When I was eight, or so, I started having these episodes in which I knew I wasn’t me but I didn’t know who I was and that I felt unreal and that the world felt unreal and it was scary as hell. I asked my mother if it ever happened to her and she said it hadn’t and that was the last we spoke of it. Sometimes I would mention when I had a ‘not me’ episode and then move on. These ‘not me’ things would happen maybe four or five times a week and last a second or two and they were always a bit frightening and disorienting.
As I got older I learned that these experiences were called depersonilization and derealization and once I learned what they were I thought that it meant there was something wrong with me and that it was some kind of little swiss cheese hole in my psyche that if I worked hard enough I could fill up and stop them from happening. A decade of therapy did nothing to reduce the frequency.
Years later and several EEGs later it was determined that I had temporal lobe epilepsy. They aren’t the kind of seizure that inspires one to ask if they should put a pencil under my tongue as I flail about—no, not that kind. I have the kind of seizure that nobody but me notices, simple partial seizures. I tell you all this not to share the boring details of my brain or even to try to explain temporal lobe epilepsy but rather to tell you what the neurologist said when he saw me taking detailed notes in my journal as he explained my diagnosis.
The super cute Chinese neurologist asked if I wrote a lot. Did I keep journals? Was I a list maker? Was I very interested in philosophy and the meaning of life? I was wondering if all these questions were on his list of must have qualities in a partner. I was happy to answer yes to all of his questions. Instead of asking me out Dr. McBrainy explained that those with temporal lobe seizures are prone to hypergraphia and a search for meaning( as the temporal lobe is considered the God spot of the brain).
At first, upon getting the diagnosis I was a little disappointed that Dr. McBrainy hadn’t asked me out and I was relieved to learn that there was something real that was causing my ‘not-me’ moments. It wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t psychological. It was real. But, then I started to feel a kind of sadness about having my 95 diaries and my play, poems, and short stories reduced to a brain problem.
It wasn’t and couldn’t be the only why. There had to be others. There was the high school teacher who told me I had a talent and there was the blank pages ability to hear my words and never judge me. There was my love of reading and of words and how books had been there for me when no one else had and how my father had wanted to be a writer and never was and reasons beyond the reach of biology.
Joan Didion, being the brilliant writer she is, has another explanation of the why of writing:
“Why did I write it down? In order to remember, of course, but exactly what was it I wanted to remember? How much of it actually happened? Did any of it? Why do I keep a notebook at all? It is easy to deceive oneself on all those scores. The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself. I suppose that it begins or does not begin in the cradle. Although I have felt compelled to write things down since I was five years old, I doubt that my daughter ever will, for she is a singularly blessed and accepting child, delighted with life exactly as life presents itself to her, unafraid to go to sleep and unafraid to wake up. Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss.” – Joan Didion, “On Keeping a Notebook,” Slouching Towards Bethlehem
Strangely I prefer being labeled a “lonely and resistant rearranger of things, an anxious malcontent”, and a child “afflicted at birth with some presentiment of loss” better than having my writing explained by a medical condition. The seizures, thanks to Dr. McBrainy, are gone; the writing, or the hypergraphia, remains.