The Way of the Voice

Working on my Let’s Play has the potential to help me become more intentional in how I use my voice. Creating an episode is a process that I’d estimate is about 1/4 recording and 3/4 editing, the latter of which involves a significant amount of time listening (and re-listening) to my commentary. It gives me the opportunity to hear my voice as someone else might: without the lower frequencies I’m used to hearing and containing unintentional fluctuations that can be interpreted in a variety of ways.

When I said I like the way my voice sounds in my last post, I meant that the absence of the lower frequencies doesn’t bother me. I’ve also learned to speak with a deeper, more adult-sounding voice – well, most of the time. My voice as it’s recorded for the commentary usually sounds like a me I want others to perceive. I consider that to be a rather awesome accomplishment.

As I’ve been listening to my commentary, I’ve come to notice unintentional fluctuations in the volume, energy, pitch, and rhythm of my voice. It tends to get softer and its rhythm more erratic at points that are unscripted, so my focus is diverted to figuring out what I want to say and how to word it. Sometimes the volume – at least as it’s measured by my audio editing software – will be the same, but my voice will sound… smaller, perhaps more child-like. The pitch can be all over the place and too often rises at the end of statements, which drives me crazy because it sounds like I’m constantly asking questions.

I don’t know if others would interpret these fluctuations the same way, but to me they all come together to make it sound like I’m uncertain about what I’m saying, perhaps seeking validation or approval. If I do this in my real-life interactions, people might think I’m incompetent or lack confidence or I’m asking them for help; this might contribute to others (including Wakana) “taking over” and telling me what to do. That’s not how I want to be treated, but it’s how I’m unintentionally asking people to treat me. I need to figure out how I want people to treat me (like an equal? like a competent adult?) and learn to present myself that way.

I’ve tried to mitigate this, with some interesting effects. In one episode I noticed that my request to “please subscribe” sounded like a plea, as though I were desperate for followers. In a later episode I intentionally tried to drag the pitch of my voice downward, in hopes of at least providing some variety. When I listened to the recording I thought I sounded like a bitchy teenager, complete with huffing and rolling my eyes. I immediately deleted both of these atrocities out of their respective episodes. (Thank goodness we can do that!)

I recognize that 1) I’m probably being more critical of myself than others would be of me, 2) I might be looking at myself through depression and/or anxiety goggles, and 3) different people might not even notice these fluctuations, or might interpret them in different ways. Ideally I can ask others for feedback – actually, Wakana would be the perfect person to ask; as a music therapist whose voice is her primary instrument, she is the one most likely to notice the fluctuations in my voice. Perhaps she can teach me to be more intentional in how I use them to communicate.

With and without Wakana’s assistance, I can use my Let’s Play commentary as an opportunity to listen to my voice in a variety of situations:

  • when I’m intentionally trying to convey certain emotions as part of role-playing my character
  • when I’m sharing my thoughts about strategy, the plot, gameplay mechanics, etc. – basically, talking about stuff with a focus on the content of what I’m saying
  • when I’m directly addressing the viewer, e.g. “thanks for watching”

I can also experiment with making my voice sound different and listen to the results. Does intentionally lowering the pitch at the end of sentences help me sound more confident? What happens when I try to put more energy into my voice? When I’m role-playing, do the inflections in my voice accurately express the emotion I’m trying to portray?

Of course, I can’t act my way through life: trying to convince others I’m more capable and worthy than I actually felt is what got me into this mess in the first place. I need to continue the work I’ve been doing with Wakana, which essentially comes down to learning that I have the right to exist and I’m worthy/”good enough” just the way I am. As I do that, the ways I present myself will change, and so will the ways people treat me, and that will help further improve my self-esteem.

Or, maybe the changes in how I present myself aren’t quite keeping up with my changes in self-perception. In other words, I feel more worthy and confident than I convey to others. So, I choose to intentionally improve my ability to communicate my confidence and worthiness, so others will see it and respond accordingly… which will help further improve my self-esteem.

Moody Monday: Feedback

The Mood Network is a research study that enables people with mood disorders and our family members to work with doctors and researchers to find better treatments – not only by providing data, but by sharing our insights. I first blogged about it 3 weeks ago, calling it an opportunity for activism, critiquing its implementation, and encouraging readers to “light a fire under the researchers’ butts.”

Well, some pretty awesome things have happened since then. I was contacted the next day by the head of the Mood Network: Dr. Andrew A. Nierenberg, MD. He thanked me for my feedback and assured me that he would bring my suggestions to the rest of the team. I’ll admit, I was a bit skeptical – but also pleased to have gotten his attention.

Then, on June 12th, Dr. Nierenberg commented on my first Moody Monday post:

Thanks so much for your interest and thoughtful comments about MoodNetwork.org. We are taking all of your feedback seriously and are in the process of implementing some of your suggestions. MoodNetwork will include surveys to do exactly what you suggest, i.e. to find out what is important to experts by experience. We will also have opportunities soon to not only to ask you and others about research priorities, but also will ask you about your experience in receiving care. We are also working on improving the forums and blogs – and yes, it does need a lot of love. Please be patient with us and thanks for joining.

It means a lot to me that the head of the Mood Network made a statement like that on a public site; it suggests to me that he and his team are serious about making those changes. I especially appreciate the specificity regarding which suggestions they intend to implement. (The new surveys and opportunities haven’t appeared yet.)

[Edit: there is a survey asking “what should we research?” The link to it appears in the menu on the mobile site, and in the left sidebar on the regular site.]

People have become a lot more active on the forums in the past few weeks. I’m enjoying the honest discussion, opportunities to see that others share some of my experiences and perspective (universality), and the feedback participants are providing about the site. If you are one of the active participants, thank you! (If you’ve joined or are considering joining, thank you!)

Most recently, two new categories have appeared on the forums: “Symptoms” and “Exercise.” I’m pleased to have more options, and very curious to see what people do with them.

Taking the First Steps

Fox and I have started taking a course about developing Android apps on Coursera. We started accessing the Week 1 materials yesterday, watching videos and downloading the software development tools we’ll need to participate in the course, and beyond! It felt really good to be focused on learning, get new software, and start playing around with what I’d just learned. I’m very glad I have a structured course in which to learn how to use the software development tools, so I can take advantage of all their features should I choose to use them to develop new apps.

I’m also eagerly waiting for my new tablet, which runs Android, to arrive on my doorstep. It will be the first time I’m able to fully and freely access “smartphone” technology, including all the apps that already exist. Even if I never develop new software of my own (or decide tablets and smartphones aren’t the right platform for it), I’m hoping that I can use my new tablet to help improve my own mental health (and not as yet another time-wasting device!).

As awesome as it felt to DO SOMETHING toward a goal I feel passionate about, I do foresee some areas of frustration and obstacles I’ll need to overcome:

1) Software development seems to require a different way of thinking from what I’m used to; none of the material covered in the videos we’ve watched so far seemed intuitive to me. I felt like some of it might’ve gone over my head. I’m not really used to that – if anything, I’m used to material being easy for me to understand.

But, I was able to learn algebra by copying everything the teacher put on the board until I started seeing the patterns in it. I decided to major in music because I was similarly challenged by the first semester of music theory, so I wanted to take the second semester. I can face this challenge! I just need to be aware of it and willing to accept some frustration while I navigate it.

2) I’m very codependent with Fox. He’s been very supportive of me since I first came up with the idea to develop software that might help me overcome some of the difficulties I’ve been facing. He suggested Android apps and offered to take the Coursera course with me.

But I don’t know how interested he really is in learning this stuff for himself, and that could make this process difficult. He seemed annoyed with the course creators for requiring students to interact on the forum, frustrated because if his laptop is able to run the required emulators at all they will be painfully slow, and less enthusiastic about the learning process than me. I don’t want him to feel like he has to do something he’s not really interested in or doesn’t find satisfying.

I was hoping that he would help me stick with the course and complete it – if nothing else so I could recall that experience when faced with uncertainty, instead of perpetuating this image I have of myself as someone who never completes anything. But now I foresee being faced with the difficult dilemma of wanting to watch the next video lecture, but also feeling like I should wait for him because we’re “taking the course together.” I need to stay firm and focused on what will be best for me – what I can do to learn and keep up with the course, whether we’re watching videos together or not. If he decides it’s not for him, I need to be able and willing to fly solo.

As much as I wish I could let go and trust him to take care of me, the truth of the matter is this: it will only lead to resentment when my needs aren’t met. We both need to figure out how to take care of ourselves, and each other. It’s not easy.

3) I’ve gotten some encouraging responses from people I’ve told about my idea, but for the most part I’m frustrated by lack of response. I’m especially frustrated by lack of comments on this blog.

I know I need to take at least some responsibility: I’ve been intentionally vague about the software I want to develop, how I want to develop it, and what I want it to do. I’m not sure how much is safe to disclose online; I don’t want someone to steal my idea (especially not some big wealthy company that will use it to make money and prevent others from making free or inexpensive versions, or worse use it for even more invasive advertising). But if I’m going to get feedback I need to give people something to respond to, something they can understand and connect with and want to respond to. How do I protect my idea AND get the feedback I need to create a program that others might also find useful? Well, I’m also taking a course about entrepreneurship on Coursera, maybe it will give me some ideas.

Communication

I talked to Mom about some of the things I’d written in my last post, particularly:

  • wishing I had a support system for recovering from depression similar to the excellent support she’s getting for her recovery from knee replacement surgery
  • being willing to help her out with her recovery but needing something in return
    • including sharing care of Dog and asking her to order her groceries online
  • family therapy
  • how I felt in response to her dismissive ‘goodbye’

She seemed pretty understanding and concerned about me. She reluctantly agreed to order her own groceries, then explained that the place where she’ll be receiving physical therapy 3x/week is near the supermarket. We can go grocery shopping together after her therapy. She also offered monetary compensation (TBD).

She seemed reluctant to engage in family therapy, asking, “well, what do we need to work on?” I realized that, while I’ve been discussing her behavior fairly extensively with Wakana, I haven’t actually talked to Mom about it/its effect on me. That’s not really fair.

So, I told her how I felt when she started talking about all the things she’ll need me to do and coming home from rehab, then abruptly said “goodbye” without taking a moment out of what she was doing to look at me. She said she had no idea I felt that way, I had wanted to know everything she would need so she was trying to help me by telling me. She thought we’d already hugged goodbye and I was saying I had to go so she didn’t want to hold me up. She hadn’t meant to be dismissive, nor to hurt me – of course not! She said I need to let her know when she’s doing something like that, at the time when she’s doing it.

I really felt like she was concerned about me, felt bad to learn that she’s been hurting me, and genuinely wants the feedback that will help her better communicate her love and caring. But I found it very hard to give her that feedback, and I’m concerned that if I try to do it “in the moment” I might say it in a way that’s hard for her to hear – or outright hurtful – and we’ll both respond to each other in ways that hinder our efforts to develop a healthier relationship. We’ve been doing that kind of thing my whole life, after all. I wrote that I want her to have support in listening to me, but just as (if not more) importantly, I need support in communicating this stuff to her! I find it horribly uncomfortable, I’m afraid I’m going to break her, I feel like I’m violating some essential, fundamental, unspoken rule. I need help learning it’s okay to tell her how I feel, especially in response to her behavior.

Wakana can help with that – she’s already been helping a great deal – but I think there’s only so much she can do without seeing both sides of the equation. Everything she knows about my mother is from my perspective; a family therapist would get to know each of us as an individual and have the opportunity to observe how we interact with each other during therapy sessions. Ze could support both of us in trying new ways of interacting that might help us both get what we want and need out of our relationship. Ze could help me recognize when I am misinterpreting Mom’s behavior, draw Mom’s attention to nonverbal cues about my emotional responses, get us both to say those things we think we’re not allowed to say – or think the other person already knows.

I’m not sure how much I should push for assert my need for family therapy, or if I should just accept that it’s not something she’s comfortable with and keep working on my own stuff that prevents me from being honest with her. I have Wakana, I have Codependent No More – which has been sitting on my shelf collecting dust – I have other stuff.

NO!!! I’ve been doing this my whole life! Enough already! She wants me to be a huge part of her recovery; I need her to be at least minimally involved in mine. I appreciate that she’s willing to work with me, but at the very least I need her to help me feel more comfortable expressing my needs to her. I need support in asserting myself, help feeling like it’s safe. I’m not entirely confident she’ll be able to give me enough such support on her own; the work I’ve been doing can only help so much. We don’t have to dive into family therapy as soon as she gets home (in about a week), but I at least need it to be an option. A safety net, if you will.

What If …

“I am in the present. I cannot know what tomorrow will bring forth. I can know only what the truth is for me today. That is what I am called upon to serve, and I serve it in all lucidity.”
– Igor Stravinsky (1936)

Igor Stravinsky’s quote above expresses a major component of what I aim for this blog to be: a kind of snapshot of how I’m doing on a particular day, what I’m thinking about or struggling with … or how I’m succeeding. If depression has taught me anything, it is to live one day at a time. The joy I feel today might be replaced by anguish tomorrow. A day it takes all my strength to get through (probably because I didn’t get enough sleep the night before) might be followed by one of the best days of my life.

My emotions are intense, but they are also temporary. In the worst moments of my life, survival can take the form of remembering, “This too shall pass.”

from dreamstime.com

from dreamstime.com

In the moment I might feel like ripping off my skin, but knowing it is (probably? … hopefully!) temporary allows me to be in it. I can breathe. I can keep myself from doing something impulsive and stupid and … irreversible. I might even be able to learn from the experience.

There is great power in feeling the full force of one’s emotions, including the compulsion to act on them, and knowing that – as unpleasant as it may be, and that’s a terrible understatement – it’s okay to feel this way. I don’t have do whatever it takes to make the bad feeling go away. I might hate it – that’s okay too – but I can be in it. And if I can be in it, then I can get through it … whether through my own strength, or by calling out for help, or by going to sleep and hoping things are better in the morning.

But on Wednesday I read something, and now the “What if …” bug is buzzing around in my head. I asked for feedback on the look and feel of my blog on The Daily Post‘s post, Branding Your Blog: Let’s Get Visual. In one day I had 86 visitors to and 154 views of my blog, blowing my previous records out of the solar system!

I want to thank everyone who dropped by, particularly international visitors, and especially those who signed up to follow my blog, commented, or liked a post. Your engagement means the world to me!

It's so inspiring to know people from all over the world are reading my blog!

It’s so inspiring to know people from all over the world are reading my blog!

I would especially like to thank two fellow bloggers who helped me out with a day with depression. Wander One Day suggested that I change the background color to the lovely bluish-grey it is now. She also put into words an aspect of my experience that I wanted to convey through my title, but hadn’t quite put into these terms:

I think the fact that it is a “day” with depression, rather than “life” with depression or something more permanent, shows that you are not content to live with it forever – it is something that is transient.

Somehow I doubt it’s realistic to expect to walk away from depression completely, but I can come to a point where it no longer has a significant impact on my daily life. I need to develop and will need to maintain better habits, such as my efforts to overcome codependency and getting 8 hours of sleep every night. I might have to be on medication for the rest of my life. But yes, my hope and my goal is for my current experience of depression (as an illness that limits my engagement in society and sense of self-actualization) to be transient. This is what I mean by my (current, as of writing this post) tagline, “… and hope for recovery.”

from focusonrecovery.org

from focusonrecovery.org

In a somewhat similar but more provocative vein, Sandra Conner really got me thinking about what I’m striving for – and succeeding in. Her reply to my request for feedback is a bit long to quote in its entirety here, so I’ll share the parts that inspired the “What if …” bug:

[…] As I read over some of your posts, I feel [that] your sense of taking hold of life bravely and moving forward at every opportunity are two very strong elements in your personality and character. They seem to identify you much more than the depression. I keep feeling you should focus on your success in moving forward toward recovery.

[…] what I read on your site indicates that you are well on your way to not being imprisoned by depression at all. I would let the title celebrate that fact.

[In a follow-up comment:] I definitely do see in your writing and your lifestyle a great deal that is positive and indicative of having overcome depression.

I don’t always see myself in such a positive light, so it’s very helpful, inspiring, and motivating to receive this kind of feedback. It’s easy to get trapped in seeing the aspects of my lifestyle that are unhealthy, to the exclusion of the ways in which I’m doing the things Sandra describes.

What if  instead of seeing myself as a person who struggles with depression, I see myself as a person who successfully lives with depression – one day at a time?
(This is a component of narrative therapy.)

Somehow, suddenly, “the road to recovery” seems a lot shorter! I’m already doing what I just said I want to be able to do … perhaps just not quite as consistently as I would like. That is to say, some days I live with depression more successfully than others; I’d like to – and can! – increase the percentage and frequency of “good” & “okay” days.

Which brings about another question; this one is a bit more hypothetical. But we’re in the land of “What if …” – where anything is possible!

What if  I have recovered from depression?
(This is kind of like the “miracle question” in solution-focused therapy.)

… … …

My shoulders relax; it is as though a weight has been lifted from them. The corners of my lips creep upward – a hesitant, but growing, even glowing smile. I feel a sense of peace come over me as I breathe in more deeply. I am tired, but not sad.

I know I will be able to handle whatever tomorrow brings … especially since I’ll be practicing my maintenance habits and getting 8 hours of sleep tonight!

… … …

Now that’s a good feeling …