Wednesday, October 06, 2004

How weird are writers anyway?

Now here's an interesting question. Well it interests me, anyway.

The two posts earlier this week about seriously disturbed writers have led me to wonder, not for the first time, just how mentally disturbed the rest of us really are. Us writers, I mean. In other words, are writers really insane, or just a little bit weird?

There is at least one piece of research which demonstrates that some (British) writers have a higher than average chance of being mentally ill. The research was carried out by Kay Jamison, Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Her study showed that 38% of a group of eminent British writers and artists had been treated for a mood disorder of one kind or another; of these, 75% had had antidepressants or lithium prescribed, or had been hospitalised. Of playwrights, 63% had been treated for depression. These proportions are, as you will have guessed, are many times higher than in the population at large.

Of course, the Jamison research was just one study, and it may not be truly representative. But I have observed, over the years, that writers are not always the most stable and rational of people. More specifically, I have been wondering this week whether writers might have an obsessive/compulsive disorder (OCD). In other words, do they keep on doing something, time and time again, which normal people would recognise as futile?

In order to find an answer to this specific question I sought, and found, references to obsessive/compulsive disorder on the web. Without too much trouble I discovered a site which told me that the obsessive/compulsive fraternity (and sorority) display the following characteristics, among others. OCD people are:

concerned with details;
excessively devoted to work and productivity to the exclusion of leisure activities;
inflexible on matters of morality (for which read 'artistic integrity');
unable to discard worthless objects (e.g. that manuscript which has been rejected 43 times);
and they are stubborn (for which read 'continue to write when all the available evidence suggests that they are going to get absolutely nowhere').

Does any of this ring any bells? It certainly did with me, especially as I have other obsessive/compulsive traits as well. Specifically, I often go back and check (again) that I've locked the back door and turned off the gas, and I worry about causing harm to a loved one through carelessness on my part.

So, thoroughly alarmed by now, I took a little test to determine whether I suffer from OCD or not.

Relief. It turns out that I have a score of 4 on this test, which indicates that 'OCD is unlikely'. So that's all right then. I'm not really mad. Just a little bit peculiar.


Unknown said...


That means I am normal and don't have OCD?

Great news! Thanks! I am a writer rejected more than 43 times!


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