“The best way out is always through.” Robert Frost penned those wise words but for some of us, “through” is not as easy as it sounds.
I have a confession and I hope you won’t judge me too harshly, though I have judged myself with merciless vigour for many years. It may require hypnosis to get to the root of it but for 63 years, I’ve had a phobia that continues its relentless grip on me.
It surprised me to recently learn this fear actually has a name, as ridiculous as that may sound, and others suffer from the same affliction. Telephonophobia, sometimes shortened to telephobia, had a hold on 2.5 million people in Great Britain in 1993. Shocking.
I always considered myself alone in this plight because who else would be stupid enough to be afraid of using the telephone? But as with most phobias, there is no easy explanation for its existence.
I’ve had a pile of winter jackets in my hallway for 15 days, purposely left in the middle of the floor to inconvenience me and annoy me so that I would use the phone to call the women’s shelter to see if anyone was in need of their particular size.
A simple phone call to a grateful person on the other end sounds like a no-brainer, but still I stepped over the pile day after day assuring myself I would call “tomorrow.”
I finally called the shelter last night. It was a simple, quick, relatively painless effort and I felt genuine euphoria. I will deliver said coats today if the wind that is roaring outside my house doesn’t dump me and my big dog, “Gracie,” in Kansas.
Will I remember this euphoria when next I have to make a phone call? Not a chance. The old anxiety will return and strangle me. The worry of bothering someone or calling at an inconvenient time, or whatever it is I fret about, will squeeze my resolve into dust.
Friends often say, “Why didn’t you call?” I can’t exactly admit to being afraid of the telephone. Be afraid of World War Three, be afraid of lightning strikes or spiders even, but the telephone sounds downright pitiful.
I have come at this phobia from every angle trying to figure out why I let it win. I’ve read that it is fear in the absence of body language that the sufferer loses their sense of control. That makes sense. I do watch people for subtle nuances about how they are feeling while we are talking.
Other readings revealed the sufferer might fear not responding properly or accurately. I don’t think well on my feet (I would have made a dreadful courtroom lawyer). I can come up with the most intelligent responses but it takes a good 24 hours for them to percolate onto paper.
When someone asks me a difficult question, I just should raise my finger and ask for a temporary stay in the discussion and say I will report back tomorrow.
It would be simple to blame my mother, as most of us tend to do. I was painfully shy as a child and spent a lot of time behind the door. She would regularly call her relatives in Winnipeg and would grab me by the wrist before she did so that I couldn’t escape and would shove the phone to my ear to speak to my dear, kind, loving relatives.
I could never think of anything to say and the silence was terrifying. I’m sure she was trying to rid me of my shyness and her intentions were founded in love but . . . it didn’t help.
As phobias go, it’s not the worst thing. E-mail and texting certainly made it easier to manoeuvre through life. And each year, I tell myself this will be the year to kick the issue to the curb.
The year is just nicely underway. There’s still time.
Wendi with an ‘eye’ logo