The Girl Who Wouldn’t Speak

[Fear]

My parents once said of me that I was a very outgoing, chatty little girl. (This must have been before the world came crashing in.) I’ve heard tell of a particular outing to an amusement park where I proceeded to go from table to table, speaking with all of the fine folks. However, that carefree version of me would be short lived.

I can remember being somewhat timid, yet also curiously excited, the day that my mom took me to our local elementary school for registration.  Being that the lady we spoke with seemed very nice, I was glad that she’d be my teacher.  At least, this is what I believed. To my dismay, this is not how the story would go; I wouldn’t receive this nice lady teacher.  Instead, I was surprised to learn that a rather tall and frightening man would be my teacher instead.  Why was he so frightening to me? Well, I don’t know for certain; I was only five at the time.  Perhaps, I have a natural sense about people or maybe my fear was exaggerated by the fact that I was so young and this was all new to me.  Maybe the sudden surprise didn’t help.  My parents weren’t convinced that this would go over too well, however, being that I did have a tendency to become timid with men. They were right.

Here’s the thing: when you’re so young and everything is brand new to you, I think it’s fairly normal to have some hesitation at the uncertainty of the unknown.  From my own experience, how the adult in this situation handles this uneasy child can have a very far reaching effect. My kindergarten teacher handled me all wrong.  If he’d shown me kindness and patience, instead of punishment as his preferred method of persuasion, perhaps I’d have felt safe enough to come out of my shell far sooner.

This is what did happen: Instead of allowing me that time and space to realize that nothing bad was going to happen to me, his approach drove me to fear social situations. Though I don’t recall a whole lot about this first year of school, I do remember his solution to my unwillingness to sing during music time.  What he said to me was this: if I wasn’t going to sing along with the rest of the class, I’d have to stay seated at my desk while everyone else gathered around in a circle on the floor to sing.  It wasn’t as if I was being a bad kid; I was simply shy.  Punishment wasn’t the right solution. Singling me out only made me feel more insecure.

Due to that fear, I wasn’t prepared to sing with the rest of the class, and I did end up having to stay seated at my desk. My walls went up and I wasn’t about to let this scary man into my world.  I’ve never taken well to being pressured–with the exception of God  or Andrew giving me that nudge–but then, I do trust both of them.  In the end, however, if I do anything, it’s because I’ve made a deliberate choice to do so. Drawing attention to me, and then excluding me, wasn’t the way to go, and in my opinion now, it wasn’t an appropriate course of action.

Again, I don’t recall much of what happened that first year, but I never did feel comfortable around this particular teacher.  Though my memories are a bit fragmented, I can remember another time when I was made to sit at my desk alone while the rest of the kids went outside to play. What I did to deserve this, I’m not sure now, but I was so afraid to speak that I wasn’t even able to ask to use the washroom when I needed to. (I’m sure you can figure out what happened because of this.)

My memory of this particular event is a bit fuzzy, but I do know that I made it out of the classroom in wet pants without being discovered.  However, I have no memory of what I did when I got home or whether my parents knew what had happened that day.  I do, however, remember leaving the classroom terrified that there would be trouble when one of the adults at the school realized what had happened.  I don’t recall any repercussions. Being that I’m someone who learns, I can guarantee you that my solution would have been to make sure I used the washroom before class and during recess.  Of course, the more logical answer would have been to speak up, but I did have a five-year old’s brain.  Instead, I’m sure I did what I always do when faced with a problem:  I find a solution that works for me.

Needless to say, this incident didn’t encourage me to speak. In fact, I didn’t speak during class for the rest of that year, and then some—not a word to my teacher at least.  I did, however, have a friend or two that I’d speak with away from the classroom, but as soon as I’d get near class or I’d see my teacher, I’d again go dead silent.  My mom even says that I’d be chatting away with her as she walked me to school, but when we’d reach the schoolyard, that chattiness would immediately stop.

My first few years of miserable-looking school pictures reflected my struggle.  Because picture taking only drew more attention to me, I hated having them taken.  It didn’t help anything that I had an uncle who found this amusing and took to harassing me with his own camera. Eventually, I did warm up to picture taking, and the beginnings of a smile appeared in one of my school photographs.  As with everything, my first attempts may be small and not always effective, but I  do keep working at it, as I continue moving forward.

I think most of my relatives found my smileless school photographs humorous or amusing, but whenever I’ve viewed the beat-down look on my face (especially in the worst of those photographs), it’s only made me feel protective of that kid.  If anything good came from these years though, it was that it taught me to be merciful and made me protective of others; I know what it’s like to feel badgered; I’ve felt that fear and anxiety; I also know what it’s like to believe that it’s you who’s the oddity.

Kindergarten turned into grade 1, and though I did finally receive a nice lady teacher, I’d become very apprehensive, particularly with adults. (especially men) Things didn’t improve for me and teachers continued to make their mistakes.  My hesitation even carried over into my home life; though I’d once been unafraid of our Landlord’s daughter Maryann, I became quiet around her also. I suppose you could say I developed trust issues.

Grading my reading became problematic, so one of my teachers requested that my mom record me reading, for this purpose.  This makes a lot of sense, but unfortunately, this wasn’t my teachers only motive.  Her bright idea was that if others could hear my voice, I wouldn’t be so afraid to speak.  She played that recording for the entire classroom. I can remember feeling the heat rise around my face as I blushed with embarrassment. No, that’s putting it too mildly. I felt mortified. (This was a new and unpleasant sensation to me.) It’s no wonder I began to hate having eyes on me.   I don’t blame my mom at all; she had no idea that my teacher would pull a stunt like that.

My education wasn’t limited to my ABC’s and 123’s.  I’d learned more than once what it felt like to be in a humiliating situation. I also quickly learned that I didn’t enjoy being in the spotlight for this very reason.  Receiving attention wasn’t a positive experience for me, and sadly, not speaking was only proving to attract more attention.

Eventually, I longed to speak.  Part of me felt that it would be so much easier to voice things than it was to constantly stay silent.  I wanted to be a part of things, but I just didn’t have the courage to open my mouth; my fear of being thrown into that hideous spotlight caused me too much anxiety.  I’m sure the fear of the unknown factored in there as well; what would people think and say if I were to suddenly open my mouth and speak?  I’d be stuck in this vicious cycle of silence for many years.

My first elementary school went from kindergarten to grade two, so by grade three I’d moved on to a whole new school.  Unfortunately, new scenarios had understandably become a cause for trauma. Things still didn’t improve.

At some point, my parents were advised to take me to a Psychiatrist. I’m not exactly sure how throwing me into another uncomfortable situation was supposed to fix my social anxiety and stage fright.  Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against counseling and therapists–that is, when it’s purpose is understood by the patient.  However, I was just a kid.  Psychiatry wasn’t something that I knew anything about. I had no idea who this person was, only that this was another effort to get me to speak. Taking me to see some stranger was definitely not the solution! What I can remember of this event is sitting in some unfamiliar room with my parents and this stranger who wanted me to draw a picture for him.  This wasn’t going to happen!  In fact, I couldn’t even look at this man; I was paralyzed by fear.  Even a frightened animal doesn’t respond well when it’s cornered.

Teachers tried everything to get me to speak, short of leaving me alone.  On another occasion, some harebrained adult (I’ll be fair—some possibly well meaning, harebrained adult) pulled me out of the classroom one day and lead me to a very small closet-like room. If that wasn’t creepy and unsettling enough, he brought out a puppet and proceeded to use the puppet to coax me to speak.  Is it any wonder I wouldn’t speak? I’ve been told that this puppet was a character that I enjoyed.  After this incident I can guarantee you that I no longer enjoyed that particular character anymore. (Way to go adults!)

Kids aren’t stupid; in fact, they can even catch on quite quickly.  I knew exactly what Mr. Puppetman was trying to do.  I was also well aware that the puppet on his hand was just a bit of cloth that had no life of it’s own.  Even if I were to speak with the puppet, I sure wasn’t about to engage in any conversation with this doofus in the room!  I’d have shown him to the door and posted a sign that read: “Kids and Puppets Only.”  (Yoink! “The puppet and I will be taking our spare, thank you very much!  You can wait outside.”)  Of course, I wouldn’t have said that.  He’d have had to figure that one out on his own, as I snatched the puppet from his hands and closed the door behind me.

I was nowhere near as ignorant or mentally disabled as they were making me out to be. (But I couldn’t say this!) The more I was pushed, the more insecure and obstinate I’d become. It makes sense; nobody appreciates being pushed.  From my point of view I wasn’t just being pushed I was being taught that I was some sort of freak; the more I dug my heals in, the more I also hated myself for being the way that I was.

The best thing anyone could have done for me would have been to back off, but by this point, I doubt that this would have helped me significantly without God.  The damage had been done and it would be years before I began to lose this fear.  Low self-esteem plagued me through my school years and crept into my adult years also.   I never could figure out what was wrong with me; why I was so different or why everything was always so daunting to me.

Looking back, it makes perfect sense to me now; I was simply never given the chance to become sturdy on my feet.  Having two cats has taught me that the best way to gain a timid creature’s trust is to totally ignore it. (Don’t corner it, and don’t draw attention to it.)  If you prove yourself to be non-threatening, it will eventually come out from where it’s hiding to check things out.  If that doesn’t work, you can always try encouraging it out with some food or a toy.  Punishment and harassment doesn’t work; it only feeds that fear.

Back then I was never given the opportunity to come out of my shell.  Instead,  everyone was trying to drag me out of my shell.  I quickly became wary of everyone and new scenarios–dreading going to school even.  I can recall a Sunday when I felt that anxiety, knowing that tomorrow a new school week would begin again.  I also remember crying myself to sleep.  This time frame may have been close to when my mom attempted to record me reading for the second time.   I didn’t want to be recorded!  Could you blame me? I remember my mom insisting that I had to do it, but I don’t remember if I finally submitted to this.

This couldn’t have been easy for my parents either; they didn’t know what was wrong with me, and it wasn’t as if I had the insight back then that I do now.  (Hindsight is easy; it’s always 20/20.)  It’s not as if I could have explained it all to my parents either.  After all, I too believed that there was something very wrong with me.

Eventually, not speaking in class became very old. By grade 5 I’d really had enough of this; it was just becoming far too awkward as I grew older, and remaining that silent kid became unthinkable to me.  I decided that this had to be the year that I finally broke free of this vicious cycle. Unfortunately, as the year began, I wasn’t able to change my behavior.  Thankfully, my parents were thinking though and they had a plan.  Believing that a fresh start elsewhere–where nobody knew me–might be the answer, they decided to move across the city, transferring me to an entirely new school.  I can remember feeling relief at the idea of starting over fresh. This was far better than the alternative, to me.

Trouble has a way of following you though (Yep!), and it did in this new transition.  I soon found out that my Kindergarten teacher was teaching at my new school. This worried my parents some.  I too found it unsettling to see him once again.  Being that I was years older, however, he didn’t seem to recognize or acknowledge me and I was far too determined not to let his presence bother me.  Disaster was averted and I was able to move forward.

However, not long after I settled into my new school, a new student appeared in class.   Shockingly, she was a student from my former school who’d even attended class with me (What are the odds, right?  I don’t know, but I wasn’t enjoying these surprises!)  Of course, fear rose up in me again when I realized that she might share that I’d never spoken a word in class.  I was right; when she did hear me speaking, she drew attention to this.  Wanting to protect myself,  I insisted that I hadn’t been able to speak, due to laryngitis.  Though she was skeptical of my explanation, it was my word over hers.  She did drop the subject.  In the long run, however, lying didn’t do me any favors. (I’ll touch more on this in “It Only takes a Spark”)

I was finally able to use my voice.  It was a very soft, and still very timid voice, but it was a start.  Much later in life, my parents told me that it was suggested to them that they send me away.  (Send me away!? Send me away where? Can you imagine!?) Thankfully, my parents refused this suggestion.

Understandably to me now, I became a very closed off bud who had a tremendously difficult time opening up.  I never felt comfortable in my own skin, and I really didn’t know who I was.  After all, I was never given the room to grow and find this out for myself.  Instead, I’d continue to grow in my belief that everything about me was all wrong.

Because those first 5 years of my education went as they did, socializing never came naturally to me.  I was a wallflower for a very long time and throughout my school years I never did have many friends.  Some seasons I didn’t have even one friend, and during my senior high years I battled depression, anxiety and loneliness.  This really didn’t begin to change until two years after graduation when I met my husband Andrew who was very gentle and kind with me.  I was encouraged even further out of my shell as I drew closer to God.

Slowly, but surely, my gentle Jesus has been driving out those fears.  I’m nowhere near the frightened and insecure kid that I once was. Though I’m still not quite the chatty little girl that I mentioned at the beginning of this story, I did stop hiding off in a corner. I’ve also been known to approach people, by CHOICE. (Who’da thunk it.) I do know and believe that I’m loved a great deal which has always helped tremendously.

In fact, I’ve realized something: I’ve lost more of those inhibitions even since I wrote the first draft of this piece.  I used to hate the feeling of people’s eyes on me or drawing attention to myself in any way.  This was something I definitely would try to avoid when possible. Over the years that’s slowly changed.  I would have been quite uncomfortable boldly taking pictures out in the open where I could be seen by everyone.  I was just very self-conscious and over thought everything. However, recently, as I walked down our road with my camera in hand, stopping frequently to take pictures of the things that inspired me, it hit me that I wasn’t one bit uncomfortable doing so. (But that’s not all…)

As I was spraying out our recycling bin one day, our neighbor startled me when he suddenly appeared out of nowhere and said, “Hello there.” My knee jerk reaction was a very cartoonish “Ah!” but I had a pretty good laugh at the whole situation.  In the past, something like that would have embarrassed the life out of me.  Instead, I just found it very funny.  It’s pretty wonderful when you can laugh at yourself.  As I came inside and told Andrew what had happened, I was still laughing.

God’s kid may have her quirks, but she does speak when she has something to say.  She laughs a lot too! As God’s work in me progresses, the real trick will be getting this kid-at-heart to stay silent. My Jesus is amazing. ❤

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” –1 John 4:18
 
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” –2 Timothy 1:7

I’m not a singer, but I do sing.  I don’t even have to be  threatened with punishment to sing because I actually love to do so, especially about the One Who’s set me free.  ❤ Whether or not I’m in key or have a great voice, this doesn’t matter much.  I’m sure to my Jesus it’s always music to His ears.  #SingingInTheVan2009 #IWillRiseChrisTomlin #ThankyouLordJesus

“The LORD is my strength, the reason for my song, because He has saved me. I praise and honor the LORD–He is my God and the God of my ancestors. —-Exodus 15:2 (CEV)

Next—>It only takes a Spark

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