My weird thing: I’m terrified of talking on the phone

For as long as I can remember, which has so far been my whole life, I’ve been absolutely terrified of the telephone. Everything about it. I hate answering the phone. I hate making phone calls. If it’s a life or death situation involving having to call Papa John’s for pizza, someone else is going to have to be the hero.

My dad always asks me, “Are you afraid they’re going to reach through the phone and grab you?” He’s been asking me this since I was, like, seven. Twenty years later he still asks me, and yes I’m still scared. Consequently, I stay away from the phone as much as possible.

I wish I could blame my fear of the phone on the fact that I’ve only ever known a smartphone. With smartphones, you barely need to talk to anyone because you can just Snapchat your dinner order and stuff. But no, I grew up during a time without a phone in my back pocket. I started out with the old-school invention—curly cord, wall-plug and all.

My first cell phone was given to me when I started 9th grade, and it was roughly the size of a small brick that someone would use to build a planter in their front yard. I was also forbidden from using it for anything other than phone calls. I was not allowed to text. Texting cost ten cents. If I wanted to make plans with a friend I had to consult the school’s phone number directory (do schools even do that anymore?) and dial a very specific number.

This is where things would fall apart. My heart would beat so fast, and I’d become so flustered, and I’d go through a dizzy spell as if I were about to pass out. And not much has changed now that I’m an adult. If you start a phone conversation with me, for the first ten seconds I’m basically slurring all of my speech because I’m so nervous.

For me, the phone is like some big black hole of communication where my words go in a tiny little voice box to travel to parts unknown and I want to see where they go. After spending years trying to figure out my phobia, I think it boils down to this. I simply want to see who I’m talking to, and I can’t on the phone. I can’t tell if they’re enjoying the conversation, or amused by my stories, or simply interested in anything I have to say. For all I know they’ve muted their end and are busy eating a sandwich. (I’ve gotten really good at video-chatting, because that’s not nearly as scary for me.)

Even when I’m making calls to friends of mine, it could take me anywhere from ten minutes to three days to gain the courage to actually go through with it. I lost touch with a friend of mine years ago, and when we reconnected he called me — instead of responding to my email. I was so startled by his voicemail that I dropped my phone into the sink. It then took me a week to call him back. I must have dialed his number a hundred times, but each time couldn’t bring myself to hit SEND (don’t worry, we finally talked).

One time, I was asking a guy to prom — progressive, I know —  and instead of doing it over the phone, I drove over to his house and asked him while he stood in the doorway. He later commented that he thought it was very bold of me to show up like that; little did he know it was because I was simply terrified of the alternative, which was calling him.

But, I in no way shy away from social situations. If you ever meet me in person you’ll learn that I’m a very animated talker. I talk with my hands, and I use lots of inflection in my speech, and I will talk to literally anyone face to face. Meeting me you’d never know I suffer from an oddly crippling phone-phobia. Friends of mine know I will simply avoid the phone at all costs. Honestly, none of them are really big phone call supporters either.

We have to admit we live in this world where sometimes it’s easier to tweet at someone than it is to call, and usually the message gets there faster. And because it’s easier to send a text, status update or email, the idea of actually talking, with no face-to-face contact, feels really weird.

So yes, I am able to hide behind social media and avoid the phone, but sometimes I do receive that dreaded voicemail, and my heart beats so like I’ve suddenly become deprived of oxygen. I know a voicemail means I have to call someone back.

One of my biggest phone fears is anticipating leaving a voicemail for someone, and instead getting a real live human on the other end. My script gets thrown out the window, and I scramble for a few seconds trying to figure out how to recover. I’m so worked up over the fact that I’m talking on the phone that my neuroses bleed into the conversation. I sound like a blabbering child and I just can’t get the words out.

If there’s anything I’ve learned from this ongoing struggle, it’s that I’m not alone. I’ve come across lots of other people who shy away from the phone, and that is comforting, strangely enough. It’s always nice to know you’re not the only one with a weird quirk. I deal with it as best I can, and before I go to make a phone call I take lots of deep breaths and remind myself that there is no ‘worst that could happen’ in this situation. It’s not even a situation to worry about. It’s just a phone call, I tell myself. Then I send a text message instead.

(Image via Shutterstock).

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