“Left on Read”: Coping with Communication Anxiety

The bottom half of a person sitting on a floor, holding a cell phone in their hand. They're in a black shirt and red pants, and the lighting surrounding them is dark purple.
Image: SHVETS production/Pexels

Content note: trauma, abandonment, emotional abuse

Fall comes around again, and I’m feeling like an angsty poet. All I need to do is find my Bette Porter to inspire my love poems. Alas, all I have is my Chicano Oldies bumping from my Android phone, my Santa Muerte candle burning bright as I wait for your text back.

Is it my anxiety disorder that makes it all worse for me, or the sad oldies blaring on this Wednesday evening that makes me wonder if I wasted so much time? Holding my breath as I wait for those three dots to pop up and for them to say something more than, “Sup?”

I can’t help but contemplate that it’s my trauma and abandonment issues that keep me so invested. I wonder if anyone outside of anxious people realize how triggering being “left on read” can be? Understanding rationally that sometimes people are just busy or maybe they don’t have the spoons to respond. Anxiety leaves no room for rational thought.

From wondering if the text said too much or too little. If my needs for communication were too needy. My mind goes anywhere that might explain why I’m not good enough or or why I’m too much to receive a response back, or to be the recipient of good communication.

Anxiety creates stories of what is happening in order to fill voids of information, or suss out too much information.

I had a panic attack the other day. A small one, but still a panic attack. I cried and hyperventilated because I thought I sent one too many texts.

To be “left on read” has completely changed the ways in which I feel secure in any relationship. To be “left on read” is a modern way of saying that you can’t deal with this person right now or that your commitment to good communication is not there.

Now let’s be clear, no one owes you their time. Really what this is, is a lesson in not needing to be validated by others. However, when healing through trauma of emotional abuse and dealing with an anxiety disorder, validation that your fears are real can substantiate that I’m not crazy.

Remember that we are not entitled to people’s energy or responses. But we can alleviate anxiety triggers through direct communication. Really, that’s all I’m advocating for: good communication. If you’re not into it, whatever it is, say it. Saving one or more parties a panic attack or two. That way people aren’t strung along and that way people can move on with their lives.

There are ways to mitigate anxiety: exercise, prescribed medication, meditation, changing sleeping habits, breaks from your phone, therapy, and more. But all the ways in which I interact with my anxiety, still don’t ease the heartache I feel when being “left on read.” Immediately all the reasons why a person wouldn’t respond become so loud in my head.

So what I do is take breaks from my phone, continue taking my prescribed medication, change my eating habits and make sure that I get plenty of sleep. All acts of kindness for myself and to show myself some grace, as someone who knows what it’s like to be “left on read.”

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Hablo Rodriguez is a Two Spirit, first generation Colombian artist healer and writer. Their work centers the resilience of QTBIPOC and centers the magic that are disabled people of Color. Their writing reflects the perpetual naivety of having been on their own since they were 16 years old and exemplifies the wisdom of artists of Color. Click here to find their writing. Ometeotl Tlazocamati.