How do you make friends? How do you maintain friendships? How often should I see my friends? How often should I contact my friends? What should I talk to my friends about? I don’t understand friendships and I never have done.
Before my Selective Mutism developed I still struggled socially and was socially different compared to my peers. In Primary school I had friends, but only one friend at a time. If they involved their other friends I couldn’t play with them, too many friends overwhelmed me. I liked to play with one person, or simply just be my own company. I don’t think I was a great friend to my best friend, I don’t think I treated her fairly at all, but I definitely wasn’t doing this on purpose. I always used to get told off for being bossy and people would often say to me “Tash, can you stop dragging your friend around like a rag doll”. This upset me. It made me feel like a really mean person who couldn’t fit in. I was trying my best after all. I didn’t really understand how to interact with friends and often used to resort to simply copying everything they did. I had the skill of being able to accurately copy others. I copied my best friends voice, her mannerisms, her personality and her interests. I assumed that was what I was supposed to do. It of course wasn’t what I was supposed to do. As I got older and realised this, I felt deflated and lost. I thought I had grasped how to be friends with someone, but I hadn’t and i was back to square one again.
I went up to Middle school, a different middle school than the majority of my primary school. I had no friends again and I was so frightened of being around all of these new children and teachers. My Selective Mutism spiked to a higher level of severity and I struggled even more than before with interacting and communicating with others. This on top with already finding the social world difficult was such a challenge. I made my first friend at Middle school about 6 weeks into the school year. I was sitting next to a girl called C in History lesson and she said to me ” please can I borrow your eraser” and I replied with “yes”. At the time, I saw this as her wanting to be my friend, so I followed her around the school and stayed with her at break time. She thought I was so strange and I felt so awkward. I had no clue what to do, or what to say to her. After a while she got used to me following her around like a sheep and she actually started to enjoy my company and we became friends. Unfortunately a couple of months later I got moved to a new class, and it didn’t cross my mind that I could still be friends with C, so I didn’t bother going to meet up with her at break time or lunch.
In my new class there was a girl called E who I knew from swimming class. I’d never spoken to her, but she was familiar and that made me feel less anxious. E wanted to be my friend and I wanted to hers, but this wasn’t simple for me. I didn’t know what to say to her or how to make friends with her. So, I did what i thought would make her want to be friends with me, I lied about loads of different things. These lies included the following; “I have an identical twin sister, but she doesn’t go to this school”, “I’m a gymnast and I’m training to be in the Olympics”and “I’ve got lots of pet cats at home”. She believed me and our friendship was formed from the foundation of my lies. She did of course, eventually find out I had lied about everything, but our friendship had already been formed and so we just laughed about the whole situation. This friendship still wasn’t simple and easy for me though. E had other friends, and I couldn’t cope with that, one person at a time was my limit. It was so difficult for me to cope with other girls being around me all the time, E was my only friend in my friendship group of 4. I hung around with 4 “friends” everyday, but I was only friends with one of them. Trouble arised when that one friend was off school ill, I wouldn’t then go and hang around with the other 3 “friends” or talk to them at all, I would go and sit in a classroom by myself and skipped lunch. I managed to maintain my friendships with E for 4 years, the whole duration of middle school. I wasn’t able to maintain the friendship naturally though. Of course, me and E had lots in common and enjoyed spending time with one another, but that alone wouldn’t have kept us together as friends because I wasn’t socially strong enough. I often found myself giving away my belongings, I would give E my new stationary, toys, jewelry and lots of others things, so that she would sit next to me in lesson or on the bus on a school trip.
I lost my friendship with my best friend from middle school when I went up to high school. I thankfully went to the same high school as a family member of mine and so spent all of my time with her. My Selective Mutism had unfortunately become very severe at high school and so I wasn’t speaking or communicating at all in school apart from being able to whisper to my best friend (family member) at lunch time in the library away from anyone else. My SM made it almost impossible for me to form any friendships at this time, but actually I wasn’t interested in doing so anyway. I was extremely confused, sad and annoyed at how everyone around me were changing. I couldn’t understand why my peers and old friends were becoming different people, in my opinion, but of course actually they were just growing up. It really upset me that they were wearing makeup, changing their hair styles, changing their personality, swearing, talking about boys and going to parties and drinking alcohol. I couldn’t understand why people were so interested in popular celebrities, music and films. I literally didn’t have a clue what they were talking about most of the time. I was so far behind them, I was 14 years old but probably functioning socially at about 10 years old. I wore no make up and had no interest in wearing any, my hair was just simply just brushed (wash and go style), I spent my free time drawing or playing on my Nintendo, I had no interest at all in boys or everyone’s favourite celebrities, I never watched films or the soaps, or anything that my peers were obsessed with, I still enjoyed watching CBBC. I was left in childhood with no understanding of what on earth was happening to all of those around me at school. I had never felt so confused in all of my life.
I managed to form a friendship with 2 girls at high school, who I had previously been friends with at middle school on separate occasions. I made friends with them by talking to them on Facebook about old memories, but our friendship only last 5 weeks. I was too far behind them socially to maintain the friendship. I didn’t understand them. I tried so hard, but I just didn’t get them. They would use words and humour I didn’t get and spoke about things I had no knowledge in. I didn’t know how I was supposed to interact with them, I couldn’t speak to them in school due to my SM. Out of school I’d just say random meaningless things and hope to make them laugh. I decided to watch a UK sitcom, and guessed that this was how I was supposed to learn how to interact like a teenager, so I’d watch the sitcom and text my friends jokes and quotes from the sitcom. When I met up with them I would continue this process and just blurt out random quotes I’d heard, but I often got them wrong and accidentally mixed up the words, it was obvious to them that what I was saying made no sense, but I was oblivious to it because I didn’t understand it anyway. I used to text my friends all the time, I’d text them daily and far too much, I hardly ever got replies, I was so annoying. I just didn’t understand how often I was supposed to text them, I wasn’t intending to be annoying or weird. I was just trying to be like them, I was just trying to be someone my own age.
I gave up with trying to make friends when I reached 16 and it didn’t bother me at all; I was more than happy being my own best friend and having the company and support of my family. I still don’t understand how to make friends, or how to be a friend. I don’t suppose I’ll ever thoroughly understand the whole concept, but never mind. I’m happy and that’s the most important thing. I suppose my purpose of this post and my message is don’t worry about being different and don’t waste your time and effort in trying to be someone you’re not, because you can only really be truly happy when you’re being you. Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed of your differences, or things you find difficult. We all struggle in different ways.