The Girl Who Wouldn’t Speak

[Reality Check]

My parents said of me, that I was a very outgoing, chatty little girl. (This must have been before the world came crashing in.) I was told that on one occasion they took me –along with my brother’s in tow–to a theme park, where I went from picnic table to picnic table talking to all the fine folks. However, Kindergarten would prove to be a defining time, and that care free version of me changed quite dramatically.

I grew up in a loving home with both of my parents, and three brothers (one younger, and two older).  I was a happy kid, who loved being outdoors. I was a bit of a tomboy being the only girl, and frowned upon the beautiful dresses my grandma had so lovingly made  for me, but of course I had to wear them when occasion called for it.  More often than not I could be found digging around in the dirt for that good clay.  My little brother and I liked to sit out on the front steps with our legs through the risers, where we created our clay master pieces.

I can still recall the day that my mom took me to school to register for classes (not vividly, but enough). I remember the friendly lady that we talked to, who would one day eventually be one of my teachers. I remember being a little shy, but the lady seemed nice, and I was quite happy that she would be my teacher.

Things didn’t turn out that way though, In fact I was surprised to find out that a rather tall, scary looking man, would fill that role instead. My parents weren’t convinced that it would go over too well, being that I had a tendency to be more timid with men.

The thing is, when you are so small, things can also seem so enormously big, and how you handle an uneasy child, just starting her journey into the vast undiscovered world, can have such a far reaching effect. My kindergarten teacher handled my shyness all wrong. If he’d shown some sort of kindness, instead of using punishment to teach me, maybe I would have come around far sooner.

Instead, his actions singled out a shy, insecure kid. I can remember him saying to me that if I didn’t sing along during music time I couldn’t play outside with the rest of the class. I also remember sitting alone at my desk while the rest of the class went outside to play. Drawing attention to me, and exclusion, was definitely not the way to go.  I believe now that first impressions can also leave a lasting impression.

Here I was, only five years of age, alone in the class room while he took the rest of the kids outside to play.  Even if there had been someone there, to ask if I could use the washroom, I would have been far too scared to speak. Just a little kid, with a small bladder (yeah, you can figure out what happened next.) After that, The memory is vague, but I think it must have been near the end of the school day, because as the kids returned to class to collect there things I was somehow able to avoid being found out.

I didn’t speak during class all that year. (Not a word to him, at least.) I had a friend or two, that I would speak to, away from the crowd. But as soon as I got close to class, I’d go dead silent. Kindergarten turned into grade one and now I had a lady teacher, but I’d become so painfully shy. Things did not get better for me, and teachers continued to make mistakes.

When it came to reading, one of my teachers asked my mom to record me so that she could have some idea of where I was academically. Unfortunately, this wasn’t her only motive.  Somehow she came up with the bright idea that if others heard my voice, I wouldn’t be so afraid to talk.  She played that recording, for the whole class. Worst of all, I’d been totally unaware that my mom had even recorded me. ( I don’t blame my mom. There was no harm in what she did. Without knowing my teachers full intentions, she made the recording on the understanding that it would be used to grade me.)  I can remember one other occasion on which my mom wanted to record me reading. I flat out refused. (Could you blame me?) I don’t remember if I submitted to it, or not.

I had learned that day what humiliation felt like, and I had also learned that I didn’t enjoy being in the spotlight. It really didn’t help anyone’s cause, nor my growing fear of attention.  Being thrown into the spotlight was becoming a very negative thing, and attention would become an excruciating emotion for me. Sadly, not speaking was only proving to attract more attention.

Eventually, I really did want to speak.  Part of me felt it would be so much easier to speak than it was to keep silent, but I just couldn’t.  The fear of a reaction, and being thrown into the spotlight caused me too much anxiety, so I was stuck in this vicious cycle of silence. My first elementary school was a very small school, so It only went from kindergarten to grade two.  By grade three, I was attending a whole new school, but new scenarios at that young impressionable age–not so surprisingly–were a cause for trauma. Things did not improve.

At some point my parents were advised to take me to a psychiatrist.  I’m not exactly sure how throwing me into more uncomfortable situations was supposed to fix my anxiety and stage fright. (Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against counseling and therapists, but when you have no idea what in the world a psychiatrist is for, and you’ve just been shoved into an uncomfortable situation, it doesn’t make much sense.)  This only served to convince me that social situations–especially those that involved adults–were just not much fun.  So there I was in this unfamiliar room, along with my parents and a man I didn’t know, who was asking me to draw a picture for him.  (So lets see, a new scenario? Check! An adult I didn’t know? Yes, indeed! The very things that freaked me out, and this stranger wanted me to draw a picture for him??? Yeah, like that was going to happen. I do have a very stubborn and feisty spirit, so when the foot is down…Oh, it’s down).

On another occasion, some hair brained adult tried to get me to speak by using a puppet. Supposedly it was a  puppet of a character that I enjoyed.  I bet you anything after that incident I no longer enjoyed that particular character anymore.  Kids are not stupid. They get what you’re trying to do, at least I too clearly did. The more I was pushed, the more insecure I felt, and the more stubborn I got.  The best thing anyone could have done for me would have been to back off, but by this point I doubt that would have helped me anymore. You’d think I would have had humiliation in the bag and patented, but it just wasn’t getting any better.  Low self-esteem would become an on going theme that plagued me through my school years, and on into my adult years.  I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me, why I was just different, and why everything was so daunting to me.

Not speaking was getting very old, and by grade five I had decided this would be the year that I’d break that cycle. However, the year had already begun and I was off to a poor start.  Thankfully my parents were thinking.   Early in that year they decided to move, and I was transferred to a new school. They figured that I might be better off where nobody knew me,  and they were right. This time I felt relief at the idea of starting over fresh, which was far better than the alternative to me.

Trouble has a way of following you though, 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, and I too found it unsettling to see him again.  Being years older now though, he never recognized or acknowledged me, and I was too determined that I wasn’t going to let his presence bother me. I kept moving forward, but this wasn’t the last that I’d see of trouble.

Not long after I got settled into my new class, a fellow student from my former school– old class even–was introduced as a new student.  Fear rose up in me again, when I realized that she might share how I’d formerly not spoken.  I was right, and she did.  Again though, I was determined that this wouldn’t get the best of me, so I lied to protect myself.  When she heard me speak she made an issue of the fact that I hadn’t spoken before, so I insisted that I’d just had laryngitis and wasn’t able to speak . She didn’t seem to buy it, but she did drop the subject.

I now had a new school,  and was able to finally claim my voice. I was still a shy and awkward kid; the pattern had been set.  Understandably so, to me now, I had a hard time blooming and was a very closed off bud.  I never felt comfortable in my own skin, and I really didn’t  know who I was. New scenarios always stirred up some insecurity and anxiety, and socializing never came naturally to me.

I was the kind of kid who was picked last for most anything, whether it was for sports or  partnering up for a project.  I never could shake that awkwardness, or find my confidence. I grew up as most teenage girls do, very focused on my outer appearance, and my senior high years were rough. I battled depression and anxiety, as well as loneliness.

My very first job didn’t go well either. The interview proved to be the best part of the process as the lady interviewing me was kind.  Unfortunately, it turned out that she was interviewing for two separate stalls in the food court.  I didn’t get the boss I would have liked to have gotten.   Instead,  I received a very impatient employer.  Being that it was my first job, I was a nervous wreck.  I couldn’t think straight, and I wasn’t catching on quickly, but to be fair she expected too much too soon.  I ended up quitting that job not long after starting it because she told me that I would be under probation for a specified amount of time.  Her unapproving glares, and the pressure she placed on me so early into this new experience proved to be more than I could handle.  Under that much stress my brain would always freeze up and I’d go blank.  I wasn’t able to think straight, so I was never able to absorb information. This made learning and performing well impossible.

From then on I went from job to job. Either I would quit, because of the anxiety, or I would get fired because I lacked the confidence to boldly interact with people. In truth, at least one of those times truly wasn’t my fault (Likely more than once.) While working at a clothing store at the mall, the entire staff came under review, so I was doing my personal best to improve my customer service skills, and keep my job.  I was assisting a customer with the shops assortment of leather jackets, but she wasn’t ready to commit to the purchase, so she told me she’d go do some other things while she gave it some thought. When she returned, she was ready to make the purchase and  asked for me by name.  However, the assistant manager insisted on taking the sale. (My customer! My sale!) I lost credit for that sale, and I also lost my job.   There was no hope of proving that I was capable of doing my job.  I learned then that people will stomp on you given the opportunity, and I was in no position to do anything about it.

When I worked a job bussing tables, I’d anxiously tremble while I stood in the back of the restaurant.  We were told to arrive 15 minutes early in case the restaurant was busy, so I frequently had to wait out those minutes before my shift.   I was often sexually harassed, but thankfully my gut instincts have always proved to serve me well.  I turned down a date with a guy who I’d later find out had a bet going with his buddy the dishwasher, who worked in the back of the restaurant.  They apparently wanted to see who could get me into bed first.  Neither of them were able to collect on that bet.

I can see and understand, all too vividly now, why I just couldn’t get my footing. Through all those years I thought there was something very wrong with me, but all along it wasn’t what was so wrong with me (per se), but rather what’s so wrong with mankind in general.  I feel now that what happened in Kindergarten likely triggered Post Traumatic Stress, and it sort of snowballed from there.

When I became a Christian though,  I began to see people, and life in a whole new way.  I’ve encountered some pretty rotten people, and faced some very lonely days but when God got a hold of me things began to change and the people surrounding me looked and acted very different from what I’d known.  These people were extremely compassionate, full of mercy, and passionately loved others.  I’ve met those who build others up, who reach out helping hands, and who put others needs before their own. I’ve viewed life from both sides of the fence and I’ve come to understand this:

In a world where people wonder where God is in the tragedy, I see Jesus in those who show kindness to strangers. I also see Him in those who jump into action without giving a thought for their own safety. Where others blame God for the short comings of humanity, I see a God Who is slow to anger and rich in love. It’s not God Who hurts people, it’s people who continue to hurt people. However, those people will also one day face their Maker, whether they believe in Him or not. They will also have to give an account for the things they have done, suffering the penalty if they have not made peace with Him.

During those silent years, it was suggested that I be sent away. Thankfully, my parents refused this! (Could you imagine?) Those early years were defining years for me, but when I became a Christian I was given the gift to be born again into a new life, and a new spirit.  Once more I was given a fresh start.  The closer I walk with Jesus (my Lord and Savior) the more vulnerable I find that I can allow myself to be, and the less insecure I find myself in that vulnerability. There’s nothing to fear because I know and understand my God is merciful and compassionate.  His love is never failing, and His mercy is beyond measure. The truth is, the truth truly did set me free. In fact, it set me free in more ways than one, and continues to set me free.  I’m still changing and growing as I grow closer to him, and the insecurities and fears just don’t have that grip on me,  nor do I have a grip on them.

I chose ‘God’s Kid Speaks’ as the title for my blog because it speaks of who I am now.  It also speaks of the desire I have to share what’s on my heart. Almost like a mocking reminder though,  those years I was silent came flooding back and taunted me.  I decided to shrug it off.  As I wrote this I realized the testimony in my story. (God’s story really.)  I suppose unintentionally ‘God’s Kid Speaks’ has more than one meaning.  It may be a reminder of the past, but my past proves the grace of God in my life.  I no longer live in fear because I have nothing to fear.  I live under the care and protection of my God, after all.

The first twenty-one years of my life may have defined me, however walking with the Lord began the journey that is redefining me.  I no longer feel the need to hide like I once did, or despise the spotlight, and I’m far more comfortable with who I am.  I’ve seen my fears fade.  I’ve stopped wondering what’s wrong with me, and I know the peace that comes with knowing my Maker.

God’s kid– she does speak.

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The Story continues if you happen to be interested —–>New Student