We’ve all heard it a million times. Avoiding your anxiety (social or otherwise) will make it worse. You have to face your fears and become an active part of society otherwise you fail as a human being.
Well I’m here to say: Balls to that.
You’ll remember that my greatest fear in the whole world isn’t losing a loved one, dying in a horrible way or finding myself naked in a classroom on the day of my exams. My greatest fear is using the telephone. Crazy, I know.
As a 20-year-old, having heard the above advice enough times to think it was in fact my own idea, I applied for a job in a call centre. What could be better for a phone phobia than being forced to call people all day every day, right?
It didn’t start off well. On my first ever call, a supervisor hovering beside me and my heart practically beating out of my chest, I managed to track down the named person from my computer screen and started to go through the script. Ignoring the obvious irritation in the man’s voice, I asked him all sorts of intrusive market research questions. But then came the stumbling block: he asked me a question.
I hesitated, for what I’m led to believe was “a long time”. This was my first call ever and frankly I didn’t know the answer, so instead eventually I just read out the question I’d asked him again with slightly different wording. We got through the call, and I excused myself to go to the bathroom and calm down.
When I came back to my cubicle, another supervisor was waiting there for me. It turns out he’d been doing his daily random listen-in on some calls, and of the hundreds of employees working that day I’d happened to be chosen on my first ever call. He had of course hurried over to have a chat with me about my poor handling of the call.
Obviously, I let him know that this was my first ever call and he was much nicer about it after that, but the fact remained that this was my first day and I’d already managed to mess it up and come to the attention of the higher-ups. Pretty much the worst start.
Armed with the knowledge that they’d be listening in on me for the rest of the day to make sure I didn’t mess up again, I got through that day somehow.
In fact, I got through the next 8 months somehow. There were plenty of times I messed up, and a lot of stress. Too much stress, really.
Every day was more of a struggle to get out of bed and head to work than the previous day. I spent my working hours frozen in my seat, listening to the dreaded ring of the telephone and just praying that nobody would pick up. My performance slipped further and further below my daily target.
I’d been calling people on the phone a hundred times a day for the last eight months, and if anything my phone fear was getting worse.
One day I woke up in the middle of a panic attack. I couldn’t breathe, my vision was swimming, my chest felt tight in a way that a 21-year-old should never have to experience. That was the day I decided to quit.
Maybe some of you will think “If only she’d stuck it out a little longer, she would definitely be over her anxiety”. Maybe you’re right. It doesn’t really matter.
All that matters is this: Everyone is different and for some of us, facing our fears doesn’t always help. Please stop assuming it does.