Tag Archives: hypergraphia

Hypergraphia: How Not to Write

10 Aug

One of the reasons I don’t usually write creative or personal pieces is that I don’t like looking too closely at my past experiences. It requires a facility with mood regulation that I have yet to achieve. I keep so much back, all the time, fighting with memories and emotional currents. I need to put them in boxes, not channel them.

T.S. Eliot once said that he wrote to escape from his emotions. I think that’s bullshit. We are driven by our emotions. There is no escaping them (especially not in writing). But mine overwhelm me if I’m not careful. I’ve finally internalized the fact that I can’t run from them, but I endeavor to keep them at a safe distance. 

I stopped performing for much the same reason as I stopped writing, even though I loved it and exhibited some potential. There were also the overlapping issues of hypomania and sleep hygiene. Performing makes me speedy and it often involves being “on” at night. Then I can’t sleep and things spin out of control.

I’m predisposed to being on at night. I used to start writing around 8 or 9 PM and go for hours until I passed out. This practice began when I turned twelve and the shit hit the fan.

A few years ago, I stumbled upon a box full of my old notebooks. It was pure hypergraphia. Some of the pages had holes where the pressure of my pen had pushed through. Many were so covered in ink that hardly any white showed.  When I reached the end of a page, I sometimes spun the book ninety degrees and continued writing so I wouldn’t have to stop.

Those notebooks horrified me. They chronicled the onset and development of my illness. So, over my mother’s bewildered protestations, I threw them out. 

Franz Kafka wrote his short story “The Judgment” in one night during a bout of hypergraphia. His family tearfully intervened in the morning, begging him to stop, and he collapsed. 

Kafka’s world was one of trauma. His hometown of Prague had a lengthy history of Anti-Semitic pogroms, the most notorious of which occurred on Easter Sunday in 1389 when a mob massacred 3000 men, women, and children and burned the Jewish quarter to the ground. The history of the pogroms was recent enough that the generation before his remembered them. Within this context, his Jewish family bore its own wounds. His two younger brothers died in infancy when he was six years old, and he had an exceedingly complicated and painful relationship with his father.

He confronted all of this pain in his writing, channeling it to create inimitable works of art. And he died in his thirties of tuberculosis after years of ill health, anorexia, and suicidal ideation.

I know that you don’t have to suffer to write well, but given my history, I don’t see how I could write effectively without examining my own pain. I’m afraid to do that because it could unleash my illness, which means I don’t write honestly. Without honesty, the writing falls flat.

So many of the writers I admire embraced their crazy. They looked unflinching at the world. They held nothing back. And almost all of them died early from suicide or substance abuse or lack of self-care.

Maybe I should just learn to play the violin instead.


22 Jun

I’m afraid to go to sleep. For the last four nights, I’ve woken with the residuals of nightmares. The moods they evoke take time to dissipate. I drink coffee and will the feelings back. Numbness rushes in to fill the space.

Then yesterday I started having flashbacks, dissociating, and hyperventilating. Nothing triggered it. I haven’t had intrusive PTSD symptoms for over two months, even with the stress I’ve been under. I was in the middle of a support group meeting. It was embarrassing.

The flashbacks receded today, but the anxiety and dissociation keep creeping up on me. I can’t drive because I intermittently float out of my body. People speak to me and I can’t focus on their words; I just stare at them and do my best to feign comprehension. I dig my nails into my arm to try to keep my mind connected to my body. I breathe diaphragmatically.

These past couple of days have reminded me not to get cocky. Never turn your back on your illness. Your mind will get the better of you if you don’t keep your eye on it.

I don’t want to backslide. I’ve made a lot of progress in the past few months. I’m determined to learn to live with this and not let it control my life. Concurrently, I know that I need to be honest with myself about my limitations. It’s a balancing act.

I don’t think I’ll ever get it fully under control. Things happened to me when I was too young to articulate them and they come to the surface sometimes. I don’t try to process them. I attempted that several years ago with a therapist, desensitization therapy. It was too much all at once. My symptoms have been much more frequent and intense since then. Because I can’t clearly recall things, and because no one can fill in the gaps, it isn’t possible to examine the memories and put them in perspective. All I get are sensations, shards of visions, and waves of confusion and fear.

I have no desire to dig into that mess, so I have to contain it. I’m hoping that it will die back down after a couple of days of TLC and sustained efforts. But it will always be straining beneath the surface. All I can do is breathe and prepare for the next time.

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