Email was like a miracle. I went to graduate school in 1993, and one of the perks was an email address. Since making phone calls filled me with dread, email was like getting released from jail, or pardoned. I loved its asynchronous nature whereby I could send a message and the other person would read it without my having to witness it, or respond to it in real time, and vice versa, when I received an email I could spend as much time as I needed to get my response right.
Of course, my OCD loved email, because I could delay actions that caused me great anxiety, like spontaneous speaking, but slowly I began to realize that email had its own set of anxieties. Email didn't erase my compulsion to making sure I didn't say the wrong thing, and most likely strengthened my fear of making a mistake. Writing email consumed a lot of time, because the using the "Send" command began to feel full of trepidation. Once I sent my email, I couldn't take it back. Pieces of messages would pop into my head, as I retraced all the nuances. I dreaded this reconstructive process, because it aggravated all my fears of saying something wrong, every time I listened to my own message in my head.
Responding to email was exhausting. The written word has a permanent quality, an inflexibility, especially in email where there isn't tone of voice(I certainly didn't know anything about "smileys") or facial expression, and I interpreted emails as if they were a holy text. What does this mean? What should I say in response? Will this correspondent think ill of me? But I chose email to communicate 90% of the time(7% consisted of real paper mail, which in a pre-computer era, involved lots of rewriting, and discarding whole pages if I made a mistake in expression, and the other 3% was on the phone under duress).
I chose email even when I started to realize that in some cases I would save a lot of agonizing by calling the person, but even though I could see that the email would turn into a convoluted dance of "Did I say the write thing? Have they gotten it yet? Why aren't they responding? I really need to know the answer to this question. Am I going to have to call, and then they will think I'm weird for emailing and then calling?" I started fearing opening my email, because of anticipating negative responses to my messages, and the longer I left a message unopened, the worse the anxiety became, until I assumed that it must be dangerous to open my emails, or why would I be so scared?
One of the exposures I did in OCD therapy was opening messages right away, especially ones that I was afraid of. I gritted my teeth the whole time, but I'd seen how my anxiety escalated the longer I waited. I also practiced writing "inadequate" responses--short, quick, unrehearsed. Which, actually is what email is--somewhere between formal letters and phone calls. I'm never going to be a person who enjoys talking on the phone(unlike my friend J. who enjoys phone calls so much that even if calling was less efficient than looking up info on a website, would still call, just to talk to people), and like Miss Manners I do agree that the phone ringing is not a "command" to pick it up--I can decide when to take calls--but I need to keep an eye on the OCD which will find a million ways to avoid saying the "wrong thing" as if we can definitively ensure that, as much as we might want to.