Saturday, August 20, 2011

A Note from Offspring #1

Many of you have asked about Offspring #1, and that you miss the sound of a swarm of bees buzzing in your head. For those of you who haven't met Offspring, she is a lovely teenager from England -- which she calls Ingerland -- who wrote us about a year ago. The moment we opened her letter, we immediately realized that she is exactly what would happen if Kate and Lydia were able to have their own child. Later, she wrote us this letter, which was the literary equivalent of taking some awesome drugs left over from Haight-Ashbury, and then we e-mailed her, which is like mainlining rabid bees...and finally, received this awesome letter, because so many of you were asking, "Wait! We want to know about the Badger..." And then it takes us about two weeks for the buzzy-buzzy-ness to leave our brains...

We hadn't heard from Offspring in a while, and we started to get worried...

And, then we got this letter. Three things about this: One, it's long and still super buzzy, so prepare yourself. Two, it's a little sad; so while it's still Offspring, it's a different version of her. Three, after we read this, we wanted to hop on a plane and go over the pond so we could hug Offspring and make her tea and knit her some slippers. Please feel free to send her big hugs in the comments section...

xoxo Kate and Lydia

Just a note. A huge one. That involves stuff that is not funny and you do not have to post ever or at all. You don't have to post this. It is not exactly lighthearted.

I've been meaning to write to you about this for a while (because I think it's important, you have a lot of readers and you're awesome) but... well, it's not funny. So I've been a bit... well, the brain gerbils went on strike every time I tried to put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard or note to flaming arrow. (well, if it's called the pond it can't be THAT big, really. Besides, ducks are awesome! I'm sure duckmail will catch on. More awesome and quacky than email, and probably faster (and cheaper, dammit) than using 'conventional' systems that involve planes and whatnot. Ooh! Did you know all the royal mail planes are red? Isn't that awesome? I bet it's so birds will see it and help pull the plane along like a turbo boost or something. That's how they do their priority mail anyway. Isn't it weird that in Americaland you have the postal service and get mail, and here we have the royal mail and get post? I think that's funny, and I bet it's because ACTUALLY we swap systems. So all the Ingerland post goes to Americaland for the POSTAL service, and all the Americaland mail comes here for the royal MAIL. It would also explain exactly why your post cards always arrive after you do. And why every time you get all excited because amazon have dispatched something you really really want (such as my latest book about knitting without wool) (I'm allergic to wool. Or maybe the lanolin in the wool., Or maybe it's one of my arsenal of skin issues, either way the outcome is the same: I touch wool, I itch for weeks. Which sucks because I am into knitting in a big way and everyone's all NATURAL FIBERS WOO and I can't USE most of them. What's weird is I picked up the softest merino wool in a shop the other day by accident (OK, no, I was checking to see if soft wool would not make me want to de-skin myself) and while I could feel it being the softest thing on earth, I could also feel it like little pinpricks of acid at the same time. Which is weird.)


What I wanted to email you about is not my various skin issues. It was the mental issues. Which are kinda unfunny and awkward and nobody likes to talk about (or at least they don't here, in Ingerland. But then we don't talk about a lot of things. I watched DIY SOS the other day and when these people saw their house (which had basically been rebuilt and extended and generally made fabulous) they were just staring in awe and saying things like "I can't believe... it's so... the mould has completely gone...") And then I watched some of the extreme home makeover thing where they essentially did the same thing, only without the 'Holy Maude we have exactly three plasterers and we need to get this done YESTERDAY so we can paint and put up wallpaper and make it look non-buildingsitey'" and telling Billy off for breaking all the electrics for the eleventieth time. These are all staples of DIY SOS. And there was so much screaming in the one that wasn't DIY SOS it was incredible! I love to see all this different joy going on. Happy people are awesome. And it cracked me up at just how different everything was, not cos anything was ridiculous, but more cos things on two different continents that are actually very close can react to more or less the same thing in totally different but totally awesome ways. I love to see people happy. It's like a tiny sprinkle of glitter upon life. Especially when you smile at a random stranger in the street and then they smile back and it's like the most minute friendship in the entire world, including those made by molecules, and electrons and whatnot. (The only way I could understand chemistry and physics was if I slotted it into my own terms. As such, I learned how to balance equations using fruit salad and particle-ish-ness with friendship groups. So while the rest of the class were working on ionic bonding, I was naming electrons. I named one Arthur, after the hitchiker's guide. I was going to call one Ford, but I didn't want to sound silly or anything.)

Um, so yes. The point.

The point is, right now I have not spoken in five weeks. I have not taken a vow of silence, or been threatened and nothing bad (well... aside from other mental issues) has ever happened to me. But I can't speak. I don't have a cold, or laryngitis, or some kind of throat cancer thing, I just can't speak. All the words are lodged in my chest, and I can feel them there but I can't persuade my vocal cords and lips and tongue and teeth and throat to all cooperate to say things. It sucks. Really. Especially in places where a waitress, who is clearly a lovely person but very stressed out, tries to take my order and all hell breaks loose because she's already taken away the menu and playing charades to say "I'd like some apple juice, please," because I've forgotten my pencil or nobody can decipher my handwriting because I'm shaking too much because we're out in public and there are people, and oh, dear Maude, it's just too much.

I have a condition called selective mutism. I've lived with it for as long as I can remember and it's only in the past few weeks we realised it was A Thing. Which is sort of weird, because suddenly... well, as soon as I read about it it was like the moment when the optician slides all the right lenses home and all of a sudden everything is perfectly clear and you discover that that thing you thought was an E was actually a Q and you're left wondering how in the name of sanity did I ever think that was normal? And (just in case it helps) I've been diagnosed by a real proper psychiatrist who didn't get his doctorishness from a cereal packet. He is awesome, by the way. And he has many, many books in his office. SO he either reads a lot OR he's a spy with lots of cool things hidden in books. Either way he's totally awesome. Although every time I go and see him he tells me many, many things I really, really don't want to hear. So there you go.

Just to give you the basic facts, selective mutism is when someone (usually a small child - most common onset is between four and seven years old, although it's possible to develop it before or after those ages too,) can speak just fine in some situations where they're comfortable, such as at home, might even say too much and accidentally tell daddy that mummy said the F-word and the B-word and the K-word at that man who very very nearly hit the car when he didn't effing indicate on a roundabout today, leaving you wondering what the K-word is and deciding it's a spelling thing.

In other situations they may be completely silent.

Most commonly it's first noticed at school. Many children find settling into school hard. I mean, you're thrown into a place where, for eight hours every day, the rules are all different and you have to ask permission to do anything and you have to learn seemingly random stuff for some reason you have no idea about... well, it sound pretty disconcerting to me. The first month of school doesn't count for selective mutism as a diagnosis, because of the weird. But after that, it's not good. Well, before that isn't good, but you know what I mean. There is simple shyness, that loads of kids grow out of, and some don't, and it can be debilitating. But selective mutism is not shyness. It's an anxiety disorder that might not go away on it's own. Many kids who have selective mutsim are also very shy. I know, I've been there. But shy children might talk to people after a period of time. Selectively mute children might never do that. It's a very hard distinction to make sometimes.

Some kids will only talk at home, some kids will only talk to other kids at school, some kids will talk to no one at school. Maybe they can't talk at the park, but they are happy to say thank you to the nice checkout lady in the supermarket. It differs for everyone. Some people find it easier to talk in an anonymous place, where no one is going to make a big fuss about you talking, like Starbucks. (You might need to take a trip to Starbucks to check. You know, for experimental purposes. Better safe than sorry! Or should that be better safe with soy latte?)

Sometimes it's written off as rudeness, that the child is too stubborn to even have the common decency to say hello. Other times the child is said to be shy, or that they're difficult or have problems with authority. I heard of one extreme case where a kid was diagnosed with autism because they could not speak, despite there being no other symptoms.

I was weird. (As always. I'm good at weird. Maybe I could go on Britain's got talent and just be weird at them! That would be awesome. It'd probably branch out the range of talents from singing, dancing and dancing with dogs to other, more obscure talents. Like being able to sleep through practically anything, like my sister. Seriously. We had the loudest thunderstorm we'd ever had one night and she slept straight through. There could be an explosion down the road and she wouldn't even roll over. If that's not a talent I don't know what is.) I could talk to teachers just fine, but other kids were hard. Very hard. In primary school it was there, but less noticeably. I've always been the kid in the kitchen at parties, practically begging to be allowed to wrap cake or clear up or set out the party food. Anything to stop me having to try and fail to talk to other children. Children I liked just fine, very much in some cases. But I couldn't speak. And because I was little I couldn't really express this to anyone. And also because the not talking kinda makes communication a bit tricky, especially if your writing isn't good. (I might have mentioned before: My handwriting looks like it belongs to someone who is not only writing with their wrong hand, but is also attempting hieroglyphs. While being attacked by a swarm of killer bees.) (They actually thought I was dyslexic for a while, until they realised my handwriting just looks like I have letters in the wrong place or missing altogether. The fact I wasn't being attacked by killer bees at the time was helpful.)

There is an idea that kids grow out of this. Let me just say this: while some kids

might learn to manage the anxiety on their own (because it's an anxiety disorder, whoopdeedo) others don't. I am case and point on that. It just got worse as I got older until in high school there are classmates who have never heard me speak. I didn't go to my prom, I didn't go to any parties, and I was awfully lonely.

I'm not saying your child might have the same experiences as me if you don't check this out. I've always been a bit odd, and I don't doubt that if the selective mutism was taken out of the equation (there go the bananas!) I would have probably been lonely as well. I'm not saying we should label kids left right and center, or medicate them if it's not absolutely necessary, but early intervention is important. I'm 18. I'm technically an adult (although Maude only knows I don't feel it) and as such I need to go to the adult services. Who are amazing and awesome and everything, but they haven't the faintest idea what to do with me. So we're making our way through various antidepressants and anti anxiety things (with some surprisingly hilarious side effects -- one of them made me walk like a drunk person. A SERIOUSLY drunk person. Holding on to walls, falling up stairs... at 10am in the morning. Oh, the stares! The bemused looks! I could just feel my mother restraining herself from saying "Why yes, that is my daughter. No, she is not drunk. She is just having... balance.. issues. No. NO. It is not an excuse!")

There's a whole awareness movement going on. And I don't know how it is in America, maybe this whole entire thing is irrelevant, but over here it is moving like a tortoise in treacle. Nobody can decide how very rare, or very common this is, because there are not enough studies. And there seem to be no studies on adults with selective mutism. At all. Which is peculiar, seeing as the adults are the ones who are most likely to be able to convey the information they need.

I don't want to worry you. I don't want to freak anyone out. If your child doesn't speak at school or at parties, by all means give it a while to see how things pan out. I'm not trying to make anyone diagnose children with conditions if that's unhelpful to them. But from the point of view of somebody who has battled with this her entire life, not knowing what it was, thinking I was broken, I would rather know it had a name and that help is there than have to go it alone.

I want to help. I want to try and maybe keep another kid from having to wrap cake at parties while everyone else is playing because they can't talk. As much as possible I want to prevent someone else from feeling the enormous anxiety I did, and still do. Like I said, Kate and Lydia don't have to post this. It's not amusing, it's rambling and it's completely born of this feeling of a hole in my heart because I cannot ask someone to pass the salt, much less tell my family I love them. The huge anxiety that something could happen to my mother when we're alone in the house and my family won't be back for a week and I won't be able to pick up the phone and call for an ambulance or explain what's wrong. (Although I also won't be able to accidentally say JUST the wrong thing. There are upsides to every story, silver linings to every cloud, hilariousity to every... incident.)

I'm sorry for any worry I might have caused. I just feel it's important. Thanks for reading this. It means a lot, even if none of it applies to you. Even if you're rolling your eyes at it. Even if you think I'm scaremongering. If you think the last, I assure you, I never meant it that way. Also sorry. In the time it's taken you to read this there may well have been an incident involving a blancmange, a giraffe, and sixteen double pointed knitting needles. (which, might I say, is a surprisingly ninjaish thing to have around in case of shark attacks.)

Offspring #1

P.S Also: This is awesome and you may like it.

Yes, Offspring, it is AWESOME! Just like you...We love you.

(c)Herding Turtles, Inc. 2009 - 2011

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