Most of us have had the experience of hearing a recorded version of our own voice and thinking, “I don’t really sound like that.” In preparing the first two videos for my website and new YouTube channel, I’ve had to observe myself in a similarly unfamiliar way. As I’ve seen myself on camera — editing different takes, perceiving my discomfort, watching myself fumble because of anxiety — I’ve had to take a different look at how I appear to others. At the same time, this has brought me into closer contact with my own self-criticism; I’ve had to confront that savage inner voice in ways I don’t usually do.
That critical voice tells me things in ways that aren’t particularly useful, but there’s often an element of truth. Getting feedback from friends and site visitors has helped me to filter our the harshness and distill everyone’s observations (including my own) into something useful. The best reality check came from a client who viewed the first video on bipolar disorder and told me I didn’t seem at all like the person she’d known for so many years. She could see I was struggling; she commented on my anxiety. I think she meant that I didn’t seem at ease and lacked my usual self-confidence. To me, it feels a lot like playing the piano. If I’m alone, I can play my current piece almost perfectly, completely immersed in the music, almost without self-awareness; if you give me an audience, I’ll become self-conscious and start to fumble. I’m sure many of you have had similar experiences.
These situations involve the process of projection, where our own inner critic is projected outside into the audience. Artur Rubinstein, one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century, suffered from such severe performance anxiety that he would become physically ill before each concert and sometimes had to be forced onto the stage. The pianist father of one of my clients was so crippled by stage fright that he eventually abandoned his concert career and spent his life teaching instead. For some reason I don’t entirely understand, this process of projection seems to intensify the self-criticism. Maybe it’s because instead of one critical (internal) observer, you have thousands outside, each one of them just as critical as you are. In recording myself on camera, I’m no doubt inhibited by the fantasy of potential viewers watching me and finding fault. So maybe if I’m very careful and controlled, I can avoid doing that one thing or expressing myself in that one particular way that all of you out there will criticize!
For that reason, what comes across most to me as I watch myself on camera is my guardedness. I’m trying so hard not to make a mistake! As a result, I lack spontaneity or a sense of ease, and several of my personal qualities seem to be missing: my warmth, first of all. More than one friend has told me I need to smile more, the way I do in social interactions; but what exactly is there to smile about when discussing the extreme suffering behind major symptoms of depression and manic flight? In a similar vein, I have a lively sense of humor. I like to laugh a lot; even in sessions with clients, we’ll often laugh together about something we both find funny. How to convey that in a video for an audience of people who don’t know me? It’s hard to laugh “with” a camera, even if I could find something to laugh about in bipolar disorder. An actor-friend who has done a lot of work on television told me I need to address the camera as if I were speaking to somebody I know well, explaining my ideas to an intimate. Okay, I’ll work on that one.
A part of my anxiety also comes from not wanting to appear narcissistic, as if I think I have all the answers. It should be obvious from this website that I don’t believe in answers or solutions of the kind so many mental health professionals seem to offer. I also spent a lot of time in a professional community where it was too often personal charisma — the appearance of having it all together and knowing the answers — that made people want to connect with you. And yet, here I am, putting myself on video and promoting myself as an authority. Surely that is narcissistic behavior of some kind. What makes me think I have the right to put myself forward in this way?
I do think I have something of value to say, a point of view that’s different from most of what’s available in the mental health community at large and online. Video has become increasingly important for reaching an Internet audience, so as uncomfortable as it makes me feel, I’m committed to putting myself forward in this way. I expect that in time, I’ll get better and more relaxed with the process. If you haven’t seen it already, I’ve made a second effort, a piece about narcissism and ‘The Social Network’. You can view that video by clicking on the Vimeo link below.
I think this one is a little better. There’s even the hint of a smile at the very end!