I always thought that actually having a valid excuse to not talk to people would be a blessing. That I could avoid conversation or platitudes with strangers on the train, or people in a shop, or even family or acquaintances at a gathering, without coming across as aloof or impolite, seemed like the ideal ‘two birds, one stone’ scenario – fixing my ‘no spoons for talking’ problem and my ‘I want people to think well of me’ problem.
But now, well into my third day of what we suspect is laryngitis, the barrier to communication is making me want to rip out my own voicebox and replace it with one that actually works.
I’ve realised that, for all those times I want to avoid contact and block myself off from the endless chitter-chatter of the world, there are mirroring times where I want to talk, I want to connect, and I have some pretty solid things I would like to say thank you very much.
For example, despite my complete-lack-of-anything-except-a-frog-impression voice situation, I attended choir yesterday, and although I don’t regret attending (at least I now know what the harmonies are supposed to sound like), it was so frustrating that I wanted to pull at my hair. I so desperately wanted to join in; and not only that, but I couldn’t even join in with the comfortable banter that I actually understand and enjoy. As I ended up scribbling jokingly on my lyric sheet and passing to a friend: keep wanting to interject with terribly witty comments – you guys are missing out :p
I was able to demonstrate my excellent interpretative dance to fill the silence of what would have been my dramatic solo verse in a Jesus Christ Superstar medley. So that’s one positive, I guess.
Being able to put the word out at work that putting any calls through to me is a futile endeavour – that’s been pretty good as well. I’ve enjoyed being able to get my head down and completely focus on my other work without fear of spoon-stealing distractions. And, the great thing about my current job, as opposed to my previous position, is that I can still be a productive member of the team without my voice. I can work, I can contribute and, also credibly crucially, I can earn a living rather than having to take unpaid leave.
So it’s not all bad. But I’m definitely done with it now.
And it could last for another week.
I think the most frustrating thing is that, whilst sometimes I’m forced to communicate verbally when I don’t want to, I have had the privilege of being able to do so when I’ve really wanted to or need to. And now I can’t do that – and I don’t know any sign language – I feel genuinely and desperately incapacitated. I can hear people calling me, chuntering under their breath that I’m not listening even as I scramble to my feet (because, remember, I can’t shout back). I have to let my family place orders for me, terrified I’m going to end up with the wrong things, and endlessly worrying that I haven’t communicated my needs properly.
It’s a whole other world of anxiety to the one I’m used to.
I know people in my autism circle who struggle to communicate verbally. And whilst I have moments where I struggle to do this – moments when the words garble and scramble in my throat, when the connections are cut, when I can’t even order the syllables correctly in my head, let alone form them on my tongue – the last few days have demonstrated to me just how much I rely on verbalisation.
I’ve been saying for years that I want to learn British Sign Language, both to help myself during non-verbal moments and to do something for my non-verbal autistic siblings. To recognise my privilege in being able and mostly -comfortable in communicating verbally, and work towards a world that’s easier for the people who can’t.
But I never got around to doing it. Something always had me distracted.
It’s a sad indictment of me that it took me getting freaking laryngitis to buck the hell up and get this thing rolling.
But I want to now. I’m looking. I’m searching. I can’t spend too much, but I want to do it properly. If anyone has any ideas of good, reputable companies – companies that are not to expensive, that allow me to learn at my own pace, alongside everything else I do, with as little stress as possible – please do let me know!
Time to stop talking. Time to start doing.