The Cool-Aid Brigade By Bernadette Newton, nuvelă

photo credit Teodora Cosma

Photo credit Teodora Cosman

An overcharged lithium battery, I pried the blister packs open, popping each long white pill from its coffin into a candy jar.  Wild,  caged eyes battled with the disembodied voices within my broken brain. 

Stripping away at the kernel, my steely structure decayed like ingots in a blast furnace.  First the paranoia kicked in,  jousting with an elusive malevolent force, a hunger for hypervigilance, I hammered nails and blankets over window coverings.   My house became a den of cigarette smoke, coated in a layer of tar, much like my fingernails –  I could not eat nor sleep.  I had survived eight months with the unlawful occupation of my head by an army of persecutors; watching my pupils dilate and the pressure fluctuate within my ear canals was proof of existence,  even if they allowed me to function during working hours.  

Work demanded blood – a torrent dripped from my eyes,  my concentration was punctured by frequent cigarette breaks and an incessant buzz, that sawed from dawn whilst ensconced in a hypnagogic state till an induced haze elicited exhaustion.  I was flying ever closer to the sun,  ready to burn on re-entry with critical orbital decay. 

„Are you home?,” I sat composed on a pier by the harbour watching the ripples jostle outward from the moored vessels at dusk, fuschia and golden tips licked at the clouds against the stark cliff face that sheered upward.  „Yes I am,” I was eager for news of my negotiated return to work.  „I spoke with your boss,  and you have been made redundant.” My father tried to assuage me, his equivalent of practising Chi on my scraped knees as a kid.  A primordial wail escaped,  „he thought it best the news came from me.” 

Compounded by the breakup of a co-dependent relationship with Narcissus,  the loss of my job,  my independence, my identity,  frequent visits to the psychiatric ward and staring down the barrel of a lifetime subscription to antipsychotics,  it was a game of russian roulette. 

„The doctor will see you now,” the waiting room was an amalgamation of misfit furniture, and uncurated artworks, I would come to know them well.  I was led through the halls to the room that would decide divine providence .   Before they could interject I mustered with assertiveness… „I will travel to Nepal, I have arranged the itinerary,  I have all but booked the flights,'” they retorted, „If you try to leave the country,  we will notify authorities,  and stop you at customs.” Thwarted by the mental health act, a wind-up tin soldier with gears grinded to a halt.

Taming frizzy strands of hair with the hard water that lined hundred year old pipes, I received olanzapine wafers in communion with the Gods. An ill-timed goodbye on a whiteboard with marker, gagging, my stomach seized as I swallowed fistful after fistful of lithium pills.

Cirrus clouds floated unfettered through my peripheral vision as I clumsily swiped through my playlist perusing a song worthy of an Elegy.   Were it not for a perished piece of elastic on a pair of underwear, I might not have survived.  

„Will I survive the night,” I mouthed to my mother, between soiled sheets and the pungent bial that seared the back of my throat as it was expelled into a sterile bowl, a purification ritual necessary for my survival.  No one tells you that there is a chance of survival, that 

the road to recovery will be as long as that yellow brick road to the Emerald city.  The tin soldier donated his ticker where mine had failed, the metronome beat weakly.

A forceful grip on the pressure point between my thumb and index finger, jolted me back to corporeality. 

 ‘What is your name,’… ‘I don’t know’…. ‘What is the year?’…’I…took…pills.’  The cannula was flushed, searing through the veins adorning my wrist, I was naked and cords protruded from my chest and body like tentacles.  Machines bleeped, the blood pressure monitor flashed red, critically low.  The chemical smell of lithium leeching from my system filled the small room. 

‘The psychiatric registrar will see you soon,’ the ICU nurse chirped. The short bespectacled man with chaos for curly hair, asked the same questions intermittently; caught between the living and the netherworld like a sloth grappling with a branch in a torrent of water, I was unable to answer.  

My self-flagellation saw lithium levels peak at ten times the therapeutic level. Time passed with debilitating demise; the termite nest which had become my haven was a hive of activity.  

Chasing the morning sun through the internal venetian blinds, fractals of light were dispersed onto my blankets embroidered with hospital insignia, communication was limited to pleading eyes.  My brain was at toxic landscape, the dirt needed burning.   My body was racked by uncontrollable shaking, trembling.  An amalgam of soil, saliva and excreta, the termites built their monoliths to public health in the adjoining properties that surrounded my room. 

Ripping the tentacles from my chest,  I staggered to the window, unaware I was tethered to a catheter.  „What are you doing out of your bed? Get back in your bed!” the young male nurse hissed at me, I proceeded unassisted,  back into my berth drifting into unconsciousness. 

I tumbled down a crevasse, one misstep is all it took, scrambling to fight the army of green berets amassed in my brain, they were trained in the arts of guerilla war, tinkering with my ganglia, hastening my resolve. 

It was as if I had been taken out by a roller derby team,  with nothing more than a pillow stuffed down my pants for protection.  Salt stained my lips as ducts drained, bloating my cheeks, at the sheer nihilism of the situation.  

A team of termites stood guard playing wardens of the nest, whilst the drugs were weaned from my central nervous system. „You are lucky you are not on kidney dialysis for the rest of your life.”  Like assholes, everybody has an opinion.  Strength and balance returned in increments and my tether was removed. My first meal in over a week was apricot chicken, congealed bland hospital mush, with minimal meat.

Watching ‘tinker tailor soldier spy’, I wondered when the cool-aid brigade would setup shop once more,  I had indented bleeding palms, modern day stigmata, solely focused on their return. I was sure the army had taken up sniper positions, delivered sleeper agents, sleeper cells, waiting for a call to arms by an unknown protagonist.  I wanted to melt those tin soldiers into bullets and take out Jim Jones, but Jim Jones was psychosis,  and my only weapon was a barrage of medicine that quelled my ability to perform basic functions.  I had taken the cool-aid to rid myself of the pulpit dwelling soothsayer that had taken up residence at the altar. 

In a haze of cigarette smoke, a fellow resident suggested getting high off dill-herb, we sat on a bench, outside the hospital reverentially rolling these dill cigarettes,  an unlikely bunch of misfits.  I was already munted from the antipsychotics, only able to sleep,  eat or observe.  My words were internal like the clock that served to doll out twice daily medication and cigarette leave.  Peeling paint, condensation catching dust on the walls, „have you brushed your teeth?” angular light hitting steel beams, patina adorning the copper light fixtures – that was my existence for two months in the psychiatric ward.

„You need to talk to us,  you need to socialise”, I shuffled down the labyrinthine tunnel of white washed walls, past the burned down recreation room to the relocated pool table; trying to act normal was a setting on the washing machine in these here parts.  Third party audits with the psychiatrist, my father as interpreter were a bitter bi-weekly occurrence, spitting acid sussurations at the doctor for not releasing me from my confinement; I was a liability in their eyes.  I read Sylvia Plath’s „The Bell Jar” in full view of the nurses station, whilst maintaining a nonchalance for my recent suicide attempt, demanding the full version of the Mental Health Act legislation. Eventually I was released from the mental health hold, notwithstanding to family and required attendance to the early intervention service.  

Like a spy,  I live with the tin soldiers, their sleeper cells waiting for further instructions; I have grown dull to their tactics – drinking from the chalice would allow Jim Jones and the cool-aid brigade to claim victory over my rotting carcass.  I gain erudition through burning my own dirt, completing remediation works.  My nephew was born whilst I was in the psychiatric ward.  Those tin soldiers grow rickety and rusty in the confines of my neurotransmitters,  their cogs will eventually grow weary and experience critical failure; their melting point subject to my laser-like tenacity. 

Dorothy Parker had it right though, ‘you might as well live,’ suicide attempts are a bitch.