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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’m 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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PAUL A. TOTH's Airplane Novel, already a Midwest Book Review Reviewer's Choice and the 9/11 novel, is available now. His other novels include Finale, Fishnet and Fizz. Click here to visit his sites.

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