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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Author: Cassandra Stout

Hi! My name is Cassandra Stout, and I am a freelancer and memoirist who blogs at The Bipolar Parent (Cassandrastout.com/bpparent) and at the International Bipolar Foundation (IBPF.org). My current project is Committed, my upcoming memoir that depicts my time spent in a psych ward after a postpartum psychotic breakdown. I am a ten-year member of a five-person critique group called the Seattle Scribblers. It's nice to meet you!

10 thoughts on “What is Hypergraphia, and How Does It Relate to Bipolar Disorder?”

  1. Thanks for the shout-out, Cass, and for such a well-researched post. I’m sorry you got caught up in postpartum hypergraphia with all the listmaking…just thinking about it gives me the chills.

    That’s amazing that so many Google hits came up for mania, hypergraphia – wow! I agree with you that future studies need to incorporate the link between bipolar & hypergraphia.

    This is one of your stand-out posts and I know a lot of people would be interested in learning about the topic. Through reading it, I think many readers would recognize their hypergraphia as manic behavior. I suggest you consider submitting it to the International Bipolar Foundation! Here’s the link to apply – I can’t remember if you already did this, so if you did, forgive me.
    Have a great weekend!!! 💕

    http://ibpf.org/webform/blogging-application

    1. Hi, Dyane! Thanks for stopping by and commenting on the post!

      I’m so sorry that you ended up suffering from hypergraphia as well. It’s a terrible thing when you can’t control your compulsion to write.

      Thanks so much for the support and compliment. I don’t believe that I’ve submitted anything to the IBPF, but I can always try! Thanks for the link!

      See you next Friday!

  2. I am a full time student and once had an assignment for 1,000 words due. I had to stop myself around the 10k word mark because I realized what was happening and that there was no way my professor would want to read all of that (let alone if it was even all coherent). I just grabbed a 1k word chunk out of it and submitted that.

    All of which is to say – thanks for writing about this! Hypergraphia is big for me and it was a while before anyone gave me the language for the strong compulsion I was feeling to write.

    Great stuff! Thanks!

    1. Dear Geraldine,
      Oh, that’s hard. I’m so glad you finally have the language necessary to describe your compulsion. As I alluded to in the post, hypergraphia is a serious problem for a lot of people with bipolar disorder. I hope that the demon doesn’t strike you again soon, and if it does, that you can manage it. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  3. Thanks for this post. As far as I know, I had hypergraphia twice and I have no idea what I wrote because I proceeded to destroy or hide my journals and notepads. I remember getting caught up in homonyms and finding them utterly fascinating.

    1. Hi, Mackenzie,
      You’re very welcome! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I’m so sorry that you have suffered from hypergraphia. It can be very scary when you’re in the midst of it, as you well know. I hope that you won’t have to endure that sort of compulsion anymore. Best of luck!

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