THURSDAY, 29TH OCTOBER, 2009
Brandon came home from work with take-out from Blue Bay Cafe. It’s a place in the Roncesvalles neighbourhood that serves food from Mauritius, an island country in the Indian Ocean. If you don’t know where it is, look it up on Google Earth or open an atlas. Most of the food was too spicy for my taste, even though I’m Italian and I should be used to spices. But I did enjoy the samosas.
Over dinner, Brandon told me that he was able to secure for me an intake meeting with Claire on FRIDAY AFTERNOON. He had called her in between classes, and she had a spot available. I still did not know who this woman looked like, or if she would even like me. But I still was curious about her.
By the by, despite the subject of the conversation, it was a historic night: for the first time in over five years, I had a normal dinner with another person at home. I was not eating alone, and I wasn’t crying, either.
FRIDAY, 30TH OCTOBER, 2009
2PM. Rendezvous with Dr. Claire Breedlove. Her office was located in a high-rise on the intersection of Yonge & Empress Avenue, a hop, skip, and a jump from Earl Haig Secondary, where some of the most gruesome scenes of my life took place. When I initially realized that, I was insulted, to say the least.
Upon arriving, I noticed that the waiting room looked less like a clinic and more like someone’s living room. The furniture was plush, the music seemed to be either Enya or Sissel, and there was also a fake waterfall that you can buy at Shoppers Drug Mart or Loblaw’s or fucking WalMart. I also noticed that there wasn’t a receptionist at all. It seemed that Claire’s private practice consisted of a waiting room, a therapy room, her office, and a washroom.
I leafed through issues of Chatelaine, Deneuve (an archival one; the magazine is now known as Curve), and Canadian Living for fifteen minutes, and was soon bored stiff. Apparently, she was on the telephone in her office. I knew this because I could hear her arguing with someone, and it wasn’t pretty. And then, I heard the phone slam on the receiver, followed by an exasperated sigh. The office door opened, and out stepped Dr. Claire Breedlove: tall, graceful, a head full of bouncy red hair, and wearing a poncho not even Johnny Weir would be caught dead in. She was carrying a manila folder and a clipboard with her. Her face was mature and elegant, albeit weathered.
“I apologize for the delay,” she said. “No wonder I started my own practice.” She extended her hand. “You must be Graziano.”
I shook her hand. “Nice to meet you.” She got bonus points from me for pronouncing my name in an Italian accent. I NEVER Anglicize my name in writing or pronunciation.
“Come on in.” I followed her into her therapy room, which was rather threadbare. There was just a coffee table, a couch, and an armchair. Dr. Claire sat on the armchair, leaving the couch to myself.
“Are you excited? It’s intake time!” she cheered. I don’t know why. No one’s excited at intakes.
“Yay!” I feigned a cheer.
“Brandon filled me in on your story, but I’d like for you to corroborate it.” Corroborate? Did I step into Law & Order? Nonetheless, I nodded.
“I took the liberty of filling in your name. Did I get it right?” she asked, showing me her form. It read BUONFIGLIO, GRAZIANO G.M. I nodded in agreement.
“What is your date of birth?” she began.
“6th October, 1981.”
“I was engaged once, but then he died before we could get married. So, single.”
She nodded. “Children?”
“Okay. Here come the biggies: Have you previously received any type of mental health services?”
I took a deep breath. “Where do you want me to start?”
Claire looked up from her clipboard. “Just do your best.”
Sinking back into the sofa, I said, “I’ve had counselling from the 519 Centre, Toronto General Hospital, Catholic Charities… when I was at the University of Toronto, I had some sessions with a psychiatrist. I could go on and on. I’ve been to so many places. Some have helped; others have been a total fucking waste of time.”
Claire nodded. “Hopefully, this won’t be a ‘total fucking waste of time’. Now, next question: Are you on prescription medicine?”
I shook my head.
“Have you ever been prescribed psychiatric medication?”
“How would you rate your current physical health: poor, unsatisfactory, satisfactory, good, or very good?”
I replied, “Satisfactory. Just.”
“I tried committing suicide earlier this month.”
Claire stopped writing. “How?” she asked, inquisitively.
“I stuffed a whole bottle of Tylenol down my throat. On my birthday.”
“Have you done this before?”
I put my hands up. “You can’t count on my fingers how many times I’ve tried to kill myself. I’ve thrown myself down the stairs, I’ve tried to get run over by cars and buses, and I’ve also tried to stay outside when it’s freezing cold and snowing, just so I could die of hypothermia. Other than that, I’m in good shape.”
Claire looked at me like I was crazy. I immediately put my hands down. “Okay,” she said. “Next question: How would you rate your current sleeping habits? Same choices.”
“Good, when I can get to sleep. Most of my life, I’ve never gotten anything close.”
“How many times a week do you generally exercise?”
“At least five times a week. I’m a former competitive bodybuilder, and I like to weight-train and do cardio. I also swim, I play hockey, and I love curling.”
“Got it. Next question: Please list any difficulties you experience with your appetite, or eating problems.”
I smiled. “I don’t have a problem. I love to eat. I’m Italian. There are days, however, when I’m so confused with grief and sadness and rage, that I’ll just go to Metro and buy food that I already have, and go to town on that shit. And then, the next day, I’m off to the gym to burn off the excess calories, only to go have a combo at Harvey’s afterwards and repeat the sick cycle over and over again.”
Claire nodded again. “Are you currently experiencing overwhelming sadness, grief, or depression?”
“All of the above. It’s been a lifelong experience.”
“Are you currently experiencing any anxiety, panic attacks, or have any phobias?”
“I…” My voice began to break. “I’m scared of a lot of things: giant bugs with wings, getting beat up in the street, dying… so many people in my life have died, and it freaks me out. I haven’t been to a funeral since Evan died.”
Claire handed me a Kleenex. “Who’s Evan?”
“My fiancé.” I crumbled and squeezed the Kleenex in my hand. “He was beaten to death five years ago. But, we can talk about that later.”
“Sure. Are you currently experiencing any chronic pain?”
I shook my head, and exhaled.
“Do you drink alcohol more than once a week?”
“I don’t drink at all.”
“How often do you engage in recreational drug use?”
Again, I shook my head. “I’ve abused over-the-counter drugs, but cannabis, Ecstasy, wet… I’ve never touched the stuff.”
“Wet?” Claire’s eyes opened in surprise. “What’s that?”
“Marijuana with PCP and formaldehyde. At university, I took a seminar on drug prevention.”
“We’ll talk about over-the-counter drugs at a later time,” she said. “Next question: Are you in a current romantic relationship?”
Claire looked at her clipboard. “The next question reads, ‘What significant life changes or stressful events have you experienced in the past?‘” She put it on the table. “Brandon told me some of your story, but I’d like to know more from you. What initially brought you to stay with him?”
I looked out the window. It was overcast. What a metaphor for my life. “After I attempted suicide, my parents kicked me out of the house. I lived in my car for a weekend, but a friend took me in. A few days ago, I ran into Brandon while visiting the campus. We talked, and soon he offered me the chance to live with him. I talked it over with my friend, and she suggested that I take it.”
I noticed that she was replacing her blue PermaMate with a silver Hilton Hotel pen. I wondered what she had been thinking all this time. Did she think that I was beyond help? Did she think that she could be spending her time in Turks & Caicos, lounging on a beach with a cocktail in one hand and a trashy Danielle Steel novel in the other?
She looked at me. “Don’t worry, I’m paying attention.” She picked up her clipboard. “I’ll write that response later. Okay, I’m going to list a few things and you tell me if any of your family members have whatever I list. Alcohol and/or substance abuse?”
“Nadine and Charlotte – my mother and sister, respectively.”
“Other than being violent to me, no. Domestic violence is spouse against spouse, isn’t it?”
“Generally, that is domestic violence, but it takes other forms. Who abused you?”
I clutched the Kleenex even harder. “Nadine, Charlotte, and Joseph. Joseph’s my father.” I noticed that what was left of the Kleenex, was a crumpled mess. I looked at it, and started crying. I wiped my eyes with the substantially reduced sheet of delicate tissue paper, and threw it away.
“Joseph’s fat, but not obese.”
“Obsessive compulsive disorder?”
“My family is obsessed and compulsive with hating me. How’s that?”
Claire looked up at me. “I was talking about excessive cleaning, hoarding, things of that nature… but that somewhat fits the bill. Schizophrenia?”
“Final question: Suicide attempts?”
Again, I shook my head. No one in my family, not even before my grandparents moved to Canada, had ever committed suicide. That isn’t to say that there weren’t any crazy people, but still.
“The rest of the form is pretty straight-forward, so you can fill it out and sign it.” She handed me the form and I finished it for me. After I handed it back, she said, “I’m going to review this further. Provisionally, I think that we can work something out. Are you available Fridays at 2PM?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“Can you promise me that you won’t try to hurt yourself?” she asked.
Claire escorted me out of her practice. As I walked out of the building and headed for North York Centre Station, I felt relaxed. The intake went better than I expected. It was the first time in my life that I had survived a session with a psychiatrist without being insulted beyond belief.
Granted, it was only an intake, but still…