Ending (or at Least Ameliorating) Phone Phobia

September 24, 2009 at 4:39 am | Posted in Dealing with Depression, Sociability | 1 Comment

It's for you.

It's for you.

If you’re like me (that is, bipolar or depressive), you probably put up with a certain amount of social isolation. While people-seeking and pressured speech (i.e., extreme chattiness) are symptoms of mania, most bipolar people fight depression — and tend to withdraw socially — much of the time.

Taking a page from cognitive therapy, I thought I’d review some of the thoughts that go through my head my head when I’m avoiding social contact and try to come up with more positive, realistic ideas. Remember that when I say “you,” I’m pretty much talking to myself — please feel free to leave your tips and ideas in the comments section.

When the phone rings or I contemplate making a call, I think the following:

1. I don’t have anything interesting to say. However, the other person may. She may need your empathy and compassion, she may have good news to share, or she may just need a friendly voice. You don’t need to entertain, or even talk much, in order to communicate with people. You may meet your own needs by listening and thereby helping a friend.

2. I complain so much about my depression, and this person can always tell when I’m depressed, so when she asks how I am, I’ll have to tell the truth and, yes, complain. Your friends may not like it when you complain, and they may occasionally chafe at it, but they love you and put up with your oddities much as you put up with theirs.

3. This person never responds to my complaints in the ideal way. Perhaps he minimizes them (“It can’t be that bad!”), gives unhelpful advice (“You need to get out of the house”), or launches into his own set of complaints (“Life is rough. At work today…”). As your therapist is always saying, you can’t expect a perfect response to much of anything you say; it’s not realistic to grumble in the hopes of getting the perfect response. Your complaints may irritate your friends and family. They may be angry, worried, or bored. And if someone is consistently unhelpful, you can say (avoiding a plaintive tone), “Sometimes I just need you to listen and say, ‘Wow, that really sucks. I’m sorry to hear that you’re not feeling well,’ and then change the subject.” In other words, you can ask for what you would find helpful.

4. She won’t understand. Actually, I’m always surprised at how well my friends understand and relate to my distress. Yes, my depression has some nasty bipolar features and is extreme at times, but many of my friends have felt some level of depression, and they understand pretty well.

5. It will distress him to know that I’m depressed. It will probably be even more distressing if he can’t get in touch. Chances are, he knows darn well that you’re down when you avoid the phone, so he’ll start to worry if you disappear for any length of time.

6. There’s such chaos in my head — I can’t possibly have a rational conversation right now. Sometimes this is true. More often, though, interacting with others forces you to organize your thoughts and turn your attention outward. This is all to the good.

7. I don’t know this person very well, and I can’t put on a social mask right now. How much you should reveal to a new friend is a delicate question, certainly. It’s not appropriate to dump on someone who you hardly know; not only will it alarm the other person, but you need to know that someone is worthy of your confidence before you launch into a description of your nuttiness. So this one can be a legitimate objection. However, if you hope to develop a close friendship with someone, then you might want to pick up and start sharing a bit.

8. After a long day at work of trying to normal, I can’t do it for another hour. I need to decompress. This is a toughie for me. My job can be awfully demanding (it was yesterday, certainly), and by the end of the day I do feel ready to collapse into sleep. I typically write off Monday and Tuesday afternoons — for some reason, I’m just whipped early in the week. I think everyone struggles with this issue, though, bipolar or not. Remember that just like everyone else, you need a life outside of work to keep your sanity and balance, and to ward off further isolation. You need to make the effort whenever you can.

9. I don’t recognize that number. It will be bad news, and that will just upset me further. This reflects remarkable faith in your psychic ability. In fact, when I get a call from a strange number, it’s positive or neutral 90% of the time.

10. Christ, who the hell is it now? Why can’t people just leave me alone? This is just reflexive negativity; I often swear when I first hear the phone ringing, even if I’m feeling lonely and could use a friendly voice. For this one, I just try to remember all of the times when a phone call ended up relieving stress rather than heightening it.

So those are my suggestions. Answer that phone; even try making a call. And if it’s me calling, you should definitely pick up.

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  1. I think I’m quite a bit like you. I swear when the phone rings, too. I don’t know why I still do that. Many years ago I was a telephone information clerk for Blue Shield Insurance and most of the calls presented problems. I haven’t liked talking on the phone since then even though most of my current calls are from friends and family. I think your suggestions are good ones and I’m going to try to be more positive about the phone.


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