There’s a woman on the bus route I take into work because I refuse to drive and face the evils that is downtown traffic. She’s an older woman and she’s very nice. When she catches me before the sun rises on my way to work, I’m normally on my phone, with my headphones on. She usually compliments my dress: I have to pause my music to address her and we smile and nod and go about our day. One day as she praised one of my many dresses, she said something that stuck with me.
“Go back to your little world.”
That phrase hit me like a ton of bricks and not just because it was dismissive. It did so because if you were anything like me as a teenager: you’ve heard this before. My aunt would often chastise me for being on my phone or listening to music (then with the help of an iPod or CD player, yes I know I’m old) in car rides or during any time of stress. There was a lot for me to tune out back then.
So hearing that from another person honestly was emotionally hurtful. I never mean to appear aloof (except for all the times I do). And in that spirit of explaining myself because this blog is where I air my laundry, Here are a few of the reasons if you see me in public that I may be on my phone.
I’m Avoiding Unwanted Attention
I’m fortunately enough to be only passably attractive which means I do not get catcalled often but the times that I have were exhausting, demeaning and tiresome. If I’m on the bus early in the morning, I do not have the time or energy to deal with a man who wants to chat with me or a woman who wishes to chat about the wonders of a certain flavor of Jesus.
The World is Loud
There is a certain social contract that reads if the sun is not up, thou must not rant about thine boyfriend’s sister’s hairdresser. The world is noisy and loud and by the time I lug my undead corpse from my apartment, I do not want to deal with such things. I face enough noise in an open office: my morning and evening bus rides are a great time to decompress and get ready for the day or for bed.
I Am Anxious
I’ve joked about getting one of those little vests that some small dogs get that say “I am Anxious”. I would love one of these. I’ve been very candid about having anxiety and the world is terrifying. The noise is scary, my own thoughts are scary, existence is scary: Swedish EDM and Pokemon Go make the world a little less scary. It gives me something to do. I can sync my heart to the beat of the drums and I can focus on catching Pidgey rather than did all my bills get out okay or if my parents are resting comfortably in the afterlife.
As a social media manager, I’m always worried that I am not present enough. I worry that I’m too attached to my phone because I know proper etiquette means not being on my phone all the time. I give my little cousin a hard time for being on his phone while also swiping messages away from my smart watch. I want to make memories that last and sear images into my mind that will remain with me for the rest of my days. I also want to play Jurassic World Alive and save the dankest of memes.
I will continue to try and find a balance between staying alert and protecting my mental health. In so many ways, the screen is just another buffer. One of the last arguments a former friend and I had was over the fact that I was active on Twitter while I didn’t talk to him. I flat out had to say it didn’t take effort to post on Twitter while it did to speak to him. Introverts like me do not gain a ton of power from people and noise is exhausting and takes up a huge amount of my energy. I regain some of that power by disengaging via podcasts, audiobooks, writing, reading or playing games on my phone.
Escapism isn’t new but that doesn’t mean I will be rude. If someone does address me, I speak to them. I remove my headphones. I make good eye contact and I do all I can to keep my phone off while at meals, especially if I am with someone else. I don’t play Pokemon Go unless I am with someone else who is playing or I am by myself and I tend to only reply to messages and then promptly turn my phone face down on the table again. It’s a good compromise just in case I need to answer a call or message urgently (a hangover from having chronically sick family members all my life) while also forcing myself to be present in the moment.
So, to the woman on the bus who told me to “go back to my world”; I will, happily. Like Alice in her return to Wonderland, I will return to a world that is more comforting than the one I currently face. Like the teen I was who used music to hide cruel things said by family, I used a tool to help ease some of the pain of my current reality.
There’s a little bit of insight as to why, if you ever catch me out in public, I may be on my cell phone if you do.