and with relationships. But she pulled through, and when she began to understand that her childhood traumas with selective mutism were rooted in anxiety she made the courageous decision to face herself, so that she could try to move on.
The final sections of the book are a testament to her courage, and to her realisation that she had to stop fitting in with other people’s expectations, and try to be herself. Now she has a new relationship with what she calls the most common word used to describe her: quiet. Quiet is good. Quiet is often better than good. Quiet people should be celebrated, supported, cherished. But all too often we are not. Too often we are mocked or belittled. Kathryn Harper’s quietness was extreme when she was a child, but she has renegotiated her relationship with quietness to her advantage, and to the advantage of people with selective mutism, who will enormously benefit from her remarkable book.