Always On (The Mask)

One of my great pet peeves in life is when someone can’t hear what I’m saying. In many instances of this, I’m simply not talking loud enough, but I usually feel as if the other person just isn’t listening hard enough. My voice sounds perfectly loud enough to me; why can’t they hear it? Then, when I have to repeat myself, I usually come off as annoyed (which I am), leaving the person listening to wonder, “Man, what’s his problem?”.

The irony of this appears daily in my job: I get paid to talk on the radio, and for some reason, when you put a microphone in front of me, the volume of my voice suddenly jumps to about twice its normal level. Other deejays I work with actually have to turn the mic up after I get off the air because I have to turn it so far down to avoid blasting our listeners’ eardrums out. So, in summary, my voice does not project well in normal conversation, but rings out like a bell when I’m talking on the radio.

I’ve been trying to figure out why this is, and I have come to the following conclusion: When I switch on that microphone, I handsome danbecome an actor. I’m not unique among deejays in this regard. No one wants to hear a mopey voice when they turn on the radio, so deejays (unless some national tragedy has occurred) almost always have to be on. Even if we’re talking about some annoyance or trial in life, we have to deliver in some exaggerated way to hold the listener’s interest. There is no “off” position on the deejay’s power switch.

Of course, anyone who has lived any time at all on the planet Earth knows you can’t be on all the time. Even the most happy, go-lucky people alive have their down days every now and then, so the only way someone like a deejay can project a sense of being in an “up” mood all the time is to act. They laugh, they crack jokes, they talk a little louder than they would when a microphone is not placed in front of them… Anything to keep the illusion going on those days when their kids are sick or their bills are piling up or their favorite relative has just died or their car wouldn’t start that morning.

For a large number of people suffering from depression, this is what life is like every day. They don’t feel like going to work, picking up their kids from school, buying groceries, going to church, or, least of all, talking to anyone. While there are some who literally cannot go about these tasks, the greater majority somehow manage to function in life, and to be able to function in life, a certain amount of composure is required. Therefore, these people become actors in the same way the deejays of the world do; they project a person or an energy that simply isn’t there sometimes.

For many, many years, I believed the tragedy of having to live this way was not being able to be honest about how I felt, and, to a certain extent, that was true. I didn’t have an outlet for what I was feeling, so I would pretend I was fine, occasionally unleashing how I really felt in waves of negativity. I’m not sure what type of reaction I was looking for. I didn’t learn until the last few years that there are actually healthy ways of talking about being depressed.

The old mask, then, is in the process of falling away, while a new and better one is taking its place. The new one doesn’t mean I try to put on a happy face all the time, but it also means I don’t spew negativity from my pores. There are reasons to be up on the down days. Not every bad thing that happens in life is my fault. I don’t feel as fake anymore when I say, “I’m good,” because I actually believe part of me is good (I’m still working on the concept of “the whole thing.”).

So tomorrow morning I’m going to sit behind a soundboard, open up a mic channel, and talk louder than I reasonably need to, all because someone needs to know that there’s a better mask than the one they’ve been wearing. We can all be “on”; we just need to find the switch.