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The need to write:
It was interesting to discover that the compulsion to write can also be excessive and a disease. It left me wondering if perhaps in my life there have been symptoms which I never took to mind. I’m not really even sure if I have this compulsion even partly, but write I must. Early on in my life, I already started to write and I just couldn’t seem to get enough. I don’t think there are too many children writing poetry at the age of eight, but I certainly was. My dad being a well-known Latvian poet and writer certainly encouraged me. You could say writing ran in the family. I began writing diaries around the age of ten and haven’t stopped yet. I have tried to take a day off from writing and only wind up back at the computer and putting down notes in my journal.
Writer Block’s Counterpart
With all due respect to fine poets and writers who sometimes experience the frustration of writer’s block, those with hypergraphia do not have this problem. Instead, they are faced with the problem that perhaps there is too little space in which to write down all that they need to get out. I also have, at times, wondered if perhaps the reason I am quite certain I have at least a bit of this compulsion is that it could have come from my dad. You know that as a Latvian poet and writer, Eriks Raisters just had to keep on writing. I mean, there he was in Germany during wartime, probably never returning to his homeland and yet, he must get a job as a journalist. In other words, despite everything happening around him, he must write. He also had a book of poems published in Germany. So I do believe I am my father’s daughter because I too must write in good and in bad times.
An American Neurologist and Author
Alice Flaherty had always had the talent to put everything into writing and while she was a resident at a hospital, she wrote up enough notes to turn them into a neurology textbook. Her family feared the worst for her and that she would sink into depression when she lost her prematurely delivered twin sons in 1988. Instead what happened was that her writing went into serious overdrive. It seemed to her that suddenly everything was of importance and possibly even muses were constantly filling her mind with different thoughts. It went so far that Flaherty would wake up in the middle of the night scribbling thoughts on Post-its and while driving to work she began jotting notes on her arm. It was just getting out of all proportion and finally, since she is a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in the US, she did a diagnosis of herself. The result was hypergraphia, which is the overwhelming compulsion to write. In a way, this rather fascinates me and scares me a bit too. I wonder what she would say if she could see all of the notes I have scribbled all around my laptop and my ever-filling journal plus two smaller notebooks.
This hard to pronounce disease is often associated with temporal lobe epilepsy. This type of epilepsy is associated with repetitive and automatic movements. It was first identified by the Godfather of Modern Psychiatry, Elim Kraepelin, about 100 years ago. Two well-known people who suffered from this were author Fyodor Dostoyevsky and artist Vincent Van Gogh. Van Gogh was known to create a canvas every 36 hours and wrote six-page letters daily to his brother Theo. I can just imagine what Van Gogh could have produced if he had a computer. Poet and writer Sylvia Plath had the misfortune to suffer severe PMS which only intensified her bipolar disorder. At the worst of her cycle, she wrote lots of her grimmest poems and during a most difficult spell, she committed suicide.
Map of the Brain
Let’s see what experts have to say. Apparently, that which compels people to create can be found in the basic map of the brain. Writing by itself is a combination of several faculties. Actually, I have noticed that as I write I read along with what I am writing. This is a new addition to the other activities I am involved with as I pound away on the keyboard. A vital role in the ability to write is played by the cerebral cortex, which is the gray matter that comprises the outer layer of the brain. For all of you Agatha Christie fans, can you hear Hercule Poirot saying that he will figure it all out by using his “little gray cells”? It is the temporal lobes found behind the ears that control emotion and inspiration. This is also what regulates our need to communicate. I find that these days I do all my communicating with others through my writing.
Studies that have been done in the past decade have discovered many poets, novelists, composers and visual artists with a sense of depression when compared to those who aren’t creative professionals. There are a lot of creative people who believe that their mood or brain disorders facilitate their work. Writer Robert Burton once said, “All poets are mad.” Did I ever say I wasn’t crazy?” In fact, sometimes the inspiration my muses whisper in my ears amazes me but I love it.
Writers Possessed by Muses
Amazing as it may seem, but stories of writers who were possessed by muses on steroids, or so they say, date back to Roman poet Juvenal in the 1st century. He wrote about “the incurable writing disease”. However, it wasn’t until the 20th century that scientists got interested. At this time, scientists started exploring the brain chemistry that was behind all of this mad need for expression. Finally in the 1970s, neurologists found out that hypergraphia was often set off by temporal lobe epilepsy. Scientists later on linked this with bipolar disorder and there is evidence now that points to an abnormal interaction between the temporal and frontal lobes of the brain when it comes to hypergraphia. What occurs is that activity in the temporal lobe becomes reduced, thereby increasing activity in the frontal lobe which is the area that represents such complex behavior like speech. With writers what happens is that the inner critic is silenced and the ideas just flow. Perhaps what comes out might not always be brilliant or it might not make sense right away but at least it is written down and editing can make it presentable. At this point, I remembered a period while I was in high school. I would leave a classroom only to stop in the hallway and for at least a few moments I couldn’t remember where I had come from and where I had to go. I just shook the feeling away and never told anyone. However, writing about hypergraphia I have to wonder why I had these moments. I don’t remember how long they lasted or when they finally stopped but already in high school I was never without my trusty notebook in which I wrote poems as I became inspired.
It is known that the flow of words in people with hypergraphia can be slowed down through the use of antidepressants; however, this condition is so very rare that there are actually no accepted guidelines for treatment. The good side of all of this is that most hypergraphics consider this as a gift. Flaherty published a book about this subject in 2004, The Midnight Disease. In it, she states, “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.”
• Danielle Steel
• Edgar Allan Poe
• Fyodor Dostoevsky
• Sylvia Plath
• Joyce Carol Oates
• Stephen King
• Isaac Asimov
Look at this most impressive list of hypergraphics. I would say if one should get this rare condition, they are truly in great company. Having said this, I must now consider my own compulsion with writing and if I am borderline or if some of this has rubbed off on me I am just glad that I can create and write and write and write. I wonder if I can come out with another great best seller. That would certainly be a great accomplishment for me and what encourages me the most is that my muses are hard at work each and every day. That great novel is still somewhere deep inside of me, however, I did self-publish my first book of poems, Poetic Thoughts Fly. It got me an Amazon author page and is available in paperback and on Kindle. In keeping with the right to plead insanity, my muses keep singing, I keep writing, and as they say, “the beat goes on.”