How I Got Over Phone Anxiety

Athena ScalziIn my last post, I mentioned how I had a hard time understanding people who can’t order at drive-thrus or ask for help in a store. I also mentioned people who can’t make phone calls, and noted that a lot of the time, these people can’t really explain why they feel the way they do. At least, that’s the experience I had many years ago when I was plagued with phone anxiety.

For as long as I can remember, up until I was sixteen, I couldn’t make phone calls. The idea was so horrifying to me. I didn’t get a cell phone until I was twelve, but even before that, I couldn’t use the landline to call friends or talk to family members. What if I dialed the number wrong and a stranger picked up? What if there was a bad connection and I couldn’t be understood or heard right? Eight-year-old me was simply petrified.

I distinctly remember my mother being dumbfounded by this idea that I had difficulty calling people. One time, when I was eleven, I wanted to know if the roller rink was open, so my mom told me to call and ask their hours. I remember my heart racing as I dialed, and when I got an answering machine, I hung up abruptly and cried. Looking back at it, I really don’t understand why I did that. Wasn’t a recording that stated the hours and address better than talking to a person? Why did I freak out? What was my problem? I didn’t know at the time, and I’m still not sure.

I remember another instance of this happening when I wasn’t so little anymore. I was sixteen and had just been given a credit card, and had to call the company to register it. Dealing with the automated bot was easy enough, but when it asked me to speak my social security number out loud, it couldn’t understand me for some reason, and I ended up getting connected to a real person. I couldn’t respond to the person on the other end because my throat immediately closed up and tears came to my eyes. I literally couldn’t talk because I was freaking out so bad.

So what happened to change this phone anxiety? Well, a few months later, I got a job at Jay and Mary’s Book Center, a book store two towns over. Little did I know that in retail, you have to answer the phone a lot.

At first, it was beyond difficult. I had to make calls to people whose books came in, I had to answer the phone and be ready for any kind of question or request. It was stressful. But then, after a few weeks, it just went away. Completely faded. Being exposed to it every day for a month really just kind of made me better.

Nowadays, I’ll call literally anywhere. Every restaurant has online ordering, but most of the time I just find it easier to call and give them my order. Oftentimes it’s faster! Not sure if a store is open and Google has unreliable information about their hours? Call ’em! I don’t know what I was so afraid of.

Exposure therapy does not work for everyone, and it can sometimes make things worse. But it helped me. And I’m thankful for my retail experience. Which is not something I ever thought I’d say (though my book store job was great and I’m happy I had the opportunity to work at the best bookstore this side of the Mississippi).

I know how hard it can be to live life with this debilitating anxiety of talking to people, whether it be through a phone, a drive-thru screen, or simply a grocery store worker. If you have this kind of problem, I hope it gets easier for you someday, whether it’s through exposure therapy or otherwise. In this hectic world of nonstop communication, I know it can be tough. Stay strong, and have a great day.


48 Comments on “How I Got Over Phone Anxiety”

  1. Hi Athena:

    This post and your previous one have really resonated with me, and I thank you for them.

    My professional career had centered around customer service and purchasing, which required a lot of phone work and being able to think quickly to various circumstances. Then, overwhelmed one day, I went home and stayed there for weeks, unable to talk on the phone, full of anxiety and confusion. Gradually, it got better, but still offers challenges.

    One thing you commented on in your previous post: that people with depression can sort of understand other people with depression..this is sort of true in my experience. At least they are familiar with the symptomology. But many of these anxiety or depressive conditions are so deeply personal and unique that I don’t even feel I can truly understand what someone with the same conditions I cope with are really going through.

    Anyway, thanks again. You are a remarkably well adjusted person.

  2. I understand! Oh, how I understand! I still have trouble making phone calls. It can still give me heart palpatations after decades. But when I finally get the call going, I’m usually fine. My beloved sibling won’t call on the phone ever. So I think there must be some genetic anxiety trait behind this. Glad exposure therapy worked for you (and you got paid for it, too!)

  3. I’ve always hated using the phone but I found out a few years ago that in the normal course of a conversation, especially if there’s any kind of background noise, I lip read*. It explains a few other things as well, I don’t do audio-books or radio drama because they can’t hold my attention, if I’m watching a foreign language film I’ll always opt for the original language and subtitles over dubbed voices, and I’m terrible at spoken languages but can quite often pick my way through written languages as long as they’re using Latin or Cyrillic alphabets.

    *Imagine how much fun needing to lip read is at the moment, luckily (well, plans to move house and do a bit of travelling round the country and nearby bits of the continent are a bit postponed) I took early retirement last year so can avoid 99% of masked conversation.

  4. And then there are some people (well, me) who just don’t want to talk to anybody. I’ll jump through all kinds of hoops to avoid the phone, though if I have to I do just fine. I could see, though, that how I feel could morph into phone anxiety very easily.

  5. A lot of us have phobias no one around them can understand! I had severe agoraphobia. I wish I could say it went away with habitation (working in retail, going to school, etc) but it only attenuated. Oh well, it makes dealing with the relative isolation of COVID-19 easier for me than most people, so there’s that. At 71, I doubt I will worry too much about it anymore 😊.

    Take care! Your post on narcolepsy was most interesting and insightful.

  6. Calling people might bother them, and I grew up in a time and place and family where children (girls especially) were taught DON’T BE A BOTHER. I still have trouble with this (and I’m nearly 60).

  7. Thank you for this post. As a resolute phone hater I appreciate your openness. For me, I was always OK with phones until I worked in a development lab for a phone company: hearing phones ringing all day just pushed me over the edge. Now I can only make unprompted phone calls if I’ve worked out the script beforehand.

    Drive throughs are a different thing for me. I wasn’t exposed to them until I moved to the States and I think the reason I find drive throughs so difficult is that there is very poor feedback from the listener. Not only can you not see the other person to gauge if they are following you, but the ordering systems seem to suffer from the same one way communication that videoconferencing solutions suffer from: good operators confirm everything after you order, but bad operators talk over you before you’ve finished.

    Anyway, thank you for your candour with this post and the last one. They connected with me.

  8. Your voice and writing talent ring clear and true in this (and your previous) essay. I’m not even your parent or friend and I am proud of you.

    I hated coming home to an answering machine blinking at me, telling me I had to return a call. When it died I was delighted, but an annoyed friend bought me a new one, and there I was again, until I moved and had no landline at all. Sigh of relief. I taught my son early on to make his own doctor’s appointments, and I’m glad he has no anxiety about it! I am also increasingly hard of hearing, which combined with everyone using crackly cell phones, has raised my anxiety.

    Online ordering and appointment making is a godsend.

  9. My son will not go into a McDonald’s or other place w/out someone. He’s 17. He has to go through the drive – thru. I’ve had him in therapy on and off. Like you one day I suspect he’ll have to do it and will learn it’s no big deal.

    I’ve battled with anxiety last 20 years. It tends to be general rather than related to specific activities. The fear of doing something is the worst. I will be bouncing off the walls and close to having a panic attack in anticipation of something, but then when it’s time to do it in a matter of minutes the anxiety will be gone and I’ll be perfectly comfortable. It doesn’t make things any easier knowing that, but I’ve learned to accept it.

  10. I understand the squeamishness about calling someone. DH doesn’t understand why I keep my cell phone turned off unless I am actively using it or expecting a call (I say it’s to preserve battery life). I can take an incoming call, and in fact it’s necessary at work, but a personal outgoing call takes effort. I much prefer e-mail, where I can choose the phrasing rather than having to do it on the fly.

  11. I was like that until my early teens. Using the phone was my parents’ job, not mine. I wouldn’t even answer until 10 and only then the only thing I could say was “Please wait a moment”. I even hung up on my mom trying to make a collect call because she had locked her keys inside her car and I had to make a decision to accept the long distance fees (ask your dad if you don’t quite understand that phrase, we’re about the same age).
    Nowadays I teach my kids not to fear the phone! They’re much better than me. My daughter still prefers staying home than call her friends to visit sometimes. The situations doesn’t happen as often these days for obvious reasons…

  12. Like Ell said, I have always been able to make phone calls for work. It seems so much easier when it’s my *job* and I have to be doing it. I would still rather not eat than call a restaurant to place an order. Fortunately I married someone who is better at calls than I am.

    Re: anxiety– My life changed 100% when I did a course of treatment at a cognitive behavioral therapy center. I went there for specific test anxiety but it spilled over to all areas of my life. (And funnily, when I did Bradley training for childbirth, they taught the same techniques!) Still, I can make phone calls I just don’t *want* to. In the past few years, I have been doing a lot of calling my elected officials and I still hate it, but I do it anyway. (Like Dunx said, scripts help a lot.)

    I still have ochlophobia, fear of crowds. My CBD therapist noted it on the prescreen and asked if I wanted to work on it and I was like no, I will never be forced to go to a school dance ever again so it isn’t impacting my life. Little did I know that 20 years later I’d be needing to participate in protests. I try to stay in the edges, but if I get trapped in the middle, I do get panic attacks (last one at the first women’s march), though happily my CBT training kicks in and I’m able to recover.

  13. I’m very glad that you overcame your phone phobia, Athena!

    When it comes to credit cards and other voice response systems that want things like for you to enter the last for digits of your SSN, you can usually use the keypad to enter the digits.

    I’ve been having problems at the pharmacy getting myself understood giving my birthdate to pick up meds because I wear a triple-layer cloth mask. I didn’t want to shout it as that would be rather rude. So I picked up a business card while I was at a sporting goods store and wrote my name and birthdate on the back of it, cut it down slightly, and keep that in my wallet. The woman at the counter really appreciated it!

    My wife has a similar phobia about going to businesses that might be closed, she calls it locked door phobia.

  14. I’ve always had an aversion to phones. I spent my teenage years as a military kid, on a base overseas, with no phone at home, and cell phones weren’t even a glint of an idea. When I got to college, I lived out in the boonies, where anyone I wanted to talk to was long distance. Once I graduated and got a job, using the phone at work wasn’t a problem, but I still didn’t use the phone outside of the job. Now, I live in Silicon Valley, and everybody texts. With all the spam phone calls, I set my phone to send any number that I don’t have in my contacts straight to voice mail. So I guess I’m still phone averse, but I’m good with that.

  15. I’m one of those people who exposure has caused me to get worse phone anxiety. I hate calling people on phones. I think some of this comes from working at IT helpdesks. People get irrationally angry when they don’t understand something about computers and computers are complex! No one understands them fully.

    Thank god I can order pizza online and my coworkers use chat programs. I CAN make calls when needed, but try to do anything else first.

  16. My daughter, who is perhaps two weeks younger than you, got her phone-phobia broken when she went to work at a local bookstore here in Denver (side note, she met your Father at Denver Comicon a few years ago because of Tattered Cover). She hated speaking on the phone, and even to this day much prefers face-to-face video calls, but dealing in customer service broke that anxiety completely. It is understandable, for people who just didn’t need to talk to some faceless sound due to the ability to text, to feel anxiety, but it is, thankfully, pretty easy to overcome. Those of us who grew up with just POTS had little choice, so we got past it. Doesn’t mean we didn’t have it, but necessity forced it.

  17. I generally have my wife call if the phone is necessary. Of course, this is partly because if there is a problem, I am more likely to yell at them rather than stay calm (in some situations, I must add, rather than all the time). But I do have an aversion to calling doctors or car repair places or the like. I have forced myself to do it over the years, however.

    My wife is great on the phone, used to talk for hours at night to friends or fellow teachers asking her advice or help. The one exception was her mother. When she thought it was her calling, she always made me answer the phone and talk first. Now that I think of it, she didn’t like to talk to my parents either.

  18. I hate calling people on the phone. Fills me with dread, even if it’s someone I know. I used to hate doing drive through, but have gotten better at it but still not a fun experience. Same with ordering home delivery.

    Yet I could also at times be the highest ranking US Military person in a region of a foreign country leading a Special Forces A-Team and dealing with locals. I can also give a keynote in front of five hundred people. But talking to one or two people makes me nervous.

    A couple of years ago I went for a day long battery of psychological/mental tests with a forensic psychologist. They used to call it Asperger’s, but because of insurance policies it’s now labeled a form of autism. Loud noises bother me. I can see light even with my eyes closed so at night I use earplugs and cover my eyes.

    Of course, I have also experienced numerous mini-concussions from flashbangs and breaching charges so that hasn’t helped over the years.

    I’m a big fan of getting a proper diagnosis since for many years I was mis-diagnosed. I can’t fix what’s wrong with me but being conscious of it I can act differently. Repeated action does lessen the anxiety. As you note– exposure therapy. Fake it until you make it.

  19. I have a really hard time calling people I don’t know. It’s scary. Something Bad Will Happen.

    I don’t like having to deal with people I don’t know. They might Do Something, or I might do or say Something Wrong, and then They Might Get Angry.

    In my case, I do know that my parents had some behavior patterns that contributed to all this. And my problems disappear when my need to interact is in order to help someone else. I’m a retired librarian. I loved having someone come to me with a strange question.

    But having to ask someone? Terrifying.

  20. Congratulations on getting over your fear of talking on the phone! When you mentioned calling a restaurant to place an order it made me think of an episode early in the pandemic.

    I called the local Chili’s to order a meal and the person answering said “Thank you for calling Chili’s, where it’s always easier to order online. This is [name], how can I help you?” I definitely had to laugh for a second or two before placing my order.

  21. My problem with phones is usually my speech impediment — many people just can’t understand me, nor can most phone-bots. I took to email very quickly, also texting. Good to have options.

  22. I’ve had somewhat similar problems in the past, from stuttering (well, technically stammering, I think). At one point around age twenty, I couldn’t use restaurant drive throughs; I had to go inside. I was fine interacting with customers at work (supermarket), but couldn’t use the intercom; my voice would just go on strike.

    While I’ve always been at least somewhat okay on the phone, to this day I’d rather place an order online than talk to someone. I actually called Jay & Mary’s last year, to worsen your dad’s writing cramp ( :-P ) on a copy of Red Shirts for my best friend for Christmas. I found myself wishing I could do it online, called, talked (I think) to Jay, and of course everything went fine. But there’s still a hump for me to get over, momentum to gain, when I pick up the phone.

  23. I loathe making phone calls. Interestingly, I didn’t have a problem when working retail, but then, in that situation, I did have something of a script I could use mentally for the calls. Also, I was generally the person giving information, not trying to get information, or worse, get information for other people. I wonder if that makes a difference.

    As an individual on the phone, I’m more likely to be attempting to navigate the “press this for this option” trees where none of the options actually come close to what I’m calling about, and strong accents where I’m struggling to understand what’s being said. The number of times I have to ask people to repeat themselves in customer service center phone calls… Granted, some of the time I’m having to get them to repeat themselves because I’ve got someone on this side trying to prompt me to ask their questions while I’m trying to listen to what the other person on the phone is telling me. All too often, when I’m on the phone, I feel like I’m part of the phone, trying to relay questions and answers back and forth between the two actual people in the conversation. A definite exercise in frustration!

    Top that off with people who believe that the answer to my dislike of talking on the phone is to push me to do it more, by doing things like insisting that I do all the take-out order calls etc.

  24. I hate talking on the phone, to the point where I don’t answer it unless its someone I know, and I only call good friends or my parents (and the former only when prearranged).

    But its weird that if I know I’m going to talk to an automated system first I’m generally okay because I can take all my frustration out on the stupid computer that can’t understand me so that I’m pleasant by the time I get to the customer service person. Still would rather email though…

  25. I spent most of my early working life answering phones for a living, first as a receptionist/secretary, and then as a multi-line operator for various small businesses. I was good at it. I have no trouble at all answering phones, even multiple phones going at once about things I don’t know a heck of a lot about (don’t do temp work if you can’t stand looking stupid several times a day). When in business mode, I can even call people, ask questions, do follow ups – even make collections calls.

    None of this remotely applies when I’m home. Suddenly the phone ringing is slightly menacing, unless I know exactly who’s calling, and calling complete strangers to ask them things, a total impossibility. It can take me days to work up to a single, simple phone call that would take me 30 seconds if I were at work. It’s rather maddening. If it’s an emergency, and I simply must make the phone call, I turn into an incoherent mess, unless I can somehow turn on “work mode”.

    It seems to have something to do with being autistic, and the difficulty of task switching that frequently comes with having that sort of nervous system. I have my modes, and switching in and out of modes unexpectedly is very difficult, if not altogether impossible. Like trying to do microsurgery while operating a forklift. Or trying to lift a pallet of air conditioners with a laproscope. My brain is attached to the wrong tools, and instead of doing the requested job gives a “file not found” error.

    Somewhere out in the ether is a rather excellent article about reticulating splines that describes the phenomenon well.

  26. I have what I consider a weird variant of this (and my sister has it as well): I’m generally ok on the phone, although I don’t love it, but I really hate talking on the phone when there’s someone else in the room with me. Something about them hearing only my end of the conversation makes me uncomfortable. If I’m with people and I’m placing a takeout order, for instance, I’ll walk into another room for the call.

  27. Thanks for opening up these discussions, Athena! It’s always nice to know one is not alone. My trouble with making calls is that loss of control I feel. I can’t see their reactions, what if I interrupt them, what if (when calling for assistance of various kinds) I don’t have the information they might ask for! Yeah, it’s not fun. As an introvert, I appreciate the slower thinking pace that texting or emailing allow me :) Shoutout to all the phone haters out there!

  28. I don’t mind talking on the phone but I want it to be a planned thing. I want someone to text me first to make sure I’m available. If I call someone I do the same. If I call a vendor or client I like to practice what I’m going to say first to be prepared. I would rather conduct business online first but I will call if there’s a need. Still though it rings true to me that I might have a phone phobia. What is weird is I don’t recall this being an issue until about 20 years ago when cell phones became more prevalent and you could do more online. Which makes me wonder if I am out of practice, or having a phone around all the time means I feel the need to be available all the time. That could be a source of stress. Previously I had a home phone and work phone, and if I wasn’t home or at my desk nobody could reach me. So being at home or work I was prepared to receive calls. Interesting.

  29. Back when I was in college the second time (very long story, 17 years long) I had a minor in advertising, which was rolled into journalism (don’t ask) so I had classes where I had to go out and interview people to write newspaper articles. It was so difficult at first, to either speak to people in person or call them. But it turns out, people LIKE being asked questions about themselves. They like it when you listen, fascinated. I got to interview cool people like the Director of the Detroit Zoo. His favorite animal? Vultures. He had a stuffed one in his office.

    Later, after a really bad divorce, I learned another new thing. People LIKE being helpful. Most of them, except for a few power-mad officious assholes, that is. There were times when I needed tremendous amounts of help with various life-skills, unfortunate occurrences. and bureaucratic mazes. Just asking humbly got me incredibly far, and being sincerely grateful made my helpers feel good about themselves. Just think, you can make someone’s day by listening to them, or by letting them help you with a problem only they can solve.

  30. I had massive phone anxiety as a child in the 1960s. OK, you can see where this is going — no texting or internet options, of course. But I always loved speech class and being on stage — I think the differerence is that phone calls are improv.

    Unfortunately, my mom was not sympathetic about any of my anxieties. Starting when I was quite young, if I wanted that item from the Sears catalog, it was going to be ME who placed the call, no matter how much I begged her to do it. There was no recognition in those days of anxiety as a health issue, at least not in the midwest.

    When my mom became housebound in her 80s, I started calling her every day from 1500 miles away (out of duty, not love). She finally said, “you know how much I hate talking on the phone!” Well, I didN’T know that, but GOTCHA!

    Yes, I am one of the people who is still, at age 65, feels damaged by how I was treated by parents. Sad (in all meanings of the word). I became a functional adult, but I sacrificed most of my teeth to it (worst grinding my dentist every saw).

  31. Thanks Athena for this blog entry and the previous one. Fascinating to read, and they’ve prompted a fruitful discussion.

    I’m quite late to the party in terms of finding out why I am the way I am, and why other people behave as they do. Never too late to learn, though.

  32. Yup, I had the same aversion to making phone calls when I was younger. It was truly awful. I remember siting in front of the phone for over an hour just trying to force myself make the call I had to. Then I got transferred to working in a switchboard for a big company. Thought to myself “Well I won’t be staying here for long” but figured I had to prove to myself and my bosses what an awful fit I would be. That was in 2004, and I’m still there. Turns out I am freaking AWESOME switchboard operator. Answering the phone was very different that making the call myself, and using the skills as an operator helped me overcome my phobia eventually.

  33. I have a touch of phone phobia, but I actually know the thinking behind it. Basically, as far as mine goes, it’s entirely tied up with some personal wibbles and a crashingly low self-esteem, such that I genuinely have trouble thinking I have the right to disturb anyone else, for any reason at all (even when, for example, it is their job to be disturbed by phone calls from random people – I don’t think I have the right to upset the day of a receptionist by phoning them). Which means when it comes to work-related phone calls, it’s actually a lot easier: it isn’t “me” doing the calling, it’s “me as a representative of the company / body / organisation / department I work for”, so my personal insecurities don’t come into it.

    Other factors in my phone phobia: I’m autistic, I have audio processing problems, I’m highly sensitive to noise as a sensory trigger, and to top it all off, I have low-level chronic hearing problems related to middle ear blockages and chronic sinus issues. (I also suspect I may have a mild speech impediment due to the hearing difficulties, since they’ve been a thing since I was very young indeed).

    Let’s just say the days I discovered, respectively: email, online chat, SMS, and online ordering systems for takeaway food, were all very good days for me.

  34. Might be that for those of us more comfortable communicating in writing, we dislike phone conversations because we can not edit, polish, delete etc. We can’t even use facial expressions to modify or give context to our remarks. (Emoji’s help!)

    We fear being misconstrued, and how people react to even the subtlest of fears varies widely, from ‘unease’ to ‘panic’.

    (I edited that about sixteen times. I still dislike phone calls…)

  35. (And please don’t recommend video calls, then I’d have to worry if my hair is a f’ing mess! Aauugghh!)

  36. Its probably far more common that people think.
    I’m nearly 50, a director of a small company and still have problems.

    Part of my problem was the result of working in complaints at the water board 30 years ago and never knowing when you would pick up the phone to a large amount of abuse. Part of it low self esteem as someone else said, always worrying you said the right thing or not.
    And lastly now my hearing is getting ‘dodgy’ and trying to understand anyone if its a bad line or they have a quiet voice is impossible for me.

    I’ve recently changed my company phone message , to just say
    “We are unable to answer your call at the moment – please email us at ….. ”
    Just so if I am on my own in the office, I can ignore the damn thing.

    Email is far easier in all ways.

  37. You are lucky to have overcome this.
    Back in the ’70s when my son was born, my wife took a part-time evening job working for a call center. She worked there for 2 years and pretty much hated every minute of it. It increased her phone anxiety tremendously. She seldom answers or calls folks on the phone. Anxiety is high even when calling friends and family. I do nearly 100% of the family business calls, making appointments, etc. At our age, I worry for her should something happen to me.

  38. This is literally the same way I overcame my phone anxiety. If I wanted to find a book at a bookstore, I would circle the help desk for 15 minutes from 10 feet away, trying to work up my courage without looking lost, because then, heaven forbid, the sales associate might try to approach me before I was ready. Making phone calls for food (a much lower necessity than books) was out of the question.

    My first job ever was working in the mailroom, which was great. Sorting mail is relaxing. But a week into the job, they said, “we’re ready to put you on the phones now.” JEBAITED. THIS WAS NOT IN THE JOB DESCRIPTION. But I wasn’t about to be fired from my first job ever, so I let them train me on the phones.

    The job was at an insurance company, taking First Notice of Loss calls. If you’ve ever had the misfortune to be involved in a car accident, have your house burn down, or be bitten by a dog while on the property of a neighbor you despise, you call me. Most callers were already not having their best days when they were routed to my desk. My second call ever was a four-car accident. The caller only spoke Mandarin Chinese, and I was the only person at the office who could speak it. My trainer couldn’t help me because she had no idea what was going on. Lo and behold, I didn’t know that our ancient system deletes all the information if you don’t finish inputting everything in 45 minutes. So 45 minutes into the call, I had to explain to an incredulous lady that she was going to have to repeat the details of all four cars and their occupants … again.

    After I hung up, I went to the restroom and cried. When I came back, my trainer looked at me with pitiless eyes and said my behavior was “not OK.”

    I’m not sure how I bounced back from that, but it was like you said. After a few weeks, the anxiety just went away. I realized that I might even be helping people calm down, giving them encouragement and jokes so that they felt better after interacting with me, even if I had no idea whether my company would actually help them. I even started making outgoing calls, something that no one asked me to do … because it helped sort unidentified mail and track down dads who weren’t paying child support.

    This is my first time posting even though I’ve read your dad’s blog for ages, so good job eliciting that reaction. Thanks, and keep on writing!

  39. Thanks again for opening this up. I thought I was the only one. At 70 I don’t think it will get much better. I did work as a receptionist for years, too. I too can call for others, no problem. No messages on my phone always seems like good news. Bob M above, thank you, I think I am also slightly on the spectrum, because that overwhelmed feeling just at the thought of having to reach out doesn’t seem normal. I also grew up with parents who isolated and were avoidant or at least taught us to be. These things tend to be interconnected. Pushing through the reluctance does pay off, because the human voice is so much more responsive than the button list. I wish I didn’t have to push through every single time.

  40. I had been told many times when I was very little, I would talk on the phone alot. I don’t remember that or that I would call my great-aunt alot. But I did have phone anxiety later on. I don’t why. I still have it some.

  41. I hate the phone! I’m not fond of contacting people in general, but the phone is the worst. Some days, I think I will subside like my grandmother into nothing but polite replies on polite subjects and never expressing a personal opinion or making a request.

    Of course, this is problematic as I still need to make a living. She had the critical role of cooking for a farm full of workers, which didn’t require much outgoingness. She could express herself by feeding us and teaching me to bake and rubbing my back when we took a break to watch her favorite television. I work freelance and somehow need to let sufficient people know I have services to offer to cover my inconvenient food, rent, and student loan habits.

    So I haven’t stopped talking and writing, although it often tempts me. Your essay on invisible disabilities helped me feel better about myself for that being hard for me. Thank you for that. I also resolved to try to give both myself and other people more of a break over what they didn’t do.

  42. Your article brought back memories of High school. I was in a speech class that taght you how to deal with your stuttering. and one of the exercises was to call up business and carry on a conversation. It was terrifying. The thought that the other person on the line would think less of you when your stuttered, but it was an exercise built to get you to the “f**k you stage of not worrying what some stranger thought about you when you stuttered

  43. Only in the last few years has it sunk in that I truly hate to phone someone who might judge me. I hadn’t realized before. Maybe I was in denial, from wanting to see myself as being as brave as everybody else.

    Exposure helps.

    I grew up pre-digital, and in my day everybody would turn away or cover their face if you tried to photograph them. One day I was asked to be the photo subject for a training video, with over 300 stills taken of me. Today it is as though I have good self esteem or something, because I don’t mind being photographed: I know exactly what I look like.

    I grew up being uptight and shy about dancing. After passing my college Introduction to Drama, I took a Creative Movement class with theatre majors. Today I can focus on being what I want, dance wise, without stage fright, which is so very nice, although I guess I don’t focus as well as an actor can.

    After I learned to drive I found that many people don’t take the in-town freeway. After I needed to white-knuckle it once a week for work I got to be as casual as the other drivers, except I go early to beat the rush hour so I can feel safe making a certain too-short merge.

  44. Two excellent posts: thank you Athena! Not that there was anything wrong with the others… :)

    I’ve never been a huge fan of the phone: I’m better about calling people than I used to be but still don’t like it.

    I definitely prefer e-mail for the ability to edit, the “paper trail”…and the not needing to interact with someone in real time. I will choose the “punch in the number” option every time rather than speaking to a machine which might or might not understand me.

    I was so happy when I found out I could schedule FedEx pickups online instead of by phone!


    I do keep it on, but my phone is in silent mode at almost all times (not great if I’ve misplaced it – calling it doesn’t help). I started doing this when I was trying to keep my office from calling me when I wasn’t there. I still prefer not to have all the various buzzes, etc. My cell phone is for *my* convenience, to use if I need it; it’s not for everyone in the world to harass me. I have no desire to be available to everyone 24/7. :p

  45. Glad to hear your communication anxiety has improved!

    I still recall when I was scheduling my GREs many years back – I was so worked up about having to call that it took me a couple hours of gathering myself (including bouts of breaking into tears) until I could manage to call them… at which point I got the answering machine because they had closed for the day.

    I don’t make phone calls often enough for me to really say where I am on the phone side of things, but I still have issues in sending email (which happens to be a fundamental part of my job) if I let myself think about what I’m writing for too long.

    I also have driving-relating anxieties that persist to this day. I’ve forced myself to drive to and from NSF meetings (~3.5 hours of varied terrain and traffic densities each way), just to prove that I can (if I have to make an in person report and can’t expense it), but each one of those trips has ended up involving me having to pull over and have a bit of a meltdown for 15 minutes. It has been very difficult to explain to colleagues who do this regularly just how miserable doing this can be for me. *shrug*

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