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 I became depressed and withdrawn, suffering some loss in my faculties, including speech, writing and artistic abilities.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,, 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 I was still withdrawn, and my behaviour at times could he categorised as deliberate self-harm.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.
("When 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 listening curves.

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. 149)

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.

© redjelly