Guest post by author, Rossa Forbes.
I wish recovery were simple and straightforward for people like my son Chris who have experienced a serious mental illness. Often parents speak about recovery in terms of getting their old son or daughter back, meaning I suppose that their child’s personality, skills, and accomplishments before the onset of psychosis was pretty darn close to being as good as these things can be.
Let’s first examine If getting the familiar person back should really be what one hopes for, using “good old Chris” as an example.
When Chris was little, I predicted that eventually, my quiet, undemanding, too obedient, un-opinionated, low energy child was was going to get his clock cleaned by the demands of real life.
If I had any idea that this list of deficits might be the signs of someone who would collapse under the weight of a serious mental illness in his late teens, I might have sought help earlier than I did. Of course, as I guess parents also know, nobody seems to know what to do about serious mental illnesses, how to predict them, prevent them, let alone how to treat them. So, it’s up to us to roll up our sleeves and do some heavy lifting. Keeping an open mind we have to examine ideas and therapies that might be useful for our relative. The status quo doesn’t work.
Chris today has a more robust personality than before he fell into a serious mental illness. He’s way more expressive and is finding that disagreeing or arguing with someone doesn’t mean that he’s a bad person or that the sky will fall. If recovery means now having arguments where before there were none, then my son is recovered to that level (although there is still room for improvement). He is slowly building confidence in himself, not “rebuilding” confidence in himself. He managed to hide this deficit well enough when he was young. Recently we moved to Florida and he enrolled in a recovery to work program, one of several of these promising programs that are cropping up along the Gulf coast. This is an innovative privately funded program that emphasizes the role of work in recovery. I totally agree that work promotes greater confidence in oneself, with one caveat: Having the ability to find a job and keep it is something that is often pushed on people too soon in the recovery process. I’m sure that if I sat down with the director of the program, he would agree.
It has taken me several years of grappling with the big questions to come to the conclusion that anxiety is the real problem behind mental illnesses and is what prevents people from entering into meaningful social relationships involving friendships, study, and work.
But what causes the anxiety in the first place? Many people logically assume that if they have had traumatic experiences in their lives, these experiences impacted them adversely and are still affecting them in some way. I’ve investigated potential familial intergenerational trauma by involving our family in Family Constellation Therapy to lessen any tensions that we may be carrying forward from our ancestors that impact our present relationships. Our family did the therapy years ago, saw some improvements in how we related to each other, yet Chris was still unable to focus himself enough to work or study. We tried various kinds of music therapy and color therapy to harmonize his mind and body (lessen anxiety), yet his social anxiety was still evident and preventing him from taking charge of his life. Something was still missing. I was beginning to wonder if the answer would always elude us, just as finding the answer to ending the gnawing tension of my life long nail biting habit had always eluded me.
Before we moved to Florida, I suggested to Chris that since we had the time, we should revisit some therapies that helped him in the past. He had done Tomatis therapy in 2009 and he had experienced some improvements, so this time I decided to join him. Each of us did forty hours of listening to Mozart violin concertos, Gregorian chants, and Viennese waltzes using equipment that filtered out the lower frequencies sounds. This time I didn’t notice anything different about Chris, but I felt energized, focused and alert.
I said to the director of the program that I was suddenly seeing nature in a panoramic way and with a sense of awe, like being a young child again. I had rekindled my enthusiasm for life that I hadn’t quite realized had waned over the years.
I incorporated this newfound joie de vivre and energy into my new normal, and after the Tomatis sessions ended there were no more small miracles. I would have put Tomatis therapy aside and thought that was nice while it lasted, and gone about my business were it not for something fortuitous that happened. One of the people at the Tomatis Center gave me some links to further information about the therapy, and that’s how I came across a woman in Canada named Laurna Tallman who understands the therapy I’m guessing even better than many of the people who work at these centers. I was intrigued because she says very emphatically and matter-of-factly that schizophrenia and bipolarity can be cured by taking Tomatis therapy a few steps further by listening to high frequency music for two hours every day for as long as it takes to show improvement, and then to keep doing it past the point you may wish to stop, in order to solidify the gains. You do not need to travel to a Tomatis Center to do this. You can listen from the comfort of your own home, using good quality headphones and properly chosen music.
Chris and I got down to work. Starting just after New Year’s this year, we donned our headphones two hours a day, every day. It’s easier to notice changes in oneself, so I’ll divulge my findings about me first. A few weeks into this routine, I realized that after 63 years of nail biting I had no desire whatsoever to continue the habit. None. I kept going with this home listening program to make sure that this miracle wasn’t a one-off, and a few months later, low and behold, there was another surprise in store for me. My gums were no longer prone to bleeding, the sure sign of a healthier immune system. I’m still doing the daily listening because I like having strong nails and healthy gums. An acquaintance of mine told me that her daughter took Tomatis therapy about a decade ago for her dyslexia. (Tomatis therapy is a well-known therapy for dyslexia and learning problems). Her daughter didn’t bother pursuing more than one module of the therapy, apparently content that even though it didn’t cure her dyslexia, it eliminated her anxiety. The mother thinks that had the daughter taken more of it, the dyslexia would probably vanish too. In Chris’s case it’s bit trickier to see results, and I believe this is because he’s already done so much music therapy that he is asymptotically approaching normal with the addition of the listening program. Oddly enough, at the end of March, he attracted a new girlfriend, who pushed him to have more confidence in himself and begin exercising (something I had been unsuccessfully prodding him to do ). He is expressing himself more and more rationally and is motivated to initiate and complete tasks. Disordered thinking and speech are considered positive signs of schizophrenia and lack of motivation and focus are considered negative symptoms of schizophrenia. Critically, they are also symptoms of anxiety.
I no longer see Chris as suffering from schizophrenia. Instead, I see anxiety issues, what has prevented him in the past from seeking out new relationships and learning new things.
These issues, according to Tallman Paradigm, begin with the malfunction of a tiny muscle in the right ear. The Tallman Paradigm is a theoretical, and neurological framework for behavior that builds on and extends the work of Alfred A. Tomatis, with an important contribution from neurologist Vilayanur S. Ramachandran.
The Tallman Paradigm maintains that altering the right ear with music has a global effect on brain function by making the left-brain dominate in cerebral integrative processes. The stapedius muscle in the right middle ear controls the amount of sound energy that reaches the left brain. If that muscle is weak or damaged, the left-brain cannot maintain its dominance over the right-brain. In people with a very weak ear muscle, the hemispheres trade “dominance” every two minutes. That condition of non-dominance, she asserts, characterizes schizophrenia, autism, and the state of normal sleep. The illnesses can be healed by using high frequency music (which Tomatis appreciated for its power) and headphones modified by blocking the left earpiece to force right-ear listening. (Medication weakens the ear muscles.)
My simplified take on anxiety, using her Paradigm, is that anxiety is produced when the hemispheres trade dominance, a situation caused by a weak stapedius muscle in the right ear. The person is thus perpetually out of synch, off-balance, unintelligible to her or her peers, and unable to keep up with others around them. This form of isolation from the social environment is what becomes commonly thought of as schizophrenia, although milder cases could be considered dyslexia.
It’s taken me many years to find a plausible explanation that demystifies much of the mystery surrounding schizophrenia. Not just an explanation but a remedy, too. I hope others will experience for themselves how this modification to a well known music therapy can improve their health and wellbeing.
Rossa Forbes is the author of The Scenic Route: A Way through Madness (Inspired Creations Publisher, 2018). This post was submitted as a part of our Recovery Month 2018 efforts.
Rossa Forbes was born in Montreal, Quebec, and has lived in northern New York, Ontario, Switzerland, and Florida. She worked for many years in provincial and national politics, the Canadian Parliament, and in international organizations. She is married and has three sons.
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