Phone Phobia

Yesterday, I had the interesting experience of talking on the phone to a friend I haven’t spoken to in about eighteen months, since graduating from my prosthetics and orthotics graduate program. He was my best friend at school during the program and my lab partner for all of our practical activities. We bonded over a love of running, a penchant for getting distracted in class, and similar research interests. Because the program with full-time for two years and we were partnered for essentially everything, we spent many, many hours together over our tenure there. Although I’m very slow to open up to people, he had a disposition and way of conducting himself that put me at ease. This is especially surprising to me given that the emotional wounds of the attack were still very raw and recent at the time, and many of the lab and casting activities required rather intimate contact and lots of touching. Although I hated it at first, I got used to it over time and was able to communicate openly with him about my extreme discomfort with being touched and feeling like my personal space was encroached upon.

We never really spent any time together outside of class for the very basic reason that we saw so much of one another during classes, labs, and our weekly research group. Our “free time” was limited and there was no need or desire, at least on my end, to spend any extra time with my classmates. That said, by the end of the program, as a cohort of 21 students, we had become akin to a fairly close family. To this day, I still miss my peers from the program and the sense of community and mutual support we developed.

After we graduated, communications between my classmates and myself mostly dropped off precipitously. I anticipated this because we were all scattering around the country to move on to the next thing, which, for everyone but me, meant a full-time residency program. We were no longer in each other’s immediate proximity all day every day and residencies are very time-intensive. I continued to stay in touch with the handful of my closer friends, but only through text messaging and social media messaging. All of these interactions have fizzled out at this point, except for quite regular emailing with my school partner. We have stayed in close touch, and his friendship is one that I cherish. It takes a special person to maintain a relationship with me, given that I’m no longer even active in the field we so fully dedicated two years of our lives to. I had so much trepidation that my classmates would judge me and disown me in a sense for abandoning the career path, even though it was by far the right choice for me. Fortunately, I didn’t face any disparaging comments or attitudes, so if they had them, they either voiced them privately or kept them unsaid.

I opened this post by qualifying yesterday’s call from my close school friend as “interesting.” To elaborate, it’s not that the content of what we discussed was particularly novel or engaging; we just caught up with one another. However, what was atypical was that the experience of the phone call itself was enjoyable. I so detest talking on the phone, as the ridiculously socially-avoidant person I am. I can tolerate phone calls with a few close friends and family members, but save for one or two, it’s mostly out of necessity (because we don’t see one another much so otherwise we wouldn’t talk), rather than a mode of communication I enjoy. It almost always feels too awkward and charged with pressure (to speak, to respond, to understand, to be engaging, etc.) to be enjoyable. It feels more like a chore or a responsibility/expectation that I need to fulfill so it can be “checked off.” This discomfort grows exponentially when I have to talk on the phone with someone whom I have only interacted with electronically or via text (but not in person or via phone) for an extended period of time. Eighteen months ticks off that qualification in my mind. Therefore, even though we regularly email back and forth, I felt the heavy burden of physical dread form as a cold lump in my stomach when he emailed yesterday morning asking if we could talk on the phone at lunch because he had a story to share that was too complicated for written communication. Because I value him, I agreed, albeit reluctantly. The closer it got to lunch time, the more I regretted my acceptance. I seriously considered texting him with an excuse to rid myself of what I began to perceive as an obligation, but I pushed myself to be brave and honor my commitment, since this is a practice I’m trying very hard to engrain. That said, I will fully admit that I was secretly quite relieved when, after fifteen minutes past when he says he would call, my phone had not rung.

He did call though, just moments later, and I answered with forced cheeriness, hoping to mask my reluctance. To my pleasant surprise, within just a few seconds, after the initial awkward greetings and stumbling over one another’s words (how do you know when it’s your turn or their turn to speak?!), the call became wholly enjoyable and fun. It was great catching up, and we were both laughing and sharing thoughts in a seemingly natural, relaxed manner. Nothing felt contrived or stressful, and the easy ping-pong volley of a smooth conversation flowed for over thirty minutes. The time flew and we both seemed equally ready to end the call at a mutually-decided stopping point.

When we hung up, I felt energized and happy, both because connecting with him in a much more human way (instead of email) felt enriching and soul-restoring, but also because I immediately noted to myself that something I assume I always loath (a phone call) was actually enjoyable. I chided myself for permanently ascribing such a negative reaction to a potentially useful, or even fun, social connection tool.

Given my social phobia, I need to accrue all of the positive social experiences I can, so I’m going to try and keep a more open mind about the viability of the phone (not just for texting, but for actual talking) for amassing more social connectivity. I think it would be unrealistic to expect that my next planned or spontaneous call is not met with its usual dread, but hopefully over time, as more and more positive experiences occur, I’ll begin to look forward to calls and even seek to initiate them myself.

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