An anxious introvert calls her Congresspeople

Before November, I had never called an elected official.  Way back in high school, I wrote a letter to my town council, about something tiny—the safety of a local intersection, I think it was.  It was for a class assignment and not something I felt super-strongly about.  My councilperson delivered a written response in person to my house, which was both awesome and terrifying.   A few years later, I emailed my representatives at all levels, local through federal, asking for pins to trade at an international event.  (Is this still a thing one can do?  I don’t know.)  All were quite responsive; I got several bags of nice pins.

But calling?  I hate making phone calls.  The social anxiety I have about talking to people in person is an order of magnitude worse on the phone, where I have no visual cues and it’s hard to hear what people are saying half the time.  This phone-hate is not uncommon, I gather, among anxious folk and among introverts more broadly.

People in the know, however, say that calling is the most effective way to get your point across to an elected official, short of showing up at an in-person event when they’re in town.  So now, I call.

It’s still a lot of work for me.  I have to write out what I’m going to say (or find a script I can use), with adjustments for leaving a voicemail versus talking to a live person.  I have to spend a solid ten minutes just sitting in silent isolation with my phone and my script, mentally preparing.  And then I have to decompress afterward, for however long that takes.

At the same time, I have to combat the thoughts that tell me I’m not doing enough.  There are so many things I could be doing, so many calls I could be making.  There are activism messages saying I ought to be making longer, more confrontational phone calls.  The amount of input that I have to sort through to figure out what I should do and say is overwhelming.

To combat all the different directions of anxiety, I try to remember a few things:

1.  Doing something is better than doing nothing.  The perfect is the enemy of the good, and all that.  Right now, my choice isn’t between “make a long, involved call” and “make a short, here’s-my-message call.”  It’s between “make a short, here’s-my-message call” and “don’t call.”  So I do the thing that I can do, which is less than some people can do, but still a thing done.  Similarly, when I put in a solid effort to call about something and get only busy signals and full voicemails, I’ve given myself permission to not feel bad about emailing instead.  A message in a less-noticed medium is better than no message at all.

2.  Focus is good.  Basically another take on point #1.  I can’t make calls every day—I would be a constant nervous wreck.  And I don’t have the mental space to keep track of every single issue.  So I don’t: instead, I pick the issues I’m going to follow in-depth.  (For the curious, these are health care / women’s health / reproductive rights, and LGBTQ+ equality.  These may not be your personal top-priority issues, and that’s OK.  Point 2 in this piece has a good explanation of why.)  Regardless of issue, I also call my Congresspeople on the rare occasions when they do something I approve of, because positive feedback is good, too.

3.  Those people answering the phone?  That’s their job.  They are specifically supposed to be listening to me and passing on my message in some appropriate fashion.  I am not imposing on their lives.

4.  I’m not the weirdest person who’s ever called.  Even when I’m nervous, even if I trip over my words, I figure the person answering the phone has heard worse.  I’m polite, and I’m calling about something that’s reasonably connected to reality.  (Note that by “polite,” I don’t mean “agreeable,” I mean “recognizes that the staffer on the phone is another human being.”)

5.  I’m not alone.  This is relevant for both external impact (my call doesn’t mean much on its own, but as part of a hundred calls, it matters) and internal turmoil (loads of people have varying degrees of phone anxiety).  When I’m freaking out, I review the helpful “How to call your reps when you have social anxiety“—it reminds me of my strategy, and reassures me that others are dealing with this too.

I tell myself these things, and I keep going.

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Because it might not be OK

We located an on-campus fallout shelter yesterday.

I wasn’t planning on looking for one, but my friend mentioned that one of the buildings she walks past on her way in, a building constructed in 1966, has one of the old fallout shelter signs on its exterior.  So later, on my way back from an errand, I stopped by.

There were no similar signs inside, but there were large floor maps posted by the elevators.  Wandering around the basement, I discovered a large central room whose only entrance was blocked by heavy vault doors.  I guess I don’t know for sure that it’s the fallout shelter, but the circumstantial evidence seems pretty strong.

I filed this information away in my brain, next to the memory bank that says, “Your desk is heavy and has three metal sides; if you hear gunshots, get under it and stay hidden.”

Of course we’re joking about the fallout shelter being a legitimate emergency plan—for one thing, I’m sure they pulled the supplies out twenty years ago.

Of course we’re joking.

Aren’t we?

I was literally vomiting on Wednesday morning.  The seven shots of tequila I had Tuesday night might’ve had something to do with it.  At least as a grad student, I could stay at home all day and nobody cared.  I could hide under the covers and hope that maybe when I woke up, something would’ve changed, the way I used to hope I’d wake up at Hogwarts when I was 11.

I’ve gathered myself together since then, put on a shell of “I can do today,” and resumed daily life.  But I’m walking a mental tightrope, a thin wire built of toddler smiles and hot cups of tea and the soothing banality of routine.  I’m trying to find the balance between hoping for the best and planning for the worst.

It’s tempting to tell myself that we’ll be OK, and that life will go on as it always has.  My family is white.  My marriage presents as, and for all legal purposes is, straight.  We have some money—enough to maybe buy stopgap health insurance if we need it, but maybe not enough to cover our medical needs if we can’t get health insurance at all.  Enough to move.  I have dual citizenship with Canada, I have a Canadian passport.  To be a bit melodramatic about it, they have to let me in.  We were already talking about it as an eventual destination anyway.

But.

But what if it’s not OK?

Because it might not be OK.

I don’t really know how to end this post.  I thought about listing all the ways it could be very not OK, and then I told myself I was being silly, and then I told myself no, all of those things could plausibly happen.

I thought about talking about how disgusted I am that so many American people could be such hypocrites.  About how all the stages of grief blend together into an angry ball of sorrow that refuses to “empathize” with ignorance and hate.  About how I wish I had more ways to fight back.

Instead I end here, open another browser tab, donate more money to Planned Parenthood, and wait to see what tomorrow brings.

Things I’ve been doing instead of blogging

• Sorting family photos and making gift calendars out of the best pictures of Little Boy.  His grandparents love these, and I love that they make my “what to get people for Christmas” decision-making that much shorter.

• Doing the rest of my Christmas shopping.  I have actually managed to complete this task with two whole weeks left ’til Christmas.  It helped that my family came to visit for Thanksgiving and we did most of the gift exchange on that side then.

• Thinking about getting back into knitting.  Not actually doing it, just thinking about it.

• Crossword puzzles.

• Preparing food for Little Boy’s lunches.  I made peas and beans and pumpkin and pears this weekend and thought we were all set for the week.  Mix and match with yogurt and applesauce and crackers and raisin bread and the nightly lunch-making would be easy-peasy.  But no—Little Boy decided that this was the week he was going to completely refuse to eat anything from a spoon, and so I had to scramble to find additional finger foods to pack for daycare.

• Reading Judith Warner’s Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety.  I’m only halfway through the first chapter, but my reaction so far is SO MUCH YES.

• Watching TV because I actually want to, not because I can’t think of anything better to do.

• Mentally gearing up for my vaguely semi-annual thesis committee meeting, which was today.  It went… well, it was an almost-indescribable combination of “look at these super-cool results” and “I feel totally incapable of finishing this thesis.”  It was not terrible.