Mental Illness

Telephone Phobia

Do I fear the phone because I’m a horrible Millenial? Is it my anxiety? Please don’t call with an answer.

When I was 12, I received my very own phone to keep in my bedroom. It was black and had speed dial. I’d spend hours on the phone every day during the summer, talking about The X-Files with my friend Eric. My friends Katie and Sindhu would call me with three-way calling and we’d plan fun adventures. I remember once being terribly disappointed when I called in to radio station 99X, only to find I’d just missed winning REM tickets.

I used the phone as a teen.

So when did my phone phobia start? I can pinpoint two instances that might be the cause. But it’s also possible I’ve come to despise my phone as my anxiety and mental health issues have become more manifest. That is to say, perhaps I’d have developed this phobia regardless. There’s no way to know for sure.

When I was 18, my father died on a Saturday afternoon. I called everyone I knew and no one was home. Leaving all those messages was horrible, repeating the same short message to various parents over and over (“Just have her call back as soon as she can, okay?”). That a bunch of teenagers were out on a Saturday is no surprise. At the time, few of us had cell phones (I didn’t have one). Most of my friends called me back as soon as they could. But that hurt.

When I was 20, I was involved in a dysfunctional long-distance relationship. After the issues finally became unbearable, I broke up with the guy. Ahhh, I think over Instant Messenger, I’m sorry to say. But that lead to a barrage of phone calls, day and night.

The phone was evil. What the phone made happen was evil.

I have certainly made my own life more difficult by not using the phone. I have no trouble speaking with people in person. And I can be goaded into using the phone when it will help someone else.

As I count the rings, though, I whisper an anxiety-ridden prayer: “Please be voicemail please be voicemail please be voicemail.”

It’s not that I simply hate making phone calls. I hate answering the phone, too. When my aunt called to tell me my mom had been taken to the hospital (for the last time), nearly a day had passed before I checked the voicemail and found out.

On the phone, I stumble over my words, I forget pieces of info, I have trouble modulating my voice (I feel). Oh sure, I write out what I’m going to say, I practice. I’ve discussed this issue with one therapist, but alas her advice was to, essentially, get over it.

While doing some Google research for this piece, I was surprised to see a variety of Australian websites commenting on this phenomenon. Plenty of my American friends share my dislike for the phone, but now I wonder if there’s something cultural at work. Maybe we should all move to Australia.

My phone phobia has certainly caused me problems, but I wonder if this is really a problem that needs to be solved. I can make doctor appointments and vet appointments online, I can order pizza online, and for most other things, I don’t mind speaking with someone in person. I bet society will reach a point where phone calls are not needed. What a glorious future.



11 replies on “Telephone Phobia”

I love the internet. Part of that might have something to do with the fact that my “can consistently call without panic attack” list being:

My best friend of 12+ years
My sister
Her fiancee (A new addition! I’m so proud of adding a new person to the list)
My mother
My stepfather

That’s it. Once every couple months I go through a fit of “I should try to beat this phone anxiety thing it’s a huge pain” and I inevitably fail.

That said, I can call in to conference calls if I don’t have to talk, and can occasionally get myself to talk. (and thus be deserving of reward chocolate.) But usually I have someone else on the call on Google chat to speak what I type them because I can NEVER guarantee I’ll be able to talk, and even when I do talk it doesn’t mean it will go well.

I was phone-phobic for YEARS, until I got a job that involved dozens, sometimes hundreds, of phone calls a day. I got over my phobia pretty quickly. I still, however, don’t use the phone during my off time, much to the eternal consternation of my parents. If you want to reach me when I’m not at work, you need to text or email me, because I am not answering the damn phone.

Oh God, I thought I was the only one! Though for me it has as much to do with general social anxiety — plus anxiety, period — as well as all the reasons listed here. Many’s the time I’ve got up just enough courage to either text or call a friend, only to have them not reply. Ah, memories.

Yep, I’m phone-phobic too. I also was on it constantly as a teen, then in college phone = too luxurious (pre-cell phone era, long distance calls were too rich for my blood), so some trepidation started then. Then I had a job where I’d have to be on the phone and people around me would interject or assume I was on personal calls (I wasn’t) and that gave me anxiety, and the person on the other end typically needed me to repeat everything because I apparently mumble (partly due to not wanting to be eavesdropped upon). It still causes a lot of problems; it takes me forever to work up to making appointments or calling for things, and I have to fake it for work then feel drained afterwards. I have also tried the ‘get over it’ method and it doesn’t work, and most people just think it’s a trivial thing, when even the thought of a call is enough to make me panic/cry/shut down. I can deal with calls slightly better when no one is around me, or if I’m in the car on speaker, but maybe it is a trigger for some bad memory…

I also HATE the phone. In my case, it’s because I suck at reading social cues, and it’s worse when I can’t see the person. I’ve been working on it, much in the same ways you have, because the job I hope to have kinda requires phone use. It helps some if I can pace while I’m on the phone or use speaker phone so I can otherwise fidget if I must use a corded phone.

Also, that therapist sucks donkey balls.

Yeah, not being able to read social cues is a big part of it. I mean, I can’t read social cues in an email, either, but emoticons help, plus I don’t have to repeat myself/ask the other person to speak up, etc.

That therapist was great in some ways, not so good in others. Ah well.

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