Hello, my little demons! 😈
I don’t get many questions about why the name “The Girl Who Whispered”, but I have had a few comments that have been made in poor taste, so I want to just explain where the name comes from, why I use it and why some of these jokes are in bad taste.
Short answer: I had selective mutism as a child.
Selective mutism is defined as “a complex childhood anxiety disorder characterized by a child’s inability to speak and communicate effectively in select social settings, such as school. These children are able to speak and communicate in settings where they are comfortable, secure and relaxed.” – Referenced from https://selectivemutismcenter.org/whatisselectivemutism/
I had no idea there was even a defined term for this until only a few years ago!
When I was a young child, I was bullied. I had red hair and freckles and I was quite reserved and quiet. There are a lot of other complex situations that made me the way I am, and I don’t personally have all the answers, nor do I feel completely comfortable explaining them.
But I will explain that I think it started after a particular issue in Primary School. I remember it quite well, considering I was probably only about 5 at the time. I remember being in a classroom with a load of other children, we were all playing, having a down time or something. There was a particular child, a boy, who decided to rearrange the tables and chairs, but he was deliberately trying to trap me in them, deliberately singling me out. It was at this time that the teacher called us all over, but this boy kept moving the tables and chairs so I couldn’t get out. I think I was the one who got told off for not listening to the teacher, but she failed to notice I wasn’t ignoring her, I was being trapped by this bully.
Somewhere in my little brain I decided enough was enough, after all the years of adults not listening to me, I went into remission.
I stopped talking.
I refused to talk to the teacher. My friends.
Even my parents.
I went home that day and my mum didn’t understand why I wasn’t talking to her. My dad got home from work and he didn’t understand why I wasn’t talking.
I had developed selective mutism.
My parents tried in a few ways to help me, one of which was to send me to a different Secondary School than the other kids. Most of the kids, after completing Primary School, went to one Secondary School. I went to a completely different one. It didn’t work though.
And by then, because the issue hadn’t be addressed properly, it evolved. As a pre-teen and eventually a teen in Secondary School, I had difficulty trying to express myself because of my selective mutism and in the end I found a new way to communicate; by whispering.
I had become The Girl Who Whispered.
Of course, this had it’s own issues. A lot of times people would assume I just had a bad throat and lost my voice – not that I corrected them. I had more children bullying me because I was now different. I had teachers trying to fix me. I had my parents and friends trick me into talking. I had issues with communicating still. Issues with grades. Social issues. And I developed a few bad habits from the social issues (avoidance for example).
My selective mutism didn’t really go away until I became a young adult, when I was about 17 years old when I left school and went to college. All the kids in the class were new, no one knew who I was (until I met one kid who was at my old Primary School, which I remember vividly, but I just hoped he didn’t remember me!)
But I finally had a voice. And some really bad social skills!
Meeting up with old friends, or bumping into those I went to school with was extremely awkward, but I eventually “grew out” of my selective mutism and started talking to them all properly.
A lot of my newer friends didn’t even know about my previous issues. It’s only until recently in the last few years that I started talking about it and opening up.
Also, my selective mutism not only gave me issues with social skills, but I also developed depression and anxiety. Most of my life has been difficult. Even now I get bad days. But the bad days are easier to deal with now, because I kept fighting. I learn to recognise when days got bad. Found healthier coping mechanisms. And grew emotionally.
The ironic thing is, when I was a child, if I got passionate about something you couldn’t shut me up about it (even as an adult). But when I had selective mutism, I lacked that basic need, to have a voice, to speak up for myself.
It still haunts me now, my past, what happened to me as a child. And I’m slowly getting over it, learning social skills, communicating properly, and finding ways to get over my weaknesses (social situations for example).
This is one of the reasons why I write. It’s a silent voice. Because when I was a child, not only did I love reading (as a form of escapism from the real-world I hated so much), but writing was my way of communicating easily. When computers became popular, I used to sit for hours on Instant Messenger, MySpace and Chat rooms, it was a way of being normal for a change – no one knew I didn’t talk properly. I would also write stories, build my own little universe to escape to.
I, one day, would also love to do something where I’m not sat behind a computer screen with written words. I actually love to sing and I have a huge interest in acting.
I remember the first time I actually got to “stand up” and sing to an audience, and although it isn’t as glamorous as it sounds, as I just stood on a tour bus in Brooklyn. But, my goodness, I will never forget that. And I’m so glad my friend got that picture (see below).
This is me singing on the tour bus. For more photos of me, scroll to the bottom of the post! 🙂
Acting is another thing I wouldn’t mind to do – although I’m realistic, I can’t see it really happening, everyone wants to be an actor! – because not only are you speaking out, saying your lines, but you’re also pretending to be someone else… something I wished a lot when I was a child. I wished so often to be anyone else but Penny. (Update: Since writing this blog post, however, I am planning a tour of America, for charity… and I will be filming it!)
Now, though, I embrace it. I embrace who I am and what I went through as a child. It made me who I am today. Okay, I still have a few quirks and flaws, but I hate to imagine who I would be now without it.
I may never have travelled to Australia. I may never have abseiled Forth Rail Bridge. I may never have walked across Sailsbury Plain. I may never have got my Bachelor’s Degree or my Master’s Degree. I may never have met all the interesting people over the years. I may never have flown a plane. I may never have fired that brown bess musket.
And, of course, I may never have become a writer and an author and I may never use my writing to help others.
I am Penny Hooper.
And I am The Girl Who Whispered.
I use this designation to hopefully inspire people.
Keep fighting, guys! ❤
P.s. If you think you know someone who has selective mutism, please try encourage them to get professional help. Do not try to “shock” them into talking. Do not simply assume it “will go” that “it’s a phase”. If it’s lasting more than a few weeks or months, then it could develop into something more serious. Unless you are a professional who understands selective mutism, do not attempt to fix it! I wished my parents or teachers did more, they didn’t, and it got worse and had a negative impact on my life.
P.P.s The song I sang on the tour bus was “Innocent Eyes” by Delta Goodrem.
Here are a few other photos of me over the years:
As always, if you liked this post, please do give it a like, and feel free to comment. I’m always happy to hear from people, old and new! 🙂
And do check out my other posts:
I’ve started blogging about my trip to Australia:
My post about my 34km trek across Salisbury Plain tank training ground for charity:
A few posts to see my writing: