(Content warning: descriptions of anxiety attacks and autistic meltdowns)
This is only the second post here on Subtle Writes, but it is going to be a venting post I’m afraid as I need to compile my thoughts based on an event that happened recently that is really stressing me out. It’s themed around social anxiety and the telephone.
Social anxiety is one of those things that many people, especially those on the autistic spectrum, will carry with them during their lives. For me, I’m one of the lucky ones whom has had their confidence/skill blossom throughout the last five years. It still is bad in some aspects, but one area that I still seriously struggle in is using the telephone. I am fine with people I know like my family and the doctors (and even then, that took a LOT of work on the part of my mum helping me get the confidence I needed to phone them) however for total strangers the anxiety can be debilitating. I can stress out, freeze in place, panic and begin to overthink the situation. Badly.
Let’s take a step back to explain some background. I need to acquire an important document and I need to fill in an application form in order to acquire it. I have some enquiries I need to ask to ensure that I am on the right track, as there are a few things I needed to clarify. If I fill in the application wrong, they will reject the forms but not give me a specific reason for the rejection. There are four general reasons as to the rejection given on their website but that is all the information that is available to the general public.
The only options that I am able to contact them with enquiries is over the phone or via fax, but not over email. In fact, even on the website it states in bold red letters that they will not accept enquiries about this certain document over email. Why would any organisation in a developed country not accept enquiries over email? Email is (especially for my generation) the dominant method for formal written communication with pretty much everything else being done over SMS and social media. Fax is simply irrelvant.
What made it worse is that I had judgemental people around me saying things like “[Subtle], you need to bite the bullet and just do it.” and “If you don’t do this, you can’t go.” With regards to this – I thank you from the bottom of my heart for stating the obvious. It was if I needed some kind of reminder as to how important obtaining this document is, as without it I literally cannot do what I need this document for. You don’t seem to understand how I feel or appreciate how hard it is for me to do something that for you is likely so simple, maybe even second nature. Telling me to just “bite the bullet” or “feel the fear and do it anyway” – those metaphors are illogical nonsense that do not serve to make me feel any better or act as any motivator for me to do what I know I need to do any faster.
Furthermore, there is the question “how are you going to cope with this in the future?” Why thank you for worrying me unnecessarily, this is exactly what I need! If you are going to state the elephant in the room at least try to offer some kind of solution that is more than just “bite the bullet.” A solution to help with the anxiety (aka the actual problem) would help give me something to think about at least even if it was backhandedly conveyed alongside unhelpful nonsense. Failing that, don’t say anything at all.
Making a phone call like this requires preparation for me – usually a whole day. I can feel happy, confident and optimistic at the start of the day but then when I am getting myself in the position to make the call I am frozen while panicking inside. It serious threatens to undo my hard work mentally preparing myself to make the call in the first place. I become more sensitive to sensory input, volatile and grumpy. The perfect concoction for a meltdown. If you talk to me, I might flip. I may be rude. I’ll need to be left alone, maybe even power nap like I did that day. The last thing I need is ignorant unsupportive drivel that doesn’t add anything meaningful to the discussion.
There is also the alternative route of getting somebody else to ask the questions for me. It eases the anxiety, but that also hinges on them knowing what I need to know and getting this information adequately. I asked the person that said “If you don’t do this, you can’t go” for help and I got brushed away before they said that. I had everything written down so it was a case of asking them and making notes. I haven’t asked the person who would ask me to “feel the fear and do it anyway” yet, but I have a feeling I may have to and they would likely do it for me. Not everyone whom is saying these things are ignorant but alas it goes to show the lack of understanding in this world.
As for other alternatives, I could go down to their office in person myself and asking my questions, but is it really worth a day trip to London just for that? I’d have to come back again to hand the application form in and possibly a third time to pick up the document (unless they mail it to me, I don’t know). That will cost hundreds of pounds in train tickets, so I will not be doing that especially as I have money to save.
In the end, I am just going to go the faxing route. Turns out you only need a PC, a phone cable and a fax modem to send faxes over a PC without the need for a fax machine if you can’t find one in person. in fact, acquiring a fax modem is fairly easy so that is what I will do. If anything, if I can pull this off I will be proud of myself for learning how to fax which may even help me land a job when I graduate. Ideally, I would prefer to use email but I’m doubtful they would make (what would be) a rare exception for somebody like me which in itself shows how society is disablist to the point where I am thinking that I wouldn’t get granted an exception to the protocol. I hope this changes in the future.
I also have to give one of the employees there some credit. I reached out to their inquiry over email and he offered to call me. They weren’t able to keep to the time we originally planned (which I think is typical of big businesses, even though that causes a lot of stress on my end) however he replied later saying that I was welcome to phone him directly, rather than go through the route of being directed around to people via reception. Thank you for trying to help me – though sadly it was not enough for me to overcome my anxiety. Not yet. But in the future, I will overcome this. Eventually I will be able to use the phone and carry out conversations like these without any problems. I will need some more help and support, and hopefully some other practical solutions will come to fruition.
Either way, that is me done for today. I hope this lengthy post has somehow helped you understand a bit better how social anxiety can debilitate people in some ways. There are other ways in which anxiety can show and this varies from person to person (and autism to other different neurotypes as well) so it’s worth reading other viewpoints as well to get a broader understanding.