In late April I figured out something else about some of the communication issues in my marriage, which led to a realization that there seem to be different levels of communication for me. Some are easier than others and I can occasionally experience mutism regarding the more difficult types while still managing to use the easier ones.
To begin with, Husband and I figured out that we have two weak spots that line up exactly to make things more difficult. He has a tendency to think that he needs to get everything done and thus he doesn’t always tell me when things won’t be done. That sadly fails to meet my need to know when things won’t be done so I can adjust my expectations and act accordingly.
My reactions have then frequently been misread by him as anger due to him not getting the thing done, when really I was reacting in panic to the fact that I had to scramble to figure out how to the thing done without any prior warning that I’d need to do anything about it at all.
We’ve been working on that, since we figured it out. Such a simple thing, and yet it’s really caused so many issues over the years. Nearly every fight we’ve had has boiled down to me being blindsided by something, if not by other misunderstandings.
I already wrote about my need for time to figure out what’s going on. What’s the change? What’s the solution? Piece by piece, figuring it out. But when I’m so focused on figuring out what’s going on outside of myself, especially when there’s an unexpected deadline, I have additional difficulties with figuring out what’s going on inside myself too.
So when I’m panicking about an unexpected situation, I have no idea why I’m panicking or what’s actually happening with my feelings. I can’t explain away anyone else’s assumption even when I know it’s wrong. I can only reiterate that they are wrong, which isn’t an effective way to communicate my actual meaning.
Even once the knowledge is there, inside myself, translated into words, I can’t usually get the words to come out. I can often sit and think them over and over again, but there’s a disconnect between my mind where the words live and my mouth. Maybe the door is locked? Or maybe the passageway is too cluttered? It feels like a blockage of some sort.
But other times the words come out easily. Usually when it’s about something factual. I can speak factual things at almost any time, other than when I lose words completely.
It seems to me that I have several types of speech and each has a different level of difficulty and I came up with this list, which is probably not complete.
Level 1 – easiest:
Reading aloud someone else’s words.
Reading aloud my own words.
Level 2 – slightly more difficult:
Giving simple single-word factual answers.
Quoting my own or someone else’s words.
Retelling an interesting fact that I read/heard previously.
Level 3 – not too tiring, usually attainable:
Coming up with new arrangements of words to respond factually.
Having a discussion about interests with others.
Level 4 – exhausting, can only be sustained for short periods of time:
Talk in depth (not just giving facts) about past experiences/feelings/reasons.
Level 5 – almost never attainable:
Talk meaningfully about current experience/feelings (vs using scripts).
Level 5 is something I almost never achieve – maybe once or twice in my entire life. Level 4 is the first realistic type of communication that disappears and then it goes on down (up?) the list.
When I was in high school I largely communicated about my feelings and beliefs by using my beloved quote dictionaries (I owned three). The words I couldn’t manage to come up with were all written out for me already and I just had to find the right words in the right combination to express what I was wanting to convey to another person.
Other than quoted statements, relationship stuff primarily falls under levels 4 and 5 (depending on whether it’s current or past) so if there’s a relationship misunderstanding causing me to lose speech then I won’t be able to talk about that. However, during such an episode of (partial) mutism I will still sometimes be able to answer simple questions from the children or read aloud to them because those fall under a lower level of difficulty for me.
This also at least partially explains why it’s so much less exhausting for me to spend time with my Autistic friends. We almost always stick to having discussions in the easiest three levels to begin with. It’s also easier to talk with them about past feelings and experiences because they understand and I end up having to explain far less than I do when talking to an allistic friend or acquaintance. Understanding makes such a huge difference! ❤