Why are you calling my texting device?

I have massive phone anxiety.

I feel a bit silly saying that, since using a telephone seems like the simplest task possible. But thanks to my brain cranking my anxiety up to 11, a phone call can be pretty daunting. I’ve tried to encourage people in my life not to randomly call me, but most quickly go back to their own telephone habits and my phone is ringing soon enough. They think I’m just part of a younger generation who prefers texting and email, and a little phone call won’t hurt. Part of the problem is this particular anxiety makes me feel fairly pathetic due to how simple and universal the task is, so I’ve never wanted to explain precisely why I’d prefer texts or emails. But I’m trying to be more open about mental illness, including anxiety, so I want to explain exactly why I hate the phone so much.

What my anxiety boils down to is basically this: Social situations terrify me because I’m certain I’ll be rejected or mocked for saying something embarrassing or foolish. I’m overly concerned with how others judge me (thanks childhood bullies and overly demanding adults!). Phone calls are a particular source of anxiety for a couple of reasons:

  • I have a difficult time understanding what someone is saying from their voice alone (which is the same reason why I tend to hate podcasts). I think it’s partially not having the greatest hearing, and partially relying on some lip reading to fully understand people. Add the usual static and terrible reception of my cellphone, and I feel like an idiot. I feel like a burden asking people to constantly repeat themselves, and like a fool when I reply with a non sequitur because I thought someone said something totally different.
  • I prefer written communication because it gives me time to think about what I want to say, and to digest what others are saying. A phone call has the pressure of instantly responding to what you just heard. I can never fully understand and process what I’m hearing, and I’m never eloquent about what I’m saying. It makes me feel ignorant and like I’m bumbling through a conversation. The anxiety is even worse when I’m talking to someone who knows I’m a writer, because all I can do is wonder if they’re thinking “This person is actually a dumbass, maybe they’re a fraud.”
  • When the option of writing is taken away from me, I will try to imagine the conversation ahead of time, scripting out all the potential things that may be said. This is a neurotic waste of energy, since I can rarely predict what will actually be said and will just feel anxious anyway. The only reason I can order take out is because I mentally practice “I would like the carne asada tacos” a dozen times before dialing the number. Most conversations are not so simple. And even with the simple ones, an unexpected “flour or corn tortillas” is enough to fluster me for a moment, and then I’ll hang up stewing over how stupid I sounded stumbling over a simple question.
  • Most people prefer phone calls to discuss more detailed, difficult, or involved topics, but to me that is the very worst time to use the phone. Everything I said about preferring writing is multiplied here: I need time to process and think. I also find it extremely irritating to use for organizational stuff, since then you’re left with no written record of what everyone said and it’s easy for details to fall by the wayside. Board meetings with the SSA were especially stressful for me. A dozen or more voices speaking at the same time is like phone hell, as is the need to vote on stuff that you’ve only had a half hour of phone debate to think about. But the absolute worst situation is when someone wants to call me to aggressively discuss something we disagree about (I’m sure you can imagine how often that happens to this blogger). Putting a hostile situation over my baseline anxiety has literally given me panic attacks and will leave me feeling miserable all day as I wait for the angry call. I don’t feel like I can articulate my views well in a quick, verbal argument, which leaves me feeling totally unable to defend myself.
  • As an anxious introvert (no, that’s not redundant) I usually have to psyche myself up for any sort of social interaction. From going out to dinner with friends to giving a talk where I know I’ll be expected to mingle afterward, it takes mental preparation for me not to totally stress out or feel immediately drained. Getting an unexpected phone call is like someone saying “Drop whatever you’re doing – you must interact with me right now.” I don’t know what that person is about to talk about, and that lack of preparation makes me panic, not answer the phone, and then wait for a voice mail to see what they wanted to talk about. That voice mail has four main options:
    1. Specific message about what they wanted to talk about. Now that I’m prepared for the discussion I’m about to have and I can think ahead about some of the things I will probably say, I call back fairly quickly.
    2. Vague message saying to call them back. It may take me days or a week to psyche myself up enough to call back, or I may forget to do it before I gather the mental energy.
    3. Vague message saying they’ll call me back. I stare at my phone in terror every time they call and wish they would just leave a goddamn message.
    4. No message. I obsessively wonder why they called in the first place if it wasn’t worth leaving a message, and wonder what I have yet again missed out on because of my stupid irrational anxiety.
  • And that’s all talking about phone calls from people I actually know. Unknown number? Yeah, I’m never answering those.

Now, I do think there are times where a phone call is way more useful than a text or email. Emergencies are obvious exceptions. It’s also way more convenient to call someone when you’re trying to meet them or find them somewhere, but those situations don’t trigger my anxiety because I’m prepared for the brief calls in that context. Surprisingly, I’m slightly less anxious doing interviews, mainly because I know the topic beforehand and the questions are either known to me or highly predictable. At this point I have canned responses for most questions, so there’s no fear in thinking up something on the spot.

I wanted to write about this because I want people to better understand where I’m coming from. This anxiety does interfere with certain aspects of my life, and it’s extra frustrating when alternative tools (text, email) are super common but some people refuse to use them. Ironically, this anxiety is the reason why it took me so long to find a therapist. Most therapists require you to call them as the very first step, which felt like an unconquerable step. The only reason I was able to meet with my current therapist was because he allowed email inquiries. Phone anxiety was also one of the reasons I stepped down from the SSA board: they had a new requirement that all board members would have to call a certain number of donors, and I just couldn’t do it. The board meetings were hard enough. Calling strangers and asking them for money? Even thinking about it made me feel like puking.

I fear that I often come off as unreliable when I’m ignoring or putting off phone calls, but in reality I’m fearful or trying to psyche myself up. I’m worried that my friends think I’m avoidant or just don’t like them when the truth is it’s the phone call I’m scared of. I feel annoying constantly asking for the conversation to be switched to text or email. I wonder how weird people think I am when I reply with a text to a missed call. And then there’s a whole layer of meta-anxiety where I feel bad that I have this problem at all, even though I know I shouldn’t be ashamed of symptoms of mental illness and that I’m probably not the only one with this problem.

I hope writing this will encourage my friends to stop calling my texting device by helping them understand where I’m coming from. And I suspect this will resonate with some of my readers who also deal with anxiety. If you relate, I hope you’ll share your stories in the comments so people can better understand living with anxiety.

PAX prime approaches!

One of my favorite events of the year is next weekend – the Penny Arcade Expo. It’s a blast every year, but it’s pretty much impossible for a nerd like me to not love it. I love being able to demo upcoming games, especially the indie games that I’ve never heard of but end up loving. My favorite part is all the rooms where you can basically rent and play any video game or board game you can think of, including old and obscure ones. Not to mention the room full of free arcade and pinball games. And the cosplaying. And the tournaments. And and and

Okay, I’m kind of excited.

This year PAX is 4 days instead of 3, so I may actually attend more than one panel thanks to the extra time. I see that there’s an interesting looking one on Videogames in Medicine run by a UW professor, so I may have to check that out. There are a TON of panels on gender, sexuality, diversity, not being an asshole on the internet…but honestly I’m pretty burnt out on those topics, so I doubt I’ll go. But I’m glad they still exist for anyone else who is interested. Even though the people who need to hear it the most probably aren’t the ones who go…

And of course I’m excited about the tournaments too, which are really just an excuse to play more games with random people. But the competitive aspect makes it extra fun. I may try the 7 Wonders board game tournament, but expect to get my ass kicked. I’ll definitely try the Mario Kart Wii tournament, which is one of the few games I actually feel confident in.

I would say I’m excited to be able to rent my favorite old Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game…but an arcade right by my house just got the arcade version! So much for stockpiling all of those extra quarters for laundry.

Is anyone else going to PAX? What are you looking forward to most?

Blag Hag Grab Bag 8/22/2013

I woke up in a pretty bad mood, but thankfully I have Pixel who knows just the way to distract me: puking all over the carpet. Thanks, kitty.

Mandisa Thomas adds some pertinent information

I want to highlight this comment by Mandisa Thomas left on my post “On silencing anger to silence minority voices”:

Greetings,

Mandisa Thomas here – the person to whom the Black on Black crime question was directed.

My talk on the day in question was about how the Freethought community can learn from the Hospitality Industry – which was well received by the audience. I touched on my organization briefly, and I did not speak on the problems in the Black community that particular day. So for this woman to come out of left field and ask a question that wasn’t related to the subject at hand was not only rude, but it also implied that just because we are an orgainzation that focuses on Blacks that we are supposed to take on such a gigantic problem on our own. It also seemed to imply that I should ONLY be speaking on issues relating to the Black community. She may not have been meaning to come across as insidious or oblivious, but I also don’t think she was paying attention to my presentation, or even cared much about the issue at hand. She certainly did not speak with me afterwards to either clarify, or even offer assistance on such efforts. I certainly did not go off on her, but she receives no sympathy from me either.

Bria has my full support with this matter. I also think there should have been a better effort to involve the primary organizer of the convention if JT, Mark, and this woman were truly concerned. This obviously didn’t happen, and it is disappointing.

Funny how JT didn’t think to mention that in his post. It makes the whole situation even more blatantly racist, and his reaction even more problematic. But seeing that he has already doubled down and is painting my mere disagreement with him as a toxic evil attempt to destroy him, I expect this revelation won’t change much either.

It’s a sad day when you have the blinders of friendship ripped off.

On silencing anger to silence minority voices

My favorite thing to wake up to in the morning is white straight cis men insisting they get to decide who your allies are and that you should not ever get angry, but rather calmly explain basic topics to hostile questions from every person that wanders across your path as if it were your personal duty on this earth.

Thanks for that wonderful way to start the day, JT!

If that wasn’t his intended take home message from his post on Bria Crutchfield’s “outburst” at the Great Lakes Atheist Convention, that’s the message he actually accomplished. But intent is not magic – innocently writing something out of the goodness of your heart doesn’t wash away the problematic message of that post. Which ironically started with failing to understand that intent it not magic.

The problems all started when, during the Q&A of Mandisa Thomas’s talk, a woman asked her what black people were doing to fight black on black crime.  Was the woman’s question naive?  Yes.  Very.  And the naivety resulted in her asking a question that certainly had racist undertones, even if the woman was not intentionally being racist.  Mandisa handled it well.

But then, during the Q&A of Darrel C. Smith’s talk, Bria Crutchfield stood up and proceeded to give the woman an angry tongue lashing.  This went on for about five minutes (or maybe it just seemed like that long).  While Bria did answer the woman’s question, it was very embarrassing to the woman and trailed off into a number of red herrings such as “I’m here, get over it” as if anybody was suggesting that Bria or black atheists were unwelcome at the conference or silently sneered at by…anybody.

I, and several others wound up leaving the room during Bria’s monologue.  It just seemed so unnecessary to me.  The questioner was ignorant of what would make her question offensive, and this could’ve been solved without Bria embarrassing her (and herself) by usurping another speaker’s Q&A.  The woman merely needed information, not to be screamed at, and certainly not to be screamed at through a long diatribe in the middle of a conference when the floor was not hers.

So let’s recap what has happened so far:

JT’s psychic powers allow him to know that the woman asking the question on black on black crime is naive and not racist. This is despite that particular question being one of the most common, racist, debunked talking points from the far right. Even if 99% of the time that question is thrown out precisely to be hostile as a racism “gotcha”, we’re to assume this case is different for no good reason. He has downgraded the offense of that question to simply having “racist undertones,” despite playing up Bria’s response with value-laden terms like “outburst,” “angry tongue lashing,” “unnecessary,” and “diatribe.” His psychic powers also make him certain that Bria’s intent was to humiliate and embarrass, and he dismisses that Bria or other black atheists have any good reason to feel unwelcome at the conference. Because he gets to decide if they should feel unwelcome or not?

A commenter who also attended the event had a different take on the events:

Seeing that you stated that you left the room during Bria’s “outburst” I assume you did not hear her breakdown into tears at the end. I also assume that you were not present at the beginning of Bria’s talk where she apologized and clarified a few points.

If you would have witnessed the entirety of the “event” I don’t think you would have seen it as anything other than Bria’s frustration in having to educate people in a place that she hoped was already beyond that. It is often our “allies” that we get the most frustrated with, since for better or worse, we hold them to a higher standard because we hold them in higher regard.

After all this, JT has the gall to pull Bria aside and explain how he thinks she should have handled the situation – aka, be more nice and calm, and keep your disagreements to private discussions with the individual. This is so condescending it blows my mind. It is incredibly problematic for a white man to tell a black woman to not get angry about issues of racism that affect her on a daily basis. JT might not get mad, but it’s not because he’s achieved some higher, moral zen state that gives him infinite patience to deal with ignorance and hatred – it’s because these issues don’t fucking affect him. Of course you can stay calm when you either don’t care or don’t have to care.

He claims to understand how she feels – which is self evidently false from the article he just wrote. When you’re a member of a minority group, it is infuriating to hear the same offensive, dehumanizing, and ignorant questions over and over again. It is even more infuriating for people in a position of privilege to insist that it is your duty to personally and calmly educate every person that crosses your path. Even if 99% of the people asking these questions are assholes with no inkling to ever change their mind, you’re to treat each new one as a special snowflake. THIS one is just asking questions, guys!

Newsflash: If someone is parroting racist, sexist, or transphobic talking points, calmly explaining why they’re wrong doesn’t tend to work because they’re not looking to have their minds changed. You’d think someone who frequently deals with religious apologists would understand this. If someone came into an evolution conference saying “if we evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?” would JT argue that they’re simply naive, not informed, and want an explanation? Or would he think they’re informed enough to be parroting a creationist talking point that’s, to steal the perfect phrase from Crommunist, “an ideological attack disguised as ‘just asking questions.’”

Insisting that minorities quell their anger is insisting that minorities stay silent. Asking for public ignorant statements to be responded to in private sweeps the problems under the rug. Observers hear the problematic statement but no response, which reinforces the status quo and sends a message that no one found that statement problematic. It also puts all of the burden of educating one person, who most of the time don’t actually want to be educated, on individuals who already feel drained and exhausted from having to explain the same basic 101 crap over and over again.

And this call for calmness and personal explanations is even more infuriating coming from JT. I have calmly and privately explained social justice issues to JT for years, over email, texts, phone calls, in person conversations. So has Greta. So has Crommunist, who points out the last time he did so he was ignored, so he’s not going to try again. And also feel like all of these attempts have been ignored because no progress at all has been made. So when a person I consider a friend doesn’t even listen to these calm private explanations, why is he insisting it will work on strangers? To quote Crommunist via twitter:

If the tone of voice someone uses is enough to make you discount their argument, then you didn’t care about the issue to begin with. And the repeated demand to have things ‘calmly’ explained to you simply means you’re looking for an excuse not to listen. This goes double for people who demand calm explanations, and then IGNORE those explanations when they are given. You. Just. Don’t. Care. And while it may make you feel good to SAY you care, your actions shine through the bullshit veneer of “but I want to learn!” So if you don’t care, at least be honest with yourself and with others. You don’t have to care about every issue, but don’t lie. It’s boring.

When I started college, I labeled myself as a feminist. Like, woo, equality, who wouldn’t be behind that?! I started to read feminist blogs and I disagreed with a lot, if not most, of what they were saying. It was incredibly tempting to spew forth my uneducated opinion, and that desire did not come from wanting someone to calmly explain it to me – it came from thinking I was right and they were wrong. I’m sure I did that occasionally because no one is perfect, but you know what I ultimately decided to do? I shut up and listened. I read more and more and attempted to educate myself before partaking in any discussions. And now after a lot of time and work and thought, I understand.

Do I fully understand? Of course not. It’s a never-ending process, but it begins with listening and educating yourself first. And I fully admit I am at different stages of this process for different topics. I grew up in an overwhelmingly white Midwestern suburb, so I haven’t been aware of a lot of racial issues until recently. But instead of parroting things I may have heard from older relatives, I’ve been listening intently to better myself. I also fully admit there are still some trans issues I don’t “get,” but my response to that is to keep reading and thinking about it. To subscribe to blogs that sometimes make me uncomfortable and challenge my ideas. To do some motherfucking Googling.

But this was the cherry on top from JT’s post:

Lately there’s been a lot of this attitude in the atheist movement, that every misstep out of naivety or ignorance, even if it’s insulting, makes someone a prime target for a shout down in a “public room” – as if humiliation and shame, while sometimes the proper tools, are always the proper tools.  When did we forget that people in the atheist movement are our friends and allies?

I must steal this response from Jadehawk: We didn’t forget. We realized it wasn’t true.

look-kitten-plain

Just because you label yourself as an ally doesn’t make you one. Your actions make you one.  I want to close with one last quote from an article by Crommunist that’s a must read companion to this post:

Labels are accurate right up until the moment they are not. That is, you are an ally right up until the moment you stop acting like one, at which point you’re not an ally anymore. Having once been an ally doesn’t change your oppressive behaviour into non-oppressive behaviour any more than having had an accident-free record makes you not at fault for rear-ending that bus.

Being a good ally doesn’t involve silencing the people you claim to be allies with by policing their emotions and behavior.

Blag Hag Grab Bag 8/15/2013

Congratulations to my labmate for her successful dissertation defense today! She now officially has the coolest name ever – Dr. Claw.

Belated raging

Today I found out from my dad that when my mom was in the hospital recovering from a serious surgery to remove the tumors from her ovarian cancer, some evangelical Christians came into her room uninvited during a rare moment when my dad was away to try to convert her and ask if she’s heard the good word about her lord and savior Jesus Christ.

Is there anything more fucking reprehensible than preying on the vulnerable who are recovering from a near death experience and undergoing a battle with stage 4 cancer? It fucking disgusts me.

They should consider themselves damned lucky that my dad and I weren’t there, because we would have NOT been friendly atheists.

Assholes.

The euphoria of an okay day

A couple of weeks ago I opened up about my severe depression. Unfortunately, depression is not new to me. It’s hit me from time to time since I was about ten years old. Sometimes it has obvious triggers, but sometimes it seems to strike at random. Sometimes it may only last for a week or two, but sometimes it can drag on for almost a year.

Unfortunately, this current depression was one of the long ones.

The triggers were obvious: Months of sustained internet harassment from misogynistic assholes. Worrying about my boyfriend’s impending graduation and the possibility of him moving away. Feeling lost and alone as I desperately tried to figure out my experiments in graduate school. My mother’s cancer diagnosis. And this final one seems silly, but I read an introductory philosophy book during this time and it was absolutely crushing. I had become convinced that life was meaningless, morality was a farce, and my future was utterly hopeless and devoid of any dreams or aspirations. I spent much of my time pondering how fucked and pointless existence was, crying to myself, or writing emo poetry about how my body is just a bag of chemicals. I’ll spare you said poetry.

Then, a couple of good things happened.

On one of my low days, I reached out to a friend. He looked up a therapist for me through the Secular Therapist Project, and I mustered enough motivation to write that therapist an email. For the first time in almost a year, I had a moment of clarity where I realized my brain was lying to me and I could try to do something about it. Taking a step to take care of myself lifted the black cloud an inch.

I opened up to my boyfriend about my concerns about him having to move away when he graduated. I don’t know why I didn’t mention it sooner – depression convinces you that no one cares and there’s no solution to your problems, so it wasn’t a rational decision. But once I talked to him we realized we were both on the same page and committed to make something work, because we love each other so much. He is my rock and I feel so lucky to have him, and I knew he felt the same. The cloud lifted another inch.

Soon after this, my experiments in lab started to work. My months of planning and more months of troubleshooting finally paid off. I grinned ear to ear. That’s when I realized that I hadn’t had a single moment of positive feedback at work since I passed my general exam in June of 2012. I had gone a whole year without success and had convinced myself that was due to personal failings, not an ambitious project. I was excited about my research again. The cloud lifted another inch.

I wrote about my depression here. I had missed blogging so much, and getting back into the swing of things reminded me how much I had missed it. Writing has always been my creative outlet and a source of support. Realizing I could still do that despite my devoted haters was a relief. The cloud lifted another inch.

But then the best thing of all happened. I got the news that my mother’s cancer marker levels were finally in the normal range. A near death experience from a bilateral pulmonary embolism and stage 4 ovarian cancer were now behind her. Months before I thought she had no future, but now we could all see the light at the end of the tunnel.

When I woke up the next day, the cloud was gone.

For the first time in nearly a year, I felt “okay.” I wasn’t obsessing over everything I said and did, horrified about what others would think of me. I wasn’t cycling thoughts through my head about how the world was hopeless and unfixable and my life had nothing to look forward to. I wasn’t thinking how I hated my job and I was an idiot who must have only gotten into grad school to fill some diversity quota. I wasn’t feeling doomed about my mom’s health or my inability to be there with her. I wasn’t having fleeting fantasies about jumping in front of the bus to relieve the pain, even though I knew I would never want to actually do that.

I was just going about my day like normal.

I road the bus and looked at the pretty trees outside. I read some interesting articles on the internet. I worked on some more experiments, excited to see my results. I walked to lunch and felt the warm sunlight against my skin. I ordered a bowl of pho at my favorite Vietnamese restaurant and smelled the wonderful aroma. And as I lifted the spoon to my mouth, I wanted to cry tears of joy. I hadn’t wanted to eat anything for weeks and food had tasted like nothing. This tasted like absolute heaven. It felt like the best meal I had ever had in my entire life, even though I had had it dozens of times before.

When you’ve been depressed so long, an “okay” day felt euphoric.

The anhedonia that comes with depression – the loss of interest in anything that once gave you joy – is partially so horrible because you don’t realize it’s happening until is stops. When it stopped that day, it took all of my energy to not sob joyfully into my bowl of pho. When I went home I ended up doing dishes and scrubbing the floor because the ability to muster up enough motivation to do finally do simple chores made me feel like I had just won a Nobel. After nearly a year at the absolute bottom, going about business as usual was ecstasy.

I’ve had a couple weeks of okay days so far. I know for me it’s a matter of when, not if, my depression will come back. The black cloud will surely come down again. But while it has lifted, I’m going to enjoy every okay day as if it’s the best day of my life. Because it sure feels like it.

Blag Hag Grab Bag 8/11/2013

As an intro to this social-justicey link roundup, I have a request for all of you: Please don’t send me the stupid crap misogynistic assholes write about me unless it contains threats that I need to forward to the police. Thanks.

  • The Good Old Days – Jamie at Skepchick has a great post addressing skeptics who long for the “good old days” where everyone seemed to be happy and get along:

    In a way, this sentiment is true for them. They really are worse off now than they were then. In the old days they could go to any event they wanted and see all their friends. Now they have to pick and choose events based on which “side” they support, often being judged by their friends who would never be seen with the kind of people who attend that event. Just going to a party or taking photos with certain people has become a political statement of whom you stand with. Perhaps they have even lost some friends over these internal movement squabbles. Certainly, things for them were better back before everyone started talking about harassment.

    What they fail to consider is that even as things seem to have gotten worse for them, the good old days had a dark underbelly. Back in the pre-elevatorgate days, harassment of women at skeptic cons was rampant.

  • When Power Goes To Your Head, You May Stop Listening To Your Heart - A new study from neuroscientists at Wilfrid Laurier University shows that feeling powerless boosts the mirror system in people’s brains, resulting in higher empathy, while power diminishes empathy. Explains a lot, huh?
  • Virginia Crisis Pregnancy Centers Caught Lying About Abortion and Contraception – An anti-choice pregnancy crisis center has been caught on video saying disturbingly wrong information:

    The woman working at the center tries to convince the client not to use any kind of contraception whatsoever. She starts slow, claiming that hormonal contraception will make your hair fall out. Then she gets really excited, stating that she’s not interested in judging, but, “First of all, if you’re not married, why are you having sex?” and proceeds to make the following claims:
    - “Condoms are naturally porous,” so don’t protect against STIs.
    - “Within a marriage, sexual relations are procreative.” Also, you don’t need to use contraception in marriage because you can just avoid sex “two or three days a month” to prevent pregnancy. (In reality, the numbers range from 8 days to 11 days, depending on the source.)
    - Taking the birth control pill is like putting a small child on steroids.
    - On IUDs: “Sometimes it grows into the tissue of the uterus,” she says, though that’s not a known risk of the IUD. Perforations do happen, but they’re rare and usually happen during insertion.

  • The Daily Show tackles racial privilege like no one else can.
  • I’m going to end on this comic from Jim C. Hines without comment: