What It's Like to Have a Phobia of Talking

For adult sufferers of Selective Mutism, a little-known anxiety disorder that usually resolves in childhood, speaking is the most frightening thing imaginable.

by Rebecca Kamm
Jan 24 2017, 4:14pm

Fifteen years ago, when she was 17, Anna Clark sat on her bed with her diary.

"I feel like I'm in the middle of an airport tarmac," she wrote, "with everyone else outside in the green fields. I feel like someone trapped in a box."

She had always been painfully shy. As a child she was never without her satin comfort blanket, and in her first year of school she answered the teachers in just the smallest wisp of a voice.

Then when she was six years old her voice began to disappear altogether, like the little white dot when you turn off an old-fashioned TV set—tiny, tinier, gone. Unless she was with her family, the words just would not come out.

At 32 years old, they still won't.

"I can see myself sitting with the teacher in my classroom," she explains by email. "She wanted me to read out loud to her, but I couldn't. I was frozen."

No one knew it then but the freeze would plough on, ambivalent as any force of nature as it swallowed up what remained of her childhood. "In junior high I managed to speak a little to a couple of friends, but I regressed in high school," she says. "I couldn't speak to any of the students or the teachers. Some of the other students would speak to me but I couldn't reply, so they mostly avoided me."

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