I sit across from my psychiatrist in his office, staring at the painting of the Indian garden. It hangs behind him, above his head. Long ago I asked if he placed it there for patients to look at and he said yes. I often wonder if it is special to him, or of importance in South India. But I don't question him further.
We have been talking like old friends but only about me: about my career; new art; my recent trip to Sydney and Melbourne to begin re-connecting with the world (my world) again. I am not here because anything is wrong. I am checking that my approach is sound and sustainable. Telling him about my plans. Asking for his opinion. We talk about my personal life and being open to connecting with others. About letting it happen instead of always blocking. I tell him I am quietly confident and a little scared. He says some anxiety is natural, he would be concerned by its absence. But he expects my confidence and happiness to grow.
My attention returns to the garden. The painting has been a sanctuary for my mind over the last five years. It feels real to me. As if I have walked underneath the delicate golden arches, inhaled the scent of roses and jasmine, studied unfamiliar orchids. This is where I have been all that time I was away – in this exquisitely beautiful garden where it is always early summer. It is the place where my psychiatrist and I delved into and then reconstructed my damaged psyche. We walked through it together, confronting my troubled past. I sobbed into the grass as my broken heart healed. While I was lost in the painting, my mind was tended diligently by psychiatric nurses and staff at the private psychiatric hospital. Now, I know how to care for it myself.
I try to explain to my psychiatrist what the world is like to me now. Without the constant, exhausting struggle of inner turmoil and intense suicidal longing that came in my mid teens and stayed until a year or two ago. Everything is better than I thought. I keep staring at the painting and it occurs to me that the way I feel when I am in the world now is the same way I used to feel when I was inside the painting. Like I belong. Like everything is going to be ok.
He tells me we don't need to have these appointments anymore. If I ever want to rest for a couple of days I can return to the hospital. He doesn't expect it to happen, but it's always there for me. He does not have to say that he is there for me if I need him. I know.
I look at my psychiatrist's face and into his dark brown eyes. I realise he must have worked to a vision, with an understanding of how it would all come together: making a space for me to heal; re-planting the garden of my mind without destroying its wilderness, showing me how to tend it, how to both live inside my mind and in the world again. I think I finally get the companionable bond between us that is unrelated to our roles of doctor and patient. What we have done together – under his guidance – is similar to creating a major artwork. The process was a complex combination of experience, intuition, experiment, re-arranging, crafting and constantly refining. Except the result is not a garden or an artwork or an objet de art. It is me. Put back together again so I can live happily – and enjoy using the instrument I care about most: my mind.
Thank you, Dr. Chinna Samy. And thank you to all the staff (past and present) at Pine Rivers Private Hospital.