I hate telephones

DECT phone handsetI have always had a problem with talking on the phone, long before I ever encountered depression or anxiety as long term problems. People who know me might find that funny because I used to sell mobile phones for a living and I have had a smartphone since the days of the Nokia communicator. What they may not realise is that for me a smartphone is a pocket computer with an internet connection. I regard its ability to receive voice calls as an unwanted extra.

Unfortunately society demands that I do actually talk on the phone, so what is the problem?

Interestingly I actually find making calls for business or calls to services much easier than calls to friends or to people who I know outside of their job. When I worked as an IT technician, and before that selling mobile phones, I could quite happily phone someone to answer or ask technical questions, or to organise something related to work. I think this is because such calls have a defined protocol, a script. I know that I will go through certain phrases and steps in order. I can also call people who I talk to a lot such as my parents or my wife. The problem for me comes when I have to call a friend where there is no script or protocol. In such situations I don’t know what will happen or what I should say and my anxiety kicks in. This gets worse when I am unsure how well a person knows me, or if a person will recognise me or remember me, or will want to speak to me. Then my anxiety gets very bad and I am most unlikely to actually make the phone call at all.

I also hate answerphones. My mind tells me that this is silly, because at least answerphones are machines not people and so I should be less anxious about the whole thing. What actually happens is that I prepare myself to talk to a person, go through the script in my head, only to get a message demanding that I explain myself RIGHT NOW. The result is that I panic and say something stupid, or I hang up.

This whole problem is complicated even more right now by the physical health problems that I have and by the anxiety and mental health problems that I have suffered from for the last three years. On days when my fatigue and pain or cognition are very bad I just cannot speak on the phone. I may lack the energy to speak, or be unable to make the connection from thoughts to voice, or unable to complete my thoughts. (Which means I might be happily tweeting or chatting online but unable to talk on the phone.) Holding the phone for too long can cause extra pain in my hands and arms and back, and talking for more than a few minutes is exhausting. On top of all that, now I also get anxious about being anxious, and receiving a phone call can send me into a panic, which is why I often ignore calls from numbers that I don’t know. Unfortunately this can lead to things like me ignoring calls from my wife when her bike has broken down and she has borrowed someone else’s phone!

Mental illness is more disabling to me than physical illness

I have reached the point where mental illness is more disabling to me than physical illness. Before I became depressed I was physically ill with ME, diabetes and migraines and I was limited by fatigue and pain but I could write, I could repair computers, and I could focus to read or watch TV, as long as I planned around my illness. With regular rests and flexible timing I could engage with the world and get some things done. Now, though, depression and anxiety steal my focus for hours at a time and prevent me from completing even the simplest task. I start writing blog posts and manage one line. I start watching TV and manage 2 minutes of a half hour episode. I start games then give up. I drive to shops or friends and then can’t get out of the car. I look at my forms for help with power wheelchair costs and freeze up. The phone rings and I pull the duvet over my head.

My physical and mental illness seem to feed off each other too. If I reach a point of (even more than normal) exhaustion then I will also become overtaken by despair.┬áDepression and anxiety also make it impossible to work towards improving my physical health. I need to get a routine and start pacing my activity but mental health problems mean that I can’t even think about doing things when I need to.

I’m not sure that I have a point in this blog post other than wanting to rant a bit. I suppose if anything my point is that depression is not some minor inconvenience. It is a real, crippling illness that will destroy a life just as effectively as any physical problem.