Telephone Difficulties with Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

On a personal note, this is something that I find great difficulty with and so feel the need to add this report to our pages.

It would be interesting to hear your views via the Forums.

Bill Clayton old-telephone[1]

A Report in Personal Health Medication Published on 1 October 2015

Have you come to hate talking on the telephone since you’ve had fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome? It’s a common thing for us, with people frequently saying they have an especially hard time focusing phone conversations. So why is this? Several reasons:

  • When you’re on the phone, you don’t get any of the non-verbal cues that come with face-to-face conversation. Communication experts agree that most of communication is non-verbal, and when you remove all those verbal cues, your brain has to work harder to comprehend what’s being said. Our foggy brains may not be able to muster the level of focus.


  • We’re often in environments that are full of distraction. You hear a lot about “multitasking,” which doesn’t really mean that the brain is doing multiple things at once. Even in healthy people, according to experts, the brain is actually switching from one task to another. FMS and ME/CFS brains often have a hard time with multitasking. I know if my kids or the TV are loud, or someone walks into the room, it can steal my attention from the conversation and I’ll miss a chunk of it.
  • The language problems common in us — which includes word recall —can complicate make it conversation and stressful. If you are afraid of forgetting common words or losing your train of thought, it may make your symptoms worse. Personally, I really dislike speaking to strangers on the phone because I don’t to appear stupid. At least if it’s someone I know well, I can say, “Sorry, I just had a fibro moment. Can you repeat that?”
  • Social interaction takes energy. I didn’t understand that when I was healthy, but now I know it all too well. On low-energy days, I really try to avoid the phone.
  • Holding the phone can be really painful for the hand, arm, shoulder, neck or even ear. Some phones get really hot, which can bother those of us who have thermal allodynia (pain from temperatures that wouldn’t normally cause pain.) (Fortunately, speakerphones and headsets can alleviate a lot of these problems.)

At least for me, writing is easier than talking when my language impairment is acting up. I can take more time with it, sort through my jumbled thoughts, and then proofread it. I’m much more comfortable with emails, chatting, or texting. When I receive written messages, I can keep them and refer back to them if necessary, and reading something helps me remember it better.

When I do have to use the phone, especially to talk to a stranger, I try to eliminate all the distractions I can. I go into a quiet room and shut the door, and sometimes I’ll even turn out the light. If I need to relay specific information, I’ll make notes on my computer ahead of time and keep the document open while I talk. If I need to get information, I take notes so I remember it. That prevents frustrations like making a doctor’s appointment or plans with a friend and then forgetting the details the moment I hang up.

If you have problems communicating via telephone, it can help to let the people who speak with frequently know about it. Let them know that when you ask him to repeat something, it’s not because you were ignoring them. You may also want to encourage them to send you texts or emails instead of calling, especially if they know you haven’t been feeling well. It might be worth exploring Skype, especially for long distance calls or conversations you expect to be lengthy.

If you have to use the phone as part of your job, you may be able to request reasonable accommodation from your employer. (Yes, the Americans with Disabilities Act DOES apply to you!) That may include things like hands-free devices or requests for instructions to be delivered in writing rather than over the phone.

Studies have shown that it’s a bad idea for anyone to talk on a cell phone while driving, even if it’s hands-free. While it’s not something that has been studied specifically, it seems safe to assume that those of us with communication-based cognitive dysfunction would be especially dangerous when it comes to talking while driving.


Attree EA, Dancey CP, Pope AL. Cyberpsychology and Behavior. 2009 Aug;12(4):379-85. An assessment of prospective memory retrieval in woman with chronic fatigue syndrome using a virtual-reality environment; an initial study.

Leavitt F, Katz RS. Journal of Clinical Rheumatology. 2008 Sug;14(4):214-8. Speed of mental operations in fibromyalgia: a selective naming speed deficit.

Nunes L, Recarte MA. Science Direct. June 2002 5(2):133-144. Cognitive demands of hands-free-phone conversation while driving.

National Safety Council. How cell phone distracted driving affects the brain. All rights reserved. Accessed: February 2015.

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