Have I No Mouth: on talking, speaking, spluttering, anxieties, and those uncomfortable silences

Yesterday was not one of the good days. Not to go into detail, but it was one of those days where everything seems to be constantly falling away at the seams: things fall apart, or they feel too massive for your very small self, or even the smallest gesture can send you into a panic or slip you into a spiral. Horrible, really.

And if I tried to communicate this verbally, how would it come across? I would say not very well.

Being autistic means that anxiety is my constant bedfellow. Most especially, anxiety is there every single time I open my mouth to speak, and when that mouth opens I quickly lose faith in everything that tumbles out of it. My sentences stop and start. I mumble and I run through words like they were water. I start waving my hands around because any words I have left will be terribly forced, uninteresting ones. The whole process is as if English is actually my second language, second only to flailing and spluttering and excruciating long pauses, searching for lost words. I’m very good at making eye contact with someone who is talking TO me, but if I’m the one who’s talking my eyes dart towards the left or right of the person I’m talking to and now I’ve become super self-conscious about it and I’ve started thinking that that might be too rude and that they must think I’m looking for better people to talk to than them and that’s not true because all it really is that I’m so unsure of what I’m saying and I sound terribly stupid when I say it and they probably are getting very bored of me right now and I’ve probably offended them in some way and they don’t REALLY want to talk to me anyway.

And this is coming from someone who says that she wants to embark on an academic career? Hahahahahaha.

I’ve talked about how I’m more self-conscious about my articulation and self-expression than I am about my weight, my hair, my face, or whatever part of me. People have pointed out that I am much more articulate and eloquent online than I am in person, and it actually cuts to the bone. I love writing and I loved acting because there were words on the page and I could prepare them or rehearse them. And they were THERE, they were RIGHT THERE, and only I could control or shape them. But the fact that I can never match up to the person I am in writing hurts. There’s only so much that scripting can do: meeting new people almost feels like being confronted with some new blank slates. What is it that you do with them? How do you approach them? What the hell do you say to them? What can you do when your internal script just fails you, or actually just sounds so ridiculous that you don’t use it anyway?

And then, there are the days where verbal expression just absolutely fails me. Even when I’m with people I trust and love. There are days where I’ll lose the run of myself, and feel so anxious or so pressurised that I cannot actually get the words out at all. And it’s the most embarrassing thing in the world when it happens in front of your peers, your colleagues, and people you respect: they have to watch while I try to put sentences and words together, very very slowly and painfully. I fear that to them it looks like I haven’t thought things through or that I haven’t even tried. But I have: it’s just the sense of what I want to say never translates into the right-sounding words in my head, and my brain takes slower than most to formulate a response or argument. And then I beat myself up because I start to wonder: why can’t I be as quick-witted or as sharp to respond as everyone else? Why does it take several minutes when it could take a minute for someone else? Why can’t I just be normal like everyone else is?

I guess it feeds into my own feelings about myself as an autistic woman: feeling so out of place, feeling that I don’t match up, feeling that I have much more work to do in order to fit in or to make people like me. Allistic people, I wish you knew how lucky you actually have it. I wish you knew how lucky you are, because you can actually remember to do the simple things in life like laundry and shopping, because loud noises in nightclubs or elsewhere may be bothersome but not TOO bothersome, because you’re never constantly fearing that people will hate you over a single turn of phrase, because people will never think you’re stupid or lazy or making excuses for yourself when you find yourself unable to explain why it is that you are feeling so anxious right now or why you can’t get out of bed today or something as simple as, I don’t know, early modern theatre practice.

It’s hard. But this is normal for me. It always has been. And I really don’t think it’s going to change any time soon.


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