My Smartphone is my service animal

Last weekend, I was invited to my daughter's baby shower, and I was not looking forward to it. Most moms would be ecstatic, but I am not like most moms.

I suffer from social anxiety and agoraphobia, which is basically a fear of leaving the house. For years, I would have to make excuses, but there are some events to which a person is morally obligated to attend -- graduations, weddings, funerals, and your daughter's baby shower. So I wrapped a present and trotted off.

When I got there, I realized that I knew only a couple of women, friends of my daughter's from long ago. None of my peeps could make it to the shindig, so that left me sitting in a chair all by myself surrounded by a sea of 20-somethings.

What saved me was my Smartphone which often rescues me from social situations. If the crowd had been older, I might have appeared distant, rude even. But this crowd paid no heed to the woman behind the screen.

Everybody was looking at their phone constantly, and sharing funny memes and videos while they waited for the festivities to get underway.

Not me.

For me, the Smartphone has become my service animal.

It distracts me long enough to get my bearings the way that alcohol once did. For years, I often drank to excess at social gatherings because it was the only way I could cope with my anxiety. It took two or three belts before the ship of brain was righted and I could focus, and appear normal.

Thanks to my Apple Smartphone, and its companion, the iPod, I no longer need booze as a crutch. I can sit quietly and play a game, read my email or look at postings on Facebook. Really, it's all that it takes now, and in a few minutes, I am a normal person again.

The first time I realized the value of the Smartphone was on the bus. For years, I couldn't take the bus and would often jump off and walk sometimes a few kilometres. Today, I have no fear of the bus; I just put in my trusty earbuds and off I go into a land of calm and protection.

Really, they are useful devices for people, a kind of cognitive behavioral therapy. I learned in my group therapy that breathing deeply and other distractions help quiet feelings of anxiety and panic. Smartphones do the same thing. I even have several apps, one developed by the Royal Ottawa Hospital, and a meditation app from Deepak Chopra that can really help in sticky situations, the times when I'm convinced I'm headed into stroke or heart attack territory.

No more running to the bathroom stall with a brown paper bag. No more bottle of wine before the appetizer.

In recent years, Smartphones have become the service animals of people with disabilities. Today, the Apple Watch is an essential for anyone with hearing and visual impairments. Phones and watches can actually save lives during fires and other emergencies when people are unable to hear a smoke alarm or know when someone is at the door.

They are miraculous lifesavers for some people.

Of course, Smartphones are also social nuisances. Really, there is no excuse for rudeness.

But the next time you see someone frantically tapping, or mesmerized by a screen when they are sitting alone in public, don't assume they are just screen addicts.

Maybe they are just paying attention to their service animals.


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