Book Review: Listening for the Light

Tallman, Laurna. Listening for the Light: A New Perspective of Integration Disorder in Dyslexic Syndrome, Schizophrenia, Bipolarity, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Substance Abuse. Marmora: Northern Light Books, 2010. Print.

Listening for the Light (LFTL) by Laurna Tallman is a case study of one family’s experience with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, dyslexia, and substance addiction, among other illnesses. LFTL was originally published in 2009; however, it is not widely known, nor has it been widely reviewed, and despite the passage of four years, its content remains relevant.

Tallman begins by meticulously describing the stressors she and her family faced over a span of several years: Tallman and her husband both suffered from CFS, four of her five children had varying degrees of physical or mental illness, and one child was severely dyslexic. The family also contended with poverty, broken school systems, dysfunctional communities, and even murder.

It is against this backdrop that Tallman and her husband decided to use a monetary gift to send their son, Daniel, to Toronto’s Listening Centre, so he could get help for his dyslexia. The Listening Centre uses a “listening training program” to help people with a variety of issues, including dyslexia and autism. While at the Listening Centre with her son, Tallman briefly received her own listening training, which greatly alleviated her CFS symptoms. Daniel achieved great success as well; however, shortly after his Listening Centre experience, he suffered from a psychotic break and was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Up until this point of the book, Tallman’s prose has been largely poetic. Indeed, in addition to her academic work, Tallman is also a poet and artist, and her talent shines through:

“On a warm afternoon at the end of the summer I had left the kitchen to rest on the steps of the stoop…. I climbed the steep bank and stepped through the shadow… across the slippery loose hay and began to speak.”

Whether intentional or not, Tallman’s poetic style has a pleasing effect that helps offset the at-times disturbingly sad and chaotic vignettes of a highly stressed household.

Shortly after describing Daniel’s breakdown, Tallman demonstrates her wide-ranging writing skill by transitioning in style from poetic recitation to medical case study.

She painstakingly outlines the treatment both she and Daniel received at The Listening Centre, then walks the reader through how this experience, combined with her study of medical and scientific literature, led her to undertake an investigation into the healing powers of music.

She concludes that “…dyslexic syndrome, psychosis, and a number of other mental disabilities or instabilities appear all to be related to auditory-processing deficits and to fall on specific places along a comprehensive continuum of ear-related forms of mental function that includes the range of normal, ” and that healing for dyslexia, CFS, various mental illnesses, and other forms of trauma can come through “wise use of music” and “listening retraining.” (p. 333) This is a vast oversimplification on my part; however, I am far from equipped to summarize all of Tallman’s findings.

Tallman’s writing is always enjoyable, but at times I found the subject matter too complex for my liberal arts understanding. I have a deep interest in the subject matter of LFTL, so it was worth it to me read and re-read passages, but for readers who are not so inclined, the middle of LFTL may be a bit much to plow through. Even if so, I still recommend reading at least the first and last of Tallman’s book, the former of which reads like a novel, and the latter of which summarizes findings in a more easily digestible format. The last chapter of the book also presents deep theological and sociological questions about how society does and should treat the mentally ill.

Tallman may disagree with my reading suggestion. In her introduction, she “craves the patience of those in positions of absolute power over their patients to listen to one story that may have enormous implications for their understanding differently the function of the brains of the spectrum and mental patients under their care and for considering revision in their modes of treatment.”

Indeed, I would take this further than Tallman, and add that those in the criminal justice and foster care systems would greatly benefit from reading this book and considering its implications for treatment and rehabilitation for the acts that lead clients to either system.

I would also beg those who choose to read this book to use patience to move past areas of potential disagreement, such as Tallman’s belief in the limited use of medications, that boys are unfairly treated by today’s classroom structures, faith-based references (though these are minimal and not at all taken into consideration in Tallman’s scientific research), and any other typically polemic area. These opinions are not relevant to Tallman’s findings, and can be glossed over to get to the end result (Tallman’s take on psychotropic medication perhaps being an exception to this).

End result: Listening for the Light is lengthy, and at times perhaps too complex for most lay people. It is also poetic, operatic, moving, and absolutely fascinating. Not to mention it is a book that could do great things for those suffering from mental illness. If you have a deep desire to explore options to fix our broken mental health system, this is a great place to start.

Related posts: Dual Diagnosis, When Christian Moms Get the Blues, Postpartum Depression: How My Church Helped and Yours Can, Too.

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Week Links #8

Redbuds

Natasha Sistrunk Robinson: An Opportunity to Take Action Against Human Trafficking (people: click this link to support the estimated 27 million voiceless victims who are currently trapped in human trafficking.)

Angie Mabry–Nauta: Same-Sex Marriage, Mental Illness, and the Church: A Historic Intersection

Women’s Words

Glennon: Quit Pointing Your Avocado at Me!

and Glennon again: I Love Gay People and I Love Christians. I Choose All. (Please read the original piece as well!)

Rachel Held Evans @ Q: Modesty: I Don’t Think it Means What You Think it Means

Words for Thought

E.J. Dionne @ SF Chronicle: Court Conservatives Winning Battle for Power

Random

Tim Kreider: I Know What You Think of Me

My Stuff

What SCOTUS Could Learn From Paula Deen

Week Links #6

There was so much good stuff to read this week, and unfortunately so little time. There was also much to write about, such as the SBC resolution regarding mental illness. Hopefully next week. But for now…. a few things I did get a chance to read, and would recommend to others.

Women’s Words

Sarah Bessey: In Which God Has Asked Too Much of Us

and again, because why not? Sarah Bessey: In Which I Preach

Social Justice

Melissa Barnhart for the Christian Post: Suicide, Mental Health at Forefront of SBC Annual Meeting

Karen Beattie: Seven Things I’ve Learned About Foster Care

Words for Thought

Mark Sandlin: Ten Things You Can’t Do While Following Jesus

Larry Alex Taunton: Listening to Young Atheists: Lessons for a Stronger Christianity

Jesse Carey: Christians, Their Media Portrayal & Myth

Rachel Held Evans: Love Opens the Door: A Plea to American Churches Regarding Gay Scouts

My Stuff

And because today is graduation day: The Child I’ve Grown Up With

You Are Your Own Best Champion – Let’s Do This!

Earlier this week, I wrote a piece for Sojourner’s expressing my belief that the mental health community needs someone to step forward and champion the cause of de-stigmatizing mental health issues.

Since the piece was published, I have had several people contact me to tell their stories of living with mental illness, or stories of their loved ones who live with mental illness. For some, it was the first time they had ever shared their experience, but they came forward because they finally felt they had a safe space in which to speak.

The number of people who contacted me perhaps should not be surprising: after all, 26% of the population suffers from mental illness. What is more surprising is the isolation people expressed feeling, as well as their strong desire to have their voices heard.

If you have your own story of mental illness to share, and would like to have it posted here, please submit your posts to happyhanauers@gmail.com.

My goal is two-fold: 1) to provide a forum and safe space for true stories of mental illness, and 2) to decrease the stigma surrounding mental illness, especially within faith communities. To that end, I would love to share stories that demonstrate people who suffer from mental illness—even those at the high end of the spectrum—can indeed have happy, fulfilling, “normal” lives, provided they receive the proper treatment and support. I would also love to hear how your faith community has or has not helped you through your illness.

I can’t wait to hear your story!

What Angelina Jolie’s Mastectomy Teaches Us About the Stigma of Mental Illness

On Tuesday, Angelina Jolie became the face of preventative mastectomy. In a beautifully worded New York Times op-ed, the actress said she opted for a double mastectomy after learning she had an 87 percent risk of breast cancer, adding, “On a personal note, I do not feel any less of a woman. I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity.”

In the hours following the publication of Jolie’s story, others came forward with their own stories, and the media coverage since has been non-stop. However, when a similarly famous actress, Catherine Zeta Jones, came forward with her diagnosis of bipolar II disorder, it made only a news ripple compared to the crashing wave of coverage Jolie’s disclosure has received. Don’t get me wrong — Jolie’s announcement is hugely significant and part of a much-needed conversation. But mental illness should be afforded the same level of discourse. Perhaps talking about mental illness isn’t as fascinating as talking about an actress’s decision about her breasts, but talk about it we must — and unfortunately not even a courageous disclosure made by a beautiful and famous actress like Catherine Zeta Jones is enough to get that conversation started.

Hop on over to Sojourner’s to read the rest of today’s blog post!

Mental Health Awareness Month

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. I hope to write a few things about the importance of de-stigmatizing mental illness, what our communities could do to help support those suffering from mental illness, and how we can reign in the myths of mental illness and create a truer picture of those who suffer. I have a few things pending publication elsewhere, and I have to wait until those are a “go” before I can put them here. In the meantime, here is a poem about anorexia, a mental illness that some may push aside as a self-created condition of teenaged girls. It is, however, a very serious mental illness that kills approximately 20% of those who suffer. For more information, please visit the NAMI website.

Naked

Phoenix
Neon hotel
The computer blinks as you cough.
I am uncomfortable on the floor.

I saw my collarbones once: thin beauty burgeoning.

Ribs jauntily flaunt, waiting to be counted,
balanced atop hip bones blooming in thin-skin soil.

The triumph of emaciation.

The control of self-denial.

The superiority over everyone,
especially her

and her.

I will be better than your broken nose, childbearing hips.
I will fight your curse with knives,
beat you with my brittle femur.

 

The Mentally Ill Need a Champion

I’m in a conundrum.

I am very in favor of gun control. I am very in favor of increasing healthcare services for the mentally ill.

I am also very in favor of de-stigmatizing mental health issues and getting to a point where we, as a nation, acknowledge the prevalence of mental illness among our neighborhoods, workplaces, families, and congregations.

And by “acknowledge,” I mean accept that mental illness is something that can and does effect anyone from any walk of life, any faith, and any socioeconomic status. And most importantly to the current discussion, acknowledge that severely mentally ill people only account for 3-5% of violent crime. Approximately 26% of the American population has a mental illness, and only 6% (1 in 17) has a severe mental illness.

What the mental health movement needs is a champion. Someone who is unafraid to talk about his/her illness, who has a friendly face, a humble nature, and who looks “faultless” in the eyes of onlookers. The mental health world needs a Ryan White.

I’ll never forget seeing Ryan White on TV when I was a little girl. I heard him tell the talkshow host (Oprah, I think) that you can’t get AIDS from spit. You can’t get AIDS from a toilet seat. You can’t get AIDS from hugging or even kissing someone. The list went on and on, and I was absolutely blown away. I thought for sure you could get AIDS all the ways he said I couldn’t. And he wasn’t gay. And he didn’t use drugs. Earth shattering stuff for a little girl who somehow, somewhere, had heard just the opposite.

Who doesn’t know those things now? AIDS is still stigmatized, but Ryan White did so much to bring it to the forefront of public conversation in a completely different way than it had been before. He forever changed how AIDS is treated and perceived.

Who will that person be for mental illness? Many famous people have come forward with their story of mental illness, yet to the best of my knowledge, no one has been able to champion the cause of de-stigmatizing mental illness the way Ryan White did for AIDS.

So what am I to think of the current gun control debate that makes mental illness a criminal justice issue rather than a public health issue and will cause many Americans to perceive mental illness as something to be deeply afraid of? That may cause people to avoid seeking treatment and that will further demonize and marginalize those who suffer from mental illness?

Probably what so many professionals and advocates in the mental health field have thought as the debate rages on: this isn’t how we wanted it to happen, but we’ll take what we can get.