Ah, Poe’s “Midnight Disease”. Love the concept. Ever seen the sunrise, fingers dead, sand-eyed and late for work … yet feeling like you got laid and stress is just a dream? All those words and ideas aren’t blocking traffic in your head now. You couldn’t help it, it had to be now, but there they are, on the page. Again. At least the first draft. Of course it was worth it. Whatever financial, emotional, social weirdness you must endure, even for just a first draft of … well … there’s nothing abnormal about shirking everything normal. You’re driven, tough, smart, and in control. Pretty cool, right?
When I had the luxury, I’d feed the Midnight Disease. Success was a fix. Got addicted to “saving” myself from it. Over the years I’ve been taught to summon the disease and tap the selfish, manic, work ethic. With … varying degrees of success. Still, with the fix fulfilled, success just creates craving, and worse, the failures keep fire the urge to drop life and burn that candle at both ends, and the middle. To keep forcing myself after those ‘high white notes’ at any cost. Yes, you’re likely one too. The young, tireless, artists, so driven they’ll sacrifice everything to give back to the world. Give back the gift of art, help someone else get through one more day. So noble. Um, yeah … not always.
It was embarrassing to learn that this romantic “Midnight Disease” could be a pathology called “hypergraphia”. I don’t have it. I’m just unrealistic and stubborn. But now exposed to the concept of hypergraphia, thing’s ain’t so clear no more. The sacrifices… the control …
As of now, hypergraphia isn’t currently considered a full mental disorder, since it’s mainly associated with physical errors in the brain. But it’s also often associated with the manic and depressive states of bipolar disorder. Regardless, here’s the physical aspects of hypergraphia:
“Several different regions of the brain govern the act of writing. The physical motion of the hand is controlled by the cerebral cortex which comprises part of the outer layer of the brain. The drive to write, on the other hand, is controlled by the limbic system, a ring-shaped cluster of cells deeply buried in the cortex which governs emotion, affiliated instincts and inspiration and is said to regulate the human being’s need for communication. Words and ideas are cognized and understood by the temporal lobes behind the ears, and these temporal lobes are connected to the limbic system. Ideas are organized and edited in the frontal lobe of the brain. Although temporal lobe lesions cause temporal lobe epilepsy, it is also known to run in families. Hypergraphia is understood to be triggered by changes in brainwave activity in the temporal lobe. Hypergraphia has been observed in 8% of patients with temporal lobe epilepsy.
It is also associated with bipolar disorder. Manic and depressive episodes have been reported to intensify hypergraphia symptoms. Additionally schizophrenics and people with frontotemporal dementia can also experience a compulsive drive to write.”
Midnight Disease … There are many famous cases of talented, accomoplished, hypergraphiac writers. Lewis Carroll, Joyce Carol Oates, Isaac Asimov, Dostoevsky, King, Plath, and yes, Poe… but what of those clearly in pain, like Henry Darger? Or Alan Hovhaness who:
“…carried paper and pen wherever he went and is known to have composed almost everyday, in shopping malls, restaurants, even on buses… claimed to have thrown over 1,000 of his early compositions into the fireplace in the 1940s whilst still a young man, and even at the time of his death, in 2000, had penned around 500 more, most of which are published.”
Well that sucks but still … inspiration, muses, mania, bravely forsaking the “normal” world for our artistic passions, rolling the dice to write something that could comfort, entertain, or even save strangers! It’s a good thing! Not a disorder. Some times it’s even sexy and dangerous … in a real dorky way, yeah, but still. And all that insomnia, the torture of holding down a 9-5, odd social life, and yes, the weird drive for dangerously sexy relationships… it’s all for the art! It’s all still a choice, right? It means there’s something right going on, not wrong. Right?
As of this writing, antidepressants are recommended for extreme cases of hypergraphia. I do feel like an asshole for enjoying the eccentrically painful aspects of writing, but didn’t realize that some people never bought the ticket for this ride. No choice, no reward of any kind. But still, are those famous writers who refined and controlled their hypergraphia, lucky, cursed, or both? Did they ever make a choice? It’d be nice to write something as enduring as Oates or Asimov, or anything of true worth. It’s not all fun and games, but I never considered the addiction to write as something needing treatment. Yeah, it can be a fun life if you have the right luck, or are stupid enough to make the right mistakes … with the right luck. But personally, my goal, truly, is to offer the same gift countless writers have given us. Help someone get through one more fucking day, whatever way it works.
I’ve never been able to live with the idea of not pursuing that goal. I’ve tried other paths. It was actually impossible. So I’m back here, and yeah, right now it really is past midnight, and I feel … confused by all this, but good. I need to believe I’m doing this because of free will, and just because hypergraphia exists doesn’t mean every stubborn weird writer has it, but it’s wormed its’ way into my head.
So writers, artists of all kinds, when we put our work above all else, sometimes at great risk: Are we being brave, trying to help ourselves, others, anyone? Or are we self-medicating psychopaths, rationalizing for everything the vague promise of another fix, a book deal, and a legacy to leave behind? Both?
Well, I still like the phrase.
But now I pay attention to the second half, and things seem a little less sexy, a little more dangerous. Getting older, the “normal real life” stakes are getting higher. And … ah, crap. Just realized it’s dawn again. Sill, it all remains … sexy, crazy, dangerous, and possibly noble. And I chose to stay up and write this. Yeah. Cool.
The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer’s Block, and the Creative Brain
“Hypergraphia is abnormal, but it’s not necessarily bad. For us it is mostly pleasurable. You only suffer when you think you’re writing badly.” – Alice Flaherty