I can’t point to any one event that resulted in my decision to go into hibernation. Initially, I just wanted some downers to drown out my thoughts and judgments, since the constant barrage made it hard not to hate everyone and everything. I thought life would be more tolerable if my brain were slower to condemn the world around me. I started seeing Dr. Tuttle in January 2000. It started off very innocently: I was plagued with misery, anxiety, a wish to escape the prison of my mind and body. Dr. Tuttle confirmed that this was nothing unusual. She wasn’t a good doctor. I had found her name in the phone book.
“You’ve caught me at a good moment,” she said the first time I called. “I just finished rinsing the dishes. Where did you find my number?”
“In the Yellow Pages.”
I liked to think that I’d picked Dr. Tuttle at random, that there was something fated about our relationship, divine in some way, but in truth, she’d been the only psychiatrist to answer the phone at eleven at night on a Tuesday. I’d left a dozen messages on answering machines by the time Dr. Tuttle picked up.
“The biggest threats to brains nowadays are all the microwave ovens,” Dr. Tuttle explained on the phone that night. “Microwaves, radio waves. Now there are cell phone towers blasting us with who knows what kind of frequencies. But that’s not my science. I deal in treating mental illness. Do you work for the police?” she asked me.
“No, I work for an art dealer, at a gallery in Chelsea.”
“Are you FBI?”
“I just have to ask these questions. Are you DEA? FDA? NICB? NHCAA? Are you a private investigator hired by any private or governmental entity? Do you work for a medical insurance company? Are you a drug dealer? Drug addict? Are you a clinician? A med student? Getting pills for an abusive boyfriend or employer? NASA?”
“I think I have insomnia. That’s my main issue.”
“You’re probably addicted to caffeine, too, am I right?”
“I don’t know.”
“You better keep drinking it. If you quit now, you’ll just go crazy. Real insomniacs suffer hallucinations and lost time and usually have poor memory. It can make life very confusing. Does that sound like you?”
“Sometimes I feel dead,” I told her, “and I hate everybody. Does that count?”
“Oh, that counts. That certainly counts. I’m sure I can help you. But I do ask new patients to come in for a fifteen-minute consultation to make sure we’ll make a good fit. Gratis. And I recommend you get into the habit of writing notes to remind yourself of our appointments. I have a twenty-four-hour cancellation policy. You know Post-its? Get yourself some Post-its. I’ll have some agreements for you to sign, some contracts. Now write this down.”
Dr. Tuttle told me to come in the next day at nine A.M.
Her home office was in an apartment building on Thirteenth Street near Union Square. The waiting room was a dark, wood-paneled parlor full of fake Victorian furniture, cat toys, pots of potpourri, purple candles, wreaths of dead purple flowers, and stacks of old National Geographic magazines. The bathroom was crowded with fake plants and peacock feathers. On the sink, next to a huge bar of cracked lilac soap, was a wooden bowl of peanuts in an abalone shell. That baffled me. She hid all her personal toiletries in a large wicker basket in the cabinet under the sink. She used several antifungal powders, a prescription steroid cream, shampoo and soap and lotions that smelled like lavender and violet. Fennel toothpaste. Her mouthwash was prescription. When I tried it, it tasted like the ocean.