Thursday, June 7, 2012

HYPERGRAPHIA - the compulsion to write in bipolar disorder

It was not easy finding a 'reputable' definition of hypergraphia so I will accept the one from as it is comprehensive and consistent with other definitions found in various more reputable sources.

A Definition definition (not the most scientific of sources):
Hypergraphia is a condition in which a person feels an overwhelming compulsion to write. People with bipolar disorder, especially during mania or hypomania, may find themselves writing for hours at a time, not necessarily realizing that this is unusual. It may take the form of journalling, creative writing, or copying page after page of a book. Hypergraphia may also be associated with temporal lobe epilepsy and schizophrenia, as well as certain brain injuries. 

The Experience of Hypergraphia
I realized that my hypergraphia was associated with both  hypomanic and depressive episodes but in different ways. When I am hypomanic I get creative and write all sorts of things - poetry, magazine articles, blogs, academic articles, abstracts, and long emails to friends. I also find myself entering notes into my blackberry, when I dont have access to paper or a computer. When depressed, I write dark poetry but have no other creative productivity. When I am hypomanic I have no desire to write poetry. My brain is just not so inspired. So in my search to understand this pattern, I found some interesting information I wanted to share with you and I would love to hear your stories.

What the Scientists Dont Say
It was not easy to find information on this condition. It did not show up in a search on the Merriam Webster online dictionary. A search on the website of the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) and the Mayo Clinic also resulted in no entries. No books could be found in my school library database but In the PsycInfo and Medline databases it is primarily associated with temporal lobe epilepsy.

However there are some well known experts in psychiatry and neurology who have been writing about the behavior from personal and scientific perspectives.

What Some Scientists Say
The Midnight Disease - is a book by Alice Flaherty,  a neurologist at Massachussetts General Hospital. She found herself writing compulsively both after the death of premature twin boys and the birth of healthy twin girls later diagnosed herself with hypergraphia. She believes that this behavior is attached to extreme moods that are found in people with manic depression and other people with brain disorders and brain injuries. 

Peter Whybrow, MD, Director of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at the University of California in Los Angeles and a specialist in mood disorders, was reported in the The Guardian (March 17 2004) as saying that manic depressives with a predisposition to chronicling their lives or composing poetry are likely to engage in voluminous writing in their darkest hours.disorders.

Dr Kay Jamison, a professor of psychiatry at John Hopkins University, was quoted in The Guardian (March 17, 2004) as saying that "Two aspects of thinking are pronounced in both creative and hypomanic thought: fluency, rapidity and flexibility ... and the ability to combine ideas or categories of thought in order to form new and original connections."

Mood Disorders and Creativity
In a conference at the Library of Congress (Depression and Creativity, Feb 3, 2009 - click link for video), both Dr Jamison, Dr. Whybrow discussed the controversial and long-standing (pre-Grecian) conversation about creativity and mood disorders. The symposium also included Dr. Terence Ketter who is chief of the Bipolar Disorders Clinic at Stanford University, whose research focuses on the relationship between creativity and madness. Though most artists and creatives do not suffer from mental illnesses but many creatives, especially poets, suffer a disproportionately high rate of mental illnesses, particularly depression and bipolar disorder. Dr Jamison refers to Mendelssohn, Virginia Woolf, Van Gogh as creatives with mood disorders. She argues that during periods of depression people are less productive and are more productive when they are manic or hypomanic.

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Hypergraphia
The great thing about hypergraphia for an academic is the productivity. However it is frustrating that there are often so many ideas that cannot all come to fruition. It inspires insomnia. But the indulgence to these intense desire to write is that it compensates for depressive episodes where dark moods interfere with the discipline to complete ideas.

Manic depression has its advantages and disadvantages and though hypergraphia is both blessing and curse (depending on its expression), in a world where productivity is valued, I have no cause to resist its lure or try to medicate it away. There is beauty in seeing words that come from my brain. And one can only hope that others share the same view.

Note: This was written in a hypographic period during a hypomanic phase.


  1. Thanks for shedding light on a fascinating aspect of a very fascinating disease. I, for one, and am happy that your brain is capable of producing the volume of written work that you have already created. I think lots of folks are better off because of it.

  2. I found this through a link on a support site for those who are faced with bipolar/manic depression. Thank you for shedding some light on some of my behavior. I began to journal since the tenth grade, religiously every evening before bed. Then I branched to poetry as well. Now I start things and don't finish them. I don't know why. I think them, but don't write them down. I constantly think them. I always tell myself there's not enough paper for what's in my head.

    1. I tried to go to read your blog. I did not see any posts. You must write as I was eager to read about you and your writings.

    2. I love to journal too. I have been doing it for more than 30 years. I burned some of the early ones because someone found them and it devastated me. It helped my doctor diagnose me. It also helps me keep track of the ups and downs without me really thinking that that is what i'm doing. Keep writing. I'm in that mood right now and it can be beautiful or scary

  3. Now this blog for first time tells me that Bipolar's have that urge to write and they write very well too. I am sharing my son's poems and letters which he wrote to me till he took his own life. I am now after having been in a state of guilt which I am even now, that I did not do enough; stated sharing my son's works. I have no doubt what I have written about him and in his own words will allow a critique to see this as another case, which eventually will help some one out there. There are 5/6 stories of lens on this link. Please read and share your thoughts and experiences

    1. I had not been reading comments and I am sorry that I missed this opportunity to reach out to you. i am sorry about the loss of your son. It is sorrow like yours that reminds me what I do not want to do to my family, even as those urges can overwhelm.

  4. Good Post. I know several people with this disorder it is such a sad thing they have to live and deal with.

  5. I used to write frantically and copiously when manic. Writing poetry and some odd things that only made sense to me. Since being on anti psychotics to stabilise my moods (it was that or divorce) I find I have no longer have any creativity left. I keep thinking about writing but I never seem to have the energy or inspiration I used to. When at university I used to be able to write 5000 -10000 word essays in a few hours that would take others days. Not any more. I ended up having a major depressive breakdown and failed my last attempt at finishing a degree. I'm sad I've not been able to achieve my potential but at least I'm able to work and support my family. Something I couldn't do a few years ago.

  6. Thank you very much for this post. I've only just learnt of this word - hypergraphia - and was astonished to discover that after 20 years of doing just that, it was an actual known condition. I had never dreamed of telling anyone about my writing not even my drs. Today I have uncovered all my little bits of paper that I'd kept locked away for years and have decided to share them on Instagram. You can see it __hypergraphia__

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