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.

Sometimes the Answer Lies Within

I’ve been rehearsing the conversation I need to have with the instructor of my group therapy course, preferably before our next class. I’ve told “him” about my desire need to experience group therapy as a client, my difficulty dealing with groups, how I’m impacted by existential issues – which would make for an excellent post – even spoon theory.

In my imagination “he” patiently listened while I explained all this stuff and why I couldn’t join the class on Wednesday, even though I’d gotten dressed and traveled to campus and was standing right outside the fucking door. Then “he” took a deep breath, looked me in the eye, and said:

“This class isn’t therapy, it’s an academic class. But maybe it can provide the experience you need. Think about it: you like your small group mates – that suggests some sense of safety in that group and desire to belong to it, yes? They’re also trying new things in front of a group; it’s a common experience you can support each other through.

“Trying to be in this group – the small group and the whole class – is relatively low-risk. If you see these people again, it will be in maybe one or two more classes, or perhaps as colleagues… they’re not going to make or break your entire life. You have plenty of experience losing relationships and forging new ones. You have survived, even thrived. You’ll continue to do so regardless of what happens here.

“So take a risk. Be yourself with them. If you can also find group therapy, great, I’m sure it will help you a great deal. But don’t walk away from the group you’ve already joined. Use the resource you’re holding in your hands.”

I have no idea what the actual, separate person who is the instructor of this course – and happens to also be my academic adviser – will say when I talk to him in real life. I hope he’ll be willing to work with me to make the course a bit more accessible. But it almost doesn’t matter anymore.

What matters is that I have this voice inside me. These are my thoughts. I have this resource I can tap into whenever I need. I can see the world more complexly than my mental illness would allow.

I find it interesting that I’ve chosen my academic adviser – someone I trust and admire, but whose pedestal has been cut shorter as I’ve observed his limitations over the years – to represent this guiding voice. He’s already told me that my mental illness need not prevent me from entering this field – actually, it might make me a better therapist. He is not only a professional therapist but a trainer of professional therapists; this can’t be the first time he’s dealt with someone like me. If anyone can help me right now, I think – I hope – he can.

And if not the actual person, my internalized version of him can. That means I can. It’s I’m taking an extremely challenging experience and turning it into an opportunity for growth, and more importantly trusting that I already have what I need to get through it in one piece. I just need to trust myself – and I guess I already do.

I just need to believe that I am worth the struggle, the pain, the uncertainty. Not that life is worth living – honestly, that’s up for debate. That Imy dreams, my creativity, the ways I want to influence the world, the relationships I hold dear – that I am worth living. That I – whatever unique meaning or purpose I create for myself in this meaningless void called Earth in the 21st Century – I am worth the pain of existing every second of every day.

It doesn’t “get” better. I will make it better, or die trying.

A Broken Promise

Around the time of the U.S. November 2012 election, congressional districts were rezoned. When I voted, it was for the congressman who had been my representative for as long as I could remember – and who seemed to do a decent job of representing my views and interests in the House.

But now I am being “represented” in the legislative branch of the federal government by a man I never voted for and didn’t have the opportunity to vote against. Last year, he was one of the people who blocked the Violence Against Women Act from being reauthorized for the first time since it passed in 1994. I’ve already written him an email expressing my disappointment that the bill isn’t even on the House agenda (two days after it passed 78-22 in the Senate) and urging him to support it.

Find and send an email to your Representative in the House.
AND/OR
Sign a petition urging House Republicans to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.

I was overjoyed when I saw that one of today’s One Billion Rising events – scheduled for a time when I could make it! – was a protest outside my representative’s local office (a 45 minute drive – not bad). I RSVPed and was planning to go! I would add my voice – my actual voice, not just an email – to the demand that my representative co-sponsor and vote for the Violence Against Women Act. I might even help influence a powerful politician who doesn’t already agree with me!

But then my intestines revolted. I’ve gotten used to my bowel movements being loose, often even watery (the thought occurs that perhaps I should get that checked out, it’s been going on for a while. oh joys, another doctor visit! my insurance is going to hate me …) But I was surprised and overwhelmed by the intense fatigue I felt. It was close to the time I needed to leave to get to the protest on time, but I just had to lie down.

By the time I awoke, it was far too late for me to get to the protest on time. I might have been able to get there late, but I wasn’t sure how much I would have missed or whether being late would outright prevent me from participating. I was concerned about being arrested and/or injured. I still had homework hanging over my head, and felt guilty about the fact that I’ve been procrastinating – some things for a couple of days, others for weeks. Once I started doing some of my homework, I felt the anxiety melt away …

So, I was going to Rise, but I broke my promise. Was it legitimately because of a physical health constraint/need? Or was it because of anxiety? Is the latter any less of a legitimate reason? I certainly didn’t break my promise because I don’t care – I care about this issue very strongly. Still, I feel like a hypocrite when I speak out about these things, trying to encourage others to participate, then back out of participating myself at the last minute. It’s become a bad habit, to be honest.

I feel constrained, limited. powerless.

worthless …

I think the thing keeping me from Rising is my anxiety, my insecurity. I could overcome the physical symptoms if I really wanted to. But the emotional? If I worked really hard, I could probably overcome them too. Maybe I need to push myself more. I could have found out more information about the event, so I would have had a better idea of what to expect; that would have eased some of the anxiety.

And maybe I also need to be a little more forgiving of myself. In this case, there are other ways to Rise that don’t require one to be physically present in a particular location. The One Billion Rising website offers ways to participate online, for people who can’t join the physical/in-person events for some reason. I can utilize them.