Date of Award

9-16-2009

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Gian S. Pagnucci, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Michael M. Williamson, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Bennett A. Rafoth, Ed.D.

Abstract

Through in-depth interviews with 21 writers who have bipolar disorder and through an extensive review of scientific literature on bipolar disorder, this study examined the illness and its effects on writers and their writing. “Writer” was defined as a person who writes on his or her own time, by his or her own choice. In order to participate, writers had to have been diagnosed with bipolar I or bipolar II. Specifically, this study asks, how writers who suffer from bipolar disorder experience writing in their lives; how they write today; how they wrote in the past; how bipolar disorder affected how they wrote in the past and how they write today; why they write; how bipolar disorder affected their reasons for writing or not writing in the past and today; whether they see similarities between themselves and other writers with bipolar disorder, particularly famous writers; what they do when they write; why they do what they do when they write; whether their disorder affects what they write; whether they write about their disorder and for whom do they choose to write about it; how they handle writing about emotional issues; how they learn to write; what their experience with writing in school was; what their experience with writing out of school was; whether and how teachers helped or hindered them; and what they would recommend for teaching writers like them. The study was conducted over a period of three years and involved approximately 34 hours of interviews and 585 pages of transcripts, which were carefully analyzed according to naturalistic, qualitative research methods. Findings included that processes changed in mania and depression, causing excessive writing and a block due to depression, respectively. Writers explained how they write despite the disorder and how they deliberately use writing as a tool. Overall, the study points to the necessity of composition studies to re-evaluate assumptions about, among other things, writing, healing, and mental illness in general.

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