What is Hypergraphia, and How Does It Relate to Bipolar Disorder?

writing
Credit to flickr.com user Fredrick Rubensson. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Hypergraphia–where “hyper” means “extremely active” and “graphia” means “to write”–is a condition where a person compulsively writes. The writings may be coherent, ranging from poetry to academic books, or scattered thoughts, with different sizes of texts.

Hypergraphia is difficult to define, as it’s not part of Merriam-Webster’s dictionary of words. The condition was only identified in the 1970s, by Drs. Waxman and Geschwind–the latter of whom has a mental disorder named after him, of which hypergraphia is a symptom. Hypergraphia is often associated with temporal lobe epilepsy, in patients who have endured multiple seizures.

While there are plenty of studies connecting epilepsy and hypergraphia, the link between the condition and bipolar disorder hasn’t been studied and should also be considered. The neurological literature is extensive, but the psychiatric literature is severely lacking. The condition appears to be a common manifestation of mania.

Only a couple of studies have looked at how hypergraphia relates to bipolar disorder. The linked study, by hypergraphia sufferer Alice Flaherty (author of The Midnight Disease, describing her experiences), only examines the link between creativity and bipolar, not hypergraphia specifically.

As far as anecdotal accounts go, author Dyane Harwood extensively describes her experience dealing with hypergraphia in her book, Birth of a New Brain, saying that she wrote so much, she suffered severe hand cramps–and even penned notes while on the toilet.

In my case, I experienced hypergraphia during a manic episode following my son’s birth. A flood of ideas struck my brain, and I was soon writing things down so I’d remember them. In the short span of a week, I felt compelled to handwrite over a hundred to-do lists. Some of the lists overflowed with a hundred items or more, while other lists held only two.

Hypergraphia as a manifestation of mania appears rather common, just unstudied. A PubMed search for “mania, hypergraphia,” shows five hits, only one of which actually relates to the topic. Whereas searching the same site for temporal lobe epilepsy and hypergraphia ends up with 28 hits. Meanwhile, a Google search for “mania, hypergraphia” shows 16,600 hits, and that’s just the websites that use the scientific term.

This means that there are stories out there linking bipolar disorder and hypergraphia. They just haven’t shown up on medical sites yet.

I hope that future studies will take into account the link between bipolar disorder and hypergraphia, a manifestation of creative output and idea generation. If you have suffered from hypergraphia during mania, you are not alone.

Does your mania manifest as hypergraphia?

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Book Review: Dyane Harwood’s Birth of a New Brain

birth of a new brain
Dyane Harwood’s brilliant memoir, Birth of a New Brain.

*Disclosure: Some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

Dyane Harwood’s brilliant breakout memoir, Birth of a New Brain: Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder (affiliate link*), chronicles her heartbreaking struggle for stability after the onset of postpartum bipolar disorder. Dyane’s battle to reestablish her mental health from the ravages of mania and the pits of depression is recorded in a gripping account with an almost-journalistic flair.

An often overlooked and misunderstood perinatal mood and anxiety disorder (PMAD), postpartum bipolar disorder is listed in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as part of the bipolar spectrum. In Dyane’s case, she suffers from a severe form of “treatment-resistant” bipolar I disorder, which spirals high into manic episodes and deep down into soul-sucking depressions.

Dyane deserves all of the praise her novel has received from various sources. It’s a fascinating account with a structure unique to memoir: Dyane takes us from her birth in the beautiful Pacific Palisades to her first boyfriends to her seven hospitalizations. She spends a great amount of time describing her attempts to live medication-free and the disastrous results. She deals with over-prescribing, unethical psychiatrists, powerful electroconvulsive therapy treatments to negate her suicidal thoughts, and, eventually, finds a medication that works: a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) called tranylcypromine. Other useful contributors to her mental health are getting enough sleep, exercising thirty minutes for six days a week, and “forest bathing”–taking frequent long walks in a redwood forest.

Above all, Dyane is honest. She’s candid about her many failures–as well as her many triumphs!–on the road to recovery. She tells us about her relationships with her father–who suffered from bipolar I himself–and her mother, and their relationship with each other. Dyane even tells us about the fights she had with her husband. All of this contributes to a beautifully-written memoir.

Harwood’s book is crucial for understanding the postpartum bipolar experience. She references writers and doctors with experience dealing with bipolar disorder. Her memoir, Dyane Harwood’s brilliant breakout memoir, Birth of a New Brain: Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder (affiliate link*), is one of the greats.

Disclaimer: Dyane is one of the frequent commenters on this site. She offered me a PDF of Birth of a New Brain for review, which I was glad to do. Dyane blogs at DyaneHarwood.wordpress.com.

*Disclosure: Some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

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