10/10/2012 09:23 pm ET

Selective Mutism: 'I Stopped Talking In School For Five Years'

By Andres Luz

Andres is a sophomore at Whitney M. Young Magnet High School. He is a student reporter for The Mash, a weekly teen publication distributed to Chicagoland high schools.

It feels like this: I’m suffocating in anxiety, slowly being covered up by silence. Words don’t come out clearly and I often stutter in hesitation. My lack of confidence makes it even harder to approach people for the simplest questions. But most of the time, it feels like I’m trying to climb over a wall that I have built for myself.

I have selective mutism. My symptoms didn’t become obvious until I was in fourth grade. My family and I were not really sure why I couldn’t speak, but it was most likely because that was the first time my twin sister and I went to different schools. But other than that, we don’t know why I stopped talking in school for the next five years.

When I talk to people, conversation techniques slip my mind and anxiety takes its place. When I approach someone, the first thing I do is subconsciously make excuses why I shouldn’t talk to them. If I do talk to people, I stutter. And after failing at every conversation I try to have, I begin to feel that it’s easier not to talk at all.

What makes it worse is that selective mutism is not a widely-known disorder, so almost no one among my family and friends knew about it until I had it. The lack of awareness of selective mutism often makes it very hard for others to understand it. Even though many people try to help, there’s still a barrier of understanding that separates the rest of society with one who has selective mutism.

My doctor says that selective mutism isn’t like normal shyness. Selective mutism is a chemical imbalance in the brain that creates physical symptoms that can’t be turned on and off like a switch, she said.

Before being diagnosed, I spent five years hating myself for not being able to talk like everyone else did, and before then I felt like everyone else hated me as well.

Today, I still have trouble talking to people, but nowhere near the amount of difficulty I had before. After seeing a psychologist who specializes in treating patients with selective mutism, I was able to work toward overcoming it.

Gradual exposure to social interaction and realizing what makes me anxious when I talk has really helped me throughout my therapy. I don’t feel as scared anymore.

The best part is that now that I’m getting treated for it, I finally have a plan to build up confidence and talk again. Just knowing that one day I can be as outgoing with friends as I am at home motivates me to keep trying to talk.

I used to think I would always have issues with speaking. But I realized that there will always be a way to gain the confidence I need to express myself. I found out that having selective mutism doesn’t mean living forever in silence.

More stories from The Mash:

Move Review: "Pitch Perfect"
Game Faces: No Love For The NHL
Teens' View Of The First Presidential Debate