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Shakespeare didn’t do this
Paul A. Toth

My Siamese Twin

November 6th, 2009
by Paul A. Toth


This has been what I call the Year of Ice. Colder than a shaved polar bear. Sayonara 2009. It’s been a year of pills, pills and more pills, until finally I seem to have reached some kind of treaty with bipolar disorder, which barely warrants discussion given that virtually everyone is now diagnosed as bipolar. Still, it’s important to note that when I write “ice,” I mean anxiety, yet when I write “anxiety,” I do not describe all attributes of “ice.” Nevertheless, anxiety is my nemesis. I’ve got enough anxiety to give the jimmies the jimmies. I hate it. I will suffer any indignity to avoid extreme anxiety. I’ll take anything. If the pill bottle has an orange label, hand it over; it’s probably worth the swallowing.

Let us probe. The Year of Ice warrants a pharmaceutical prelude. Here’s a list of the drugs I’ve been prescribed at one time or another over the past twelve months or so:

  • Lamictal
  • Invega
  • Lithium
  • Celexa
  • Paxil
  • Celesta
  • Thorazine
  • Risperdal
  • Invega
  • Klonopin
  • Valium
  • Seroquel

Happily, as mentioned, I’ve recently found the best formula to date: Lithium + Seroquel + Celexa + Valium. Since bipolar involves trying to regulate high and low moods, finding the right combination of drugs is far more difficult than it would be for depression or other “unipolar” mental disorders. In the case of depression, it’s mainly a matter of finding the right SSRI or SSNI. But with bipolar, too much of an antidepressant causes mania or at least agitation, while too little obviously leads to depression. It’s something like living at the end of a bungee cord. It’s ironic in that I would never bungee jump, parachute, climb mountains, or, at my worst, leave the apartment.

I neither seek nor encourage sympathy. Bipolar is biological, neurological, chemical: In short, it’s got nothing to do with me. Or it does if one assumes I’ve a Siamese twin attached who’s a real pain in the ass…still it isn’t me, exactly. Yet, like a Siamese twin, it’s close enough.

Then, as if some god had gotten into one of those drunkenly-enraged states of mind, down a’tumbling came boulders from the mountains. Too many fell for me to play Sisyphus. What do I care if they stay where they are? As Tom Verlaine put it, “I won’t be breaking no rocks.” Thus, surrounding me in this apartment are giant stones. They’re all over the damn place. There’s one in front of the door. I can get out if I really need to leave, but how much easier it is to convince myself that a trip isn’t necessary.

Because those rocks have been inscribed with personal information regarding others, I won’t describe their exact nature. In the end, they’re just rocks; I’m no geologist. Nor am I a memoir writer. Self-disclosure by  others remains their choice. I won’t make it for them in an attempt to render this heartrending. I mean to rend no hearts. I don’t even care to mend them; I not a surgeon, either.

That’s that. No more detail is necessary regarding my conditions or my world. But what does remain important is the effect the drugs had, both when they worked and when they didn’t. For one, I completed a novel in a spastic fit of mania. It now remains to be revised, but the mania’s gone. Some of my juice is gone, too. That’s partly, if not even more so, related to the fate of my fourth novel, which I had considered to be the best novel I would probably ever write. Publication has eluded me, so far, and this put a foot in my ego’s ass. My failure to get that revision going is like a union strike against myself. “Fuck it,” I think. “What’s the point when the last one accumulated the most glowing ‘reviews’ possible from major publishers, followed by the last two sentences, nearly always the same: ‘But this isn’t for us. Good luck finding a publisher.’” Next time, how about starting with that line? The worst of the bunch compared me to John Kennedy Toole; I think the writer was suggesting that I kill myself. Sorry; I’m more likely to kill you, you son of a bitch.

Fortunately, I am still able to focus on nonfiction, poems and short stories. Rejections of those don’t replicate having one’s spleen ripped out. It’s not that I’m afraid of rejection. It’s not that I think I’m above rejection. It’s just that I have a fear of the publishers’ accountants calculating my novels’ chances for the current definition of success: “Ah, this contains one sympathetic character; however, it lacks two more sympathetic characters. That’s to say it doesn’t match my algebraic formula, in which X being a novel that’s already been published and sold well equals Y the next novel we’re going to publish, which resembles X to the utmost.”

So I’m left with the thought that writing, like most things, is driving me crazy. Well, I’m happy to contribute what I can before my brain no longer controls my fingers. Actually, perhaps that will be the moment when I write a postmodern masterpiece. The opening line will go something like this: “Schuhefms.” It’s a play on “shoes” and “radio” in German, and I didn’t even know it…but that’s not my job.

In the meantime, if you’d like to visit me, just go to the Target pharmacy in Sarasota. You’re likely to find me there, waiting for my prescriptions.

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Comment by JB
2009-11-06 10:20:04

Does the Sarasota Target have a Starbucks?

Anyway, this kicked my ass. I really dig that idea about bipolar being not about you, per se. I just came out of a depression I decided to not take personally. It helps.

Writing’s been driving me crazy lately too. I have to remember not to take it personally…


Comment by Matt
2009-11-06 10:31:56

Damn, Paul, I…..just….


I’m with Justin. Kicked my ass.

Comment by Richard Cox
2009-11-06 10:36:35

I know what it’s like to write the best novel you think you can write and have it get turned down. It especially sucks when it gets turned down more because of a previous book’s sales than its own merit.

Although in often happens that the next novel you write ends up being better. You learn something each time, I think, and improve. Whether or not it will sell…the jury’s still out on that one.

Comment by Zara Potts
2009-11-06 10:37:53

I can only repeat Matt and Justin here. I wish I could offer something more.
This is a brave piece and you are a brave man.

Comment by Paul A. Toth
2009-11-06 10:52:21

Thanks, all. I agree with your thoughts and share your experiences; every one of my novels has come with plenty of disappointments before finally being accepted…and even then the disappointments continued, at least in the case of my first two novels (a long story). That’s to say I don’t at all think I’m somehow special in going through the depressing submission process (that’s why they call it “submitting”).

If it’s any help to others, I’ve rested on the conclusion that all of the major publishers and many of the midlist publishers make economic rather than artistic choices. While this is to a degree understandable, there seems to be a failure in imagination when it comes to marketing. Each time I visit the new releases section at a bookstore, I notice that 90 percent of the literary novels are rehashes of the same old story. Thus, a rejection means nothing or may even be a front-handed compliment.

And thanks, Zara, though it may be more sadomasochism than bravery!

Comment by Paul A. Toth
2009-11-06 11:10:43

By the way, the currently-working combination of drugs proves that bipolar disorder isn’t me; otherwise, I wouldn’t feel like me again. Bipolar is nothing more than one aspect of my biochemical makeup. It could just as well be diabetes, as far as I’m concerned.

Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-06 13:34:38

I have to say, I love the line ‘enough anxiety to give the jimmies the jimmies.’

I also would have accepted ‘the heebie-jeebies’.

Manuscript rejection. It’s one bitch of a rock.

Comment by Paul A. Toth
2009-11-06 17:23:29

“That’s some rock, that rock of rejection.”

“It’s the best there is.”

Comment by Simon Smithson
2009-11-07 00:38:35

Wasn’t there a naked guy in a tree around here somewhere?

Comment by Megan
2009-11-07 02:26:41

This was my favorite TNB post of yours. It was frank and wry and no tricks. Glad to hear you’ve found the right combination that allows you to share your talent with the world.

Comment by Marni Grossman
2009-11-07 22:17:09

This was great. I never manage to do this well. To not seem like I’m trying to elicit pity or sympathy. You didn’t, of course, but I can’t help it. I sympathize. And while it may not be your thing, my friend Marya wrote a really fantastic book about bipolar: “Madness.” Worth the read, for sure.

Comment by Kristen Elde
2009-11-08 08:40:12

Yeah, I don’t know. Seems that if authenticity/truth is one’s goal in writing, and one’s truth/ideas are too outside the mainstream, publishing may just not be in the cards. At least in the here and now. In the future… who knows. Maybe the presently narrow mind of the publishing industry will expand? Hope so.

At any rate, nice bold piece. And Confederacy of Dunces is my favorite book of all time. Long live Ignatius.

Comment by Irene Zion
2009-11-09 10:43:04

I love reading everything you write, even your comments.
This is perfect: “that’s why they call it ’submitting.’”
(Brad has me so paranoid about perfect punctuation and grammar, that I want you to know I spent a very long time trying to figure out whether there is a space between the single and double quotes. It totally looks wrong this way, but I got people to vote and three little lines in a row won. Tell me if it’s right or wrong.

Comment by Irene Zion
2009-11-09 10:43:44

Oh. I forgot the end of parenthesis after all that. ) There.

Comment by Paul A. Toth
2009-11-09 14:30:53

I don’t see in my brief search that there should be a space between single and double quotation marks, but I’m willing to stand corrected. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it that way. Let me know if you find an authoritative source on this. Or Brad.

Comment by Mary
2009-11-11 11:44:24

I agree that there is no space required between single and double quotes, even if it looks awkward, because there’s no way not to make it look awkward.

I also agree that your bi-polar disorder is not you, and it’s all about finding your way to manage your life. I’ve come to think that given enough time and resources, we could come up with a disorder or a name that describes and categorizes every human struggle under the sun. It’s all just part of being human.

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