Posted by: Harold Knight | 09/21/2009

Bye, Polar Bear

not in my head, you don't

not in my head, you don't

Probably what I’m doing here is an embarrassment to some. Civilized people do not talk about brain function (or dysfunction—especially their own) in polite society. But this has the possibility of being entertaining.  So if you’re embarrassed, stop reading. Or skip to the last two paragraphs.

(And this is not, by the way, feeling sorry for myself or asking for pity. If you think that, you are one of those I’d most like to read this. Ya’ wanna know something about how “the other half lives?” Read on.)

The Fearless Bedouin

The Fearless Bedouin

Some of my writing is just plain wacky, I know. It makes no sense to anyone but me (yesterday’s installment, for example). Some I mean to be funny (yesterday’s, for example), but no one else gets the joke. Some I mean to make a serious point (yesterday’s, for example), but I don’t quite have the brains to pull it off. Some I haven’t a clue what I’m trying to do (not yesterday’s). Can you spell hypergraphia?

None of the brain dysfunctions I have is very serious. As my friends know, the one that I’ve known about longest (second grade—although it wasn’t diagnosed until I was 38 years old) is  Temporal Lobe Epilepsy. TLE is a bizarre little condition. And diagnosing it is pretty much voodoo. Neither I nor my doctors (I was diagnosed at Beth Israel Hospital, a teaching hospital for Harvard Medical School) can point to any symptom that isn’t in my head. I’m making the whole thing up? Sure. Or not. There’s nothing to put a Band-Aid on or do surgery for (well, the Neurology department at UTSouthwestern Medical School here in Dallas does surgery on TLE patients’ brains, but I ain’t lettin’ them drill a hole in my head until/unless they tell me exactly what they’re doing, promise me they won’t make my brain function any worse, and can accomplish their purpose).

It’s all, as Prof. Nelsen used to say and piss me off royally, “Airy-fairy.” But the mental Band-Aid would come in handy on the rare occasions (about every three years) when I have a blackout seizure. That’s often enough to cause concern about my driving. But what are you going to do in this city based on oil consumption rather than getting the population around efficiently. Oh, it’s the “fairy” part of “airy-fairy” that pisses me off, by the way.

So no one can see my TLE. But I guarantee you don’t want to be me when a room filled with noisy people and lighted by fluorescent lights (thanks to Congress, that’ll be all of them soon enough) sends me into a world where nothing seems real and I sometimes have the sense I’m out of my body watching what’s going on, but always feel as if I’m looking through the wrong end of a telescope and the sound is coming through a Bose speaker turned up high. Wanna trade brains? The etymology of “epilepsy” has something to do with the Greek for “to seize, grasp.” So apparently what we epileptics do is “grasp” at something. Reality maybe?

Then there’s Bi-Polar Disorder. Probably if psychiatry had been developed when I was 10 years old, they would have caught it (except it, too, is the dreaded “Airy-fairy”). Want to make something of it? In some circles in the gay world, I’m known as a bear (look at my size and the amount of hair on my face and chest). So that’s the source of the title here. It’s my little play on Eats Shoots and Leaves. Bye, Polar Bear.

So how do you put a Band-Aid on bipolar disorder? Lamictal, Tegretol (which is the basic anti-seizure stuff, but T makes L metabolize too fast, so I take massive doses of L), and Lexapro. Enough chemicals to kill a horse. Most of the time my depression, as well as my inability to shut up ’cause my brain is going too fast, and other quaint (but in my case mostly not too severe) disorders are pretty much under control. Except for ending up in the mental hospital because I’m so depressed I’m having suicidal ideation, and my most vivid memory there is rolling myself up in a ball, lying in my (not-so-private room) sobbing uncontrollably, and the technicians coming in and dragging me out into the “common room,” saying, “There, there, we can’t have you in your room crying by yourself.” Maybe BP is easier to diagnose than TLE.

Speaking of TLE. You should read this fascinating book, The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer’s Block, and the Creative Brain, by neurologist Alice W. Flaherty (Houghton Mifflin in 2005). Think of the most prolific writers you know. Maybe Fyodor Dostoevsky (read The Idiot) or Stephen King (how can anyone write over 70 novels in forty years?). Hypergraphia. Goes with the TLE territory. Sure, I’m hypergraphic, or I wouldn’t be doing this at 6:00 AM.

Why am I putting all of this VERY PRIVATE stuff out here for the whole world to read? I’m sure my family and friends are sick of my talking about it. But I’m tired of its being a dirty little secret. I suppose this is a call for the TLE and BP community to come out. It’s time for the learned English faculty of Southern Methodist University to stop seeing me as a freak (most don’t, of course, but let’s have a little BP depressive sense of worthlessness that culminates in the feeling that everyone must think I’m at least weird if not a complete failure).

I know (or is that just BP disorder controlling my thinking?) people wish I’d just shut up. OK, I will—after I’ve done what I can to come out of the closet. Yes, I’ve done that before, so I can do it again. There’s nothing wrong with carrying around TLE and BP disorder. Even if it’s all in my head. It’s very real even if diagnoses are “airy-fairy.”  I’ll continue to post my hypergraphic nonsense (or maybe even some that makes sense) until I’ve either gotten enough peoples’ attention or, as in so much of my life, my BP disorder makes me lose interest because I’m depressed, or TLE convinces me this is all part of the made-up world of seizures. Until then, read it or not. This is the end of my hiding. Friends and family who are sick of hearing me talk about this can simply not come here.



  1. I’m not a fulltime Hypergraphic; maybe not even at all, in some books. But when I get started on a project, I can’t stop.
    Don’t let them drill that hole!
    Viv (from cafe crem and also )



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