SMIRA conference 2017

All that I had been through and faced on Saturday 18th March didn’t fully register with me until today. Attending the SMIRA conference had been something I felt equally nervous and excited about, but it didn’t feel like it was actually going to come around and happen until the evening before. I guess it was too much of a big thing, so I blocked it out of my mind. This is something I tend to do often; I’m not certain this is a healthy or good thing to do though. However, for now this method works for me and enables me to manage my anxiety and unwanted or unneeded thoughts.

When I received an email some months ago asking if I’d like to do a presentation at the SMIRA conference, I felt so incredibly happy. I had planned to attend anyway, so to present made it all the more exciting. I felt this was such an important thing to do. My ultimate aim is to reach out and support those affected by selective mutism. To do this there are various people who I need to listen to me; those with SM, their families and professionals. I want to spread as much awareness and understanding as I can and what a great place to do this. Prior to Saturday I had done two public speeches, my biggest audience had been 40. On Saturday there were between 70- 100 people. For my previous speeches I did not have the confidence or strength to stand to give my speech; I delivered those two speeches sat down. On Saturday, even though it was my biggest audience and arguably my most important audience and so therefore my anxiety was at it’s highest, I decided to stand. I even gave some eye contact (!) and I feel it was my best attempt yet.

My voice had improved significantly. I tried so hard to keep my voice steady and projected and although I could certainly improve an awful lot in the future, I had improved a great deal since my last speech in November. I suppose practice is key. I understand from feedback on Saturday that there was a positive change in the strength in my voice as I reached half way through. This definitely makes sense to me; I felt my anxiety drift away the further into the 30 minutes I got. I hope that in the future I can start off stronger. However, I do believe it’s a positive thing to not lose all anxiety or nerves. Nerves are a good sign to an extent. If you’re not nervous, then do you care as much as you should? If you don’t care as much as you should are those listening to you going to care? People can sense your passion and enthusiasm. I was nervous because I so deeply wanted people to listen and take away with them some more hope and understanding. If I didn’t care then I probably would’t feel anxious. Isn’t that partly what anxiety is all about? caring too much? Is anxiety such a negative thing? I would say it’s definitely not purely negative.

I feel I took many steps forward on Saturday, I became closer to leaving my selective mutism as much in the past as possible. This leads me to a question I was asked by a member of the audience: “Can selective mutism be overcome?” I don’t feel I answered this question to the best of my ability at all. So, I’m going to give my answer again, but my extended and edited version. Many people doubt and question whether or not SM can be fully overcome. I totally understand why. For me, I truly think it definitely can be overcome. If we look at the definition of selective mutism it states : “the persistent failure to speak in certain situations”. There are plenty of examples of people who previously struggled with SM who do not now fit this description or category. I myself do not fit this description too closely anymore. I would say I now have low profile SM, which will soon be also in the past. I do strongly think that with the right help, understanding and motivation SM can be fully overcome, but anxiety itself is another question. Can anxiety be fully overcome? I know of people who say they did completely overcome their anxiety. I know of people who say it mostly can be overcome, but it is still always partly there, but it’s managed and controlled. I think I agree with this mostly. I think I will always have anxiety, but at the same time I think my “anxiety” is part of who I am or part of my personality. I am a natural worrier, a sensitive person and introverted. However, not everyone with SM shares my similar personality type. Many people with SM are naturally extrovers, ambiverts or the many possibilities in-between, who are maybe thrill seekers and don’t worry half as much as I tend to. I imagine it is far more likely that people with these types of personality can fully overcome anxiety, but also maybe they’re just better at ignoring or hiding it? Selective mutism can be described as a symptom of anxiety. Selective mutism is known as a severe anxiety disorder, but I know many people have explained they do not, or did not, struggle with anxiety prior to struggling with SM. I think this was partly the case for me too. I wasn’t socially anxious, more socially awkward. I was always quiet, but I wasn’t bothered or worried about how others viewed me, I didn’t get easily embarrassed and was happy just being the weird and unqiue me. However, I was still a highly sensitive person who felt anxious by being over stimulated. So, in conclusion before I continue to ramble on and on, I would say YES selective mutism can be overcome, anxiety on the other hand – I am not yet convinced

Attending the conference this last weekend has really given me a lot of happiness. I have struggled my whole life with friendships and definitely have not had much luck with having true supportive friends, I have had very few of them (a total of 2). Yet somehow I have managed to make some of the best friends I have ever had by not even meeting or verbally talking to them! Facebook can be a wonderful thing at times. I was over the moon to finally meet my Facebook friends in real life. It was a truly lovely experience. I found myself saying in my head, “Today I have learnt what it is like to have a true friend”. Due to feeling so welcomed and supported by my friends at the conference, I managed to have conversations with various people. Conversations are not my strong point, but now they are definitely not as much of a weakness as they previously were. I am very grateful.

In addition to my presentation and achievements on Saturday, the conference itself was an interesting experience. I really took a lot away from what I heard and learned from the two other presenters; Anita and Lucy. I am grateful to have been able to take home with me some useful information about resilience. I also felt that Anita’s topics fitted in nicely with some of the areas I spoke about in my presentation. Lucy’s presentation was equally as interesting, but for completely different reasons. I struggled to listen due to the strong negative emotions it made me feel inside. I think Lucy is a fantastic therapist and I really admire her passion and enthusiasm. As a person with SM I am grateful for all her dedication and support that she gives to supporting those affected by SM. However, I did not feel happy or comfortable with the information I was listening to. It was merely the description of the intensive therapy programme, Brave buddies, at the Child Mind Institute that upset me. I am not going to go into detail about my views on this intensive approach right now, but what I will say is that I feel there are a lot of flaws and potential risks of regression. On the other hand, I think the programme does have some positives, so I would say they are almost half way there in getting it right to an extent. This of course is my opinion. I also know that this therapy or approach has worked for many children. I am of course pleased that it has helped so many children find their voices, but I hold many concerns and disagreements.

I am thankful that I had the opportunity to give a presentation about my selective mutism recovery, I am grateful for the lovely feedback I received and for the support I was given throughout the day. I am so happy and filled with joy at the fact I met some amazing people and friends, I love the memories we created together. Thank you for a wonderful experience. I cannot wait until next time!

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