The Mighty Logo

Why I Don't Call You: What It's Like Having Telephone Anxiety

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

With the introduction of email, social media and texting, the practice of talking on the phone has sort of phased out. We would rather send a quick five-word message than be tied up on the phone discussing everything that has happened recently. Of course, there will always be those phone people who are always calling everyone, ready to chat for hours. I am not one of those people.

It’s not that I am busy, or because I don’t care or even that I don’t want to talk to you; not at all. Catch me online or send me a text and I will chat with you all night; it’s just the telephone that stands between us.

To be honest I’m not even sure when it really happened, my fear of talking on the phone. As a child, I would run to the phone, even going as far as to push my brother out of the way so I could answer it, but somewhere everything changed. At first, it was just avoiding calls here and there; then it became all of them. At first, I only had a problem calling people I knew; then it became every single call.

I used to always have an excuse ready: “Oh sorry, I just missed your call, I was in the shower.” Any one of those generic reasons to miss a call would do and I would always promptly fire off an apologetic text or email. Slowly, I replaced the excuses with something a little more personal: “Oh sorry, I just really hate talking on the phone.”

This worked for a while until the people around me started chalking it up to me simply being rude or ignoring them. So, I had to come up with another way to explain it and trying to figure out how to explain my telephone anxiety was now giving me anxiety. I tried many ways to explain it, tried fluffing it off and joking about it, tried the serious route, tried to avoid the topic altogether; nothing was working. People saw it as weird behavior and thought there must be something wrong with me.

I wish I could explain what I go through when trying to make the simplest of calls. I wish someone would want to listen that long. I wish I could explain how the simple act of placing the phone into my hand makes my heart beat faster and louder so it’s all I can hear, or how I have to rehearse every word I plan to say ten times over before I dial the number, and the panic attack I get when the other person goes off the script I had planned in my head. Making a phone call is horrible, but getting one — with no idea of what the script should be, no plan of action — well, that’s even worse.

The sound of the dial tone makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand straight up. When I call and ask to speak to someone, I hold my breath and once they pick up I ramble off everything I need to say in one quick breath. Call to order pizza? I’ll just do that online. Call to make appointments? I’ll try to get someone else to do that for me.

What makes it even worse is that part of me knows it’s really very silly. What exactly am I afraid of? There is nothing they could possibly do to me from the other side of the telephone line, they can’t see me and there’s nothing stopping me from just hanging up. In the general scheme of things, this should be easy to tackle because there is always an easy out in the form of the hang-up button. But it’s not.

When I absolutely have to make a call, I try to plan it out the day before. I plan what to say, when the best time to call will be and sometimes I even write it all down so that when I panic and blank out I’ve got something in front of me to go by. Then I find an isolated location where nobody can see or hear me and I have lots of space to pace back and forth while I make the call. As you can imagine all my calls come off as uncomfortable and awkward.

Think of a moment in your life where you were truly panicked, where it hit you like a tidal wave and you were frozen in fear, knocked to the ground. Every time I want to use the telephone, I have to push through that feeling. More often than not, that takes more time than the designated number of rings.

So, when I don’t call you or answer your calls, please know this doesn’t mean I do not care for you or I do not want to talk to you. It’s just that I simply can’t.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via stock-eye

Originally published: May 31, 2017
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home