The truth is I was a very disturbed individual. I still am. But I am at peace with it now. Not too long after I began to experience all of the panic attacks and all of the sadness attacks, I signed up for a screening interview to ascertain whether or not I was a suitable candidate for cognitive therapy.
My sadness was profound and it struck me at particular times. It had little to do with the weather or whether I was alone, which of course, I was. In fact, the sadness was acutely linked to the observation of other people’s happiness. For instance, if I were on the bus and I were to see two people laughing or enjoying each other’s company in any way, it would strike — as if all of the heartbreak and depression and anxiety that ever existed was heaped upon my shoulders and, more accurately, my brain. I would imagine enjoying such moments with someone who surely does not exist and never will. The thing about the sadness was that it was too unpredictable, and yet way too predictably abject to bear. The task at hand was to distract myself, to immerse myself in new life experiences. I had to move away from a life of introspection and self-torture and move toward a life of many interests, of even more experiences. But I would need help. I was only one man. Still am.
The flyer on the bulletin board said: “Are you depressed? Are you tired of taking antidepressants? Do you want to take your own life? Are you ready to take your own life back in your hands instead of just taking it? If you’ve answered yes to at least two of these four questions, then you may be a suitable candidate for cognitive therapy!” I thought about it and my answers were yes, no, no and yes. Since I had answered yes to two or more of these questions, I decided I should really call the number of the Twin Spirits Homeopathic Cognitive Therapy Centre for Wellness. The receptionist said I was lucky — it turned out they had an open appointment the very next day!
As I strolled home that night, I looked up at the stars; the sky seemed to have been covered with some sort of epiphanic spackling. The cool Montreal air was soothing and the evening sky reminded me of my bedroom when I was a child. I’d had glow-in-the-dark star stickers all over my bedroom ceiling and when my mother would turn out the light, I would stare at the astronomically correct star field until all of the worries, embarrassments, and bruises of the day seemed inconsequential. Or less consequential. I guess I’m trying to say that the night sky was soothing that night. I got home, slid into my Buck Rogers pajamas and tucked myself in after a brief Google interlude in which I discovered some of the tenets of cognitive therapy. My eyes closed as I dopily began to formulate my responses to the questions I was anticipating.
It turned out that the Twin Spirits Homeopathic Cognitive Therapy Centre for Wellness was located in the Royal Victoria Hospital’s psych ward. It was a pristine and promising environment. I headed toward the nurses’ station and announced my arrival. A perky bee-hived nurse in a teal uniform greeted me with what seemed like a forced smile and gestured for me to sit down and so I did. A striking teenage girl with glassy eyes shuffled by in a hospital gown and smiled at me. I couldn’t help but feel a sense of peculiar sadness. I wondered what mental affliction she had. I wanted to ask but that seemed inelegant. Another patient, an older gentleman with long, wispy gray hair, shuffled by. He sipped on a Diet Orange Crush through eight straws that had been crammed into the opening of his can. He offered me a sip and I declined.
After about half an hour, two thirty-something bearded men, one with a blue argyle sweater vest, and the other with a light brown tweed blazer, approached me.
“Mr. Marr?” The man with the sweater vest asked.
“I’m Dr. Galloway and this is my associate, Dr. Scholl.”
“Hello!” I said, in a tone entirely too enthusiastic. I guess I was nervous.
“Please. Come with us.”
The room was completely unfurnished and completely white. There were three chairs. Two were quite nice: expensive rolling and swiveling office chairs that looked like they provided more than adequate lumbar support. The third was a simple old wooden chair. I was ushered to the wooden chair, facing my two inquisitors. I thought it would have been a nice gesture, as I was technically the guest, for them to offer me one of the comfier chairs. But alas.
The questions began:
“Please answer with a ‘true’ or ‘false’ to the following statements, Mr. Marr,” Sweater Vest said. “Number one. Others make me angry.”
“They most certainly do! But only grown-ups and cruel people. I have nothing against the kind-hearted, children or the child-like. They are the inheritors of the Earth! I think that’s in the Book of Mormon.”
“Number two. At times I worry about . . .”
“This is not a true or false question is it? If it is, I suppose I would have to say true. I worry about sharks. I know it’s irrational, being so far away from sharks, as I am in the middle of the city. But definitely sharks. Real sharks and also animatronic talking sharks. Also, I don’t want to be seen as needy. In fact I would say I need to appear that I’m not needy.”
“Mr. Marr, You didn’t let me finish the question.”
“Oh, I am sorry. I do tend to ramble when I get nervous or aroused.”
“OK. Number two, again. At times I worry about my mortality.”
“False. Because there is no God. And if there were a God, he would be mortal too, like that guy in the Bible, Moses?”
“Right. OK. Number three. I tend to ruminate about the past.”
“False. Although I must add that I regret never having lived with anyone other than myself. But, recently, it occurred to me that I prefer to live alone. I’m not saying that because I’m alone. I have just acquired a particular contentment with the company of my own thoughts, as demented and disturbing as they may be. Also, I’m not sure if what I just said about my preference and contentment is true.”
“Number four. Nasty names naturally hurt people.”
“False. Except for words like fucking asshole and fucking fuckface and fucking cunt and so forth. Those words can sting.”
“Number five. Most impulses should be squelched.”
“True. However, I just had the strangest desire to get my hair cut in a Wal-Mart and so you know what I did? I went and got a haircut in a Wal-Mart. No joke. Can you imagine? I wish my mom were alive to see that shit go down! But I guess, in the end, I don’t know what the real point of giving into one’s impulses is. It turns out that life is a swirling vortex of despair. But the new ikea catalogue looks promising!”
“Number six. I have some flaws right now that I could stand to fix.”
“True. But you know what? When I look in the mirror, that is to say, when I look at myself in the mirror, I think to myself: well done, Steven. I am thirty-six years old. I’m diabetic, asthmatic, photosensitive, and wickedly depressed, but I have most of my hair and I have avoided hard drugs for the most part. Oh and by the way, diabetes is just one of an astonishing number of things I have in common with Howard Hughes!”
“Number seven. It is healthy to revisit your youth on a frequent basis.”
“False. Although I was watching the movie Teen Wolf recently and it occurred to me, and stay with me here: Teen Wolf is actually a metaphor for puberty.” I paused to gauge their response to this epiphany but they remained stone-faced. They were either true professionals or truly clueless. “Do you guys know what a metaphor is?”
“Yes, Mr. Marr. Let’s move on, shall we? Number eight. When I don’t get what I want, I often get unhappy.”
“True. Especially sex. When I don’t get sex I get very unhappy. And I have to admit I am in a bit of a dry spell. Fourteen years. So I guess you could say that I have been often unhappy in the last fourteen years. It seems like sex is a weird thing that used to happen to me sometimes.”
“Number nine. I would like to fall in love and share my life with someone.”
“True. Oh, very true. Falling in love can make you do strange things like brushing your teeth or showering. And I would love an excuse to manscape. Like, to truly manscape. As it stands right now, I have no real reason to trim my pubic hair into fun and amusing shapes. Also, I feel like my sense of humour could really wake a slumbering lady from her slumber!”
“And finally, number ten. My symptoms are the result of how I have conducted my life.”
“False. I drink a litre of gin a day. And, at first, I thought the gin was sort of making me crazy. But I truly believe that what is making me crazy is my psychosis. My craziness, if you will.”
At 3:17 pm the next afternoon, my olive green rotary dial vintage telephone rang. I skipped into the kitchen and answered somewhat cheerfully, expectantly.
“Yes? Mr. Marr?” The voice said.
“Yes. Speaking. Thank you. How are you?”
“Fine, thanks. This is Dr. Galloway from the Department of Psychiatry at the Royal Vic.”
“Yes! Dr. Galloway! I really enjoyed the conversation between myself and you and your colleague! I hope to have many more of these conversations in the very near future! And I meant to say, by the way, that you looked very fetching in that sweater!”
“Yes, well. Thanks for that. However, based our screening interview, it has been determined that you are not a suitable candidate for our cognitive therapy program.”
“But,” I said, “but . . . I’m sad.”
“I am sorry, Mr. Marr.”
Since I was deemed to be an unsuitable candidate for cognitive therapy (which, by the way, is total fucking bullshit), I went to the Metro Montreal Medical Walk-in Clinic of Medicine in order to speak to a doctor about my lingering depression. It was only a walk-in clinic, but these practitioners had surely taken the same oath of Hippocrates as all doctors must!
Dr. Marwhani was a frail man with kind eyes. He asked me to pop off my shirt and take a seat on the examination table.
“You are a very fat man,” Dr. Marwhani said.
“Yes sir, I’m a little overweight. Mildly overweight.”
Dr. Marwhani cackled. “Oh! Please! My father is called sir! But my father is dead, so yes, indeed, call me sir. Or doctor. In any event, show me some respect!”
“You need to eat much, much less.”
“Yes, Doctor. But you see, my problem, I feel, is not primarily my weight.”
“Hmm. Well it is no asset!”
“Right. Well I came here to see if you could do something for my sadness.”
“You see . . . I have not been with a sexual partner of any sort for fourteen years and . . .”
“Well, I can understand that. It seems dubious for a girl or sexual partner of any sort (as you put it) to fall for such an unattractive emotional eater. Perhaps you should stop thinking about it.”
Finally, I snapped. Just a little. “Doctor. Could you please lay off the weight comments? They are hurting my feelings and making me angry. I’m here for antidepressants. I want strong antidepressants. The strongest you have.”
“Fine. Here’s what I will do. What’s your name?” Dr. Marwhani looked down at his patient file. “Steven Marr. OK, Steven, I will take you on as my personal project. Do you have a family doctor?”
“You do now. It is me. Dr. Marwhani. I am your family doctor now.” He began to scrawl on a prescription pad. “Here is a prescription for six months of Citalopram. And another for six months of Clonazepam. Come see me in six months on the nose. You will be a healthier person if you use these drugs to cure your sadness instead of always using pizza.” Dr. Marwhani handed the prescription to me and then quickly snatched it back. “Also, let me add a six-month supply of Finasteride. It’s for prostate health, but if you section the pill into quarters, you can use it to regrow hair! On your head! Isn’t it delightful that the future is now? With luck, in six months, you will no longer be balding or obese! Then we will possibly see about getting you some sex with a brand new lady where you wouldn’t even have to pay!”
I smiled a thankful smile and left the office and headed straight to the pharmacy.
The first week of reuptaking was an adventure in the surreal. I trudged through my routines, soy coffee stops, bookstore perusals. There was a different pitch to reality now. It was as though there was a vise tightening on my skull. It was as though God himself had taken two of his godly fingers and pinched my temples and just held on, guiding me through this oddly patterned existence. I felt like God’s action figure. It felt urgent yet pleasant and very real. More real than any dream of realness I have ever known! I felt that I was amused and touched more than I ever had been and often by very simple things which were becoming stunningly beautiful, like chipmunks eating out of Doritos bags, or homeless men masturbating daintily behind very large, regal trees with weeping branches. I was growing accustomed to this new pressure that was being applied to my head and the small joys that accompanied it. It all felt right. Something very new and exciting was happening to me. I discovered that I had a desire to try new things; I discovered that I had the ability to follow through. And that’s when I took up competitive eating. »
From subTerrain #67
Excerpt from I’m Not Scared of You or Anything by Jon Paul Fiorentino (Anvil Press, 2014).