ROXANNE:

The doctor scanned a list of questions in his reference manual, his mouth twitching in anticipation of a speedy diagnosis.

"If you can answer 'Yes' to seven of the following, then we know what's wrong with you," he mumbled smugly from amongst the pages. He was one of that North American breed of physicians who uses the Diagnostic & Statistical Method to decide a patient's problem: if you can answer a specified number of questions in the affirmative from The Manual, then hey-bingo, that is what he treats you for!

Roxanne was asked broad questions on the state of her motivation, concentration, sociability and suicidal tendencies. She cringed as she answered 'Yes' to the required seven.

The doctor let slip a glimmer of self-satisfaction in his voice, as he pronounced her to have "Bi-Polar Disorder! It used to be called Manic Depression." He slammed the book shut in triumph and turned to replace it on the shelf.

"Jargon!" she wanted to scream at him, "Everybody just keeps giving me new words and more jargon!"

These days, there was little she felt she knew for certain about anything. Except that she had lost the person she thought she was and that there were now two distinctly separate people living inside her. She blinked calmly at the back of his neck and his stiff shirt collar.

"Don't just keep giving me labels!" she wanted to pound on the table between them, "I just want to feel better. I just want to get out of this hell! Call it whatever you want, just help me!"

But, as he smoothed back his hair and fiddled with an ink pen to scrawl out yet another prescription, she slumped back into the chair and did not say a word.

**********

One afternoon, during 'nap-time', four year old Roxanne lay on her bed, twirling a little plastic light bulb from the toy box between her fingers. With the house so quiet, her eiderdown so cosy, she wandered in and out of a warm and dozy, semi-conscious dream-world....

Before she knew it, the bulb had disappeared - straight up her nose!

Initially too embarrassed to say anything, and then through simple forgetfulness, she did not mention the vanishing plastic light to a soul.

Eighteen subsequent months of "killer earaches" which kept her screaming through the night, and bottles of ever-increasing doses of penicillin, finally brought her to a specialist. An X-ray, a mother left baffled and spluttering, a pair of forceps, a quick tug, and the little light bulb was back in the open - "all I could think was how strange it was that it had changed colour!".

Unfortunately, even with the foreign body removed, the ear aches and then severe tonsillitis dragged on for years.

Fifteen years later, Roxanne was struggling in her first year at University - "the stress of moving away from home, with the workload, high expectations and all, left me vulnerable to 'peer pressure' and before long I was using pot every day just to see me through, with 'magic mushrooms' as a treat at weekends, then acid and vast quantities of alcohol - altogether a pretty scary mix."

Then, at the age of twenty-three, Roxanne had to undergo surgery on her nose to remove a rather more serious internal blockage than a misplaced toy light bulb. No one could have known that she would have a dramatic chemical reaction to the general anaesthetic, which would act as a catalyst on a system already overloaded and abused. And nothing would be the same again.

Upon recovery, Roxanne found herself unable to stop speaking - "my head was so full of thoughts - full to bursting - that I had to try to get them out" - but she talked at such speed that no one could understand a single word she said. "Back from hospital, all that everybody seemed to say to me, with increasing frustration, was Slow Down!".

Unable to resume her studies and after four months of incessant gabble and little sleep, Roxanne plummeted into a sullen silence and utter depression. Incapable of understanding what was happening to her, she turned to drink - "I knew this was of no use, I knew it could only make things worse, and I did try to snap myself out of it. I was able to say no to the drink, but when I stopped I found it made no improvement - the depression did not change. In fact, it just got worse and worse, day by day."

In an attempt to break her patterns, Roxanne left home to live with her brother. Still the depression deepened. Increasingly catching herself entertaining thoughts of suicide, which she felt were illogical, irrational and completely out of character, she dared request a consultation with a psychologist. He glibly pronounced her to be suffering Clinical Depression and gave her a prescription for pills to ease her through.

Her family refused to accept the diagnosis and kept telling her that, since her rattling chatter had stopped, there was absolutely nothing wrong - "But they didn't know what was going on inside, they had no idea, and through guilt, I could not bear to admit the truth to them."

She bravely tried to prove to her parents, and to herself, that all was well by taking a new job and moving away from all familial support to live with friends.

The depression began to lift, but in no time she was flying in the opposite direction until she "could not concentrate and could not care". Before long she was being referred to as The Weirdo and The Coke Head - "cocaine is something I have never touched, and yet everyone assumed I was an addict because of my behaviour, which was far worse than before. I was speeding up again, but this time it was more than just incessant chatter: I would look in the mirror at the newly dyed hair, the newly pierced nose (which I somehow managed to do myself!), the new plastering of thick make-up, the strangers in my bedroom, and ask 'Who is that person?' Certainly wasn't me."

At work, she was given an official warning that her behaviour was 'Inappropriate'. She tried to help herself by wearing her Walkman - "it was the only way to stop myself talking. I had to use it constantly for stimulation to shut myself up" - but listening to music at work was against the rules and they used it as the excuse to sack her.

She tried a job as a silver-service waitress - "nothing much could go wrong there!' - but she could not stop herself talking at high speed to the customers instead of just taking their orders and was out of work again within a fortnight.

She had begun to slow down again so took an appallingly paid job as a nanny, for which she had to work a ten hour day. She did in fact earn so little it left her barely able to cover her rent - "it became so disheartening. Year after year I made plans to be a better person, to build a better life, to try harder, to be this, to be that, but always I ended up less able to look after myself, less able to cope, more confused, more undesirable and, for all my efforts, even more unsuccessful."

The slowing down increased until she had slumped again into the unfathomable depths of depression. This time it was worse than before. She could not speak to anyone, could look no one in the eye - "I wanted to disappear, to be invisible, be nothing. I no longer wanted to exist. When I was on 'high speed', I believed myself invincible - nothing mattered. But now all that had swung the other way, I could only think of the things that 'other person' had done and I was consumed by guilt and shame. I could no longer see the point in anything".

As the weeks passed, Roxanne became increasingly agoraphobic - "Friends were easy to put off with excuses, or just by never answering the phone, but then, as it was, friends could not accept these two versions of myself. In fact I could avoid everything except buying food, which meant travelling on a bus and seeing people, which I found horrendous. I used to watch everyone else out of the corner of my eye - watch them talking, laughing, shopping - and felt totally isolated. I took to catching the earliest bus possible, so as not to have to see people".

She was also unable to sleep and would stay awake the entire night, hanging her head out of the window to cry out into the night, not that anybody ever came. Every morning she would stand in her bedroom doorway and have to admit that she could not go any further.

Desperate and isolated, she turned again to the psychologist, but he said he could not offer any anti-depressants, in case it swung her too far the other way and she began her "crazy gabbling" again. He also told her that, quite honestly, she should not have access to anything with which she could easily take her life.

Her one escape was alcohol - bottles and bottles of it - "it had become completely obsessive, completely out of control, while I had become a walking ghost - nobody could see me and I could no longer see them."

She would write out list after list of reasons she should keep living, just to convince and re-convince herself - "I had had a lot of fun, but also believed that I had done an awful lot of damage. Through it all, the only thing that stopped me from that ultimate act was the knowledge of what it would do to my family - I could not have inflicted that on them."

Her father decided to step in, now willing to accept that there was indeed something very wrong with Roxanne, and paid for her to see a counsellor. "She was like a big, round apple-head doll. And very maternal. She looked hard at me, listened to me, then said she would explain what was going on. She told me I had a chemical imbalance - a disease, just as some people have diabetes or the like - when my synapses did not work, then I became depressed, and when they worked too much, I became 'high' and lost control. But she said it was all depression - the ups and the downs. It was an overload of the system which made it swing so dramatically the other way. The relief was immense! At last, somebody understood!".

In days, the depression was turning back into a soaring high. Still the rest of her family were denying that she was really unwell. Instead, they demanded a second opinion and thus she was bundled off to the psychologist who flicked through his book and told her she was suffering Bi-Polar Disorder. His only answer to the problem was to put her on a waiting list to see a psychiatrist. "You need drugs stronger than I can prescribe," he brusquely explained.

She felt panicky at having to wait again for someone to do something to help. The thought of more weeks on some doctor's list seemed an impossibility when every single day was a battle of failing wills to survive. The long intervening months gave time for another plummet and yet another soar - "but somehow I held on. I simply had no choice."

The psychiatrist wrote lethargically across his clip-board as Roxanne began to describe her 'symptoms'. As she talked about her family, she started crying and laughing at the same time. "Oh," remarked the psychiatrist, looking up from his doodles for a moment, "You are laughing and crying at the same time while you are talking about your family." Roxanne stared at him in disbelief. She could not believe that was all he could say, apart from asking over and over again if and how she had attempted suicide - "I had waited so long for this? I did not want this man helping me! In fact I did not want anything to do with this man whatsoever!"

She was referred to a Mood Disorder Clinic, where she was prescribed lithium. She was introduced to a room of patients on the same drug - "I took one look at these fat, lethargic, spotty people (these are common side effects) plopped in armchairs, and thought 'But I am not like you and never want to be like you!'. I realised that I would prefer to endure the uncontrollable highs for the rest of my life - anything but this! I did not want to be like these people until I died. But that is all the system could offer me! I felt absolutely trapped!"

Roxanne's determination was sufficiently fired for her to refuse the medication and try a herbal cure - "But I was in such a state of depression that I had become incapable of doing anything. I could not boil a kettle, let alone take regular pills, infusions, and all. It is so strange, not knowing who you are, all anxious about life and anxious about taking the very pills which are supposed to make it all better."

She gave up the struggle, relented and agreed to the lithium and sleeping tablets.

The weekend she was to start the doses, her entire family went away on holiday. "I was also starting a new job, which in itself was going to be a new beginning for me - I was so determined to get better!" She woke on her first morning for work hardly able to stand. She had not been warned that it would take her body some time to adjust and tolerate the new chemical intruders. "I had to phone in sick, hardly able to form words let alone coherent sentences, and they sacked me there and then."

Adjustments were made to her dosage of lithium and the psychiatrist comforted her with the news that hers was not the most severe form of manic depression, "so we'll call it Bi-Polar Disorder II! This means we can make you an out-patient of the psychiatric hospital, where you can learn to inter-relate and communicate with other people just like yourself!"

It was all too much for Roxanne - "the drugs took six weeks to take effect. They made the ups and downs less severe, but they were no cure. Even the doctors said they were 'only drugs' and their positive effects would quickly plateau out. With a careful diet and determined efforts towards daily exercise, I hoped to be able to keep the inevitable side effects of weight gain and acne at bay. Hard to keep up the enthusiasm though, when I no longer felt as though I were in my body and everything had become dead in my brain. I just felt so bland, as though my head were full of mushy rice, with nothing connecting inside it. But, there was no way that I was going to sink into the system and spend my life on drugs and in and out of psychiatric hospitals. There had to be more".

Roxanne moved again, this time far away from old influences, old memories, the doctors she had grown to mistrust, and the threatened possibility of institutionalised care. Within days of being in her new home, a neighbour told her of the work of Dr. Tomatis and of the new clinic in nearby Lewes. Compared to psychiatric day care, listening to filtered music held great attractions and Roxanne investigated.

**********

Roxanne has now completed two sessions of treatment at the Listening Centre in Lewes.

Friends cannot help remarking on the change in her physical appearance alone:

"She moved here looking drawn, sullen, self-conscious, humourless, lethargic and withdrawn...with a hefty emotional barrier firmly in place around her...She wore clothes very obviously to hide beneath...wore her hair tightly drawn from her face, which gave her a rather severe look. But within a week of doing her treatment, just the way she dressed began to change, very obviously...then suddenly, as though outwardly indicating what was going on inside, she released her very beautiful hair, letting it flow around her shoulders...her eyes came alive, then her whole face lit up, filled with wit, intelligence and expression...the change was quite remarkable...I have to say I have never witnessed such a dramatic physical change in a person - certainly not in so short a time".

For Roxanne, her most startling change has been the loss of her addictive cravings - "I simply don't need drink! I feel no desire for it whatsoever, neither socially, nor, most significantly, when I am alone. The same goes with the drugs - after five years of constant use, I have no desire for them. The need is gone. It feels as though a gaping void has finally been filled.

"I am calm without having to be depressed at the same time! I have no fear, no anxiety, no panic. I am more able to handle situations, and stress is no longer overwhelming. For example, when I was 'high' with the depression, I would create enormous debts for myself and I have been on the run from debt collectors for a long time. Now, I feel able to face facts, to take it in hand, and actually make contact with these people myself, to come to some mutually satisfactory arrangement. This would have been completely impossible before.

"I am very excited that I have started to dream again, having had no dreams for well over a year. The doctors had told me that my body had been unable to enter Rapid Eye Movement sleep, but now, through Listening Therapy I am able to sleep normally again and, of course, feel much better, much more human for it.

"Physically, my severe pre-menstrual back pain has gone and I am far less clumsy. I feel as though I have come into my body, at last. For years I felt as though I was a little girl rattling around in a grown-up body, which seemed too big to control and had little to do with me. I felt as though I needed help with everything. It was such an awful feeling to be in such a big body and I always felt awkward, embarrassed and ashamed of it. Not so now! Today I can say that I am right here, right now. And that's amazing!

"But most importantly, I think, is that I am more accepting of myself. Always, as I grew up, I would do that thing of writing a list of my greatest wishes in my diary and the first one on my list would always be to 'Be my own friend'. This always seemed impossible to achieve and has always been a fight which seemed impossible to win - but now I believe I am closer to being a friend to myself than ever before. All those psychologists, doctors, clinics and drugs never got me even close to being able to consider that as a possibility. It is a major step for me - all thanks to the Listening Therapy treatment. Now I am excited about the future and I cannot wait to start my third and final Listening Therapysession!".

 redjelly