Addicts, Sadists, or Saints? A Hypochondriac Freaks Over Hypergraphia by Victor Giannini

Posted: April 9, 2012 in Uncategorized

Pic by Victor Giannini

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?

Midnight Disease.

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.

Right?

 

Inspired By:

The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer’s Block, and the Creative Brain

by  Alice Weaver Flaherty

 

“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

Pic by Victor Giannini

Pic by Victor Giannini

Victor Giannini once saw a unicorn cry.

He claims no involvement in that.
Sometimes he writes, draws, and teaches.
Victor lives at www.doomage.com
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Comments
  1. Mary Ellen Walsh says:

    I have it. Kept a diary for more than 25 years. Read Alice Flaherty and was shocked to find what I thought was the “muse” was just a neurotic hiccup in my brain. I still write, anyway. Call it what you want…. Great post!

  2. Dr. Victor Von Doom says:

    Thank you. I tend toward the romantic/fantastic and will continue to call it a muse. I don’t think I have it, but I have fits and bouts where I will foresake EVERYTHING to get the writing out of my head. Keeping a diary never worked for me though, since it’s not a persistent thing. Did you write every single day?

    • Mary Ellen Walsh says:

      If not every single day (for 25 years) then at least twice a week. I’d go in fits and starts–from the mundane daily life stuff to scene sketches, character analysis. I also kept a diary for each one of my three children since the day they were born. I’d log in every few days when they were a few months old — then once a month until they were around 4 years old. Now, I only add the milestones. You can imagine how precious those moments were. On their birthdays, they read ’em and laugh.

  3. Matthew says:

    The hardest part of writing my thesis project has been recognizing and accepting the obvious psychological issues which sometimes drive the process and sometimes muddy it. The best part of writing my thesis has been recognizing and accepting these psychological issues are shared among others. I suspect there is a relationship between de-mystifying one’s process and a correspondent de-mystification in one’s product.

    • Dr. Victor Von Doom says:

      The main benefit I see in de-mystifying a process is then analyzing it’s source, and using that to replicate it. So I’m able to simulate the kind of enviornment (physically, emotionally, and psychologically), to tap into that kind of free flowing insane energy. I still need the discipline of sitting down and honing, editing, revising, and then rewriting x 1000, but it’s worked for me so far. As far as de-mystification in the product … valid point, I really have nothing to say that’s absolute, except that for my own experience, it hasn’t suffered, it’s actually benefited me greatly. Mostly in terms of hitting deadlines, motivation to crank out more work to be constantly rejected, etc. but the content hasn’t changed. Oi, Dreams!

    • DOC says:

      Which is why writers like us need a community. There are certain maladies that seem unique to those who labor in the solitude of their heads. Certainly the self doubt monster, and the damned writer’s block. The hardest is trying to create, in words, a spiritual destination while simultaneously living in a discordant version of reality that does everything in its power to stifle us. To know that we’re not alone, or crazy, helps.

  4. victor says:

    I’ve just returned from 2.5 weeks of practicing what I preach to a level I never imagined. Ignore everything I said. It kills your body and shreds your mind. Is it worth it? So far, yes. But … ouch. My eyes bled and my fingers curled into little frightened pigs. There are witnesses.

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