Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Phone Thing

By Kerry Schafer

My mistrust of phones goes a long way back. I remember a time when I would walk a good thirty minutes to schedule a hair appointment, in person, because I didn't want to pick up the phone. When I worked as a nurse (long ago and in a completely different life) I used to fabricate a reason to duck into a patient's room whenever the phone started ringing. To be honest, I'll still do this. Let somebody else answer it, someone who doesn't experience a twist of anxiety in their belly at the thought of picking up the receiver.

Who knows what childhood incident planted the seed of phone phobia that has lingered with me all these years? I can't recall anything particularly traumatic, but then life is often messy and senseless, completely unlike a novel, in which a character with this problem would have a clear and logical reason for her aversion.

In some ways, this Phone Thing, as I call it, makes total sense to me. When the damned thing rings, I have no idea who is on the other end. Yes, I have caller ID. Yes, I screen my calls accordingly. But still. Just because the Caller ID says it's Billy Joe Bob calling, I have no reason to know this is true. Maybe somebody stole Billy Joe Bob's phone. Maybe they murdered him first, and are coming after me next. Maybe Billy Joe Bob has recently taken to using drugs, and is calling in a methamphetamine fueled psychotic rage. Even if the caller is who he says he is, I don't know what else is going on because I can't see. He could be sitting in a room full of unnaturally silent people who are mocking me in secret, or he could be holding a gun to his head with every intention of blowing himself away at any moment. Unless he chooses to tell me I will never know.

So if you have a weird aversion to phones, what do you choose to do as your life work? Mental Health Crisis Response, naturally. This job ensures that I am pretty much glued to a phone 24/7. Heck, why stop at one phone. Let's try for two or three.

Here's me all ready for work in the morning:

Yep. I go out loaded for bear. And yes, I have had one phone to each ear on several occasions. When I'm on call weekends and evenings, I carry both of these phones with me. Everywhere. At any moment either of them might ring, and when they do it's not going to be an agent calling to offer me representation, or somebody letting me know that I've just won a million dollars. Nope. When the phone rings at 1 am, or in the middle of dinner, or when I'm in line at the grocery store, it's going to be Dispatch, or the hospital, or the jail, or a member of law enforcement, and what they want is for me to leave whatever it is I'm doing and come deal with a crisis.

I should insert the part here that I do understand this is my job, and I actually do often love my work. But the phones, they make me twitch.

In addition to the cell phones, there is this baby in my office:

Nope. It is not a thing of beauty. It lurks. It messes with my head.

The Viking just shakes his head as he watches me jerk and twitch each time the phone rings. "Easy, honey," he says. "It's just a phone."

Right. To ordinary, well adjusted folks, it is.

I find ways to cope. Every few months I change the ring on my On Call cell, to minimize the cumulative impact of that one particular ring. My home phone lives in the garage where I can sort of hear it if I'm paying attention, but where it's easy to ignore. Important people will leave a message. And if I'm feeling energetic and sort of brave, I might just call them back.


  1. Oh, my God. This is totally me. I cannot stand the darn things. Phones and doorbells and knocks at the door.

    And I have ALWAYS felt like this. Even as a kid. Long before caller I.D., I'd make my Mom answer and if I didn't want to talk to someone, I'd make all kinds of crazy hand motions to try and get her to not hand me the phone. She almost never listened. She's very social and thought I was nuts. But, when I'm in cave mode, I don't want to interact with anyone. There are only a few very trusted friends who get past the phone barrier. One of my favorite things about my iphone is the "ignore" button. I swear, that thing gave me back a huge amount of perceived lost power.

    Of course, then we moved to a fabulous house in a friendly neighborhood, and my doorbell rings incessantly. And it's hard to ignore your door when your house has windows everywhere and all your neighbors know you're home, lol.

    It takes me DAYS to get up the courage to make a simple phone call like one to make a doctors appoint. Even a hair appointment.

    There are a very few people I call *just to talk*. I usually make arrangements to meet in person. Preferably on a set schedule so I don't have to call and coordinate times.

    And text messaging is my new best friend. Information without actually speaking? Awesome.

  2. I'm not quite as bad about phones as you are, but I don't care for them much. Invasive little buggers. Mostly, I'm happy if mine doesn't ring.

  3. Maybe it's a writer thing that makes so many of us introverts? I also had a very tough time on the phone growing up - and I still do, although I've gotten better about it. (Of course, half the time I could barely run into the 7-11 for a gallon of milk either, so...yeah.)

    I think that's one of the reasons I ended up taking a job in adult training - getting in front of a classroom of 30 people on a regular basis really forced me to confront some of that "fear" head on.

    I still hate randomly calling people on the phone, though. Texting and email rock. :)

  4. @Allison--Yes, the confront the fear thing is good. (I hate running into 7-11, too). I had two things which helped me deal. One, I was an actor. I actually love being on stage, but of course, that isn't *me* up there. Second, jobs, jobs, jobs.

    I've been a commission salesperson for Sears power tools (high school), a waitress, bartender and restaurant hostess (college and early twenties) and a store manager for a major retail clothing chain (late twenties). Oh, and a hair salon receptionist--where all I did was answer phones, lol.

    The thing is, for *work* or for other people, I have no trouble at all. It is only when I feel vulnerable, like I have to be completely myself that I go off my nut. :) For instance, I have no trouble making doc appts for my kids, just for me.

    Being a mother is one thing that has pushed me outside my comfort zone in a huge way. I won't let my kids suffer for my fears.

  5. @Jenn - like you, obviously I've had to learn to deal with the phone. I don't go through my work days as a quivering knotted mess of terror. I do twitch when it rings, though - and I will put off making phone calls as long as I can. Love texting, and the internet.

    @Linda G - "invasive little buggers..." perfect description, lol

    @Allison - yeah, the arrival of Twitter and IM in my life is a beautiful thing. Communication without the phone. Bliss.

  6. I love this post, Kerry! I do the same thing - I jump when the phone rings, my heart skips a beat and I look in dread at who is calling. Sometimes I don't answer immediately, even the work phone, because I need a moment to collect my thoughts. Then I call the person back. And I'm with Jenn - the doorbell? Gah!

  7. Oh, I'm right there with Jenn. Hates the phone we does, Precious. Hates it.

    I thought the end of the world was nigh when phones were no longer tethered to a a back room...where nobody went because there were real people in the front rooms.

    Now, if you're face-to-face with someone, they'll actually answer the damn phone right there in front of you...and less than 1% have Kerry's legit reason for doing so.

    #@&$ phones.

  8. It's really good for me to read *the personal stuff* that my writer friends post. It lets me know I'm not the only one out here.

    Yeah, phones. That's a thing alright. I've finally managed to teach myself not to jump and yell "GodDamnit!" everytime one rings. I think this is partially due to the less Jangling ring tones the digital age has given us.

    I think my deal is partially due to the tinnitus Ring that's going on in my head constantly, but really I've always been a *jumpy little guy* as one uncle described.

    Thanks very much for posting this, Kerry.

    Onward through the fog, Mam.

  9. Loathed regular phones in the pre-caller ID era. I'd pick 'em up when they rang, no problem. It was getting rid of whoever was tryign to sell you something that was a pain in the rear. No, my issue was calling someone - anyone else. I'd do just about *anything* to get someone else to make the phone call for me. To this day, I don't call anyone but my mother without REALLY thinking through whether or not the call is 100% necessary for the survival of myself, a member of my family or for the planet as a whole. Texting. IM. Those, I love.

  10. Yep. Hate phones. I get chewed out occasionally by those who are more wired than I am for not having my cell phone on...and I'm flabbergasted. The cell phone exists for MY convenience. :-P

    And knocks at the door...grr. I have a "please, no soliciting" sign tacked to the door, but it's amazing how many people think it doesn't apply to them. If it's not the mail carrier, FedEx, or the UPS guy...I'm not interested.

    Then, it can turn into a battle of wills. They'll ring the doorbell again, or knock loudly. Because they can see me and can't FATHOM why I wouldn't answer the door to sign their petition or buy whatever they're selling. Nor am I gonna convert to anyone's political party or religion.

    I go ahead and ignore 'em. I'm not gonna bite, and it's wasting their time as well as mine.

    Pet peeve. End of rant. :-)

  11. Laura - I just love that you won't answer the door, even though they can see you! You're a much tougher person than I.