Sunday, February 04, 2007

Scarier Than a Stephen King Novel

I’m finally going to address IT. You know, IT, the phobia that has held me back in the past and continues to haunt me. IT is my telephone phobia.

How long have I had the telephone phobia? I am quite sure that it goes back at least to high school, and since I wasn’t really allowed to use the telephone much prior to that I’m not sure how long before that I would have had it. It is definitely related to social anxiety although I can handle live face to face interaction better than telephonic conversation.

What is the extent of this telephone phobia? My first memories of it are of being afraid of making telephone calls but being okay with receiving them. I later went through a phase where I was afraid of both making and receiving telephone calls. Not only would I not make a call, but I wouldn’t answer one either. If nobody else was home I’d just let it go to the answering machine. A few years ago though I found that I was much better off answering a telephone call than letting it go to the machine and having to actually make a call back later. At this point, I will answer almost any telephone call although I always check caller ID first.

Making telephone calls, on the other hand, can cause me to go into a full blown panic attack. Just writing about it is making my heart beat faster and my breathing shallower. I absolutely hate to make telephone calls. To me there is nothing good about making a call. There are only three people I can call without triggering the phobia – W, N, and BJ. To call anyone else requires me to spend time psyching myself up for it, convincing myself it will be okay. Sometimes I try to write a script for myself beforehand. Mostly all any of this does is make me have more time to think and get nervous about it. In some ways, it almost seems better if I have to make a call immediately because then I don’t have time to think about it so much. I’m better at making a call if somebody says “Call Sue and ask her if she knows anything about that check?” and then stands there waiting for me to do it right then. At that point, I just take a deep breath and do it. If, on the other hand, you were to ask me to call Sue when I get a chance to ask her about the check then I’ll put it off as long as possible and spend much to much time worrying about it and dreading it. Almost the worst is when I’m told to call Sue tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. Now I know exactly when I’ll be forced to do it, and the clock moves so slowly until the appointed time. Then time starts to fly and before I know it it is 10:03, then 10:08, then 10:10, and at some point I begin to panic because now I’m so late making the call I’ll be even more embarrassed.

I want to get over this phobia or at least get control of it so that I can make telephone calls when telephone calls are required. I don’t hope to ever be one of those people who can just pick up a phone and make a call just to chat incessantly about nothing, but I least hope to get to a point where I can make necessary appointments for myself, where I can call and order a pizza, where I can call family and friends to share news with them.

So just what is it that strikes terror in my heart when faced with the need to make a phone call? I daresay that there is something underlying the list I’m about to give, something that is at the crux of the problem that I can’t quite put my finger on or won’t allow myself to consciously acknowledge. I am trying to open myself up to figuring out what that thing is, and am hoping that by bringing this out into the light that I am on my way to doing that. Here, then, are the things of which I’m aware that terrify the begeezus out of me:
• Fear of interrupting the person at a bad time
• Fear of sounding like an idiot
• Fear that I won’t make clear why I’m calling
• Fear that I will say too much
• Fear that I will say too little
• Fear that the recipient of the call will not be nice to me
• Fear that the recipient of the call will belittle me

I don’t feel like I’ve explained any of this well. Rational discourse on this issue is supremely difficult for me. At this point, I’ve got to stop writing and go calm myself down now.


Amy Elle said...

I could have written this myself. I understand all too well.

spinningmia said...

I'm the same way except the two things I'm most afraid of are not hearing the person correctly and talking at the same time as the other person.

Anonymous said...

Though I wouldn't call it a phobia I am no fan of the phone and will put off making calls and at times have cringed at the sound of it ringing. I hope you do realize your not alone and we all have stuff that we are sure if others knew would have them thinking we are from Mars or something. Your going to be fine.

Serenity said...

I find it ironic then that you have a phone number on your profile! :)
I think it's good you don't need to pick up the phone just to chat. Phones are overrated. I wonder if it would help to have pictures of the people you call most frequently near the phone so you can focus on their faces while you are talking to them. Doesn't help for work stuff, but might for more casual contacts.
Otherwise that's why they invented email.

Mystical Muse said...

I haven't posted here before but I've been reading and lurking about for a bit now. Finally I have something to comment on. I too suffered from a Telephone phobia. I dreaded making calls or receiving them or anything in between much like you. I found that it is a fear of rejection that kept me from the phone. It sounds like you too have a fear of rejection and to feel in control you put off using the phone so people can't reject you. I know it sounds silly, but if you think about it, it may very well be true. It's not easy to overcome, I still dread talking to some people. Just remember that not everyone is going to think ill of you.

trueself said...

Well, I will admit I'm surprised at the number of others that seem to have similar issues. Thanks to all of you for your very supportive comments.

Serenity - the phone # is voicemail only. That's why I can have it there. That and very very few people have ever used it. If people actually started calling it might freak me out enough to take it down. I don't know. Then again it does reflect my usual strategy in attacking fears, like in college when I took an extra public speaking class because I was very uncomfortable with public speaking. I just confronted it head on and learned how to make myself comfortable with public speaking. Now if I can just attack this thing, I think I can work through this too.

Anonymous said...

I have the exact same thing... at first my husband was understanding and "helpful", but now he is annoyed that he has to make all the phonecalls. The funny part about it, is I answer phones for a living! But it's not about "me", so I have no problem doing it. The thought of calling up to order a pizza makes me want to puke!
Total empathy.

trueself said...

Taja - If I ever find the cure I'll be sure to share it.

Emily said...

Ah, now I know why you never called me back after I left you a voicemail. I thought maybe I had said the wrong thing.

I'm not phobic about the phone, but I am about spiders. I'm just not rational about them.

Sunny Delight said...

You said you weren't allowed to use the phone much as a child...I wonder if that has something to do with it?
My son was rarely allowed to use the phone,and he has a phone phobia too...although he is also painfully shy.

Me, I detest making phone calls, have to gird myself to do it....but mainly because I always have a long list of calls to make,and know I will be speaking to al least one person who will go on and on and on and on and on and on!