15 September 2014

Communication breakdown

You might imagine that modern communications would help to reduce anxiety in those of us who constantly fret about the wellbeing of our nearest and dearest. After all, mobile phones, emails and a host of social media allow us to keep in touch 24 hours a day. Our minds are tricksy beasts, though, and endlessly inventive in finding causes for concern.

One Sunday, my boyfriend, Pete, and I didn't meet up as usual, having just returned from a holiday together. Instead, I spent much of the day online, catching up on Twitter and Facebook, and responding to emails. Amongst the messages I sent were a couple of inconsequential ones to Pete.

While I'm tied to a PC for online activities, he has mobile access and is usually fairly quick to reply. The hours passed, however, and still he didn't respond. I experienced a flutter of concern, but then it occurred to me that he might be on a bike ride. Relaxing, I carried on...until the early evening, when I still hadn't heard from him. Based on past experience, this was unusual.

Photos courtesy of Peter Gettins
If he'd gone out on a ride, he would have texted me to report on his day, or posted something on Twitter or Facebook: either photos - usually of his kit or the scenery - or messages about any incidents en route. He hadn't.

If he'd stayed at home, he would have texted me to report on his day, or posted something on Twitter or Facebook: either photos - usually of his cat, Bandit - or messages about what they were up to. He hadn't.

No texts, emails, Tweets, Facebook posts or photos. All day. The only logical conclusion was that something terrible had happened to him. At that point, I went old school, and phoned him on his landline. No reply. I only managed to wait five minutes before I called again; this time, he picked up.

Needless to say, nothing awful had come to pass. He had just had an atypical day in not communicating with the outside world, and had been in the bath when I had finally phoned him.

When we first became a couple, mobiles were hardly used - and only had the facility for calls or texts - and our usual contact was just one chat, in the evening, on our landlines. Yes, I would immediately panic if Pete didn't answer the phone at the scheduled time, but mutual silence during the day was the norm. 

The pressure to be in touch with everybody, all of the time, is not only stressful in its own right, but also leads to anxiety when somebody seems to drop off the radar.

The coverage of the centenary of the start of World War I has made me reflect on how times have changed. Then, communications with troops were infrequent, slow and unreliable. Families might endure months of uncertainty as to a loved one's status, whether missing, injured or dead. I can only imagine their stress, while they waited for news.

In light of their suffering, it seems somehow shameful that I've allowed my anxious disposition to turn the benefits of 21st century technology to my mental disadvantage.


Anonymous said...

Great post, Helen, and even many of us without OCD can certainly relate. Your post actually reminds me of one I wrote a couple of years ago, where I talk about how increased communication might actually make us worry more:
Lots to think about!

Helen Barbour said...

Thanks for sharing that post, ocdtalk - very similar reflections, indeed.

We went on holiday recently and found ourselves without a mobile signal at our rented cottage. I warned my dad about this, knowing what a worrier he is, and he sagely pointed out: 'We didn't always have mobiles when we went away.' Mind you, knowing how he is, I'm not sure whether he was trying to reassure me or himself!