Editors' note: Writer Paula Kamen will be guest-blogging here on Fridays in March.


I have been writing about the genre of "sick lit" very seriously so far, but I think I've been dwelling on it too much, because I'm now coming down with a brand new (surprisingly common yet undiscussed) disorder. I noticed it tonight when I bumped into another author in a cafe, and started to talk manically, and only in short easily digestible sound bytes, no matter how complex the topic.  I was "on" to an extreme --- and I couldn't stop bringing up the social relevance of MY BOOK. Every social event, every issue in the news, every headline totally related to my book. Vioxx -- that relates. Terry Schiavo -- that relates. Britney's possible pregnancy -- that too.

I then sat down and realized that I had never left that "interview" phase from a media thing I did this afternoon, hours earlier.  My neurology was now rewired for single-minded Chatty-Cathy self promotion.

In other words, I had Bipolar Author Disorder (BAD). The problem, though, I thought, is that it's not a "disorder." A disorder is something you usually try to avoid. To an author, BAD is a "normative" and even desirable state, that one intentionally works oneself into. If one does the book process right (writing quietly shielded from distraction, and then promoting fearlessly), you actually make yourself become bipolar, at least temporarily. Bipolar Author Disorder actually describes the optimal extremes of mental function that make for a successful book, critically and commercially.

Instead of taking medication to quell it, I can see others training themselves to intentionally acquire it. I remembered the Times article from Tuesday about some people with milder forms of hypomania (being bipolar lite, or maybe "bipolar curious") actually being MORE successful than others and wondered if this was at all related.

Here is the other side of it -- just as disturbing, and just as desirable. Before this month, for many months, I had intentionally cycled myself down to the polar opposite stage, to the "depressive" or excessively introspective and solitary writing stage. During that time, I had the long, steady, unflappable attention span of a Buddhist monk on Ritalin. I often didn't feel like going out and socializing, especially after a day of peaceful rumination, of foraging through my brain matter for the minute details of an event I had barely remembered even happening in the first place before that day, and then pondering the greater meaning of the event as it pertained to the book's larger themes and to humanity itself. And then turning over in my mind multiple ways to convey and phrase it, either directly or with nuance or a symbol or two. But I didn't complain.  I didn't feel loneliness -- just the joy of solitude, of harmoniously flowing with the unceremonial waves of the creative process, wanting nothing more out of life.

But now, as I'm right in the middle of the manic phase, it's all about the external. But not about the classic stimuli the classic bipolar people stereotypically crave -- like sex and shopping.  It's more about affirmation from others. Did the reviewer like my book? Did my friend like the book? Why did that person give it zero stars on Amazon and fuck up my average star rating, that before was a full 5?  (Like with my last book....)

Did that person just think I'm a jerk, an exhibitionist, a prude, underrated, overrated, offensive, funny, sad?

Which is worse? Which is better? I don't know. All I can say definitively is: please don't give me any medication for it, because it's really helping my career.

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