A few years ago when I was in weekly therapy sessions, I learned something that changed my life. It’s something a lot of people know and a lot of people do, but it had never occurred to me that I really could do it.
I don’t have to answer the phone every time it rings.
Mine is potentially the last generation that remembers a time when we didn’t know who was calling and when we weren’t always there to answer the phone. In addition, at least one of my parents has always lived 50+ miles from me at any given time and the phone was my only link to them. So, for me, it always seemed like not answering my phone – which is on me 90% of the time – was a betrayal because everyone knows it’s a cell phone.
At the time, I was struggling to get my coursework done because I had three parents calling me every day and wanting to talk for long periods in addition to starting a long-distance relationship. At the time, I was losing sleep in favor of phone time. I was distraught over a family member’s terminal cancer diagnosis. I was taking an 8 am “weeding out” class that bored me to tears, but was required for my major – and compiling a huge dossier for it.
But that little secret has changed my life.
The feeling of not being in control has led me down dark paths several times – from eating disorders to depressions to panic attacks. Not answering the phone gives me control. I can choose when I talk to whom. I can feel confident and prepared for potentially difficult or confrontational conversations. I can call back. I can gauge the individual’s mood from their tone on the voicemail.
And, as my Nana always said when we’d receive a call during dinner (a common occurrence in a pastor’s household), “If it’s important enough, they’ll leave a message.”
Putting myself in the driver’s seat for something so common, something so small, and something that used to give me such anxiety has given me peace of mind in difficult times lately. No one is entitled to a justification and, though every caller may consider theirs the most important thing of the day because human nature dictates that degree of arrogance and selfishness, I needn’t feel put on the spot or pressured beyond my capacity; I can return calls when I’m in a position to do so.
Because answering my phone has nothing at all to do with its presence, but with my presence of mind.