A mind is made of soft stuff. It is made of rose and red and is always palpable and pliable, never harsh or heavy-weighted. A mind is a beautiful thing.
My mind is made of soft stuff sparkling with fluidity and synapses. Sometimes these synapses do not meet and sometimes I find an imbalance, a lack of serotonin and dopamine, chemical conundrum floating in the midst of soft stuff. Sometimes there is no fluidity. Sometimes this is all the time.
My mind is still palpable and pliable. My mother likes to say it is too palpable and pliable as I am as impulsive as the tick of a clock. It is too fluid as I twist and contort myself into a body of rage and lose control of my being and words pour out of me like water over the side of a gorge and I find knives in my hands and the thought of “what’s the worse I can do?” And then I do it. And the synapses don’t meet to hold me together, to hold me accountable.
When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I was so in the highs of mania that I couldn’t comprehend that soft stuff wasn’t so soft. I couldn’t tell that, sitting in a psych ward, something was wrong with me. Mania is synonymous with delusions, and in the whirlwind of diagnosis, I couldn’t even believe that I still had anxiety and depression – I denied it, publicly, to my friends, family, doctors, nurses; the people trying to convince me otherwise. This is mania. This is when I got slapped in the face with a prescription label stuck to the side of a small orange bottle. Going on sixteen years, I found myself getting high less and kissing boys less. The impulsivity and delusions ceased, and in return I began seeing my world through the translucent green plastic of my pillbox, housing my friends.
A friend makes you feel good. They pick you up when you’re down. They comfort you in times of need. This is what medication does. It consoles you. It calms you. It makes everything okay. It makes the soft stuff soft again.
These are my friends. Their names were Abilify and Lamictal.
Soft stuff solidifies and melts away again with every adversary thrown at it. A mind is a strong thing. It kept me from crying the night I woke up latched to a hospital bed by a clear IV leading into the violet veins of my left hand. I lay, tangled in the sterile sheets, staring at the ceiling above me, searching me for some vague sense of emotion. I couldn’t find it.
I told the nurse to put the IV in my hand when she gave me syrup for my anxiety because the thought of the inside of my elbow made me pass out. She wanted me to be as comfortable as possible as I slipped the bitter syrup down my throat and floated into numbness. Soft stuff softens. It disintegrates and builds itself together as I wake up on the fifth floor of the hospital with a sickle cell patient in the next bed over.
When the syrup wore off and I was removed from my daze, I was not comfortable. Red rash, raised, oozing painfully, coated my skin. It filled the inside of my mouth so I could not eat and I gargled out my words, it reached the bottoms of my feet so I could not walk, it outlined the tan lines branding my back from the summer. Abilify and Lamictal were no longer my friends. One of them – which one, I wasn’t sure – kept the soft stuff soft but made the rest of me dry, coughing, producing the rash, aching away.
Oxygen clattered in my thighs thinning from being bedridden. My mother cleaned the pillbox in the dishwasher, my former friends were abandoned in a pharmacy recycling bin and flushed down a toilet, and were replaced by a friend that told me they were my friend named Prednisone.
Prednisone did not keep the soft stuff. It froze it, burnt it to a crisp, dried out the fluidity and the serotonin and dopamine and I swore I could feel my synapses clattering in the depths of my mind. They grew rust until they grinded to a halt. Prednisone was that bitch that pretended to be your friend. I was released from the hospital the day before my sixteenth birthday. I felt my mind eating itself whole. I felt myself shutting down.
A mind is a beautiful thing until the mind is no longer. The mind is no longer when a life is lost. And I had lost mine.
Soft stuff sparkles when it’s pretty and romanticized but not when years quickly shaved themselves off my lifespan with every prednisone pill I swallowed. I swallowed doses for horses and grown men, yet fifteen pounds smaller and wasting away I found prednisone’s side effects closing in on me to create a clinical clique – decreased appetite, increased anxiety. Silence. Not peaceful calamity but a violent muteness. Silence that hurt.
My words that I wielded ceased to exist. I found myself eating lunch with the boy I loved, unable to eat and unable to tell him that I loved him. Unable to tell him that what he had fallen in love with had ceased to exist. That my soft stuff ceased to exist. That I was ceasing to exist along with it. I would crumble into a black hole; light never escaped me in the first place, but my liver and thyroid and stomach were collapsing inward on themselves with every meal I vomited, every pill I shakily took from the green plastic pillbox and slipped down my throat with salty tears brimming in my eyes. The days I crumbled I didn’t leave my deathbed. My mother let this crumbling, this defying of the laws of physics into denseness, happen on the second floor of her home. I wrote suicide notes to myself to show emotion; to soften the soft stuff and tell him that I still loved him and my mother that I still cared.
Children are taught how to speak. I taught myself how to speak. My mind was not palpable anymore; my impulsiveness lay hidden in my past. Fluid formed in my eyes with every long vowel I engulfed my lips around and every consonant that rang from the chokeholds of my vocal chords. Mumbling and kicking myself in the shins, I began with single words. A stuttered “yes” or “no” was enough to raise his meter of faith in me again, only to fall when he told me he was falling out of love. He didn’t know what had happened to me; I couldn’t tell him, in every sense of the phrase. I couldn’t tell him that I was once a palpable, pliable being with synapses and uneven amounts of fluidity within my soft stuff. That the gears had stopped churning and shut down with a shudder. I was locked like a prisoner, muted like a television, dying like a star closing in on itself.
My soft stuff never softened again. It rattles in the hollow chamber of my skull.
Audrey Lee is an 18-year-old senior at The Episcopal Academy in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, and will be attending Franklin and Marshall College this coming fall. She is a 30-time regional winner of the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and the winner of the 2016 DeSales University poetry contest. She has attended the University of Virginia Young Writers Workshop and the Ithaca Writers Institute, and edits her school literary magazine, The Epolitan. Her work has been featured in or is forthcoming from The Claremont Review, Rookie, YARN: The Young Adult Review Network, Canvas Literary Journal, Moledro Magazine, and Blue Marble Review.