Ooh, it’s been nice and relaxed today. Still having the odd negative, and at one point suicidal, thought. That damn broken heart of mine. A good bank holiday, though, sitting back, watching trashy tv. Not only that, blessed relief from the phone. Not a call all day – bliss!
I don’t know about you, but the phone, whether it be the old-fashioned cabled up at home, or the all singing, all dancing, 17g nuclear missile launcher mobile version, has been a constant source of anxiety, paranoia and stress for me.
Why is that? I still don’t know. Yet every time I hear either the mobile or landline ring, I flinch, and a momentary wave of panic rips through me. Who are they? What do they want? Why me?
I guess it all started around a dozen years ago. I was in a relationship where she was married. Not the happy-ever-after married just having a bit on the side sort. Their marriage was over, and I even knew the other partner fairly well, who also knew we were seeing each other and was fine with it, but neither could afford to live on their own, so kept to the own areas of the house.
He had the landline so she had the mobile, at a time when calls were expensive, so we would often text between dates as it was much cheaper. At first it was great, the messages were as relaxed and easy as our relationship was. Asking how each other were, with one or two bits of humour thrown in.
After a while, though, I felt a need to somehow keep up a standard, to keep her entertained, to make her feel wanted, so the texting became more frequent. I would also begin to feel paranoid if I didn’t get a reply within a short while.
Very soon, days were being lost, just by me looking, waiting for a little envelope diagram to appear on my mobile screen. Nothing else mattered so long as I got that reply which validated my existence. I became dependent, needy, and a completely different soul to the person she met, confided in and started to see.
In the end, I stopped sending texts, realising what a shell of my former self I had become, and a while after we split up. I know a lot of that was due to the complete change in me because of that phone.
I made a conscious note to never use a mobile phone after that when dating anyone. Which of course lasted about a month before the cycle started again.
Soon after that, however, the landline had become just a big a thorn in my mind’s side too. I was going through a depression, with some agoraphobia manifesting itself.
I couldn’t face going out but did nothing except get a prescription for antidepressants. The counsellor I saw, well, we simply didn’t click, and I stopped going, preferring to stay indoors, only peeping out when absolutely essential, and only for as short as time as possible.
I was in a job and every so often they would call me asking when I was returning. They had seen my not being able to go into the workplace as a refusal to do so. After a while, their calls were becoming more persistent, and I feared that dreadful, urgent ringing sound.
Eventually, their patience ran out, and I was sacked just before Christmas. Strangely, although I worried for my future, my initial feeling was relief. That dreadful ringing, cutting me to the bone, would stop.
If I thought that was bad, however, it was nothing compared to early in the new year. Out of a job, frightened of going out, and unaware I could get any help for the numerous bills I had to keep up payments on, I was soon getting anything up to 10 calls a day from finance companies, regarding my mortgage, loan, credit cards and bank account.
Every day was the same message from me. I’m ill, I’m out of a job, when I get money, you’ll get your money. Each response though, was the same. We don’t care, we’re going after you, and take you to court and get your house sold and you on the street if we have to.
I’d lie by the bed, crying, as the shrill of the phone ringing would hit my senses again and again. When I eventually replied, the tone and language of the voice at the other end of the line was more and more threatening.
When I began crying down the line to one company, saying I felt like killing myself, he laughed, and threatened all the more. I had to take the phone line out of the socket before feeling like killing myself became actually killing myself.
Whenever I did put the socket back in, though, within a few minutes, that God-awful ring resurfaced. The phone really was driving me to the point of suicide.
In the nick of time, I realised I needed practical as well as psychological help. I got in touch with the Citizens Advice Bureau, who took on my case. It’s amazing how accommodating finance companies became when they were threatened with court action (due to their bullying and harassing conduct to a mentally ill person) instead of them doing the threatening.
The first thing the debt counsellor told me, though, had nothing to do with the legalities of where I was. It was something that probably saved me more distress than anything else. “Get everything in writing, insist you only correspond in writing. If you do things on the phone, they’re onto you like sharks. Throw the bloody phone away if you can.”
She was right. I no longer had that grey cloud of waiting for a call hanging over me. My anxiety, my paranoia, my tears, my nightmare, gradually subsided. At long last, I felt in control of things. And those loans, bills, overdrafts? Paid every last penny. Which I would have done had they waited instead of ringing.
It’s something I’ve adhered to ever since, not using the phone unless absolutely necessary. Of course, I have a mobile phone. In times when stress is building up, or in bouts of depression, though, it’s left at home when I go out. If I have it on me, it’s always on silent. If I notice someone ringing and don’t recognise the number, it’s left unanswered.
As for the landline, it comes with the broadband package, but nobody knows the number except for myself. I use it purely for free calls to friends and relatives during evenings at weekends. I know full well if it rings, it’s not someone I know, so remains unanswered. It’s rung about twice as far as I can remember.
Frankly, life is so, so much more relaxed now I have that balance of needing to have a phone but without being needy of it. Believe me, if you don’t get that balance right, it can drive you to distraction, perhaps even over the edge.
Don’t let it get to you the way it did to me. To paraphrase a money-grabbing phone company’s ad, it’s good to talk. But so much better to talk in person. Just this once, leave it at home, or leave it off.
You’ll feel so much better for it.