Failure to communicate

I struggle to get my words out of my mouth. People assume it’s easy for me. I’m decently intelligent, I can write well. But I can’t always speak. It’s hard for me to communicate.

I didn’t have the best resources growing up. My parents didn’t communicate anything to anybody, even within their own extended family. Little socialization gave me little opportunity to learn from others. I didn’t have very many options, and I ended up being socially stunted. Then there was the regular threats not to speak to outsiders, which after a while just made me fearful of speaking to anyone.

My brother was nonverbal for a few years. He had extra help in school to catch up. He eventually did catch up, but it really set him back quite a bit (and I think that, in many ways, it allowed him to be manipulated to the severe degree that he was). Even so, everyone sort of just accepted that he wasn’t the best or the brightest. He had that rough start. Whatever he tried, he would get coddled and encouraged.

But me, no, it was different for me. I was the smart kid. No excuses. Whenever I couldn’t get words out, I was called dumb and stupid. You think you’re so smart, but you can’t even speak. I’d freeze in school, not because I didn’t know the answer; the answer was in my head the whole time. But I couldn’t get the answer from my head and out through my mouth. It would get muddled up in something — I don’t know what exactly — and wouldn’t come out right.

People didn’t understand. They just made it worse because their words hurt so much and only made it harder to speak. I’d say things only to have people confused about what I was saying. Then I’d get frustrated and give up. I felt like I was speaking a language no one else spoke. I felt alone. I’d tell myself that my mother was right; no one understands me.

It’s no different now that I’m an adult. I can hold conversations sometimes, but other times, I am quiet and don’t respond. I’m not being rude, but unfortunately that’s how most people take it. I want to respond, I so badly want to respond. But I can’t get the words out and I don’t want people to think that I’m dumb. And seeming rude doesn’t hurt nearly as much as being dumb.

It’s a problem. Because no one wants to deal with my verbal vomit.

It’s a problem. Because I have so much to say and don’t know how to say it.

It’s a problem. Because I can’t ask for help when I need it, so I suffer in silence.

My therapist and I have been working on communication for some time now. There are many times I don’t speak in session because I don’t know how to say what’s inside of my head. My therapist knows that I’m thinking (apparently it shows on my face), and gently pushes me to speak about it. I tell her no, I can’t, it doesn’t make sense. She always assures me that it doesn’t always have to make sense.

Eventually I muster up the courage to talk out loud, but even still, I apologize profusely at the end of every sentence. My therapist sits and listens, and encourages me to keep going. But it’s dumb, I tell her. I’m not good at talking. She reminds me not to judge myself. She reminds me that there’s no such thing as being good at talking.

I’ve reached a minimal level of comfort with my therapist, a level at which I don’t always feel so afraid to speak out loud. She never judges me. She never calls me dumb. Sometimes it takes a while for us to translate what I’m saying, but other times she understands what I mean right away.

But how can I take that out in the real world? How can I get people to understand how hard it is for me to communicate my thoughts, to communicate my needs?

I need patience and understanding. Society doesn’t have time for that.

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Asserting myself, Part 2

I woke up the next morning, not looking much better than I did the night before. The swelling migrated downward, pushing my eyes outward towards the sides of my face. I looked like one of the aliens you see in movies. I put my glasses on and brushed my hair in front of my face. No one could see me. Though I couldn’t see anyone else, either.

My legs were shaking as I sat in the waiting area of my therapist’s office. My therapist came out to get me like usual. I kept my hair blocking my face, hiding the disaster underneath.

I don’t know how I thought I would get away with it. My therapist noticed the different style right away. She asked me if I was hiding. I told her I was. She thought I was hiding to hide. She didn’t know I was hiding the disaster on my head.

My therapist continued to prod. She needed to see my face, and I needed to be able to see hers. I told her I was scared. She said it was safe, that I didn’t need to hide. She asked if it was related to what happened on Monday, but I told her it wasn’t.

My therapist kept telling me it was okay. I told her I was afraid of getting in trouble, I was afraid of her sending me away. I started crying. She said she wasn’t going to send me away, and that I wasn’t in trouble. I finally told her I was hiding something on my head.

Now my therapist understood what was going on. She asked if it was a wound I was hiding, and I nodded yes. She asked if I could pull my hair back so she could see. I hesitated, took a breath, and pushed my hair over. I felt overcome with shame. I felt like a failure.

She assured me she wasn’t angry with me. My anxiety started to subside. She asked how it happened. I told her I didn’t remember it all. I told her everything that happened before. I told her that I finally stood up for myself. I finally did what my therapist had been encouraging me to do for so long.

But it failed. My therapist could sense my disappointment with the situation. I had this false sense of hope that I would assert myself and that it would work, and all would be right with the world. Instead, I asserted myself and it failed. I put all of the blame on myself.

My therapist reminded me that I can’t change other people’s behaviors. It’s not my fault that my roommate didn’t understand. I did what I needed to do. I stood up for myself.

Don’t let this be a reason to stop standing up for yourself. Yes, it didn’t work this time. That doesn’t mean you stop doing it. It won’t always work out this way.

As we continued to talk about it all, I noticed my therapist wasn’t focusing on the fact that I completely self-destructed. She focused on the positive. I finally asserted myself. One thing I have been struggling with for so long, and I overcame it.

Sure, I could have done without the likely concussion. I could have done without the bruises and scrapes, and the half-blackened eyes. I could have done with the horrible headache and eye pain. I could have done without that all, but I can’t change that it happened. I can only work through it and try to prevent it from happening again.

We discussed what led up to the issue, and how I could work on changing it. It’s difficult once I get in that place, to get myself back out. The reason I asked my roommate to stop is because those words are reminders of things my mother said to me. When I hear them, it triggers parts of me. I start to get confused, not realizing that it’s my roommate and not my mother saying those things. Younger parts can’t tell the difference. It causes chaos that I would rather not deal with (and I shouldn’t have to).

I know all of the things I can do to distract myself. I know how to ground. That’s not the problem I have. I just don’t know how to put that all into practice when I am already on the edge.

I wish my experience ended up a little less painful. But damnit, I asserted myself. Let’s focus on that.