I avoid making phone calls at almost all costs.
I am phone-phobic.
Apparently, admitting you have a problem is the first step in doing something to fix it.
So here I am, standing up and admitting it – I am utterly terrified of making phone calls.
It isn’t a new thing, but I couldn’t point to an exact time when it became an real issue. I don’t really ever remember being totally ok with phone calls, but it has definitely become worse in recent years.
Even the prospect of making a phone call sets my adrenaline off, raises my heart rate, causes me to sweat, my mouth go dry and my throat to tighten. As a result, making a phone call is never an enjoyable experience for me and so I’ve learnt to just avoid it altogether – if I can’t do it online then it usually doesn’t happen.
The most common recurring theme in my dreams is struggling to dial a phone number. In the range of different dream scenarios, as soon as I have to dial a phone number my arms and fingers fail me and I will be unable to correctly dial, leading to impending doom.
I don’t know if anyone else has ever suffered from this, I suspect I am not alone (although it is something that makes me feel very alone) but it still feels like a particularly silly phobia to have – but then I guess phobias generally aren’t logical things. However, my phone phobia does seem especially illogical – I am not completely incapable of using a phone, but I get extreme anxiety around making a phone call and will take any and all opportunities to delay and ideally avoid ever having to actually make that call.
The really ridiculous bit – I find it easier to answer the phone to a number I don’t recognise than to pick up the phone and call someone I know. With a number I don’t recognise I’m usually fairly sure it will be a short exchange in which I will have the upper hand as it’s probably some unsolicited call regarding a car accident I was never in or PPI I never took out – I can admonish the caller, pointing out the my number is listed with the Telephone Preference Service so they shouldn’t be calling, end the call and then add the number to my blocked list. If it’s someone I know then we’re into the realms of having to hold a conversation and it’s then that my adrenaline spikes and I clam up.
I don’t know how to act on the phone. I can find real face-to-face conversations hard enough but the phone adds new dimensions of potential pit-falls. What do I say? What if I stumble over my words? What if I can’t hear them? What if they can’t hear me? What If what I’m saying doesn’t make sense/isn’t funny/isn’t interesting? What if you’ve dialled the wrong number? Ultimately, what if I humiliate myself in any of a hundred different ways? The world of ‘What if’s…?’ that leads to panic and then makes me more likely to actually mess up.
Increasing use of social media hasn’t really helped. On the one hand it’s great because it provides a non-verbal, non-face-to-face means of communication that doesn’t set off my fears and anxiety. On the other hand, it has provided a means of non-verbal, non-face-to-face communication that doesn’t set off my fears and anxiety and so totally enables my phobia and doesn’t challenge me to step out of my tightly defined comfort zone.
In addition, research shows that communication on social media doesn’t actually provide the same benefits for mental health and wellbeing that other more “real” forms of communication and socialising bring. Aside from the fact that the ‘highlight reel’ nature of social media only serves to reinforce feelings of isolation and dissatisfaction in those with a predisposition towards depressive thinking (like me).
One of the worst things is actually realising that I have probably damaged so many friendships and lost friends through my inability to communicate with them in any real way.
I don’t really know where I go beyond this ‘first step’. I know the theory behind challenging assumptions to overcome anxieties, but I struggle with putting it into practice. I don’t feel capable of tackling it head on by making a phone call to challenge myself, and I don’t know who I’d call even if I felt I could.
I’d love to hear if you’ve had similar issues and if/how you’ve managed to either overcome them or learned to live with them.