Pete Davison: Telephobia

Posted on July 26, 2011 by

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If you phone me, it’s entirely possible that I won’t want to talk to you. I might not even answer. I’m not being a dick, and I still like you, I just hate talking on the phone.

Actually, it goes deeper than that. I am fucking petrified of talking on the phone.

Here’s what happens when I receive a phone call:

Phone rings.

“Shit! My phone’s ringing,” I think. “I wish my ringtone wasn’t so loud/embarrassing.”

I mute the ringtone and look at the display to see who’s calling.

“I don’t want to answer that if I don’t know who it is,” I think if I see a blocked number. “They must have bad news for me or want to yell at me; I must have done something wrong,” I think if I see a number for someone I recognise.

“But wait,” I then think. “Wasn’t there that thing I was hoping to hear back from? Maybe it’s that.”

“Oh, but what the hell will I say?” the irrational side of my mind says. “You have enough trouble dealing with people in person at times, you can’t fill awkward silences on the phone with hand gestures or pretending to cough or something.”

“Just do it,” says the rational side of my head. “What, seriously, is the worst possible thing that could happen?”

“I don’t want anyone to listen to me on the phone,” chimes in the irrational side of my head. “But if you must, answer it.” I disappear into a room (or outside if a convenient room isn’t available), close the door so no-one can listen in and take a deep breath, preparing to take the call.

Unfortunately, by this time, my voicemail has usually taken over and a whole new set of anxieties take the place of the original fears. I see a voicemail message come in and I’m hesitant to listen to it just in case it’s someone, again, yelling at me. I don’t generally give people reasons to yell at me, but still the natural assumption for me when I receive a voicemail is that it’s someone yelling at me, particularly if I’ve had something important to do recently and I’m paranoid that I may have forgotten to do any or all of it.

It’s no better when I have a phone call to make. Here’s how that goes:

Look at phone number written down.

Look at phone.

Rehearse start of conversation in head, or at least attempt to.

Wonder what might happen if person on other end of phone deviates from script in my head.

Panic a bit.

Look at phone number again.

Rehearse alternative start of conversation in head. Wonder what the other possibilities might be.

Stare at phone for a bit.

Pick up phone. Start to dial number.

Stop.

Wait.

Think a bit more.

Swallow heavily.

Put down phone. Go and do something less stressful, like giving haircuts with a chainsaw.

(As an aside, oddly enough I seem to be just fine with “professional” phone calls. It’s the more “personal” calls that I have difficulty dealing with. I worry that the person on the other end will judge me, misunderstand my long silences or call me a twat.)

hate this part of myself. It’s a genuine phobia, irrational and all, and a bit of casual Internet research suggests that I’m not the only person who feels this way, not by a long shot. It even has a proper name — telephobia (or, depending on who you talk to, the tongue-twisting telephonophobia or simply “telephone phobia”) — but that doesn’t really make me feel much better about it.

The solution to it is, as suggested by several people, to deliberately put myself into situations where I have to make phone calls. I’ve done temp work that would have involved answering the phone. I couldn’t do it. I froze up, petrified, whenever the phone rang. I had to speak to my temporary boss almost in tears telling her that I just couldn’t answer the phone. Deliberately put myself in that situation again? Sadly, it might work — but I just don’t feel up to it, yet.

The phone is a pain in the arse. Even if I actually liked talking on it, I’d likely still think it was a pain in the arse. It’s obtrusive, it interrupts things, you can’t do anything else while you’re talking on the phone (unless you have one of those Bluetooth headsets, and then you just look like a tit, plus people can then hear you pissing/making a sandwich/walking around outside/watching TV) and it’s impossible to end a conversation effectively.

This hatred is, I know, all part of the “irrational” part of the phobia and I’m sure that if I was able to cope with it, I’d probably, in fact, actually quite like talking to people on the phone. But while a phone ringing and the prospect of having to answer it completely terrifies me and fills me with a sense of panic and dread… no thanks. I’ll stick to forms of communication I’m actually comfortable with and can take my time over, thanks.

For now, anyway.

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