do I really have to be on camera for my job?

A reader writes:

So, I have been at my job for two weeks now, and am in the middle of training. Things have been going great and I really like the job. There is just one problem.

Almost every day since I have started, my supervisor has had Skype meetings with people from corporate, our district manager, or a large meeting with someone from every branch we have in the area. I thought this was something she just did and didn’t think twice about it. However, today she told me to listen in as I was organizing some files because “you’ll be joining these meetings soon.”

I froze and honestly could not tell you anything that was said at the meeting because … I have an extreme aversion to having my picture taken. I can count on one hand the number of photos I have known to have been taken of me in 10 years and one of those was at my wedding (I looked at three pictures from that day, wanted to vomit, and have never looked at any others since). This is a problem I have had since high school (I am now 40) and I fully admit it is a crazy problem to have! But as bad as photographs are, video is ten times worse. I can’t even think about being on camera for anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour (which is the general length of these things) without tearing up and panicking. It is a cold, sharp, sliver of fear that is almost paralyzing.

On my second day, I saw one of the branches had their camera off-kilter, and the district manager stopped the meeting, and called her out saying “we can’t continue if you don’t fix your camera, Brenda, we need to see you.” This leads me to believe they won’t allow me to just be present via voice. Am I required to be on camera for a job? And if not is there a way I can ask to be let out of it without coming off sounding like “oh the new girl isn’t a team player” or the “crazy” one? I should also mention that my fear is so real that had they mentioned this in my interview that it was a requirement, I would have not accepted the job.

I sympathize, I really do — I’m no fan of video either.

I’m not going to tell you to just get over it, because if it’s truly a phobia, it’s not that simple.

But I also think that when something is interfering in your life and is common enough that you’re likely to find it in other jobs in the future, it’s worth trying to do something about it.

Because the thing is, this could come up at other jobs without warning too. Video is increasingly common in workplaces, especially as teams get spread out in multiple locations, and I don’t think there’s a reliable way to be sure you can avoid it. Most jobs won’t mention it in the hiring process because it’s considered such an unremarkable thing, and even if they don’t use video when you start, it’s not unlikely that they could end up using it later on.

Now, in some cases you’ll be able to say “Actually, I really hate being on video, so I’m going to just use audio if that’s okay with you.”

And in this case, you can certainly try pushing back with your boss. You could say something like this: “I know this is strange, but I have a pretty intense phobia about video. Would it be okay for me to attend by audio only?” I’m leaning toward thinking that you should say “clinical-level phobia,” because (a) it sounds like that’s true and (b) it will make it less likely that your boss will brush off your request. But people are strange about mental health issues, and it’s possible that that’s going to attach some stigma to you that you don’t want. On the other hand, it sounds like you’d rather have the stigma than be required to be on video, so that could be the way to go. (And really, if your work is otherwise good, this shouldn’t be a big deal in a healthy office.)

But there will probably be other times when you’re going to be expected to use video, and your work life is going to be so much easier if you’re able to do it.

So I think it’s worth tackling this the same way you would any other phobia that was interfering with your life, which might mean seeking a professional’s help with it.

I suspect you’re thinking that you’ve been able to avoid it up until now and so you should be able to keep doing that. And maybe you can. But do you really want to turn down jobs you’d otherwise want because of this? Maybe your answer to that is yes … but then we’re back to the fact that it’s going to keep getting increasingly common, and I don’t think you can outrun it forever.

{ 247 comments… read them below }

  1. Leatherwings*

    OP, I’m so sorry you’re facing your phobia in an office environment. It’s stressful enough in everyday life, but being at work just adds extra pressure. I totally agree that it’s important to use the language “clinical-level” because it emphasizes that it’s not just a fear, and people who don’t have true phobias will understand that language better.

    It seems like there’s a chance this might be covered under the ADA so that may be worth consulting HR or a lawyer on (not sure which is more appropriate).

    Good luck treating your phobia. I have a very serious and specific one too and treating it can be tricky but very worth it.

  2. SpiderLady*

    This is something that I would personally see a therapist over. It sounds like it’s beginning to really affect your life, and getting help might improve that.
    I also agree with Alison: sit down and have a frank conversation with your boss. Let them know you have a severe phobia, and did not know this was a requirement. It might help if you tell her you are working on it, but don’t lie. And then ask if with that in mind they will be able to make reasonable accommodations.

    1. MuseumChick*

      I agree! OP, I highly recommend therapy, this is have a real negative effect on your life. Being able to say “I have a clinical level phobia about being on video. I’m currently looking into help for this but in the mean time could I be present via voice for now?” I think will make you boss more likely to have your back on this.

      1. fposte*

        I think this is good language. In the mean time, OP, you might find it helpful to at least close the small window that shows your own camera view, so you’re not seeing your face the whole time.

        1. Rat in the Sugar*

          Or if that’s not possible, she could try just covering it with a sticky note on her screen. If she doesn’t have other people in the room with her during these meetings, she could also try turning her volume way down when she speaks so she can’t hear her own voice. She might even be able to do it with other people watching, if she can casually say that hearing herself talk is somehow distracting.

          1. SpiderLady*

            I would be worried that the person who told Brenda to come back into the screen would not like the post it note system.

            Unless you mean the thumbnail of how you look at the bottom? If that’s the case, I follow.

            1. Zooey*

              Yeah, on Skype and other programs there are ways to hide the view of yourself, so that she could just quickly set up the shot and then not have to see it anymore.

    2. LiptonTeaForMe*

      Something you might try in lieu of therapy is EMDR, it takes far less time than talk therapy and really works. EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing and was initially something that I looked at as being quackery. The EMDR therapy uses bilateral stimulation, right/left eye movement, or tactile stimulation, (I used sound back and forth between left/right ears) which repeatedly activates the opposite sides of the brain, releasing emotional experiences that are “trapped” in the nervous system. This assists the neurophysiological system, the basis of the mind/body connection, to free itself of blockages and reconnect itself. After three sessions, I managed to break a 28 year smoking habit…so quackery or not, who cares!

      1. Rachel in Minneapolis*

        EMDR is a proven method of therapy. It’s usually practiced by a licensed clinical psychologist or therapist. It’s not in lieu of therapy; it’s a method of therapy that combines talk therapy with the mental stimulation described above.

  3. The Mighty Thor*

    This sounds like something ADA should come into play for? Perhaps therapy of some sort?

    Sorry you have to deal with this OP

    1. Grits McGee*

      One would hope that some kind of accommodation could be made for OP, but given how much importance this company places on video communication, I could also see OP’s managers deciding that not being on camera doesn’t fit their definition of a reasonable accommodation.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Well, it would fit the government’s definition, which is the one that would count! There’s no way to argue that it’s essential for someone to participate in a meeting via video, and that it creates an undue hardship if they can’t.

        That said, I’m not sure this would be covered under the ADA’s definition of a disability.

        1. Grits McGee*

          You’re right! I was thinking more along the lines of how much time/effort/money OP would have to expend if her employer decided to push back, which unfortunately seems like a real possibility that OP may need to take into account.

        2. The Mighty Thor*

          Asking this as someone not familiar with the specifics and intricacies of ADA, what if OP had a diagnosis of something from a qualified mental health professional?

          1. Retail HR Guy*

            It would still have to be something that severely limits an activity of daily living. I am not sure that being on video would count as an ADL.

            1. fposte*

              It’s actually “substantially limits,” and the ADAAA expands that idea to include “communicating,” “concentrating,” “thinking,” “caring for oneself,” walking, eating and sleeping,” and others, while making it clear it’s a non-exhaustive list and that this is in comparison to other . If her phobia means the OP can’t focus when she knows a camera is on her, as her comment seems to suggest, it’s a plausible claim.

              But this is also one of those situations where employer and employee may never know how the court would rule; most of the time this stuff is hashed out between employer and employee without ever getting an official judgment.

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            The ADA covers conditions that “substantially limit one or more major life activities such as seeing, hearing, speaking, walking, breathing, performing manual tasks, learning, caring for oneself, and working.” So you could have a diagnosis from a doctor that didn’t fall in that category.

            But really, totally aside from the ADA, this would be a bizarre thing for an employer to refuse to accommodate.

            1. animaniactoo*

              If she’s becoming as paralyzed with fear as she indicates she is, this would rise to the level of showing some physical impairment when faced with the situation which prevents speaking/working and possibly seeing/hearing. There’s an argument to be found there.

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                But the issue isn’t the physical impairment; it’s whether her phobia is severe enough to limit major life activities. Although communication is a kind of “major life activity” (as fposte noted above), that provision usually refers to speech impediments or ASL—I think it would probably be a stretch to have it qualify under the statute.

                But as Alison noted, if OP can convey clearly that this isn’t an “I don’t like video” phobia, but rather, a “clinical-level” phobia, ideally a humane employer is going to try to accommodate that regardless whether the ADA applies.

              2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

                I feel like “immediate and severe panic attack” is inhibiting pretty much every activity in that moment.

                1. JessaB*

                  Exactly what the Countess says. It limits her ability to work and communicate completely. She cannot communicate on video. If I were the HR rep in this instance I would not want to die on the hill of let her participate by voice.

                  It’s too easy and too inexpensive (free after all) to argue about the details of whether we would win in court, and I could make arguments that go either way. But I’d think and (IANAL but I worked for a bunch of em,) a reasonable judge would probably toss the thing on “it’s free to have her go by voice, she’s not a news anchor which requires her to be on camera, are you kidding me wasting the court’s time with this. Tell me exactly how this hurts your business” But then there are unreasonable judges too. I just can’t see where her job description REQUIRES this.

                  Oh and if the video conference is an accommodation for a Deaf or hearing impaired employee in the first place, the fact that the accommodations are not compatible is not an issue because the D/HI employee can be accommodated in a different way regarding things the OP is saying. Real time captioning, someone signing, or someone on camera actually voice repeating what the OP says.

                2. MegaMoose, Esq*

                  @JessaB: No reasonable judge would toss out a case based on these facts because there’s an easy business fix. Whether an individual has a qualifying disability under the ADA is a “question of law” and would be decided based on legal precedent, not the judge’s personal judgment*. The fact that the employer could have resolved it easily has no bearing on whether a qualifying disability exists. If a case like this went to trial (which would be SUPER unlikely, just to be clear), the court would determine whether a legal disability exists first, and if so, would then decide the reasonable accommodation question.

                  In case anyone’s curious, the “business necessity” argument is a real defense for employers but often is interpreted quite narrowly. I think the real hurdle here would be qualifying disability.

                  *Disputes over facts, on the other hand, are left largely to the trial judge’s discretion. A fact question here might be the credibility of the OP’s testimony regarding their response to being photographed.

                3. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  @MegaMoose, Esq: Yes.

                  @everyone else: Please please stop with the legal speculation if you’re not a lawyer. It’s fine to say “I wonder if X” or “could it be Y,” but I want to steer people away from making definitive legal statements without the expertise to back them up.

                4. MegaMoose, Esq*

                  @ Princess Consuela Banana Hammock: Thanks! I spent a year as an law clerk doing in-house ADA defense (among other things), then spent two years as a state appellate clerk, and now I grade bar exams, so if there’s one thing I know, it’s standards of review.

                  @AAM: I don’t want to pick on anyone because I know people are usually well-intentioned, but have you considered adding IANAL to the moderation filter?

            2. Noah*

              I don’t really see this as bizarre. I’d be concerned that, if not OP, somebody would next demand that the company take down the security cameras over the entry door.

        3. Observer*

          That’s not necessarily true, depending on how the chats are set up. For instance, if the OP needs to present on a whiteboard, that’s not something that’s easily worked around. I can think of a number of other scenarios where accommodation might be a problem, not because the OP needs to be visible but the set up of their system or office present hurdles that might be expensive to overcome.

            1. Observer*

              Not necessarily. Whiteboard and screen sharing are not the same thing. One real world example of the issue is where people are in a conference room with video conference equipment conferencing in another location (or multiple locations) and the presenter is using a whiteboard so everyone can see. In many such cases, there isn’t even a computer in the room.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                While it may be challenging for a handful of very specific situations, in the majority of jobs, this is going to be something that can be worked around. Chances are that it will be fine in the OP’s situation.

              2. JessaB*

                In the case of a whiteboard would the OP be okay if her back was to the camera? I dunno but it can probably be worked around. On the other hand if the OP doesn’t ask there’s no way to find out. You have to start the process to get an answer from it. And sometimes the answers are surprising solutions.

                Mr. B was having trouble at work because of back issues, he thought they’d buy him some kinda ergonomic chair, they ended up deciding it was better to put him in the work from home group independent of the usual selection process. It works great and he’s out so much less but we never expected they’d make that particular choice.

                1. Observer*

                  Oh, I’m sure it can be worked around in the vast majority of cases. I was just making the point that the assumption that it’s a no brainer is not always valid.

                  And, I am totally with you that step one is to ASK. If the boss has any sense, he’ll work with the OP on this.

              3. Jady*

                There are plenty of free and paid online whiteboards. Heck, I’ve seen one for my phone. They even have the added benefit in some programs that the remote people can interact with the whiteboard too. You screen-project so people in the physical room can see as well.

                If the office is setup for common use of video cameras, setting up this would be no sweat. Typical office setups for cameras involve both sides sharing their video feed. Which means the screens already exist.

          1. Visualized Tacos*

            Using a whiteboard on video would be a pretty outdated method. If this company is dedicated to virtual collaboration, they should invest in a tool that allows screensharing or screencasting. Even the most basic ones have that.

            1. TL -*

              Some things are much easier to communicate by actual drawing though – if you’re working through problems, especially math or schematic ones, drawing will be much more helpful than screen sharing. It is dependent on what’s being done (though it doesn’t sound like the OP’s field is dependent on that.)

              1. Gaia*

                Our video conference system literally has a “whiteboard” option which is a tablet that you draw on and it appears on the others’ screens as if you were in room drawing on a white board. This is definitely a thing that exists.

            2. Observer*

              Horses for courses. There are a lot of situations where screen sharing or screen casting is the way to go. But that’s often not practical or optimal.

        4. Anons*

          Even if it were covered under the ADA, if OP asks for an accommodation, the employer can ask for documentation of the disability and the scope of the limitations that disability places on OP for work. So even if OP may not be inclined to tell a professional about this, it may be necessary if seeking a reasonable accommodation.

            1. JessaB*

              True but this is also something the OP can do at their next medical appointment with their GP. You don’t need a psych to make a determination just someone medical an NP, PA, MD. And I would have it documented even if I didn’t need it.

              I have issues and and so does Mr. B. Our GP is aware of them and on a minutes notice can write us something with a current date if we change jobs or need a more recent one (Mr. B will probably be asked in a year or so if he still needs accommodations because some things do get better, his won’t but some do.) They are allowed to ask periodically if you still need the help.

              TL;dr if you have a condition that could impact work whether or not it does now, it helps to have medical personnel to hand who are already aware of it and can document it without you having to schedule a new appointment on the OMG Now now.

    2. Concerned Citizen*

      I was wondering how long it would take somebody to make some sort of appeal to legal authority. Third comments, 2 minutes after the initial comment was posted. Not bad.

        1. Concerned Citizen*

          It’s distressingly common habit in the comments to try to resolve every problem by appealing to some sort of legal solution. It seems like every time somebody encounters some situation they find annoying, unusual, or disturbing (but not necessarily, you know, illegal), they assume the solution is to get the law involved. Starts to sound like a broken record after awhile, is all. For what it’s worth, I like that you take the high road and suggest that people try to resolve conflicts interpersonally rather than trying to rope in lots of third parties.

          Sorry for the knee-jerk snark, just a pet peeve I guess. :(

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I’m a huge advocate for the idea that it’s often/usually more effective to just try to resolve it person to person and you rarely end up needing to go the legal route. But I also think it’s useful for people to be aware of what the law is and what protections are available to them.

            That said, I agree that sometimes the focus on that is heavier than makes sense for a given situation (including this one).

            1. BRR*

              I’ve also felt that bringing up the law is increasing in the comments (I’ve been wanting to comment on that for awhile but was not sure the best time). While there are plenty of situations where it’s appropriate and I totally agree that it’s useful for people to be aware of what the law is, it often feels like people are just brainstorming rather than replying to the letter. That the conversation switches from “would this be helpful for the situation” to “how can we make this a legal thing?” It comes across to me at times like arm chair diagnosing.

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                I feel this way, too, BRR. I know I’ve made this complaint multiple times, as have a handful of other lawyer-commenters. And I also feel like there’s been an uptick in unhelpful lay-lawyering that is akin to armchair diagnosing and that doesn’t help the OP at all.

                And it also derails, because a commenter will post some legal recommendation or conclusion that is in no way legit/correct, a bunch of lawyer commenters will say, “hey now, that’s not how this works,” and then the entire conversation devolves into arguing with lawyers about whether or not this completely non-applicable (and irrelevant) legal issue is a thing. It’s exhausting and frustrating and almost never helps the OP.

                1. fposte*

                  I don’t know if Alison’s up for adding something to the comment policy, but I’d be game for a general understanding that if Alison didn’t mention the legal implications in her answer, it’s because they don’t matter that much to the OP’s options and we should focus accordingly.

                  And to me that’s the endgame–the law only matters here if it’s what solves a problem, and for most of the situations here it’s not the solution, even if when it *is* relevant.

            2. Observer*

              I think that the legal piece was more about “if your boss turns out to be unreasonable, perhaps this could help” and also a broader exploration of the issue. Because while the OP’s *current* situation sounds like it should be easily resolvable with a reasonable boss, what happens when it’s not so simple? What if an employer has a CCTV system that runs 24/7? Or the employee’s job entails shopping at stores that have visible security cameras, etc.

              I realize that the latter discussion is not terribly helpful to the OP right now, but I don’t think it’s such a stretch or derailing.

          2. JessaB*

            I dunno about appeal to law per se, I get what you mean about that, but I don’t necessarily consider appeal to reasonable accommodation process via the ADA to be appeal to law.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              You’re talking about a legal framework—how is that not an appeal to law? The concept of “reasonable accommodation” is a legal term of art; it has no meaning without its statutory referent.

          3. Alton*

            I think when it comes to things like accommodation, it’s important for people to look into what rights they have just in case, or get an idea of what the process might be. Something like this doesn’t require legal action as a first resort, and I don’t think anyone thinks it does. But even if it doesn’t come to that, the employer could treat it as an accommodation issue and request the necessary documentation. It’s good to be prepared.

          4. Leatherwings*

            I suggested talking to either a lawyer or HR (first post, by the way) depending on what was appropriate and while I don’t think everyone always needs to jump to “get a lawyer” or even “go to HR” there are situations where it makes sense to at least consider what your options might be if you’re in an unusual predicament. This comment and the one about it seem a bit overly smug about people’s reactions.

            1. Mike C.*

              More to the point, “talk to a lawyer” means “talk to an expert about the law to more fully understand your own situation and legal rights if any” rather than “file a bunch of frivolous lawsuits and be awarded money you don’t deserve due to a legal technicality”.

              1. MillersSpring*

                Excellent point. The advice to talk to a lawyer almost always means to get specific guidance and ask questions. It does not mean to immediately file suit.

          5. Mike C.*

            It’s the legal framework that allows those with disabilities to be protected in the first place or for legal protections to have any teeth to begin with.

          6. Mookie*

            It’s pretty understandable that when someone’s job might be threatened, they want to know what their legal rights are. Accepting a terrible situation that could be easily mitigated is not a “high road” and there’s nothing petty about asserting one’s rights.

    3. Kj*

      Exposure therapy is highly effective at treating specific phobias. Honestly, some phobias take less than 8 sessions to resolve. Might be worth looking into.

  4. Christy*

    As the smallest of small tips, could you change setting to hide the video of yourself so that you only see the other people? That way you wouldn’t have to see yourself.

    And I know this tip isn’t going to be enough to tackle your phobia alone, so I really hope you’re able to get help with it.

    1. BioPharma*

      Interesting! So at her wedding, I wonder is the photographer clicking away was okay (of course not great), whereas SEEING the photos were intolerable.

      1. Sourdoughbread*

        Hi, OP here. The wedding was horrible in that regard, and I did take steps to ask the photographer to minimize taking pics directly in front of me, but it was really difficult, especially since very few people know about my phobia and EVERYONE loves pictures, amirite?

        1. the gold digger*

          Nope. :) The only selfie I have ever taken was when I fell off my bike on my way to work and wanted my sister, a nurse practitioner, to tell me if my facial/head injuries were serious enough for the ER.

          I was a total bitch to the poor woman at my previous job who was in charge of taking headshots for work IDs and email IDs. I had never had to do that before (I was back working in 2012 after a seven-year absence from the formal workforce), so I was totally shocked when she showed up with a camera. I was nasty and cranky and had to find her the next day to apologize profusely because man, she did not deserve that.

          My current boss loves to use the video function for Skype meetings and I have learned to grit my teeth and endure it, but I do not look at myself on screen.

        2. Violet Fox*

          That’s just it. Everyone doesn’t, especially with digital photos and video that can end up anywhere and everywhere.

          They don’t ask me for my picture for the website at work mostly because I’m pretty well know at work as “the privacy advocate”, and they know they will attempt to get an earful about the privacy laws around here (very much not the US) if they try.

        3. Michelle*

          I detest having my picture taken. I don’t think it’s quite a phobia because I don’t suffer any physical effects, I just DO NOT like it and will avoid it at all costs.

          I’m not sure why I hate it so much. I have never had any sort of traumatic photo incident, such as my picture being used inappropriately or any kind photoshopping jokes.

          1. CanCan*

            My grandmother used to hate having her picture taken, or being in family pictures. She believed it was a bad omen. Her reason was that sometime in the 1950’s, I believe, her family (including her three siblings and their spouses) had a professional picture taken, and shortly afterwards at least one of the family members died, and several others moved away. So her belief was that when you take a picture together as a group, you’ll never again meet as a group. (Which was based on reality – not because photos are unlucky, but because photos were very uncommon then, and often taken when one person was about to move away or go on an extended trip.)

            The last time I saw her was in 1995, when my parents and I were immigrating to Canada. My dad convinced her to take some photos, but she resisted and shed many tears. So did I, and we are both red-faced on those photos. Her fears came true: I never saw her again (though my dad did). She died in 2004. I did see my grandfather in 2007, but his mind was completely gone because of Alzheimer’s.

            I’m tearing up just thinking about those photos.

        4. Not So NewReader*

          I see your “dislike having my pic taken” and raise you, “dislike pawing through other people’s pics.”
          It’s not a phobia though, it’s more on an annoyance level. I don’t mind a couple pics of the new grand kid, that’s great. I am not going to look at 200 pictures of the new grandkid, sorry.

          Some times people get so into their cameras that they miss LIFE as they are too busy focusing the camera and fussing with lighting. After living with extremes like this, my personal preference is to put the camera down and actually participate in the moment. I very seldom take pictures and I very seldom have my picture taken.
          I usually don’t look like me in the pictures anyway, so there seems to be little point.

          It does seem like it would be a good idea to invest in counseling on this phobia though, as cameras are everywhere: stores, traffic lights, police cars, public buildings, gas pumps, etc. Eh, I went to a friend’s house a few weeks ago, I had not been there for a while so I noticed that they had installed a camera on the front porch which covered their front door.

          1. Lissa*

            Oh man, your first paragraph is so me,and I feel really badly about it because I know a lot of people who love showing off pictures and I just don’t care. the only thing that makes me feel old (I’m 33!) is how much the new social media stuff is so focused around pictures rather than text, which leaves me completely cold.

            I’ve been on vacations where I felt like the main focus was taking pictures, and I absolutely do not judge people for doing that, because they are enjoying their vacation their way, but as someone who is “meh” about them, it can get on my nerves at times.

        5. Elizabeth H.*

          I really sympathize. That sounds awful, I wish you could have had no photography at your wedding at all. I don’t like having my photo taken because I photograph really badly and am vain, but it’s not a phobia or anything, and I feel for you with how ubiquitous photos, picture taking having a video component to everything is.

          I am sure this is a dumb suggestion, but if you ever felt like you wanted to practice it or anything, with the phone app Snapchat you can take photos that disappear after 10 seconds. You don’t have to look at them and delete them, they just vanish automatically.

      2. Jamie*

        Interesting! So at her wedding, I wonder is the photographer clicking away was okay (of course not great), whereas SEEING the photos were intolerable.

        That’s exactly how it was for me. I tried to act normal but was super tense during the posed pics and ignored them for the most part during the roaming shots but getting the pics was intolerable and I looked so unhappy in every single one where I knew I was being photographed.

    2. cataloger*

      A similar option is to change the setting so it just shows the other participants a still image; I often have mine set to a cartoon that kind of looks like me, or a photo of a pet. That way, people are talking to me as a “face” but don’t see what I look like that day. I’ve seen a lot of people do this, especially when sketchy network makes video distractingly weird.

      Best of luck!

  5. Here we go again*

    OP, I’m really sorry that you are dealing with this. I’m curious on how you handle security cameras in stores. Is there something you have done there that can help you within your job?

    1. Sourdoughbread*

      Hi, OP here. I cannot think too much about security cameras otherwise I would never leave the house again. I justify it by thinking “well, video quality is usually poor, the shot is from far away, I’m in a large group of people, etc etc” but if I see one hanging from the ceiling I do generally freak out enough that I have to leave :(
      Alison is on point with her advice as usual, it is something I do need to address in therapy but it is just so dumb I’m so embarrassed to admit it.

      1. fposte*

        Therapists have heard it all, I promise. Besides, embarrassment is a pretty common partner to any phobia.

        The other thing with phobias is that the longer you wait, the harder they are to shift, because brains don’t like changing their patterns. So I encourage you to approach this as soon as you can, and then you’ll enjoy the benefits of getting beyond it all the earlier.

        1. Emi.*

          One tip I’ve seen for when you want to discuss something specific, but you’re embarrassed to bring it up, is to write it down ahead of time and then just hand your therapist the paper. The writing might be easier because you have more time to figure out exact phrasing, and you can be alone when you do it.

          1. LiptonTeaForMe*

            That is how I got through the majority of my own therapy…I grew up writing, not talking. So if someone had tried to force me to talk, it never would have worked. Don’t be embarrassed, life throws curve balls…this is yours. Own it, master it, be done with it….have a life without it!

      2. Whats In A Name*

        Please don’t think of it as anything embarrassing – it’s something legitimate that is starting to affect your life and I think writing in for guidance was a great first step.

      3. Jessesgirl72*

        All phobias are dumb. The basic definition of phobia is “unreasonable fear.” That doesn’t make them any less real or debilitating. I think you should feel proud about seeking help, not embarrassed. Doing scary really hard things is always something to be proud of.

        If you can overcome this, think how much less stress you’ll be under any time you go out in public.

        1. Anna*


          It’s a weird thing that we do. “I know my fear of heights is unreasonable and dumb, but your unreasonable fear of seat belts turning into snakes is completely legit.” No, they’re both pretty weird and kinda dumb, but they are real and they are valid and you shouldn’t be controlled by them.

            1. Codependent*

              My sympathies. My teenager has always been slightly phobic about all winged bugs, but butterflies are a whole different level of Nope.

          1. SimonTheGreyWarden*

            This. I mean, I have a phobia about sharks to the point where being *underwater in a deep swimming pool* can cause me to panic. Any body of water where I can’t see the bottom – including ponds where sharks simply can’t live – are way out. I’ve spent a lot of time sort of ‘de-constructing’ my phobia to the point where I can watch them on TV, see them swimming in aquariums, come across pictures I didn’t expect, etc., but when I was younger, just seeing something that looked like a shark fin was an instant panic attack (that was fun out on a boat one time when porpoises swum up; all I saw were dorsal fins; everyone laughed at me. I was 8). I know it’s a dumb fear. I live in the middle of the country. I like swimming! But no matter what I do, I just can’t get past that reptile brain fear.

          2. Jessesgirl72*

            Shouldn’t be controlled by them, or defined by them either. As someone else said below, the fear is “dumb” but the person with the phobia is not dumb. In no way is it a character flaw.

            I just feel like trying to say it’s NOT dumb is disingenuous and maybe even condescending. But the dumbness or not is otherwise not important. The person with the phobia is important. So often, people don’t seek mental health treatment because they don’t think they are worth it. I hope OP can be convinced that she’s worth it!

        2. Elizabeth H.*

          I have a puppet phobia. (also dolls, esp. baby dolls, actual babies, monkeys) Human type puppets, not like Daniel Tiger, but including Muppets. I started to have a panic attack once when my ex and I were staying in an Airbnb that had these gnome statues in it (they weren’t even creepy gnomes, but cartoonish gnomes). I couldn’t watch Sesame Street when I was a kid. Also once when I was 25 I had to when we had these family friends over who had kids and one of them had this baby doll with her that she brought to the dinner table halfway through, I started flipping out and had to go upstairs while my MOM explained. It was mortifying although they were really nice about it. But in general almost nobody takes it seriously. Except for, remarkably, my half brother also has it, and he and I grew up completely separately in different families – I find that fascinating.

      4. misspiggy*

        It’s not at all dumb, and no therapist will question it – in fact I’m sure there are forms of therapy (EMDR, for example?) that are specifically intended to help people get over phobias.

        FWIW, a guy posted a while back on Reddit that his wife had paid their wedding photographer not to include her in any pictures, without telling him. So there’s at least one other person out there who is affected by this same phobia, probably more severely.

        I don’t like being on Skype camera for various reasons, one of which is that I hate seeing myself. (I had to gradually expose myself to my wedding pics, and after a few years I can look at most of them without a shudder.) I usually start a Skype meeting with audio and if someone asks for camera, I ask if it’s OK not to, because I have a sore neck and it’s difficult for me to keep my head in one position for the camera (this is true). I turn off the self-camera box on Skype. If we are all on a big office camera, I do my best to keep my head down and not look at the screen.

      5. NW Mossy*

        Please don’t let embarrassment or feeling dumb hold you back from therapy – therapy exists precisely to help us with this kind of stuff. It’s hard to see it when you can’t peer into another person’s thought process, but the overwhelming majority of us have thoughts and feelings about a particular topic that don’t toe a perfectly-reasonable-and-rational line. It’s part of what makes us human, and you should never feel ashamed for being a person.

      6. Elizabeth*

        One of the things I addressed in therapy is my phobia about putting my face in the water. I hadn’t been able to even put my face under a shower stream to wash it; I had to wet a washcloth, wet my face, soap it & rinse it with the washcloth. Swimming on my stomach? Forget it. Since our house has a pool, that was having pretty big impact.

        My point? Therapy is for anything that is having a negative impact on your life that you want to change. It sounds like this is doing just that.

        1. the gold digger*

          I was a swimming teacher during college summer vacation. I taught four year olds and the only objective for the class was for them to be able to put their faces in the water and blow bubbles. That’s it – that’s all we wanted to accomplish with them because it is really, really hard to voluntarily put yourself in a situation where you cannot get air!

      7. The Mighty Thor*

        Hi OP, so sorry you’re going through this.

        That rationale for not seeking therapy sounds a lot like what I told myself while I let my depression go untreated. When I finally got my butt into therapy, it was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life.

        No mental health issue is too dumb for therapy. A therapist will understand this and help you get past it.

      8. Gaia*

        It is not dumb and you should not be embarrassed. It is a phobia and it is very real. And it isn’t even the weirdest one out there.

      9. MuseumChick*

        Don’t feel embarrassed! We have have odd things that give us anxiety. I promise you, this is not the strangest thing in the world. Heck, there is a woman that doesn’t eat anything except french fries out there. ( because she cannot stand the texture of any other food.

      10. Here we go again*

        Aww… Don’t be embarrassed! I think almost everyone has quirky things, just to a different degree. And yes, most therapists have heard everything.

      11. Observer*

        As others have said, this is not “dumb” and you really should not let your embarrassment keep you from getting into therapy. The “good” part of this is that it’s more likely to fall under the ADA definition of something that needs to be accommodated because it seems to be interfering with activities of daily living.

        If you are at this point, you REALLY need to get help with this, because cameras are everywhere. You may be able to manage your shopping via the internet, but if you have kids it’s going to be hard never to go places with them that don’t have security cameras. And many employers and other public buildings have cameras going all day. And, the use of cameras is increasing as the quality goes up and the cost goes down. It’s going to get increasingly hard to avoid any place with cameras.

        Lots of luck with this.

        1. Kyrielle*

          Oh, point! I missed this, but yes, the fact that it interferes with your ability to be out in public and go shopping actually does increase your odds of it qualifying under the ADA.

      12. many bells down*

        Seconding/thirding/fourthing “It’s not dumb”. My phobia is helicopters. I’m terrified of them. And that extends to remote-controlled drones, too. When those mall kiosks that sell them have one flying around I have to go into a store or in the other direction. One of these days I’ll end up smashing one that flies too close. It’s dumb too! But at least helicopters are fairly easy to avoid!

      13. Kyrielle*

        Phobias are inherently dumb. The people with them are not. By definition, the phobia is your brain running away with something to an irrational degree. But it’s not a reflection on your character.

        Admittedly, people do love to “judge” phobias. If it’s something that sometimes *can be* scary to a normal person, they understand it better. But that’s not reasonable as a standard, because a rational fear of an actually scary-at-that-moment item is not a phobia.

        (And, honestly, I just want to applaud your courage in facing this at all. I had a different phobia – I’ve been working on it and now I don’t think it rises to the clinical level anymore – but facing and talking about it, even when your hand is forced, is not easy. I’m not sure I could have written for advice about it at the time!)

        1. fposte*

          I think a lot of people don’t really get the difference between phobia and uninformed nervousness. Which isn’t inherently unreasonable, since a lot of people with phobias didn’t get it before either, and there is a spectrum involved, but it’s kind of like trying to logic somebody out of an allergic reaction.

          1. Observer*

            Actually, that’s a bad analogy. Because logic is not useful to the allergy sufferer in any mode. But logic CAN help the phobia sufferer, if only by cluing that person into the fact that they need help.

            I’d say it’s more like trying to use logic to “prove” that a blow didn’t hurt. If it hurt, it hurt. If logic says it shouldn’t have, maybe you should see a doctor, though because something could be wrong.

            1. fposte*

              No, I still like the analogy–it’s an involuntary reaction that you can’t explain somebody out of. You can also clue somebody with allergies into the fact that desensitization is available, after all.

              1. Observer*

                Eh, desensitization is not a very useful treatment modality, most of the time. To the point that most allergists don’t even recommend it. So, no there really isn’t something anyone can do about allergies, but avoid the allergen as much as they can and have appropriate medication on hand if they get exposed.

                But, I really don’t want to derail this into a discussion of allergies.

                1. N.J.*

                  I realize this is off topic, as you yourself noted, but there is a reasonably well researched body of evidence that you can treat allergies. Not 100%, not for everyone and it depends on the allergies, but medical personal bel have been using immunotherapy (allergy shots) for quite awhile to treat allergies. I’m sure some folks doubt it’s efficacy, but a blanket rejection of treatment options available for allergies, to the point of discounting the perfectly reasonable desensitization analogy that fposte used, is a bit…oddly entrenched.

                2. Observer*

                  If you can point me to some sound studies, I would be VERY grateful – allergies are actually a fairly big deal in my family. NONE of the medical people we’ve consulted considered this a viable path, and the GP we use to to coordinate care is very open to alternative and new stuff. But I’m always open to looking at this again, and I’m also pretty confident that if i came to my GP with some decent information he’d give me a useful response.

                3. Kyrielle*

                  Observer – it’s pure anecdata, but allergy shots worked slowly but well for me. At the time I went for them and did the research, I also found it very believable, but I don’t have it to hand any more, unfortunately. Perhaps an allergist who provides the service could provide studies, and then you could investigate them further?

                4. Candi*

                  Observer: I read about one study about desensitizing those with peanut allergies last year. They used tiny but increasing amounts -under medical supervision- to teach the immune system not to go all SWAT team.

                  One problem was immediately apparent to me: anyone who goes into anaphylaxis at small amount exposure is probably out for such a procedure.

          2. Lissa*

            I think this is also because “phobia” is one of those words that have both a clinical and colloquial use, like “depressed” or “anxious”.

            1. Sunglow28*

              I worry a bit about this. I had a debilitating needle phobia and I sought help and it was hard to be taken seriously. It was brushed off as “Oh, no one enjoys needles!” Well, true. But not everyone blackens their partners eye while trying to escape a blood draw or rips out IVs and runs out of the hospital into the street in a hospital gown. All things I’ve done. Heck, before I got help, I had a test that had some markers that may indicate cancer and I decided that if it was cancer, I would just not treat it since I could never do IV chemo.

              In the end, I became pregnant and it was surprisingly a high risk pregnancy. (Gestational diabetes and multiples, among other issues) and I feared I wouldn’t be able to give birth safely. But yeah, it took till my life and my twin fetuses lives before anyone else took my very real phobia very seriously at all.

              1. Lissa*

                Hmm, I wonder if it might be, in some ways, more difficult to get help for a phobia that is of something many people have at least a fear/dislike of, like needles or spiders, vs something that most people like or are neutral on, like cotton balls or kittens.

              2. Candi*

                Not all of us are that way, although in my case it’s because I have a friend down in Oz who had needle phobia herself. Her reaction often involved fainting.

                Then she was hospitalized with a small foot injury that refused to completely heal. It turned out Health Condition and Other Health Condition had led to her developing diabetes.

                Credit to her doctor: he had her booked with a therapist almost before the diagnosis was off the printer. It was a triumph when she posted on FB she was checking her levels like a pro.

                (And then she was hospitalized _again_ a few months ago… another friend of ours set up a gofundme to help out with her bills. She’s better, but probably lost out on a promotion at her butt must be in seat job.) :(

      14. Food Anxiety*

        I know it feels embarrassing to you, but please know that it’s not. I have a weird one: being in charge of food. I have awful anxiety about people expecting I can cook food, or expecting I can coordinate an event where food is involved. I can barely cook, and only after years and years am I less anxious doing so.

        There’s a potluck coordination team at work for things like birthdays and Christmas parties, and I had to admit this seemingly strange phobia to my boss so they’d stop asking if I’d like to volunteer for it. I was almost more anxious about admitting this to her than having the actual anxiety about it, but she was wonderful, very understanding. Her reaction was, “of course we won’t ask you to do this anymore. I’m sorry it’s been causing you anxiety all this time.” I realize this is different from your situation because yours involves an actual work-related thing, but I want you to know that these things can work out, and that people can be far more understanding than we might trick ourselves into believing.

      15. hbc*

        I’m not going to lie–it probably *is* going to be horribly embarrassing and difficult to say this to a therapist. But think of yourself on February 23rd, 2018–will Future You have suffered through a pile of smaller embarrassments and difficulties that will have you wishing Current You bit the bullet? Maybe Future You won’t be buying selfie sticks because you make the appointment today, but maybe FY will be able to do a video call with herself minimized without a racing heart, or to just get a twinge when noticing a giant security camera and otherwise continue shopping as normal.

        And if you can’t make that step today or tomorrow, every day is another chance to take a step in that direction.

        1. Parenthetically*

          Holy crap, yes, this is very good advice. I bit the bullet and went to a counselor about some stuff I was INCREDIBLY ashamed about, and while it was completely, paralyzingly terrifying in the moment (pro tip: type it up in advance so you don’t have to shoot from the hip while rehashing some of your darkest moments), I felt immediately better, and have continued to feel better and better and better since.

        2. Sualah*

          Yep, whenever I need to do something that maybe I should have already done, I’m always reminding of that quote, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

      16. Not So NewReader*

        I had a pysch teacher in high school who was really respected by the students. He had a remarkable way about him that he could really reach people.

        This psych teacher was talking about doing counseling work and going through the choice of counseling vs teaching. So he talked about being a counselor. One of the bigger things that he picked up on was people who come in and say they have NO problem are the ones who have some of the biggest problems. Additionally, because they feel they have no problem that added another layer of complexity.

        As a supervisor, if an employee said “I have a problem” my next thought was, “You may not realize it but 50% of your problem just got solved.” We have to know we have a problem and it is very helpful if we can identify the nature of the problem. You are in a better spot than you may realize, OP.

      17. animaniactoo*

        I’m sharing this just because it might help with the feeling of embarrassment from the other end.

        I’m overweight – at one point, I had access to a pool and swimming is far and away my favorite form of exercise. Like, I actually enjoy it, not I make myself do it. But I was on a “lose weight/get healthy” kick, and it was a gym – one that was full of very active and fit people.

        I put on my swimsuit and I got in the pool. The lifeguards went out of their way to tell me how much they admired me for doing it. It helped *a lot*. Because as I told them “If I don’t do it, I’ll *always* look like this, so I’d rather do this than that”. But knowing that they understood what it took for me to put on my suit and show up in a space where almost everyone was in better condition than I was? Made it a lot easier to handle some of the looks from the less-forgiving already-fit people.

        So… a therapist, above all, is likely to understand how much it took you to come to them and say it out loud. And respect that. Even if it feels embarrassing as hell at the time. [hugs] good luck!

        1. Candi*

          I think the lifeguards were also giving you a solid indication that if anyone gave you grief, you could come to them. Because some people act in ways that are just horrible, and others know that it should be shut DOWN.

      18. Laura (Needs To Change Her Name)*

        Not only is this not a “dumb” phobia I think most therapists would find this a very interesting and satisfying problem to work on. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a very effective treatment for phobias. I assure you that no reputable CBT therapist would bat an eye at this problem – it’s well within the realm of typical phobias, totally reasonable to seek treatment for, and something likely to respond well to appropriate treatment.

        1. Laura (Needs To Change Her Name)*

          To clarify I don’t think any phobias are dumb phobias! My first sentence inadvertently suggests that.

      19. No Name Yet*

        As a side note, while treatment for phobias is not fun, exposure therapy has a very high success rate – so if you decide to go to treatment, it has a good likelihood of helping!

      20. Parenthetically*

        “it is just so dumb I’m so embarrassed to admit it.”

        Oh man, Sourdoughbread, almost everyone feels like this before they go to therapy. We all feel like our stuff is silly and small and we should be able to deal with it on our own, but the fact is, all our brains are weird and unique and we all need tuneups, checkins, remodeling, however you want to look at it. It’s not silly or foolish if it’s getting in the way of the life you want to live! And even if it were silly or dumb, it’s ok to get help for dumb stuff too. Sometimes just having someone to walk with you for awhile and be your cheerleader is great, and there are so many resources at so many levels of intensity available to folks like us who sometimes find our sneaky brains trying to play havoc with our lives.

        I’m one of those folks who is now able to talk about my anxiety and depression with openness thanks to great counseling. Heck, I recommend counseling/therapy for pretty much everyone! We could all use a little (or a lot of) help from an experienced person now and then.

      21. nonegiven*

        You could start with an appointment with a therapist for getting documentation for an ADA accommodation, if it turns out to be needed.

        Then ask general questions about how such a thing would be treated if you decided to go ahead with that. That might be triggering enough to start.

        Then when you’ve had some time to think about if you might be able to go ahead with treatment, even if it’s just a minute at a time to get used to the idea.

    2. Temperance*

      I don’t think this sort of comment is very constructive for LW. It might just feed into her anxiety that she’s always being watched and on camera.

      1. Leatherwings*

        +1. Can you imagine telling someone who is afraid of spiders that they’re never far from a spider so they should be less afraid of them? That only exacerbates what is already a (by definition) irrational fear.

        1. Observer*

          The difference is that the comment about spiders is not true, and therefore not useful. The comment about cameras is true, and therefore something she needs to think about when deciding her course of action. It’s really something that makes therapy much more important and useful.

            1. Here we go again*

              Hahaha – there are probably spiders everywhere!

              I wasn’t trying to tell the OP that they should be less afraid of cameras because they are everywhere. She already knows that. I was trying to get the OP to see how she manages cameras in her daily life to see if there are similar strategies she can use at her job.

              1. Leatherwings*

                But that’s something that absolutely must be done with a professional. Exploring triggers like that on your own can be really damaging and make phobias worse.

            2. Cath in Canada*

              A friend of mine is very arachnophobic, and also plays Pokemon Go (as do I). Well, one of the new Pokemon that came out last week is a spider! She said she literally screamed the first time one showed up in her apartment, but now considers catching them to be a kind of aversion therapy! I said she should try to find one in a gym that she can fight against too

                1. fposte*

                  A friend of mine did the same thing with an app for snakes. (I think you’re thinking of the similar-sounding immersion therapy, though I bet you could use phobic items in aversion therapy if you really wanted to screw somebody up.)

              1. Talvi*

                Well, I’m officially never going to play Pokemon Go. Just thinking about this is making my skin crawl!

          1. Leatherwings*

            No, that comment actually is true. And telling someone that their paralyzing fear is all around them doesn’t cure the paralyzing fear, it makes everyday tasks paralyzing.

            1. Observer*

              OK, so I was wrong about the spiders. But, you missed my point. No one was trying to tell the OP that “your fear is all around you, so you don’t have a phobia” But “It’s all around you, so either use the coping strategies you’ve developed for that and if you haven’t, get help asap as it’s likely to get worse.”

              1. Leatherwings*

                But you can say “hey, this is debilitating, you should consider therapy” without heightening or worsening their fear, is my point.

                Saying “your fear is all around you” is obvious and unhelpful at best and triggering at worst.

                1. Here we go again*

                  You are missing the second part of Observer’s point and mine. The OP *already* has developed some strategies to cope with contexts she has no control over (security cameras). She mentions it upthread. The key is for her to evaluate *how* she has managed this so far and to see if there is anything from what she already has done that can apply to her job.

                  A lot of people take the suggestion of therapy in a negative way… The OP already has a therapist, so we know that doesn’t apply to her, but for others (sadly) it isn’t necessarily a harmless suggestion.

          2. Temperance*

            The spider comment is true, though. Just because you can’t SEE them, doesn’t mean that they aren’t hiding out, waiting to pounce.

            1. animaniactoo*

              According to my husband there is absolutely nothing to fear from spiders. They’re just like cute little cuddly teddy bears….

              with fangs!

              1. Temperance*


                I have a high school friend who is getting her doctorate in entomology, and she studies big hairy spiders for a living. She talks about them as if they are puppies.

              2. ThursdaysGeek*

                :) I’ll have to remember that! My spider avatar (turned off now) is a photo of a pet, and when she first molted I looked closely – those fangs were nearly the size of kitten teeth! But she was so gentle and she never bit anything but food.

          3. Candi*

            It doesn’t matter if it’s true -the phobic person often thinks it’s true.

            My son was ridiculously scared of spiders as a young child. One time at the dinner table, he screamed and jumped up, knocking over his chair and his drink.

            Turned out a spider had fallen in his drink.

            It took literally years for us and, later, his therapist, to convince him that spiders aren’t lurking around every corner waiting to pounce. His sister and I squished a lot of spiders. And don’t ask about the time the large hairy wolf spider got in the kitchen.

            Now he can tolerate being in the same room -and dropping phone books on them, and spraying them with ammonia based window cleaner… sigh.

      2. Jaguar*

        On the other hand, the OP already responded to the comment and doesn’t seem to have lost their mind.

        I don’t think it’s useful (or ethical) to sanitize speech or try to shield people from harmful thoughts. It’s manipulative, it’s weirdly authoritarian, and it’s pretty insulting (for instance, as it turns out, the OP that thinks about cameras all the time due to their disability has already considered the issue of security cameras). If I knew people were trying to control my thoughts – however good their intentions – by not telling me things I’m sensitive to or telling them to me in ways specifically designed to circumvent my sensitivities, I’d be pretty angry. I hope most people would be.

        1. Plaster*

          I would not be mad if my friends avoided telling me things they specifically knew would make me unhappy. That’s not controlling my thoughts, that’s respecting my desires about the types of conversations I want to have. I’m not saying you can’t feel the way you do, but it’s not nearly as universal as you think unless you missed a lot of qualifiers you meant to put in there. I don’t want to hear about all the sex acts my friends are doing; maybe they talk about them with somebody else, but is not bringing them up with me after the first time I make a face and delicately say “TMI” an attempt to “sanitize my thoughts”….?

          1. Jaguar*

            I’m not talking about a situation where they brought it up and you said “TMI.” I’m talking about a situation where people are deciding you can’t handle sex talk and never even attempt it. In the scenario here, someone asked the OP how they deal with security cameras and someone else is suggesting it might be wrong to even have asked on the basis that it could be destabilizing to the OP’s ability to cope in the world (in other words, total ignorance of reality is the only way OP might be able to function). The kindness is admirable, but I don’t think it’s a workable way of dealing with people and I think it has bigger unkindnesses baked in (in addition to scary implications of how you treat people). In your example, they’re not asking you sex questions because you’ve indicated your preference that they don’t. In my example, it would be them assuming you can’t and then changing the reality of situations in order to suit you. Like, maybe don’t bring up the idea that people have sex in hotel beds because it will destroy Plaster’s ability to travel.

            1. Candi*

              It’s the difference between not wanting the map, and someone deciding you can’t handle the map and hiding it instead of asking if you want it or not.

  6. Red*

    To begin to tackle this fear, is there someone you could practise Skype with? Generally, you only see yourself in the corner of the screen so you may be able to put a post-it note on your monitor to hide your face from yourself, freeing you to get comfortable with speaking to the camera/being recorded without having it so obvious.. I’m so sorry, OP!

    1. Trout 'Waver*

      Practicing on Skype sounds like immersion therapy which really benefits from the assistance of a trained professional.

    2. Leatherwings*

      Yeah, this is the kind of thing that has to be done with a therapist in order to avoid re-entrenching the phobia.

    3. A Plain-Dealing Villain*

      I wonder if these meetings are actually recorded or if they are just video chats? Would it help OP to realize there will probably be no video record after the meeting is over.

  7. Cassandra*

    Does your workplace’s video system allow participants to share their computer screens? That might be a way through this that won’t raise too many eyebrows.

  8. Rat in the Sugar*

    You have my sympathy and understanding, OP! Looking at myself on video also makes me want to throw up! It’s the weirdest thing. It feels almost like the person I see in photos and videos of myself isn’t actually me, but instead some weird doppelganger of me that somehow snuck in front of the camera when I wasn’t watching–and this doppelganger makes weird, gross faces and has an appallingly annoying voice. It’s horrifying to think that that’s what people see when they look at me!

    Thankfully, my aversion is mild enough that I can get through by reminding myself that everyone finds their own voice annoying or bad when they hear it on tape, and that I might not be very photogenic but people remember what they see in person, not the photographs. It sounds like your aversion is so strong that it won’t help very much to just try to reframe things in your head, but I wanted you to know you’re not the only one! Hopefully you find a therapist who can help you, good luck!

    1. Lily in NYC*

      Me too! I did tons of musical theater in my younger days and have never been able to bring myself to watch any of the videos of the plays. You know how some famous actors say they don’t watch themselves on screen? I used to think it was some sort of humblebrag but now I totally get it.

    2. EddieSherbert*

      Same, but my issue is hearing my voice on recordings!

      Again, it’s not at your level, but… surprise, I’m the video producer (originally started as video EDITOR) and, by default, now one of our main narrators/presenters/models for videos.

      One of the biggest things I’ve learned it that literally EVERYONE I record is nervous or uncomfortable about something, and it’s 110% not noticeable to anyone else in the final product.

      1. (Another) B*

        I think it’s because what we see on video isn’t how we picture ourselves in our head. Like we can’t see ourselves in 3D or through another person’s eyes. I don’t have a huge hangup about it but I still feel like I come off weird on camera.

  9. NJ Anon*

    Op I feel your pain. While I am not quite on your level of aversion, I hate getting my picture taken or being on video. Fortunately, it has not come up in my current job so it is not an issue. I have no additional advice. At my last job they were going to put our pictures on our website. I refused. They took my picture anyway while I was at my desk without my permission. I refused to smile or even acknowledge the photographer. And guess what, they never used any of the pictures or put them on the site. All that anxiety for naught.

    1. Lemon Zinger*

      I’m the same way. In college, my image was used for promotional purposes without my consent, and it scared and irritated me. I now refuse to be in photos taken at work because I have no idea how they’ll be used. Fortunately management has been very understanding.

  10. Gnarlington*

    Is the phobia knowing that you’re on video or is it attached to being able to see yourself from the view of the camera? (I don’t know if I’m making sense here.) If it’s the latter, is there a way to disable viewing yourself when you’re on a video conference? That might help short term, at least.

    1. doreen*

      I know exactly what you mean. I hate having my picture taken, but I have figured out that it’s mainly because at some point I will have to see the photos- and that’s what I really hate, to see photos of myself. I figured this out when I took a position that involved being video/audio taped for a substantial part of my workweek – I was a participant in administrative hearings that were taped and then sent to a stenography service for transcription. After a couple of days, my conscious mind forgot all about the cameras, because I couldn’t actually see the screen. Sometimes I needed to watch the recording later, and that was still terrible. So now, when I have to be on a video conference, I make sure it’s set up so that I see the people in the other location(s) but not myself.

  11. Grits McGee*

    OP, this may not be helpful, so ignore if it isn’t- is there any way you can arrange it so that you’re back-lit, or maybe in really low light? If it’s the act of being on video that’s upsetting, then this won’t be terribly helpful, but it would make it more difficult to be seen (and it’s less immediately fixable than changing the angle of the camera).

    1. Whats In A Name*

      I think this could be OK with other companies or personal situations. But based on the instance with the boss calling out the other employee with the skewed monitor my guess would be more attention would be drawn to OP…”OP, we can’t conduct this meeting with that stark backlighting.”

  12. Detective Amy Santiago*

    Like Alison said, this is not something that you can avoid forever. OldJob required us to wear ID badges with our photos anytime we were on the premises and I know that is a fairly common thing for larger companies to do. Video conferencing is becoming a fairly common practice in many offices. As far as I know, most software doesn’t record, so it might help you to think about it more as being in a meeting. No one will be going back to review those tapes and it’s really not that different from people sitting in room with you. Or, as other people suggested, disabling the function where you see yourself could help as well. But I think you really need to look into therapy or something, because in this day and age, it’s something you are very likely going to have to deal with in other jobs.

    1. ilikeaskamanager*

      this. find out if it’s recorded. If not, then maybe you can think of it as siting in the room with the group. If it is recorded, then ask if you can participate by audio.

    2. zora*

      Yes, it’s becoming more common. My company is moving toward having all big internal meetings over videoconference, rather than having people travel to a central location. The idea is to save money in operating costs as we expand to have more staff in remote locations. I think more and more companies are going to be looking for that cost savings as web cameras are now really cheap and coming standard on many computers.

      This is something I think the OP should definitely work on sooner rather than later, as it’s going to become really hard to find a job that *doesn’t* involve some kind of photo or video.

      I’m sorry that this is so hard for you, I can’t even imagine!

  13. Whats In A Name*

    OP – I hope you do work on this issue, as I do think the videoing/picture taking will become more common. As a tactic for coping while you explore options for therapy/overcoming, can you perhaps make it so that you don’t have to see yourself reflected back in the screen during the video conference?

    Also, I echo the sentiment to sit down and have a frank conversation with your boss. Not in a confrontational way at all but in a “I didn’t realize this…would like to work on it…need you help with that…” type of way.

  14. Temperance*

    I do what I can to avoid Skype at any cost. I chose my classes based on whether we needed to complete stupid videos of ourselves in them.

    Unfortunately, in this case, I think you’re going to need to work on this with a professional. Even if you do somehow get an accommodation not to participate in video meetings, this can impact your relationship with your coworkers and management and seems to be a significant part of the culture.

  15. Observer*

    Please get help with this. I hope your employer is helpful to you, because I realize that this is not you just being a “special snowflake” and no matter what you do to deal wit the problem, it’s not “going away” any time soon. If it helps, keep in mind that most of these sessions are NOT recorded.

    But the reality is that these kinds of calls are becoming more and more common, to the point, as Allison said, people don’t even think twice about it. So, a diagnosis, which will help get some accommodation, needs to be your first step. You second is really should be to try therapy, because this is going to increasingly limit your job choices. Worse, it will limit your choices with the best employers, because video conferencing is quickly becoming a staple of employers who do things like allowing telecommuting. And the thing with that is that you can’t get out of it just because you don’t telecommute – if someone on your team or on a team you need to work with telecommutes, that’s that.

  16. Gaia*

    We use video heavily and, while I don’t know their reason, there is a large contingent that just adds audio and you see either a shadow icon where their video would be or you see their company ID photo (depending on their settings). Literally no one has questioned this. I suppose it comes down to culture however?

    I use video when in office but when working remotely I don’t (lighting is weird, dog is almost always in frame, etc). You may be fine but it is worth talking it over with your boss and probably (if you haven’t already) looking into some therapies as this will continue to be an issue in life and in work.

  17. Fronzel Neekburm*

    Speaking as someone who worked in Disability Accommodations:

    1. Please, Allison gives great advice but do NOT say “Clinical Level” until you have been diagnosed.
    2. It can easily be covered under ADA… after you’ve been diagnosed.
    3. Doing any of this beforehand will make you look difficult, and is detrimental to those that need accommodations. I can’t tell you how many arguments I’ve gotten into with people who have “something wrong… just accommodate me!” This will weaken your position, and it weakens it for everyone, because THAT will be the go-to story for every manager that wants to get around reasonable accommodations.

    you can say something like “I have an intense fear of being on camera and I am working on getting an official diagnosis.” But please: don’t ruin it for people that need help by self-diagnosing and expecting.

    Stuff like this is difficult to live through, I get it. But don’t lie or fudge a diagnosis.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think it’s fine for her to say “clinical level” as a way to explain to her boss that this isn’t just “I don’t like being on camera.” She’s not claiming to have a diagnosis; she’s describing the intensity of the problem in her life.

      I’m not confident this would be covered under the ADA as something that substantially limits a major life activity, but I also think it’s not going to matter with a reasonable employer. A reasonable employer is going to hear “clinical level phobia” and be fine with her not being on video at these meetings, without needing an official diagnosis or an ADA process.

        1. fposte*

          We’re also talking about something a lot of people really don’t like, and I think it’s legitimate to differentiate a phobia from “really don’t like.”

        2. Not So NewReader*

          I think if OP feels she needs counseling then that makes it a clinical level concern for her.

          As a parallel, if I have something wrong in my body and I need to go to a doc, I have no issue saying I have a medical concern. (Calling it a medical “level” concern would be very odd wording.)

      1. Chickaletta*

        The problem with saying “clinical level” is that a lot of lay people will assume that you’re implying a diagnosis, myself included. If someone told me they had a clinical level phobia, I will assume that they have been seeking medical help (ie, been to a “clinic”) and been diagnosed.

        Then, if I discover that they have haven’t and they just self-diagnosed themselves, it raises questions for me, like why did they feel the need to make their issues appear more serious order to get what they wanted?

        Because of this, I’m an advocate for OP just coming out and being straight with her manager, letting her know she’s really afraid of being on camera, and is there anything she can do to make it easier for her to get her job done knowing that. If her manager pushes back or brushes off her fears, then the next step is probably to address it with her therapist so she can move towards a proper diagnosis and, ideally, overcome her fear.

        1. PK*

          I agree as well. Clinical makes it sound like it’s diagnosed and seems a little bit like a deception to me personally. Maybe it’s my ignorance, but wouldn’t a therapist/doctor be needed to access whether it’s actually clinical level or not? Semantics I guess.

          Regardless, AAM is right that it would be an easy accommodation to make with or without an official diagnosis though. If the manager pushed back, I would think the next step would be a diagnosis though.

        2. Leatherwings*

          like why did they feel the need to make their issues appear more serious order to get what they wanted?

          Because so many people have no earthly idea how serious phobias are, particularly unusual phobias like this one. I think the risk of the manager not truly understanding how serious the issue is if OP doesn’t use some sort of language similar to “clinical level” is much greater than the risk of the manager being confused about whether it has or has not been officially diagnosed.

          Being straight with people about my very common phobia has not had good results in the past, and I can certainly see it going a similar way in the case of an unusual phobia.

          1. Chickaletta*

            “Because so many people have no earthly idea how serious phobias are, particularly unusual phobias like this one.”

            Oh yes, as someone who does not have a phobia or experience in the field of mental health, I am probably one of those people. Unfortunately, when someone uses words like “clinical” when they really mean “severe” around people like me who don’t have that background, it does not paint them in a positive light; it reinforces, for me, the stereotype that mentally ill people exaggerate their circumstances. I know that sounds incredibly stereotypical and I won’t be surprised if someone responds to me about having more understanding for mental illnesses, and I do try to be empathetic towards them. However, as in all things, it’s helpful to be aware of one’s audience.

            1. Leatherwings*

              it reinforces, for me, the stereotype that mentally ill people exaggerate their circumstances.

              This is 100% a you problem and not an OP problem. Plenty of people with illnesses/ailments/afflictions that are physical manage to self-diagnose “I have a really bad cold” or “I have a sprained ankle” just fine but you can’t trust someone to accurately estimate their mental health condition without falling into stereotypes about exaggerating the illness? Please work on your biases.

              Furthermore, this is exactly the problem OP is hoping to avoid. Saying “I have a phobia of being on video” results in the exact same shit about being overly ridiculous about it. If OP says that then refuses to be on video, the boss probably won’t understand why a “silly little fear” is affecting OP this much. Making it clear that this is a clinical thing (and it absolutely is) not a tiny thing she needs to just get over. In your world, OP is damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

              I often use this exact language of “clinical phobia” to explain to people why sending photos of my phobia to me isn’t funny. It makes them *get* it and I’ve yet to encounter someone who calls me out for exaggerating.

              Perhaps OP can just estimate on her own if her boss is a person who will rely on stereotypes to address the issue and go from there.

              1. PK*

                Folks incorrectly self diagnose things all the time though (including colds/sprains). Obviously folks should work on their biases but really, what’s the difference between saying phobia and clinical phobia? I think the choice of words is misleading although it’s pretty minor and I don’t make it a habit of questioning folks medical issues anyways. Your friends send you pictures of your phobia? That’s pretty mean.

                1. Leatherwings*

                  The difference is in the way people perceive it, and people don’t understand phobia to mean “This is really serious” but they do take “clinical phobia” to mean the same thing.

                  And they don’t send them to me anymore since they now understand that it’s an actual medical issue rather than just something I’m freaked out by – hence the term “clinical”

                  It doesn’t have to be a 100% correct diagnosis to convey the point that it’s serious (A sprained ankle vs. a minor tweak that will heal itself up in a day)

              2. Chickaletta*

                Like I mentioned, I’m working on trying to empathetic, understanding, and kind towards people with mental health challenges like phobias. I learn stuff all the time on this forum.

                Leatherback, I’m sorry you are so frustrated by this, I really am. It must be very difficult to not be taken seriously for something that is obviously a huge issue for you.

        3. hbc*

          “why did they feel the need to make their issues appear more serious order to get what they wanted?”

          They’re not making them appear more serious, they’re accurately describing the level of the issue. If I hear a terrible crack and my ankle swells up and I’m in tremendous pain, I don’t have to wait until I see a doctor to be able to say, “I broke my leg.” Maybe you want a doctor’s note before you approve that I’m out on FMLA for six weeks, but I’d hope you believe me if I’m using that as the reason I can’t get to the upstairs conference room.

          Unless there’s previous evidence of exaggeration or special snowflakitis, you should not immediately jump to “A doctor didn’t confirm it, therefore you’re wrong.”

        4. Not So NewReader*

          Well, if “clinical level” as a word choice bothers, OP, then OP can say something else.

          “I have an on-going problem that I have decide to see help with.”

          Or, OP can say, “In my opinion, I think I have a clinical level problem and I have decided to seek help with the problem.”

          I don’t think the word choice here is a huge stumbling block.
          I do think that OP should be prepared for Boss to say something to the effect of, “Well this is going to be a regular part of your job, so I need to know if you are going to be able to participate.”
          It could be that after mulling over everything said here that OP decides, “Nope. Not doing this. I am done with this job.” That is a possibility also. (We all hope this is NOT where you land, though, OP. We hope that something works out for you.)

    2. Leatherwings*

      1) Why? It is a clinical level phobia. She’s not saying “clinically diagnosed” or otherwise implying she’s been diagnosed. It’s an assessment of the level of phobia. As someone who also has a phobia I’ve had extreme difficulty getting people to understand that it’s not just something I’m afraid of, and no sending my a picture of the thing I’m afraid of isn’t funny. That language is there to make sure her manager understands this is not just something she doesn’t like much or something.

      And I really think it’s unfair to say that accurately describing your condition “ruins” something for anyone else. That’s a pretty gross view.

      1. D.A.R.N.*

        This is what I came to say, thank you.

        Far from ‘ruining’ anything, it’s more likely to make mental health issues more well known and increasing awareness is never a bad thing!

      2. KellyK*

        Yeah, I think this is accurate. “Clinical-level” doesn’t imply a specific diagnosis, just that it’s severe enough to *seek* medical treatment. Which she’s doing.

        I also think that the criticism of people asking for—not expecting or demanding, but asking for—minor accommodations without an official diagnosis is excessive. If the accommodation is quick and easy, it’s perfectly reasonable to ask for it without having a diagnosis and going through the formal process.

        If I’m getting eyestrain headaches from the fluorescent lights in my office, you might want a diagnosis and a formal ADA process if I asked that they be replaced with some special, more expensive bulbs. But if all I wanted was to unscrew a couple tubes from each light or bring in a desk lamp, that should be an easy request to say yes or no to. Going audio-only for Skype meetings seems like a similarly easy request.

        Getting a diagnosis isn’t necessarily a quick or easy process, and there’s nothing wrong with asking for informal accommodations in the mean time.

      3. Jamie*

        This. I have a couple of food phobias where I have a visceral fear to hearing the foods mentioned by name, pics will trigger a gag response and, if I can’t get it out of eye shot fast enough, risk of vomiting. If forced to sit through meal where they are on the table I physically tremble and simmer with rage to the point normal conversation isn’t possible. Nor is eating or drinking anything.

        If those foods are in a fridge or freezer I can’t eat anything else in there even if the offending foods aren’t even visible. If food containing either is accidentally purchased I have to throw it out and not just garbage, but garbage has to be taken out immediately to can furthest from the house.

        There are tons of foods that I hate, or hate the idea of and just would never eat but they can be in my house, I can watch you eat them, I can cook them for you.

        Phobia is a whole different ballgame and I agree with Alison and others who said it’s fair to use clinical; you have to differentiate it from just not liking something or normal discomfort.

        (I never got therapy for my food phobia because I just control my exposure, but part of me really wants to just to find out why the heck I’m so weird. I google every now and then hoping someone else figured it out and blogs about it, saving me a trip to a therapist.)

        1. Agile Phalanges*

          Wow, as someone who has eaten a meal with you, I had no idea, and the food item(s) must not have been present that meal, because you were delightful, and not rage-y. :-)

      4. MegaMoose, Esq*

        “As someone who also has a phobia I’ve had extreme difficulty getting people to understand that it’s not just something I’m afraid of, and no sending my a picture of the thing I’m afraid of isn’t funny.”

        I think that phobias are not dissimilar to allergies in this way, in particular more unusual allergies. It can be hard to convince people of the existence or severity of allergies they’re not familiar with, to the point that it can be safer and easier to use extremely broad, even exaggerated language to make sure you’re taken seriously.

        1. Leatherwings*

          This is a great analogy! It’s just something people don’t “get” so they liken to their own experiences like seasonal allergies or the fact that bananas make them itch a little (or a mild fear over phobia in this case) which is so much more mild it’s not even in the same ballpark. I will say that I don’t think saying “clinical level phobia” is even close to an exaggeration here though.

          1. fposte*

            Yeah, that term seems really useful to me. It identifies the fact that it’s an impairment that will need professional intervention to mitigate and differentiates from a casual use of the term. I don’t see it as claiming anything that isn’t true.

          2. MegaMoose, Esq*

            No, I don’t think the clinical language is an exaggeration in this case, either. I mentioned it because I think it *can* be acceptable to exaggerate when necessary to keep oneself safe. I have a moderate-to-severe capsaicin allergy that has been laughed off as my being “a wimp” when it comes to spicy foods. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t die from chili powder in my food (although I’ve been told that pepper spray very well could kill me), but I’ve been known to exaggerate so I’m taken seriously.

        2. Going Anon For This*

          I think your allergy analogy is apt. I have a severe phobia of bees/wasps/hornets/yellow jackets/bee-like things. Panic-level phobia. I’ve been ridiculed often for this phobia. So instead of revealing my phobia I tell people who don’t know about it that I’m allergic to bees. Then my paranoia/panic is seen as perfectly reasonable.

          I’ve started classifying phobias as “mental allergies”. A physical allergy is just your immune system overreacting to something that the majority of people find perfectly harmless. So your mind overreacting to something that most people find harmless is really no different.

  18. Amber Rose*

    I hate being on camera so much. SO MUCH. But, well, we live in a very media-centric world now. It’s hard to get around.

    Definitely look into immersion therapy with a professional. You mentioned getting around security cameras by rationalizing that they can’t see you well. I don’t know if this is practical, but could you do that with makeup? It’s not your actual face they’re seeing, but the face covered by layers of stuff?

  19. Merida May*

    OP, I’d challenge you to really consider what specifically about the photos of you garners your reaction to them. Though I don’t consider myself as having a phobia towards them, I am definitely a person who is not a big fan of being in photos. When I was in school I was voted into a senior superlative category, it took them until a few days before the yearbook was going out for printing for a teacher to wrangle me into a room and have a photo taken. Prior to that point I had been dodging them for weeks in a very active effort! For me, it directly correlated to body image issues. I’ve always felt very unphotogenic – I’ve struggled with my weight, I have a weak jawline, I felt like my hair was too thin and a mousy color, I have an affinity for wearing the baggiest possible clothes I can find, I could go on for ages! Ultimately, I found myself in a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy cycle where I constantly felt like I didn’t look great in photos, or just in general, so why bother trying? And because I didn’t bother trying anything different, I continued to be unhappy and avoid photos whenever a camera was around. It took baby steps, but I made alterations to a lot of the things I didn’t like seeing when I looked at myself, and while I don’t know that I’ll ever be someone who *loves* photos, I like them a lot more now that I feel like I have more control over how I look in them. I don’t know if my example is at all relevant to you, maybe it’s something else entirely! But I’d sill suggest trying to figure out what *it* is about the photos that is so triggering. Other commenters have encouraged looking into a therapist, and I agree with that assessment as well. If this is something that is going to move you to tears in a professional setting, I think it’s worth investigating solutions.

    1. Sourdoughbread*

      OP here. Oh I know what it is! Don’t need to explore that, I have been thinking about it my whole life. Basically when I am on camera or in a still photo I cannot stop staring at myself. And the longer I look the more errors and flaws and problems I find. If someone were to take a picture and make giant red arrows pointing to everything “wrong” that’s how my mind thinks everyone else sees the photo. If I can see that blemish on my face, everyone else will zero in on it and think “oh how gross” or “well shes useless and garbage”. No word on why I think someone seeing it in person is somehow better

      1. Not So NewReader*

        You have really great insight into yourself, OP. I think you will do well with counseling, should you chose to go. I am rootin’ for you here. You have a few things going RIGHT.

  20. Champagnetaste*

    Hi Op, I’ve never commented before but wanted to jump in to say I hear you on debilitating phobias. It can be hard to get someone to understand that you know it’s irrational but you just can’t help it. I have a phobia of the 8 legged things (the word written down makes me uncomfortable) and it had gotten so bad that I couldn’t go to parks or anywhere that they might be. Friends who lived in old houses? Nope. Tropical countries? Nope nope. I couldn’t commit to therapy because I was terrified it would end with me holding one as some huge achievement. I could not sign up to something with that as the goal. I did, however, have hypnotherapy. I was highly skeptical but it worked wonders. I still don’t like them and I would still describe it as a phobia but it’s no longer debilitating. I have been camping (and actually slept) and I have just been to Australia and I hiked in the bush! It has become a manageable phobia. In summary, I get you. Consider hypnotherapy.

    1. D.A.R.N.*

      I misread hypnotherapy as hydrotherapy and was very excited and curious for a minute.

      Hypnotherapy is fantastic, too, of course. :)

  21. Anonmoose*

    I’m sorry, OP. I know a problem like this sucks, and isn’t rational; I hope you’re able to find help with it.

    I need to work on a similar, but less prevalent, trigger. The smell of rubbing alcohol or alcohol-based antiseptics makes me feel anxious, sad, and just a lot of emotional pain. If I can’t get away and/or it’s really strong, I get severe nausea.

    Sometimes you don’t know where phobias come from, but I definitely do- I self-harmed a lot as a teenager, and used those sorts of disinfectants every time. It’s weird, the associations the brain makes.

    I’ve fixed a lot of things, but not this. I think your problem is a bit like if I were to try and work in a hospital- the thing you fear is present and important to your work, so you have to work on your fear. But you can do it!

  22. Nan*

    I don’t think my comment posted, my computer’s been something special today.

    Anyway, depending on what kind of industry you’re in, Skype is just NOT OK. My Compliance Police would pack my bags and shove me out the door so fast my head would spin if they found out business was being conducted on Skype. And while there are plenty of businesses that can use Skype, you can always ask about it. Generally, if anyone’s personal info is being used/shown/has the potential to be shown/talked about, Skype is a no-no. It’s not secure.

    While it won’t get out of video conferencing, it might give you a reprieve while they find a new service. And time to help you address your fears/dislikes. I liken it to public speaking, which I hate, but sometime you have to do it. I also, am not a fan of video conferencing, but I find if I don’t look at myself on screen (as much as it’s possible, anyway) it helps.

    1. Violet Fox*

      There is a Skype for business that is encrypted, however regular every day Skype is seriously asking for trouble from a security standpoint. A digression I know, but still, really very much not secure.

      1. Emi.*

        Is the business Skype encrypted end-to-end? IIRC Microsoft deliberately changed the setup so that everything went through their server in a way that they could give the government access to it.

        1. Observer*

          I’m pretty sure that’s not the case – they have FedRAMP certification for several of their services that include skype. Because they don’t have BAA’s they are not HIPAA complaint, but the issue is not security.

    2. Kyrielle*

      I wouldn’t do this, even if it’s true – because when they get that new service in, if you still need to ask for an accommodation, they will put two and two together and probably view it as deceptive.

      If you think this may apply in your industry, I would bring it up *in addition to* asking for the accommodation (possibly after the accommodation is settled), because of course this could be important to your company – but you don’t want them to feel later they were “played” on teh topic.

    3. Leatherwings*

      I don’t really think that Skype is the issue here, though. It’s not about a specific service, it’s about vcons in general. And most businesses that use vcons have some kind of system for them. But I do think it’s good to ask about going forward.

      And as a side note, phobias are much much more severe that something like not liking public speaking. They’re not something someone can just “do anyways.”

      1. Nan*

        I wasn’t trying to diminish the phobia by comparing it to a dislike. It kinda came out the wrong way on my end.

    4. Observer*

      So, teo thoughts.

      Firstly who cares about whether consumer level skype is secure? The problem isn’t skype, it’s the video cameras that are a problem. And you don’t even know that they are using consumer skype, either.

      Secondly, this is not a “dislike” and phrasing it that way indicates that you really don’t understand the problem. That’s ok, but understand that you don’t understand. Because comments like this can be extremely hurtful, and there is just no upside.

    5. Leslie Knope*

      I work in a highly regulated field but our term for video conferencing is “telepresence” and is encrypted. I think sometimes people use the term “Skype” with any kind of video conferencing. I agree though that people need to be careful with the platforms they use and what protections are provided.

      1. Violet Fox*

        So in other words something like google, kleenex, xerox etc?

        Honestly I have a lot of sympathy for the OP, and well while video conferencing(in whatever protocol) might be normal for some places, it really isn’t for other, and I would think that letting people know that they will be expected to participate in regular video conference meetings of some-length would make sense wen it comes to covering work duties and expectations.

        OP, please seek out some help if nothing else for yourself since this seems to be hurting your every day life.

  23. Alienor*

    Would it help to pair up with someone else who has to be on the call and do it in a conference room/office together? I really dislike the sort of videoconferencing where the camera is pointed right at my face – where I work, management has been making noises lately about turning our laptop cameras on “so we can all see each other,” and I’ve been ignoring them and hoping they don’t make it an actual policy. But, I’ve found I don’t mind at all when I’m in a meeting with other people and the camera is covering all of us instead of just me. I guess it depends how severe the phobia is, but it’s a thought.

    1. Cath in Canada*

      Most of my teleconferences start at 5:30 or 6 am because of time zones. Someone once made noises about videoconferencing, and I told them that the day we start using video is the day I quit the consortium. No-one needs to see me slouched on my sofa with a blanket, hoodie, and cat or two, and I am most definitely not getting up even earlier to make myself presentable!

  24. Jamie*

    Yay – something I’m qualified to help with! I have a huge aversion to pics of me and video – nope, nope, nope. I was furious I was forced into wedding photographers back in the day because it was like paying someone a lot of money to make me feel horrible about myself.

    But I needed one for something, so I consulted professor google about how to over come this and it’s really helped. Honestly, I maybe have 10 pics of myself from the last 25 years and my family always said how sad for the kids since they have almost none of me with them. Ftr I don’t think I’m fugly* but I’m not photogenic.

    (*those of you who know what I look like and disagree, please remember not every opinion needs to be expressed publicly. :) )

    Some people don’t look as good on camera as they do irl. There is a science behind why, certain features, structure, etc. But it feeds into itself because bad pics lead to camera aversion which leads to more bad pics because of tension and FU face which reinforced camera aversion. So the only pics you end up with are candids which aren’t always flattering even for the gorgeous and posed pics that you are bullied into posing for and resentment doesn’t make a great pic.

    Quick rundown of the specific tips that really helped me:

    1. selfies…take hundreds of them. All different angles, lighting, expressions, etc. It’s so hard initially. I cringed when I did this and was physically clenched going through mine but patterns emerged to get the info for the next steps. And since no one else was ever going to see them it got easier just looking at even the bad pics of myself because of exposure. Kind of desensitized.

    2. That good side/bad side thing? It’s real for most people, who knew? I definitely have a good side so now posing isn’t hit or miss.

    3. I don’t like my full on genuine smiles and closed mouth are terrible, but I realized which of my smiles doesn’t make me clench when I see the pics.

    4. Overhead fluorescent lighting is no one’s friend. You don’t need special lighting, but regular light bulbs or natural light make you look like you and a washed out much older version of you.

    5. The right makeup. I’m not talking glamour shots here, but I got to where I took a lot of pics sans makeup and as I’m crazy pale I need something on my skin to not look washed out as cameras don’t capture the subtlety the human eye does. Even just a little blush and mascara and nothing else makes a HUGE difference.
    6. Know your colors. I’d take the same pic with different tops in a every color I have in my closet and you can definitely see how some colors brighten my face and others wash me out. You’ll notice fast which colors should be your go-tos because they just work for you.

    7. Posture. Much to my late mother’s chagrin I’ve never had great posture. Hundreds of selfies later I do now. The difference in pics where I’m sitting or standing up straight shocked me. And I don’t go through life like Quasimodo normally, but just the slight adjustments of spine straight shoulders back, head up and I don’t hate my body. It’s like taking off 20 camera lbs. And not posture but body positioning, arms relaxed and slightly away from your body looks much better and thinner (not saying you need to care about that but I was happy to notice that bonus.)

    8. Angles. I will tackle anyone to the ground if they try to take a pic (or make me skype) where the camera is coming from below. I needed a drink after seeing those, but now if I do it by accident I just laugh and delete because everyone looks horrible from that angle. My conventionally beautiful 23 year old daughter proved this to me by taking my camera and taking a bunch of selfies from below and even she looked bad. Face slightly angled looks better – few people look their best in dead straight on shots because it flattens features. Not saying they can’t take good pics that way, but they aren’t usually the most flattering and you look more like you from an angle because few people look at us exactly square in the face. Slightly angling body and hands on hips (at least arms not flat against sides) makes you look more relaxed, confident, and thinner.

    9. Hair. Some hairstyles can look really cute in person but not as great on camera either video or still. A ton of selfies will cause the most flattering hairstyles to jump out at you.

    10. Relax! I was never able to relax in front of a camera and it showed…I always looked either pissed off or like I was about to be murdered by a ghost. I may have resting bitch face but when not resting it’s very expressive and I could absolutely see my mood in the pics. But prior to this even if I was in a kitten riding a unicorn eating a cupcake mood as soon as a camera was pointed at me I morphed into hate or fear. Taking a bazillion selfies most of which sucked, some were okay, and a couple were so good I wanted to date me, took away so much fear.

    Truly – I was so camera averse I would have quit a job if I had to skype even if awesome in every way. If I set up Skype for someone else and accidentally saw myself on camera it would ruin my mood for days. I did this in January for the first time and I cannot believe how much it’s helped.

    When shopping for new prescription sunglasses recently I narrowed it down to 2 pair. Tried them both on and sent selfies to some friends to help me decide. No make up, hair in a pony tail, and I’m sending a pic of me that I took on purpose to people who will see it. Absolutely 100% an impossibility just weeks before.

    I still don’t love video but I’m much better and have some that aren’t cringeworthy (as long as the sound is off…now if I can only learn to not hate the sound of my recorded voice.)

    Sorry, I know crazy long but I SO feel the OP and this is a recent fix for me that worked so well and so fast I wish I had done it years ago.

    To be clear it’s not that I think I’m good looking in pics now, I’m not. And I will never be photogenic and will always look better irl than in pics or video – but now I look like a slightly less average version of myself where as before sometimes I was almost unrecognizable to myself.

    (I delete all the horrible ones, but I still have 441 selfies on my phone because they were good enough I didn’t want to get rid of them. Like a crazy testament to overcoming my phobia and for me it really was more phobia than aversion. Of course I keep them in a hidden password protected photo app so the album isn’t inadvertently seen my anyone because I don’t want to be mistaken for Queen of the Narcissists. Unless it comes with a tiara and then I will ascend the throne.)

    1. Chickaletta*

      This sounds like good advice. Although I don’t have the aversion to photos/videos as the OP, I don’t like the way I look in photos either, and video is even worse. I’m job searching now and the one thing I’m afraid of the most is if someone requests a skype interview. I would much rather interview in person with a panel of VPs than do a video interview with one person. I can see how all your points make sense.

    2. At the Timberline*

      This is awesome advice! I came here to say something similar – practice and prepare.

      I have the same issue (to a lesser degree), and my job requires video conferences often. I had to practice a lot to get comfortable in general, and whenever I get a new computer setup, office, or when working with a new conference tool (Skype, Hangouts, WebEx, etc), I practice by myself or with a friend to understand the screen layout, and to play with lighting and placement.

      Room – if you have the choice of meeting room, I usually pick the one with the biggest table or where the monitor/camera will be farthest from me :)

      Camera angle – Especially if you’re taking these calls in your own office, practice getting the most flattering angles. Many people use the webcam on their laptop, and end up having to look down at an awkward angle into the camera. If using your laptop, see if you can put it up on a riser and use a separate mouse and keyboard to drive it. And wherever the camera is, play with desk and chair height, and the distance from camera to your face to get the most flattering view. This will usually be when the camera is at least slightly above eye line.

      Lean forward (assuming camera is slightly above and away from you), like resting on your elbows at the table. Easy way to show confidence, and also helps your chin to not be pulled in.

      Lighting – if the office has a window, I try to have overhead light off and face the window (assuming it’s daylight). That works for me, but play around with what makes you more comfortable. Maybe it’s bringing in a lamp and placing in a certain position. I tried unsuccessfully to get away with turning all the lights off once :)

      Body language – In conference videos like this, in my experience the overall tone is what people pick up on, rather than a freeze-frame of your face at any specific moment, just like if they talked to you in person. (I’ve never known anyone to take a screenshot of anyone during a conference cell, it has really been all about the real-time view and interaction.) So practice what you’re projecting in terms of looking engaged, listening, participating, smiling (or at least not looking unfriendly).

      For the distracted-staring-at-yourself part, often there is a way to minimize or hide your picture on your own screen. I’ve also put a Post-It over myself so I am not distracted by it.

      I know this doesn’t solve the bigger issue, but these types of things are what help me get through it. And the fact that, unlike social situations when pictures are taken and the focus is on me and to capture a moment forever, these video calls are for people to meet up quickly and get their work done. The face time just helps everyone remember they’re working with real people. (That may not make it easier, but just to help think about the context of the videos.)

      I wish you all the best, and hope that your new team is able to see your ability, personality, and all that you have to offer shine through!

      1. Jamie*

        This is so good – especially the tone of the body language stuff. I don’t do vid calls so my experience was all getting comfortable with pics and video that will live on. Knowing the vid calls aren’t being recorded would really help me if I had to do one, and it wouldn’t have occurred to me.

  25. Interviewer*

    My husband has a coworker who was approved to hire & manage a remote team of sales staff. Every Friday morning at 8 am, he held a video conference with his team, and the stated purpose was to recap that week’s activities, and plan for future work. There was no video conference system in the various offices, so he distributed tablets with cameras to his team, and used Skype to conduct the weekly meetings. Knowing this guy, he was also making sure that everyone was up, dressed, at the office and focused on the meeting.

    My husband got to observe a couple of these weekly meetings, and without fail, his coworker would be the only one on camera. Everyone else on the team dialed in by phone. By the way, that team was disbanded and let go around the 3-month mark.

    While that tidbit may not directly help with your phobia, it may help you understand some managers’ logic behind video conferencing. Personally, I hate getting up & going to a meeting room to video conference, because I would much rather dial in and multitask at my desk during the boring parts. But video conference is very much The Way It’s Done. In addition to internal meetings, we regularly VC with our clients and candidates.

    I hope you are able to get some help with this issue. Good luck to you.

    1. Amy*

      (Note: This is not related to the OP’s phobia specifically – a diagnosed mental health issue is different. I am currently under the care of a doctor for severe anxiety and understand your difficulty. However, I am also sharing my story to encourage you to work with a therapist on managing your phobia because I believe it is becoming de facto in any organization to be available on webcam).

      To Interviewer: It’s interesting you mention this, because I work for an organization with an almost completely dispersed workforce – more than 85% of us work from home. Video conferencing is critical to the success of building our teams because of the need to have face-to-face discussions at least once in a while. Difficult discussions and feedback are better handled when you can see someone’s facial expression; at least, that’s been my experience.

      I find myself irritated when other work-from-home employees say they won’t join on camera because they’re “not camera ready” or “too ugly to be on webcam today.” We don’t expect a full suit and tie, or catwalk-level makeup – a hoodie is even fine, wear your pajama bottoms, whatever. Just show up. If you work in an office, you can’t hide in a closet :)

      Every meeting is not held on camera, but my team meets weekly and we use our webcams as a rule. For informal discussions or quick calls, we just use voice. And in meetings with over 10 people, the lag makes it difficult, and that’s too many faces anyway. It’s not meant to check to see if you’re actually working or anything juvenile like that – there’s just something about seeing someone you work with daily that changes your relationship with them if you never meet them in person.

  26. Just a thought*

    I worked at a job where video conferencing would have been considered an essential job requirement, so I think OP does need to think over whether it is worth giving up this job over this issue. Many employers would not just say, “Oh sure, just phone in instead,” so I don’t want to set unreasonable expectations in the OP’s mind. I think Alison’s answers often assume reasonable, rational employers, and any regular reader of this blog will know that many managers are anything but.

  27. Bibliovore*

    Oh how I feel for you. Add my public speaking phobia and I am pretty sure I win this race to who is suffering more.
    Then I went to graduate school to become a librarian. Perfect right?

    Wrong. My specialty demands public speaking to small and huge groups. Public advocacy…speaking at public council meetings, state government hearings, and professional development leadership.
    I had a professor who suggested that I quit if I wasn’t going to do achieve competency in those areas.

    I took a storytelling course for public speaking skills and said yes to every request. Don’t eat at least four hours before and that takes care of the nausea and vomiting.

    Pictures all the advice of above and…
    Get made up by a professional, spend the 300 to buy the stuff…Bobbie Brown in my case. Throw it away whether used or not every three years. Repeat.
    Make the photographer delete off the camera every picture you don’t like. Bring a friend.

    Skype meetings. Make sure that your end doesn’t show your picture, ( yeah I know but…)
    Offer to take notes and hide behind the laptop screen.
    Yes. Seek professional help. You have more than twent years ahead of you.

  28. Bibliovore*

    Oh, and I am on camera once a month for my job and the videos are on you tube. Nope, I never watch them.

  29. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

    You have my absolute sympathy in this, OP. This is exactly my problem. What makes it impossible to ‘get over’ is how dismissive and outright hostile people are about it, to the point where they’ll deliberately take photos of you. Part of my issue is that I am a private person and I don’t want my image shared. But you don’t know who’s recording or who’s going to be using your picture. There has been more than one occasion in my life where a photo was taken of me, I was assured it was for security/identification purposes only, and then found out it was going to be published in a newsletter. I know we don’t live in a nice world and people view women’s bodies as public property, and you’re expected to share everything, and honestly, I’d probably make an effort to have my photo taken if people were remotely respectful. But that’s not the world we live in, which means you might have to face the sad reality that your employer won’t at all be okay with this. I really, really hope she is, though. Fingers crossed for you!

  30. Case of the Mondays*

    I don’t want to minimize your fear but could you try to re-characterize this situation? You are afraid of photos and videos of yourself which sounds like things you could go back and look at later. Skype and video conferencing does not record. There is nothing that will ever be played back. You are essentially just talking to a person in front of you with the screen temporarily and in real time projecting your image. It is not the same thing as a tape being made of you. I hope that helps.

  31. Not So NewReader*

    A topic that fascinates me in my own life there is that cross-over where the emotional becomes physical.

    So you know you vomit when dealing with photos/Skype/etc. Please, please, take some Pepto before you start to deal with photos/Skype. This will coat your stomach and it will fortify you. At first it will seem like a bunch of nothing, but keep working with the idea of protecting your stomach beforehand. For example, if you decide to go for counseling, take some Pepto before you leave home. Put the bottle in your bag/pocket and take it with you to the counselor. If you need another dose, pull it out and take it. (My go-to for stomach is spirit of peppermint, but most people prefer brand name OTCs.)

    My thing that I actually need is vitamin E. If I know I am going to have a stressful day, I take some right when I get up, then more just before I leave. Stress causes me to clench my muscles by the end of the day I can ache from head to toe. The vitamin E opens my blood vessels and I do not have to deal with that pain because my blood is flowing the way it should. I am still stressed about whatever is going on, but I am not physically wearing that stress. This frees me up to deal with the actual stresser itself and not think about my own discomfort on top of it.

  32. Lee*

    Ugh, I have the same problem, but with my voice.
    Normally, especially if this is going to be ongoing, I force myself to go through with the bad experience (even worse then using my voice is hearing it played back), which usually results in a panic attack/breakdown later on that day, and then I go see my doctor (or urgent care) and get a Xanax prescription. Xanax (or any prescription sedative) will make me not care as much about others’ opinions or the situations, but it is really just a band-aid/crutch.
    You could also try avoiding looking at yourself in the video once it’s streaming, or minimize the screens once everything is situated so they can still see you, but you cannot see any of it; darkening the room you are in may help to dampen the focus/lighting of the video as well.
    Additionally, desensitizing yourself to being on camera may help, such as recording a short video of yourself/selfie on your cell phone and then deleting it immediately. There should be little fear, as you have complete control over it and will be deleting it soon after (or whenever you see fit). You may get used to it and not care, or find a angle of your face that you can tolerate.
    Good luck.

    1. fposte*

      Let’s not be too hard on Xanax–I can testify that over the long term the regular use of an anti-anxiety agent actually can help reduce a phobia, but it probably works best when you can control your exposure to the phobia (mine was flying, which it’s hard to do by surprise).

      1. Lee*

        Xanax is actually extremely addictive and can be crutch for someone who isn’t taking normal steps to try to overcome their phobia.
        Your flying fear isn’t really apples to apples with most phobias, as exposure is controlled (as you mentioned) and you can actually have a terrifying painful end-of-life experience from flying i.e. risk is involved.
        Taking a selfie or watching yourself through a film lens? Not so much.

      2. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

        My husband also uses benzos to control his fear of flying. It’s worked remarkably well.

  33. Not So NewReader*

    One more food for thought thing. I had a friend who was deathly afraid of needles. Well, the times she got shots as a child she went into medical crisis and almost died. So the fear makes total sense. She opted never to go for counseling or deal with the fear. One day we were discussing shots at work. I had to get a bunch. She said she would quit the job. Interestingly, she went on to say, that her fear of shots held her back in life. It cut down on the options open to her. She felt that it was a good choice for her even though it was a costly choice.

    Our fears do hold us back, OP. Mine is ladders. There is no way in h*ll you will get me on a ladder. If I am on a step stool or a chair, I am working my hardest to be a good employee. It has cost me promotions. (I know, it shouldn’t given the setting, but it did.) Like my friend chose not to deal with her needle fear, I chose not to deal with my fear of ladders.

    Life is one long string of trade offs. Sometimes we address things that are a quality of life issue and sometimes we don’t. It could be that you opt to ditch the job but pick up counseling. It could be that you decide to keep the job and start counseling. Or it could be that you quit the job and not get counseling. You will pick what you think is best for you. Understand that it’s trade offs. Some fears are worth facing and developing coping tools so we can have a different life than what we have now.
    Personally, I chose to address other fears but not the ladder fear. Ladders just did not come up as often as these other fears. I only had enough capacity for pick a few of my heaviest fears.

  34. Emlen*

    OP, I truly feel for you. I cannot improve upon the advice already given, but I hope it makes you feel less anxiety to know that you’re not alone.

  35. Wehaf*

    Does it matter whether your image is being distributed vs. saved? Because unless people are recording the conversations or taking screenshots (unlikely) Skype video is not saved. It’s ephemeral, just like talking to people face-to-face.

  36. Milton Waddams*

    Technology drift is a big problem with many companies — they adopt a new technology hoping for measurable returns, only to discover after the restructure that the gains were marginal but removing the technology would now cause a measurable loss. It’s a sort of macro-level vendor lock-in problem; this is why cars, cell phones, cameras, and computers are considered essential to jobs where their benefit is not obvious, sadly.

    Good companies focus on the results rather than on the tools, but this sort of a culture can be difficult to develop, as often these tools are serving as blame proxies for larger organizational issues.

    There’s also often a communication problem — entire fields have sprung up in the wake of the fact that many otherwise talented executives and hard bargainers have no clue how to explain what they want in a way that is independent of particular tools or bargaining positions, making it almost impossible to see alternative solutions.

    Really a tough place to be in, you have my condolences.

  37. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

    FYI – I once had a situation where we had to work with accommodating a phobia. In this case, it was a mandatory office move to a high rise, and the employee had a clinical-level fear of heights/elevators. Though there seems to be some question as to whether this would be covered by the ADAAA, seeing as it was a mandatory move, the person had been diagnosed (or, at least, secured an official diagnosis during the interactive process), *and* was in a unionized position, we treated it as if it would be. I can’t speak for other employers, but I imagine a call to HR for an initial discussion re: reasonable accommodation would be in order (as that would officially kick off the interactive process), to see what they would need and whether this is something they would entertain.

    As for our employee, we were able to secure a reassignment to another unit so that she could stay in her current building. If that hadn’t been possible, it would have been difficult to accommodate this. Yours is not difficult, and it might be worth exploring the accommodation with HR. If you are so paralyzed with fear when you see a security camera, you should seek an official diagnosis.

  38. yasmara*

    ALL of Husband’s conference calls at work are handled via Skype (with the video on). I had no idea this was a thing (mine are all through an 800 number teleconference system). My response would be more on the level of “ugh” but if the OP is genuinely phobic, therapy is probably the only thing that might help.

  39. Sara*

    Oy, good luck OP. I would raise your concerns as best you can. I find video awkward too but have seen a big increase with video meetings. If possible, maybe they can disable the video screen that shows your location, and only focus on the location you are calling? That way you aren’t seeing yourself onscreen, and can focus on the people in front of you?
    One place I worked had webcams at each desk station and encouraged it for more face to face contact. They also had phones, but I had one colleague, more senior than I, that refused to speak via the phone, insisting we must speak by webcam. I just avoided all his calls as best I could and replied via email when he chased me up, and then I also played up some IT issues… finally used the phone. I’d also schedule in person meetings when he was visiting my location, and that helped give us face to face time without the awkwardness of a webcam phone call.

  40. Boombox*

    I hope you can find a resolution to this. I somewhat know how you feel. My company was purchased a few years ago, and the new owners are far away so they Skype me all the time. I have strabismus so I feel very self-conscious being on camera all the time, knowing that the monitors on their end are huge, or they are on their laptops, in which case my face is right there for them to see up close. Some days are worse than others. I have a very high level of trust with these people, but my mind goes through all kinds of scenarios where I imagine them ridiculing me. I know that wouldn’t happen but I still feel so self conscious.

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