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