I’m petrified of the phone.
This is not some sort of hyperbole indicating that I find telephonic communication to be a mild irritant or inconvenience. I’m honestly, truly terrified of it.
I decided to write this post after a discussion developed on my Facebook page between a few of us that regard the act of ‘being on the phone’ with genuine horror. The most rudimentary of Google searches suggests that we are not at all alone. I can’t speak for others, obviously, but my phone phobia perplexes me entirely as, certain parameters of social anxiety aside, I am not too bad with people in person.
Let me qualify that; I freak out around new people, unless I am surrounded by people I know very well. I refuse to go out without people I know intimately, and I’m very uncomfortable around mere acquaintances, not that you’d always know it. However, if you catch me in the right mood, and I am with the right people, you’d be stunned to know I have any mental health issues at all. My in-laws, for example, are constantly amazed that there’s anything wrong with me, as I give the appearance of being a social animal in front of them and in front of a number of others – sometimes it’s a mask, but occasionally it’s real (hypomania? Who knows).
The phone changes everything. I will usually answer if A phones me, because although he doesn’t actually have the full-blown phobia that I do, he hates the device too. Anything, therefore, that he has to say via the bloody thing is either (a) quick or (b) urgent.
I only answer to my mother about 25% of the time, and everyone else thereafter becomes pro-(or re-)gressively more likely to be ignored. This includes my close friends such as Daniel. If they warn me that they’re going to phone, and give me some indication as to what it is they want to discuss, I’ll usually reluctantly give in – but not always.
There is 0% chance of me answering to a number that is either unfamiliar to me or is withheld. It just will not happen. As far as the land-line goes, I never answer it at all as I have no way of knowing who’s on the other end. If it’s anyone that even has half a chance of speaking to me, they’ll get me on the mobile anyway.
When I hear the accursed thing vibrating (I almost never have the sound on) for any more than the second it takes to denote a text message or an email, or when I hear the infuriatingly cheerful but simultaneously ominous sound of the land-line, I begin to feel desperately uncomfortable. It’s hard to say exactly how things progress, but let me attempt to dissect it.
It starts with a horrible ‘butterfly’ like feeling in the pit of the stomach, progressing to a sense of heightened physical alertness in which it feels like one is aware of every cell in one’s body. It produces goosebumps. The struggle for breath begins, the eyes widen. One’s heart beats so desperately that one feels it will surely explode from one’s chest.
It reminds me of what I’ve heard of the mammalian ‘fight or flight’ instinct, except in this case things definitely fall on the side of ‘flight’. Run away. Hide under the bed, where you can’t hear it or see it taunting you. Be gone, phone!
In short, I suppose I am essentially describing a panic attack. Because of a fucking phone call. It is, when you think about it, absolutely preposterous. What’s the worst that can happen, seriously? You answer; if the person is a tosser, you hang up. BIG DEAL.
Making a phone call tends to be less of an issue simply because, with the rare exception of my mother and A, I almost never do it. Phoning those two individuals is always done through my choice and is on my terms, so whilst I don’t especially relish the prospect of communicating in that way, I don’t completely dread it. I only call other people that I know when something very urgent arises, and as for calling people I don’t know – hahaha! No.
There has been the odd time when I’ve had no choice but to do it – for example, when I changed my name, some companies with whom I deal refused to accept emailed or written confirmation of this (which seems rather unusual to me, but anyway). This takes several hours of preparation on my part…sometimes more if the people concerned – eg. credit card companies – have proven themselves historically to be bastards.
How to prepare? Well, the CBT-like approach of rationalising the probable simplicity of the impending conversation does not of course work, so I have to attempt to find means to make myself calm (*cough* Diazepam *cough*). In such circumstances, I merely hope to convey facts to the other party, but although I usually get there eventually, even with the help of my little yellow friends I end up embarrassing myself wholly in the process. Compare this to when I went into the bank with my deed poll to change my name with them in person. Admittedly I had to take my mother (otherwise that would’ve been a fail too, no doubt), but I nonetheless communicated effectively and succinctly when dealing with the personnel directly. Hmm.
Reverting to the issue of phoning people I don’t know, an alternative to the ‘calm’ approach is, on extremely rare occasions, to be really angry. I mean, real, absolute, ‘I’m-seeing-fucking-red-here’, total anger, not just ‘I’m pissed off with these wankers’. This leads to a very dominant me, blinded by rage, demanding answers and results. This has happened maybe twice in my life – both times when I was regularly overcharged by packs of twats who consistently ignored other communications.
Compare the Mr Director-Person letters. Am I angry in those? Well, yes, I am – but not with that all-consuming, overpowering rage of which I speak. Yet I can articulate myself coherently and intelligently, if rather arrogantly, on paper. I cannot do this on the phone. I’m either furious beyond furious, in which case woe betide whoever answers, or I faff and babble and make a complete tit of myself, thus ensuring the very opposite of what I’d like – an even longer bloody call.
I’m trying to pinpoint a time when this started. When I was at school, I had a rather blasé relationship with the phone; I didn’t usually go out of my way to use it, but neither did I avoid it with the determination that I now do. Daniel would ring me quite a lot, as would a few others to whom I was then close, and I was fairly OK with that. A certain friend – Louise – and I even used to have a very childish (potentially cruel, I now see) laugh now and then phoning those stupid chatlines (they were free for women for some reason) to wind people up.
I would always have used email in preference to the telephone where possible, but my first memories of really being troubled by using it were when I was working in a firm of solicitors just before I started my postgraduate degree…so, what? At the age of 21, maybe? I remember phoning in sick a few times, and being terrified that my employers would doubt the authenticity of my illness, so to avoid accusations and 20 questions, I would ring before the office opened and leave answering machine messages for them rather than speak to anyone.
In my most recent job, it began to become a real bugbear. Again, I used email where possible anyway, not particularly concerning myself about the phone, and my first boss had enough faith in me to get the job done in whatever manner that she let me get on with doing things in my own autonomous way. When she retired and a colleague took over, things changed. My new boss – a lovely woman, but dreadful boss – she was hell-bent on micro-managing everything, and as a techno-phobe she decided that email was a facility akin to Guantanamo Bay, and she all but banned the use of it in favour of the bastarding phone. The nature of my work meant that I almost always took the entire department’s flack, even when the fault was mine maybe at most 5% of the time. I felt that I could deal with this in writing, because any letter or email that was critical of me would be very easily trumped by anything that I could write in response. Constantly having a bunch of stupid fuckers screeching in your ear about how useless and dreadful you were, however, was not quite so easy to contend with.
When I was embroiled in a pseudo-row with the office during the absence that ultimately led to my unemployment, I told them that I accepted the need to use the phone on many occasions, but contended that under the DDA it was a reasonable adjustment for them to allow my primary means of communication to be email. They did not agree.
However, it would be easy to blame my last workplace, but my discomfort did not entirely emanate from there; it was merely worsened. I cannot work out exactly where or how the discomfort, then the fear, then the abject terror first came about, and I cannot work out how I will deal with the issue in the long-term. I hate the fucking phone. I absolutely hate it. I don’t ever expect to like it, but I would really rather it didn’t send me running to hide under the bed every time its use becomes necessary.
In this hugely electronic world that we have come to inhabit, perhaps ultimately the phone will end up being redundant and forgotten, consigned to unread, dusty pages of technological history books. But that state of affairs is not at all imminent, not even vaguely so, so I must hope to find a solution to this most irrational, but frankly pathological, of fears.
And yeah, for those of you that have been paying attention over the last 13 months, I do have an iPhone 😉 That might be a bit of a ‘go figure’ moment for some of you, but trust me – the phone facility is by far the least used one on what is otherwise an amazing device.
So I’m weird. Surprise surprise. That is all.