I have a confession to make: I suffer from hypergraphia, a disorder otherwise known as the Midnight Disease. No, it is not life-threatening. Nor does it challenge me in carrying on my everday life. But it is a very real brain abnormality. And – really – it explains a lot about me.
Hypergraphia: The driving compulsion to write; the overwhelming urge to write. Those affected by it may
- faithfully keep a journal of everyday activities
- write in the margins of books they are reading
- feel the need to record conversations they overhear
- scribble notes on their arms
- be driven to write on a napkin or toilet paper if nothing else is available
Does any of this sound painfully familiar? You might be suffering from the same thing. But do not fear! You are in the company of some of the greatest literary minds in history, including: Edgar Allen Poe, Joyce Carol Oates, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Stephen King.
Alice Flaherty is a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital who “writ[es] on medical and other matters with the intention of demystifying mysteries of the medical realm and making understandable the bio-medical view of life”. After publishing the book “The Midnight Disease”, she was interviewed by several different writers regarding her theories on hypergraphia.
For Flaherty, “writing, and not being able to write when you want to, come from interactions between and changes in specific areas of the brain. The muse, in other words, is merely a matter of making the right brain connections.”
“‘It’s likely that writing and other creative work involve a push-pull interaction between the frontal and temporal lobes,’ Flaherty speculates. If the temporal lobe activity holds sway, a writer may turn out 600 (possibly incoherent) pages. If the temporal lobes are restrained by frontal lobe changes, the result might be pinched and timid.”
Sometimes, in the middle of a crisis, I find that my urge to write becomes very strong. Getting whatever I’m feeling down on paper offers a sort of relief. This is also representative of hypergraphia: “Pain, suffering, and frustration also stimulate floods of words and images. ‘People may pour out their feelings as a cry for help,’ Flaherty notes. ‘Many of my patients start writing as a response to their illnesses.'”
But most times,
“Hypergraphia stems from an internal drive, from a love of the work, not from external influences like money, fame, or spirituality …. I feel joy when I’m writing well. I have my bad days … But in the end, the joy of finding even one good verb makes it all worthwhile.” – Alice Flaherty