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I'm Not 'Ghosting' You When I Don't Answer a Text

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I am not “ghosting” you when I don’t respond to your text.

Every time my phone vibrates, the anxiety starts to build. I can feel my heartbeat, louder and louder in my ears; the room suddenly feels smaller, and if I’m in a room with other people they suddenly seem bigger and taller and louder. My breathing gets faster. I feel cold, but I start to sweat. I may get nauseous; I may have a panic attack.

With anxiety, the “what ifs” are the worst part. I am not looking at the new text because:

What if it’s my mom, and something horrible happened to a family member?

What if it’s my best friend, and she’s mad at me?

What if it’s my friend, and they hate me?

What if someone is making fun of me?

What if my brother is hurt?

What if I failed a class?

What if my doctors are trying to tell me that an appointment changed?

What if I forgot to do something really important and now everything is wrong?

What if everything is going wrong, and it’s all my fault?

What if everyone hates me, and it’s all my fault?

The instant I notice a new message on my phone, or a missed call, or an unheard voicemail, all of the worst case scenarios begin to play in my head. They coax the anxiety out of it’s sleep, encourage it to take over. I can’t look at my phone. If I ignore it, it will go away.

If I do look at the new message, chances are I will not respond to it. If I do respond to it, it’s not in a timely manner: I will have thought and planned and written out potential responses for days before sending anything back. There are two people I feel comfortable enough to text back immediately: my mom and my best friend. Everyone else waits a few hours minimum, sometimes months before I respond. Sometimes I delete the message and pretend I never got it to avoid responding.

Why? Because I’m afraid I’ll be judged. I am afraid I will say the wrong thing. I am afraid I will do the wrong thing. It’s the same fear that keeps me from walking into a room first, or making small talk with people around me, or ordering something new at a restaurant. It is the same fear that keeps me from going to the bank, booking a doctors’ appointment over the phone, or even answering the phone at all.

The term “ghosting” has become a popular way to describe when someone sees your message, and ignores it because they don’t want to talk to you. They’re disappearing, just like a ghost.

I promise I am not ghosting you. I do want to talk to you: whether you’re my friend, my lab partner, the receptionist at the dentist’s office. My anxiety keeps me from talking to you in a timely manner, and that in turn makes you not want to talk to me, and then my worst fear comes true. I have, finally, scared you away.

If someone has anxiety, particularly social anxiety, talking to others may not come naturally. It’s awkward and uncomfortable, and every time I interact with a new person I am horribly aware of everything I am doing wrong. Having a phone and being expected to talk to people 24/7 makes it that much worse. I cannot escape into my room with my laptop, because there are people emailing me. I cannot listen to music on my phone to avoid talking to people, because someone is trying to call me, or there are 12 unread text messages I have been avoiding.

The internet makes it very difficult to become the social hermit I want to be. Some might argue that’s a good thing.

Just trust that my not responding is nothing personal against you; it’s me assuming I am horrible and you want nothing to do with me. Be patient, and please, please do not leave me a voicemail.

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Lead photo by Thinkstock Images

Originally published: November 24, 2016
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