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.

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Hollow Victories

I’ve always read and heard about Olympic athletes experiencing a sort of depression after winning a gold medal. It’s as if once they reach the olympic-gold-medal-2014pinnacle of success they have difficulty figuring out what is left for them to work for. Perhaps a simpler way to view it is that the gold medal that was supposed to fill the void in their hearts left by a lack of success only amplifies it even more.

I don’t find myself in exactly that type of situation tonight, but I feel strangely hollow. The fund-raiser I wrote about in my last post is over, and we actually did pretty well with it this year. We reached about 75 percent of our pledge goal, which was much better than last year. A good friend of mine who used to work at the radio station before I ever did came back this year and really helped out with organizing things and getting some strategies in place to help improve our focus. He did an awesome job.

He did a much more awesome job than I have the past few years.

In title, I’m supposed to be the general manager. I’m supposed to be the guy at the helm. I was the guy at the helm the last two years, when we barely even reached half our goals. I had lost my motivation, lost my direction, and it showed in how things were being run. Even though I spent a lot of time on the air this year and set the direction for what we were talking about when I was, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that someone had to come in and fix the mess I had created.

There was a measure of success this year. Once it was over, though, I couldn’t enjoy it.

I’ve always prided myself on being a realist when it comes to job performance. If I do a sucky job, then I’m the first person to stand up and say I did a sucky job. As someone who wrestles with depression and low self-esteem, however, I pretty much always believe I’m doing a sucky job, so sometimes it’s difficult to distinguish actual poor performance from the perception that everything I do is inadequate in some way. I know I didn’t do my best before. I know I lost employee trust. I’m not envious of my friend for doing a better job than me; I’m angry at myself that he had to.

This is where my cognitive thinking should kick in and I should begin listing the positive aspects of the situation. I’m tired, though, and I’m infinitely frustrated with myself at the moment. I’m hoping the opposite of the gold medal effect will happen here. Maybe all this will inspire me to do better, to focus more, to treat people better, to be more assertive. We didn’t reach the goal, so maybe this wasn’t the gold medal anyway. When we do win it, I want to be able to celebrate it.

Those Days

Katey Sagal Honored On The Hollywood Walk Of FameThere’s something awfully strange with the world when anything having to do with Married… with Children causes me to have a warm feeling in my heart. I was surprised this morning, then, when I saw a picture of the reunited cast of the series attending the occasion of actress Katey Sagal receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and thought to myself, “Aw, look, the family is back together!” I was even more surprised at the following quote from Sagal, as she said something that resonated deeply with me:

“When I was a kid, my parents used to always tell me I was too much, in a loving way. I felt everything very deeply, I took everything very personally.”

Sagal went on to say that acting provided the perfect outlet for her overactive emotions. I’m glad she found something to do with “all of that,” as she called it, because I sure haven’t figured out how to deal with over-processing information yet. I’ve always said I could never work in sales because I would take every rejection too personally. It’s a line that’s usually good for a laugh or two, but I’m deadly serious when I say it. Sometimes I just feel like a raw nerve, unable to shrug off anything in a normal way.

I’m the general manager at the non-commercial radio station I work for, and we’ve been holding our annual on-air fund-raiser this week. To be honest, it’s not going so well this year, which really shouldn’t surprise me much, since it didn’t go particularly well last year … or the year before … or the year before that. I always start these events out with a great sense of optimism, but by about the midway point each year I start to hear that familiar voice in my head: “This is bombing … and it’s all your fault.”

The fund-raiser, though, seems to be the tip of the iceberg this week. I mentioned in Tuesday’s post that I’ve been reading a book on improving self-esteem, and it’s making me face all kinds of behaviors in myself I didn’t even realize I had. It will be good in the end, but it’s jarring in the present. My oldest daughter is having some mysterious health ailments this week, and she may have even had a panic attack or two worrying about it (Like father, like daughter, I guess.). My wife is pregnant and tired, and we’re in that early stage of pregnancy where I’m not sure what to do about that. And I feel as if I’m drowning in old sins and temptations I can’t shake.

“And it’s all … your … fault.”

Believe it or not, I actually have more days than I used to when I don’t blame myself for everything. But when I do have one, whoo-hoo, boy, do I really have one. The worst thing is I know deep down some of this stuff is my fault. I hurt some people. I’ve held some people back. I let my weaknesses rule me. There no way around some facts. At the same time, though, am I really responsible for someone else’s health problems or other people’s decisions to give or not give money? On a day like today, the answer is a resounding … yes.

There’s a famous scene in the movie Good Will Hunting where Robin Williams keeps telling Matt Damon over and over and over again, “It’s not your fault.” In typical movie fashion, Damon breaks down and starts to accept what Williams is saying, but if I were in that scene it would tack an additional two hours onto the movie. I always like to think of myself as a realist, and the realist in me says it most definitely is my fault, no matter how many times you tell me it isn’t.

I don’t have any real point to this post. I can’t offer any sage-like advice on how to defeat these feelings. I’m just having a not-so-good week, and I needed to write about it. I feel as if I need to apologize to so many people, but I’m not entirely sure I did anything to apologize for in half the cases. I may figure it out eventually on a good day … but I won’t on one of those days…