In yesterday’s blog post I discussed writing, the creative spark, as well as hypergraphia. In case you are unfamiliar with the term hypergraphia the Wikipedia definition is:
“A behavioral condition characterized by the intense desire to write. Forms of hypergraphia can vary in writing style and content. Some write in a coherent, logical manner, others write in a more jumbled style. Studies have suggested that hypergraphia is related to bipolar disorder, hypomania, and schizophrenia.”
The following excerpt describes my experience with postpartum hypergraphia in the preface of my book Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder :
“Just a few days after my daughter’s birth, I was writing non-stop. The ideas were flowing from my brain so rapidly I couldn’t believe it. As a professional freelance writer, I had struggled for years with the common malady of writer’s block. When I had postpartum mania-induced hypergraphia, I underwent the complete opposite of writer’s block. I was a virtual writing waterfall with the power of Niagra Falls! I knew something truly bizarre, terrifying and even a bit magical was happening in my brain, but my racing thoughts prevented me from being grounded enough to do much of anything, including doing enough breastfeeding or realizing that I had bipolar one disorder. Somehow I was able to surf online about nonstop writing, and I discovered that hypergraphia was associated with many people diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Yet it still didn’t dawn on me that I had bipolar disorder, although I possessed five obvious clues: little sleep, racing thoughts, grandiose thinking, strong hereditary factors and agitation. I wrote so much that my wrist cramped up in severe pain every few minutes. I wrote so much that my sweet baby’s birth weight was too low, as I wasn’t breastfeeding her enough. I couldn’t stop writing, even while I was breastfeeding her on her velvety green Boppy pillow. I kept typing frantically despite the fact that my husband told me emphatically that he was concerned that I was writing too much and that I needed to pay more attention to our newborn and toddler.”
Hypergraphia is serious, and it’s a real condition. It’s not just a “neurosis” as writer Valerie Lopes refers to it in her Open Salon article “Do I have Hypergraphia or am I just Prolific?”. (The link is posted at the end of this piece.) The psychiatric literature defines a neurosis as a “relatively mild personality disorder”. Let me tell you from my firsthand experience that there was nothing “mild” about my full-blown hypergraphia. Lopes’ article disappointed me with its ignorance and righteous, patronizing “Look at me – I’m such a prolific writer!” tone. I wanted to comment and inform her that while I understood that too many mental conditions are slapped with a scary-sounding psychiatric label these days (which she implies in her essay) hypergraphia is not normal and, in my opinion, it’s definitely not healthy. I noticed that there were no comments made in response to her article – quelle surprise! Whenever I don’t spot even a single comment about an article on a site with huge readership, that tells me the writing is somehow lacking. However, when I tried to post a comment, the website informed me it was temporarily closed for registration. Bummer!
No matter. For those who wish to read an informed, brilliant analysis of this subject, look no further than Dr. Alice W. Flaherty’s The Midnight Disease – The Drive to Write, Writer’s Block, and the Creative Brain. It’s endorsed on the cover by none other than Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison, author of the bestselling classic An Unquiet Mind who writes, “An original, fascinating, and beautifully written reckoning…of that great human passion: to write.” Flaherty’s book is not just about hypergraphia by any means. It’s a must-read for any writer. The Midnight Disease received rave reviews as well and is the only book of its kind written by a neurologist to boot! The fact that Lopes didn’t even refer to this groundbreaking book once in her article indicates to me that being a “prolific” writer doesn’t mean you are actually a good one.
There have been famous artists who apparently had hypergraphia such as Vincent van Gogh, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Robert Burns and Lewis Carroll. Dr. Alice W. Flaherty experienced postpartum hypergraphia like I did. (I am disappointed that with my Google Advanced search I only located lists of famous men with hypergraphia. I’m sure there are famous women who should be on these lists as well, starting with Dr. Flaherty.) Not only did all these people write enormous amounts of material, but the physical style of their writing would sometimes be indecipherable, which is another hallmark of the condition. I typed and also handwrote in journals when I had hypergraphia. When I review my journals today I can’t make out most of the scrawls. That makes me sad, because I wish I knew what the hell I was writing about!
Apart from that, it all comes down to what my favorite high school English teacher, Mrs. Redlcay, asked her students to answer when they wrote any essay or poem.
Why write about the subject of hypergraphia? So what?
For me it’s a deeply personal topic. I’ve been in the trenches with hypergraphia, and it has haunted me ever since. The feelings it stirred up were connected with mania through and through. I felt so good about what I wrote, (too good!) even though much of it was dribble. While writing I felt a sense of purpose that I’ll never encounter again unless I am manic.
But believe me, I’ve come to terms with all that as I never want to be manic again. I want to write at a “happy medium” level. I know that it’s possible now for me to write in moderation, and I’ll do all that I can to make my writing dreams a reality.
Thanks, as always, for reading!
“Do I have Hypergraphia or am I just Prolific” by Valerie Lopes