One of the things that my wife always points out is that I am very much able to sit down and punch out a blog post of several hundred words on something that interests me, but then I have a hard time writing something for an assignment. She does it with some frustration, I think, because he sees how frustrated I get at not being able to write. Take, for example, my doctoral thesis proposal.
In an ideal world, the proposal would have been done and ready at the end of the last academic year, or at the end of last summer at the latest. In a way, it was, but the feedback (brutal and personal as it was) I received over my idea for “Thesis 1.0” kind of froze me. It filled me with doubt about what I was going to do to the point that I couldn’t work on it any more. Then the trip to Colombia came, and I focused on that. Then I got the job as a consulting epidemiologist, and I focused on that.
While I had drafted the proposal for “Thesis 2.0,” as early as last September, it wasn’t until tonight that I submitted the true first draft to my thesis advisor. It felt like a huge weight had been lifted off of me, but I also feel bad that I’ve been so late to get it done. (I have until May to get the whole process of a proposal, a proposal seminar, and two oral exams done and over with so I can be a “candidate” for the degree.)
When I was a “graduating junior” in high school, I was required to do a science fair project. My brain went into overdrive about all the possible things I could have done for the project, so much so that I got all clogged up when it came time to actually prepare it. The night before the science fair, I had no project… And it was a requirement for graduation. So it had to get done.
It did get done, by the way, but not before a very high degree of stress and suffering. (I got first place, by the way, but we shall not talk about that because it’s a bad example to set for future generations. Don’t procrastinate, kids.)
Twenty years after that science fair project, I kind of find myself in the same situation. I have this looming deadline, and I’ve been so caught up in the big picture of what I want to do that I can’t put it all down into words. Then again, I have ten pages for this proposal, so space is at a premium. I could write several hundred pages about what I want to do, but the pressure of getting it done is “clogging” my brain, so to speak.
In case you didn’t know, I “suffer” from a condition called “hypergraphia,” the uncontrollable urge to write. It’s not as uncontrollable as it was in college. I’ve learned to deal with it and use other creative outlets — like sketching or photography — to relieve the bouts that come and go unannounced and unexpected. Sometimes, the bouts come at just the right time, like when a term paper is due. Other times, they are absent when I need them the most, like when a term paper is due. In either case, hypergraphia is not exactly a superpower. I can’t write a term paper by just having a bout of it alone. I need the skills of research and technical writing as well.
As you can see, it is a little bit difficult to explain that I can sit here and punch out these 600+ words without a problem, but the thesis proposal took so long to get to a true first draft. (I’ve promised myself that it’s not going to take me as long to get to a second draft. I’ve promised my wife that I’ll do it in 72 hours.) Hypergraphia is very rare, and I’m yet to meet someone in person who also has it. (Though, I think I may have met people with a similar “gift” that manifests itself in other ways.) I wish I could explain it, because it would allow people to understand me — and my quirks — a little better.
“It’s not that I’m not listening to you. I am,” I said once to a friend. “I just need to write down what is in my head right now… While listening to you.” A similar thing was said to my English teacher in high school when I wasn’t following along with a reading, instead writing on a notepad. “If it looks like I’m not paying attention, it’s not that I’m not paying attention. I swear.”
But, man, when the mental blocks come, they come in full force. And when the gates open, you (yes, you) end up reading these 812 words.
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
About History of Vaccines: I am the editor of the History of Vaccines site, a project of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Please read the About page on the site for more information.
About Epidemiological: I am the sole contributor to Epidemiological, my personal blog to discuss all sorts of issues. It also has an About page you should check out.