Please – Don’t make me use the phone

I figured they’d be home any minute, my partner and my friend.  My partner had class today, and since he can’t drive, I usually take him to school.  But my dear visiting friend graciously offered to drive him so that I could take a little downtime.

Around the time they were expected back in town, the text came in.

“Just FYI, we’re stuck in [school town] with car trouble.”

Then, about a minute later: “the alternator almost started on fire.”

Wait, what?

And then my mobile started ringing.  It was my partner, apparently not wanting to have to type out all the details over text message, and opting to give me the low-down on the sitch in real-time.

“Yeah, we’re up here on [US Interstate Highway + familiar major cross-street].  Tried to get on the interstate to head home and saw wisps of smoke coming from the engine.  Had to pull over, and now we’re waiting for a tow truck.  Here’s the problem…”

Oh, boy.

“…[friend]’s [travel association] can’t find her in the system, so she’s looking at a really expensive tow bill, and my [same travel association] card doesn’t show me as listed on our account; apparently your name is the only one listed. … Here’s what you need to do…”

And here’s where his voice got tentative and compassionate: “you need to call [travel association] and put my name on the account, and have them give me all the permissions you have.”

Practically any Aspie/autistic person knows instinctively that “call” was the operative word in that sentence.

This particular situation was a black-and-white, open-and-shut deal.  They were potentially looking at a 70-mile (110-km) tow back to our town, and my travel association membership included up to 100 miles (about 160 km) for free.

My partner was much more concerned about asking me to make that phone call than I was.

Because usually, I hate the phone.  I despise the phone.  I don’t know what it is, but ever since I was young, I would feel a peculiar emotional mixture of elation (yay!  Someone’s actually calling to talk to little ol’ me!) and annoyance (aw, dammit, I’m not really in the mood to talk at the moment, but I don’t necessarily have an “acceptable” excuse not to).

In high school and early college/university, I held several phone-based jobs that involved both inbound and outbound calling.  Some positions were inbound, meaning that I would answer phone calls from the company’s customers: i.e., your garden-variety customer service representative.  Other positions involved outbound calling, meaning that I would actually make the phone calls to other people, usually semi-cold-calling, usually selling renewal subscriptions to magazines or asking for donations on behalf of political parties, universities, or whatever other entity contracted with that company.

I had a decent phone voice and I had long since mastered most of the art of diplomacy and all that, but I still couldn’t stand the jobs, although it usually took me a while to realize it.  They ended up going down in history as some of my most stressful jobs.  I always felt downright buoyant when they came to an end.

Fast-forward a couple decades: on an innocuous spring evening, a pleasantly warm day that brought to a close a day no different from those that preceded it, I sat on the steps outside our apartment/flat and took my first Asperger’s quiz.  Yep, that one.  I was sniffing out a clue that had caught fire inside me a mere number of minutes ago, and I stumbled upon my Eureka-est of all Eureka moments.

Shortly thereafter, I connected with other members of the community and found that lo and behold, they hated the phone, too!

Whoa, cool!–wait–really??  You mean that (again) I’m not alone, and (again) I’m not a flawed, tarnished person?  Rock on!

Instantly, my mind became flooded with every feeling I’ve ever had toward talking on the phone.  Suddenly, it all made sense.  Why, for example, my bestest of in-flesh friends would call and I would turn off the ringer and let it go to voice mail, even though I wasn’t engaged in any particularly pressing activity at the time (hell, I might not have been doing much at all).

Or why, before making a phone call, I felt the need to type out everything that I planned to say, typically word-for-word, complete with “Situation A”, “Situation B”, and “Situation C” off-shooting scripts that I could quickly skip down the page to access, depending on how the other person responded (i.e., a thought process that ran along the lines of, for example, if they say “this”, skip down to “Situation B”).

Or why I had to sit and stare and procrastinate when it came to making a phone call (I realized later that the procrastination was actually more of a summoning of courage).

Or why, when in the middle of a particularly cognitively-taxing activity, I would become rather irrationally irritable if the phone should dare to ring.

Or why I lived most of my life with my ringers turned off.

And why, in my not-so-mature moments of foul language, “the phone” became “the F-ing phone”, so reliably that I’m sure that if I had children, their kindergarten teacher would have probably held up a picture of a telephone and my theoretical child would have cheerfully shouted, “I know that one!  It’s a ‘F-ing phone’!”  Cue call from theoretical child’s teacher.

Which is probably one of the reasons why my better judgment overruled any biological clock upon which I hadn’t already slammed down on the snooze button, and lectured me that it probably wouldn’t be a good idea for me to have children.  And that was that.

So if I don’t have children nor horrified kindergarten teachers to talk to, then who do I talk to on the phone, how do I feel about it, and how to I handle it?

Surprisingly enough, there are a few people with whom I do talk on a regular basis.

There are my parents, of course.  These conversations occur anywhere from a couple times a week to once every couple of weeks, but they’re never too far apart.  We each know that if the phone rings and Caller ID proudly displays the other’s number, grab some tea and use the loo–it’s going to be a while.  As in, probably two to four hours.  During these conversations, we discuss anything from my parents’ crafts and cattle-raising to my partner’s and my work projects and adventures.  Occasionally, there will be a political debate, too; my parents are conservative and I’m an unclaimed independent who requires that every candidate work–hard–for my support.  Each conversation also easily includes at least two to three rants on average, and additionally, we end up solving the world’s problems several times over, before finally signing off.

My sister and I talk far less often (I’ve counted about five months in between conversations), but that’s no big deal; when we do connect, we just pick up where we left off.  We make up for the lack of quantity with extra quality, though; the longest convo I’ve had with Li’l Sis has come just 10 minutes shy of six hours, and we cover similar topics, with the added bonuses of international boundaries (and thus, customs and laws) and a unified mutual good-natured tirade about how our parents are “getting old” and “can’t stop talking about the cows!”  We’re only half-joking, but we’re also half-compassionate (toward them) about the issue, so we figure… good karma?

Then there’s my older friend, who’s staying with us for a few months, like she has every year for the past several.  Strangely enough, despite the fact that I’m the known-Aspie, this was my idea.  (Can I use the I-word? (Irony)?)  When we’re geographically re-separated, we talk pretty regularly – sometimes twice in a week, but not more than 10 days between calls.  Our frequency usually averages out to about once a week.  The calls last anywhere from an hour and a half to possibly two and a half hours (if we’re really on a roll and our energetic stamina holds out).  We talk about the same things that my parents and I talk about, sans cows and political debates.

I can talk with another dear friend of mine, who’s roughly my age and has Lyme Disease, EDS, and Hashimoto’s (just like me, minus the Lyme Disease), for hours, too.  But she has three adolescent kids, a husband, and an elderly father, so she usually can’t stay on too long.  Between the family circus (my affectionate term) and the crushing chronic fatigue, I’m just grateful to be able to talk with her at all.  She’s amazing; I admire her strength and positivity.  She gets down at times, but never lets herself stay there for long before picking herself back up and continuing on.  We talk a lot about our jobs, our families, our anxiety, our introversion, Lyme Disease and Functional Medicine (she’s really interested), food and nutrition (she was going to go to culinary school, but now she wants to do something more along the lines of my career).

Those are my “inner-ring” peeps.  They’re awesome and they form the bedrock of my in-flesh personal support network.  My two friends are especially supportive and accommodating of my Aspie neurotype, and they listened with interest as I came out to them (which was pretty early on) and brought them through my journey.  They’re generously patient with me, too, even if I’ve prattled on for a while about a “special interest” without realizing I was dominating the conversation.  I’m extremely comfortable talking to them; no nervousness or anxiety at all.

As I move out through the ring-layers into the peripheral rings, I move further out of my comfort zone.  The reluctance begins to ratchet up a little more the further out I go.

I’ve got more outer-ring friends than I do inner-ring, but they’re kept at much more of a distance.  We might’ve met during–and through–different phases of our academic careers or part-time jobs or what-have-you, but we’re not on each others’ short-lists of contacts, and that’s mutually OK.  We’ve all got each others’ numbers if we need something, and an open/standing invitation to call each other whenever, but we don’t communicate on a regular basis aside from lovingly cyber-stalking each other on Facebook.  We might go several years without actually talking, and if/when we do, it’s probably for an average length of a few minutes, maybe up to an hour, if the issue is particularly pressing.  I’m relatively comfortable talking with them, too, although I probably won’t initiate the conversation unless I have to, nor will I typically be quite as quick to return the call.  If I have the spoons, and I’m fairly certain that the call will be brief, I’ll answer the phone if they call. If not, I won’t…even if I’m literally holding my phone.  In those cases, I’ll let it go to voice mail… And it might be a while before I listen to that voice mail.

Making phone calls at work can be much trickier for me.  If at all possible, I ask my assistant to make the call for me instead.  In situations where that’s not as appropriate or ideal, I delegate it to my partner.  Between the two, I’m generally shielded and protected from having to make phone calls myself.  However, if the clientele member is extremely instant and adamant about talking to me specifically, then and only then will I get on the phone myself.  And that’s where the meticulously-written scripts come in.  I type them out on my computer so that I can get the wording just right; it helps with readability, too, especially when I’m feeling “under the gun” like I do in those situations.

There is always anxiety with those phone calls, the level of which will vary depending on the quality of my relationship with that clientele member, the topic or issue they want to discuss, the solidity of the solutions I can offer, and the way I think they’ll respond to those solution(s) (i.e., will they take my suggestions and do them, or will they kick up a fuss and come up with a problem for every solution?).

I know that this tiered system might sound ridiculous or “wussy” to some.  But that’s just how it is; it’s the best I can do, even after nearly 40 years of life.

Sometimes I just don’t have the energy or ability to string enough words together to be coherent enough to have faith in my conversational skills.  That happens, that’s (my) life.  I know that it might sound ridiculous to be holding my mobile as it’s ringing, looking at the number, knowing who it is, but letting it go to voice mail instead.

(By the way, is there anyone else out there who thinks Caller ID was either invented, spearheaded, or heavily supported by an Aspie/autistic person??  I know I do.  For me, Caller ID isn’t just to screen calls for junk, scams, and marketing; it’s also a mental preparation tool and big decision-making asset.)

I know that to decline to answer the phone, especially when I’m not engaged in much else, sounds like a lazy cop-out.  I know that many times, I’ve felt guilty, sheepish, and ashamed of myself for doing so.  But sometimes I just don’t have the brain-stamina or cognitive flexibility.  Neurotypical friends, I’ll probably do this to you; if I do, please don’t take that personally; it’s nothing against you; it’s just how it is.  I’ve made peace with that.  If you’re still my friend after all these years, you probably have, too. 🙂

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15 Comments

    1. Ooh, yes! 👏🏼👏🏼. I love rehearsals too 😊 Not that I like to have to make them, of course–but they come in very handy in those unavoidable situations ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I shared a version of my “When Simple Things Aren’t Simple At All” post with my therapist in one of my early appointments. She found it helpful in understanding my perspective. It focused on that most difficult of activities, making a phone call, in that instance to make a reservation at a restaurant. I’ve struggled with the phone my whole life. Work conference calls don’t bother me nearly as much as individual calls for some reason. And calls with family members are less hard than other ones. That was one of the surprising things I found with my diagnosis — a group of people who shared my struggle with the phone. It’s one of a number of things I thought was just my “issue”.

    And I had two second jobs earlier in the life on the phone. One was calling to do surveys and the other was in a call center taking orders for Pizza Hut. Neither of those lasted very long. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Amen, and thank you for your comment! 😊 That’s really cool that you shared that with your therapist. I’m really glad it helped; I may do something similar with mine 😊

      Yep, conference calls involving multiple people are a little more doable for me, too, in the rare event that they are necessary for me. My theory is that there might be strength in numbers; others are there to take some of the pressure off 😊 Work calls involving one coworker seem to be OK for me, too; I think that’s because I have a pretty good working relationship with them and there’s not a lot of stress involved in talking to them. They’re already aware of my condition. 😊

      The toughest calls for me are those in which I’m conversing with clientele, because I have to be perceived as extra-competent (in their eyes), which involves a lot of masking and acting, coming across as “normal” (again, by their standards), which takes a lot of energy, and I’m always nervous that I’ll “slip up” and do something like “fail” to recognize a non-verbal social cue, or talk too much or for too long, or what-have-you. It’s also stressful in that my brain has to try to think and process information very quickly, which let’s just say is not my forte lol 😉 This adds to the stress, and I’m always relieved when my “peopling” obligations are met for the week 😊

      Thanks again for adding your thoughts! I always enjoy what you have to share ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Well, that sucks that that happened. It’s no fun at all. I tend to avoid the phone, myself, but when I can’t escape it, I use a “persona” I’ve created – doing a bit of acting to get myself through. I basically think about how awful the other person’s life must be, to have to talk to people on the phone all day, which literally fills me with compassion for them. And my interaction becomes about making their day a little brighter. It even works with bill collectors!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for writing this! 😊 I love it, and I can relate very strongly with what you said! Especially the last part about the compassion and making their day a little brighter – that’s *exactly* what I end up doing, too! Lol 😉 I just think of all the crabby people they have to talk to every day, and I try to be that kind, on-the-ball, polite “‘dream’ caller”, hoping, too, that mine is the evaluation call their supervisor eavesdrops in on, so that they can be evaluated in a positive light lol. (Which of course is not a patronizing “look how nice I am” ego thing, of course; it’s a “this rep has been really awesome and I want them to know that and feel good about themselves, and I also hope their manager sees that they rock” compassion thing.) ❤️

      It’s funny how parallel we end up being! 💞 Thank you again for your insight 😊

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I’ve always hated using the phone, but had no idea that was common to aspies, until very recently. Also never realized that my problems with auditory processing had something to do with it. The phone adds slight distortions to the voice and makes it that much harder to understand what people are saying, especially someone with an accent or who speaks very fast. Probably haven’t spoken on the phone in over a year now, but texting on a flip phone is a real pain, so I usually reply to texts from my son via email.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for sharing your story! Yep, I can relate, on multiple fronts, especially the replying by email. For me, my smartphone has revolutionized my methods somewhat, in that I can write briefer replies by email or respond on Twitter, Facebook, and WordPress. But often, I find myself saying, “I’ll reply to this as soon as I can get to a real computer” lol 😊

      I think you’re completely right about why the phone can present such an issue; we already frequently report having a tough time deciphering people’s true intentions and meaning when conversing in person, and to take that away and only be able to hear their voice muddies our waters that much more ❤️

      Like

  4. I’m trying to keep up with your posts lol. You are such a natural writer! I hate the phone too. And with my sensory sensitivities, I find it difficult, if not impossible to talk to someone if the background is noisy. At work, I tend to leave tasks which require me to call until the last minute. I’m especially annoyed if anyone asks me to call them (without specifying why) when they could have text me. I would deliberately delayed calling them back. People who know me would know that they will get a faster respond from me if they email.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. So glad you mentioned this problem cuz, like you wrote, it’s almost bliss to know you’re not alone in this.
    It was very interesting to read yóur reasons for not calling or not wanting to be called.
    Mine are different, but maybe they sound familiar to you anyway.

    I can’t make social calls, not even to my family, because I’m too afraid I will disturb them in whatever it is they are doing ANBD I’m too afraid they will see my number pop up and think: “Oh nooooo, not hér”. (hence I can’t even take the phone in my hand, cuz I’m too scared and anxious at the thought of calling)

    Answering the phone: LOL, I had to laugh when I read yóu can get irritable too when the phone rings, I can so relate. When mine rings I álways, whereever I am (even outside or in shops) shout OL: “Oh verdomme, láát me toch met rust. Ga weg.” LOL, hey that’s what the voice shouts ( *I* of course would never be so impolite to do that …. nohoooo, not me) In English that would be: “Oh damn, WHY can’t you leave me alone? Go away.”

    Indeed, thank Gawd for caller I.D. (I MUST have been one of the first people in the Netherlands to buy one, LOL)

    Thanks SW, I’m going to try to get to bed – again. Grr ……. (j.k.)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This is my life. I used to have to write down my own name and a brief script of what I wanted from the phone call in case I freaked out and my mind blanked. This can be a major issue for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Oh, the fear of the *£$%ing phone! This was one of my biggest “OMG I might really be on the spectrum” recognition moments a few months ago when I came across the phone-hatred post on Musings of an Aspie. I’ve been afraid of using the phone all my life, never connected it to Autism/Asperger’s until I saw Aspies talking about it like no one else ever had. I’ve always blamed my genes – my father is a reluctant phone user as well. Of course, one does not preclude the other…
    Sadly I live on my own (my choice) and there’s no one to delegate to at work, so I have to make all my own phone calls. I always thought that at some point I would grow up and get used to it, but it never happened.
    I also have the difficulty of not understanding people on the phone. I always thought being an emergency call handler would be a cool job, but I wouldn’t be able to understand what people say, esp. if they are injured/distressed/drunk/whatever.
    Another lovely “it’s not just me” moment, thank you! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Awesome!! So glad you’re feeling less alone 😊. I just love Musings of an Aspie, don’t you? She’s amazing 💙💜

      Like

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