He had stuff I loved. From the minute I pulled into the driveway and saw the shapely Zen garden pot the size of a full-bodied hydrangea bush, I thought the psychiatrist who chose that elegant garden pottery is the psychiatrist for me.
It just kept getting better and better once I crossed through the two-car garage and entered his ground floor home office: a salon of beautiful books on art, philosophy, history, and the mind, with vintage Hasselblad cameras artfully interspersed; an historic rifle from some famous battle with native Americans mounted like a museum piece on the wall; a few Remington forged sculptures of wild horses rearing up on hind legs, placed on side tables and pedestals. We sat across from each other in leather Stickley chairs of simple lines, more comfortable than you’d think.
“Tea?” he would say? I could hear his housekeeper banging around upstairs in the main house.
“Hmmm,” I’d consider. “What have you got?”
I’d always ask, nosing around for new details. He’d run down the list. I’d always reply just water. Then he’d traipse up the stairs for his tea and my water while I reveled in my delightful mental health delivery system, taking the opportunity to absorb the context of this curious, rather elf-like man as I roamed my eyes around, examining the titles more closely, making special note of that day’s collection of fancy cowboy boots lined up by the door, another artful arrangement.
On one occasion the UPS man knocked while he was upstairs. Not knowing the protocol — act like the patient that I was or the guest I seemed to be — I decide to go with what feels normal when someone knocks. I answered the door in time to see the UPS guy climbing back into the truck, a fresh stack of boxes left by the door. So that was how the stuff got here.
He was so good, my psychiatrist. I’d show up every few years when life got a little too messy to rigidly maintain the equilibrium I fought to hang onto, and we’d chat for several months until I got the sense that things were righted.
During these restorations of order he’d let me talk and talk, nodding his head as I summarized the imbalance, diagnosed the situation and outlined my plan. Once in a while he would manage to slip something in…a reference to a thinker of one discipline or another, and we’d dive into a philosophical sort of discussion, a kind of cocktail party approach to therapy. One comment of his in particular stayed with me.
“When people are in crisis, they tend to go one of three ways: therapy, drugs or God.”
In time, I would cover all three: always therapy, often a prescribed pharmaceutical, eventually god with a small “g.”
The last time we met, he made a final observation as I headed out.
“You always show up as if you’ve dropped by for a little light housekeeping,” he said, watching to see how this set with me.
It was true. There was something detached about my handling of the mess. I was more caretaker than owner of this poorly designed structure I’d been assigned to watch over. Further, this disorder couldn’t reflect back on me since I had it all in hand. Just look how in control I was, getting out ahead with my broom and furniture polish.
After our last visit about 15 years ago, new insurance took me away from out-of-network art & tea therapy and back into the mainstream. No more were the drives to my delightful psychiatric salon. And then just a few years back, I heard my wonderful, entirely human doctor had found himself in his own mess. He’d gotten involved with a patient and that was it for him. So he cleaned out the cameras and cowboy boots and moved away to set up housekeeping somewhere else.
To be continued in part II next Friday.
1992 – 2003
The stories in this blog are excerpts from my memoir, The Organization Project. While they are true to me and reflect how I see, I acknowledge there are multiple truths, including my own which change over time, even as the events themselves remain the same, whatever they were. What I make of an event 5 years out may not be what I make of it 10 years out or 50 years out.