In 1979 I was attending a Foundation Art course at
college. It was a year of high emotions for me, in a close relationship
with a girl, and knowing that I would soon be leaving home. I’d
always shown a flair for art, combined with a kind of craziness
often associated with this pursuit. My hero was Christo, famous
for wrapping up large structures, such as the Pont Neuf in Paris
- as though they were parcels. I was sensitive and shy and I’d probably
always shown mild symptoms of schizophrenia or of being manic-depressive,
but kept them under control by channelling them into art and music.
I grew up submerged in classical music, my parents being music teachers.
In 1980 I went to a loud pop concert, and also had
my ears painfully syringed, and gradually became aware that I had
constant tinnitus. I became depressed and withdrawn, suffering some
loss in my faculties, including speech, writing and artistic abilities.
I left home for art college, but was soon wandering about, sleeping
rough. I came home, and for a number of years was very much a zombie.
I couldn’t study, appreciate music, relax, concentrate, follow a
conversation or at times even relate at all. Intimacy was out of
the question. In retrospect, the factors contributing to my condition
had emotional, physiological and spiritual roots, but whatever the
case, my doctor was baffled by the tinnitus. I felt worse after
two sessions with a psychiatrist, so I turned down the offer of
some relaxation therapy. My behaviour became more bizarre. I chucked
virtually everything out, things that were meaningful and valuable.
I was full of self-contempt and hated those who had been close to
me. I was on a mission, filled with a religious zeal, but bottled
out of any commitment, even after interviews with C.S.V., the Army,
nursing.school, a religious order, and others. I knew I needed help,
but tried to disguise it by helping others.
I managed to complete a six month course in house
painting and decorating, followed by a year’s stay in a community
next to a Benedictine monastery in Sussex. This served as the break
from home. I was still withdrawn, and my behaviour at times could
he categorised as deliberate self-harm. This contributed to an M.E.type
of illness starting in 1987. Thinking that I was dying, I embarked
on an intensive course of counselling which helped quite a lot,
with its emphasis on dreams and childhood experiences, but I didn’t
really open up or become free.
Briefly, since leaving home, I’ve moved about eighteen
times and had more than 24 jobs, mostly in catering, carework and
painting & decorating.
In October 1998 I came across a library book - ‘Depardieu’
by Paul Chutkow. The story of this French actor, Gerard Depardieu,
moved me to tears, something very rare indeed for me over the past
years. I had seen some of the Channel 4 T.V. series on his films
back in the early 1990’s and knew of his childhood speech impediment.
In the chapter devoted to his treatment at the Tomatis centre in
Paris I read:
"The electronic ear gives you the euphoria of listening"
, Tomatis explains "and above all, it restores the ear to its
full, deep functioning – a functioning completely forgotten even
by most doctors. If you have many problems, I have the good fortune
to furnish your brain with enormous energy and when I light up your
brain, it is intelligent. It will look at those problems, put them
in proportion and the result will be healing." (pp. 146-7)
Shortly after finishing the book, I was casually
reading an article in a health supplement about an autistic child
when I saw the name ‘Tomatis’, then at the bottom of the page a
note about tinnitus. I thought of a song: "You say tinnitus,
and I say Tomatis.." However, rather than ‘call the whole thing
off,’ I sent off for some information from the Lewes centre, and
felt hopeful when I read the last couple of lines, "...releasing
at the same time many inner tensions and giving a new and necessary
desire to open up." I went for a consultation (at the London
centre) and had some listening tests, including one that collated
the sound carried through my skeletal structure. A "listening
curve" was produced, from which my consultant could say that
there was a blockage of the flow of energy in the vertebrae of the
base of my neck, and that I had experienced a trauma at the age
of eight (this was around the time when my Dad remarried). We spoke
about many things, including my habit of sitting with my left side
turned to the person I’m speaking with. (Later, another consultation
would reveal that I only used one side of my mouth when I spoke).
I learnt about how antibiotics can damage one’s ears, and about
links between the emotions and the brain, all of which I could identify
with. By my frugal standards the cost of treatment seemed huge,
but I’d been impressed so far, so I went ahead in March 1999.
For a total of 46 hours I had to wear headphones
with music—Gregorian chant and Mozart coming through them. There
was a pad on the bridge of the headphones which contacted the top
of my head, transmitting sound through my skeletal system. Most
of the music came into the right ear, and sounded at times scratchy,
then muffled, as though the graphic equaliser on the hi-fi was playing
up. I was under instruction not to fold my arms, cross my legs,
read or write, but was free to do certain activities, and chose
to use coloured crayons.
"Dr. Tomatis encourages this childlike joy by steering patients
away from trying to sketch anything figurative or highly intricate;
that demands too much cognitive and intellectual effort. Instead
he urges patients to allow the music of Mozart to flow out into
colour. This emphasis on visual expression is designed to help patients
break free of the barriers of rational thought and language - French
in particular." (‘Depardieu’, P. 147)
After my first 30 hours, the ‘passive’ phase, I had a 4 week break,
during which time I read aloud each day for half an hour, maintaining
a specific posture. My first attempts at this were extremely awkward
and I felt self-conscious, even though I was alone in my room. On
my return, the ‘active’ phase included some reading aloud in a booth,
with my ‘filtered’ voice coming back through the headphones, which
I found highly invigorating.
"We call this first part ‘passive’ because clients don’t
have to consciously pay attention to the sounds coming through the
headphones or do any voice exercises: they can draw, paint, play,
talk, even sleep. In fact, paying attention would impose the ‘old’
distorted listening patterns that we are trying. to correct.
Listening Comes Alive", p. 22)
As the sessions continued, the music Gradually became more clear:
"The passive phase ends with the so called sonic-birth, which
is a progressive defiltering of the voice (or music) that reproduces
the passage between the prenatal mode of listening and the one that
comes after birth.."
(‘When Listening Comes Alive’, p. 23)
As well as the sessions with headphones, I had two more listening
tests and three more consultations. The amount or variation of filtered
sounds and so on depended on information deduced from each of my
After my very first session I had slept in the afternoon, but
awoke with more energy than ever, and knew that something had changed
already. Over the following weeks I experienced a general increase
in energy and a lifting of depression. My thoughts became clearer,
and the tinnitus noises became fainter and didn’t bother me. I found
myself killing time in the library near the Centre, and enjoying
long hours of reading. My musculature improved, specially in my
legs and torso. There was a loosening up where I’d been stiff in
my neck, back and hips, and my posture improved slightly. I had
less fear of falling from ladders (I was painting), my left eye
began to focus more sharply after two years of problems, and I felt
more nimble if I did any sports, or when jogging. Occasionally during
my time at the Centre I felt a little dizzy or tired, but I was
told that this was normal, and I could let my pattern of sleep readjust
accordingly. I felt more stable and sure in my feelings, and had
a sense of well-being in my guts - literally. I had a strong urge
to communicate, and began to thoroughly enjoy music. In conversations
I would catch myself listening more than usual, and I wouldn’t be
threatened by what someone had to say.
In May I applied to the Open University to do a Humanities course,
which I’m now on. In September I wrote an account of the last twenty
years of my life, and sent copies to my family and ex-counsellor.
I also filled in the details from 1961 to 1980, for myself, for
good measure and I keep all this in my C.V. file. I copied up a
holiday photo of a mountainscape using oil pastels and was delighted
with the result. As the music carried me on (Mozart’s clarinet quintet
mainly) it struck me how the creation of a picture like this really
is a kind of thought process. Mozart’s music had always come across
as trivial, but now I began to feel its depth. "Gerard feels
that Mozart taught him a whole new language: the language of music,
poetry, intuition and the emotions. ‘With so little schooling I
grew up with no inhibitions regarding language,’ Gerard says. ‘And
when I started working with Tomatis and Cochet (his drama tutor),
I saw each word with its own visual image. And when I read Racine
and Moliere, I heard the words as music.’ " (‘Depardieu’, P.
Personally, I can say that sometimes when listening to instrumental
pieces, including Mozart, I hear the music as words ... and these
are words of peace. I’m very grateful to have had this opportunity
to once more go forward in life, however slowly. The future is still
not clear, but I sense that whatever comes my way I will be able
to approach it in a fully human fashion.