Friday, March 12, 2010

Hypochondria and Creativity

I have a friend that has hypochondria, at least, I think he does. I have known him since I was a child and he seems to have a new malady every time I talk to him. Since he is still alive and appears quite healthy, the thought that he is a hypochondriac has occurred to me. He is also one of the most successful people I know from my old neighborhood ... he's no genius, probably above average intellectually and is very driven. I have never heard of a link between hypochondria and creativity before, until today, but it does makes a lot of sense.

I heard Brian Dillon talk on a podcast today about his new book The Hypochondriacs: Nine Tormented Souls. In this book he discusses nine reasonably famous people who were considered hypochondriacs. Among them are Charlotte Bronte, Charles Darwin, Florence Nightingale, Glenn Gould, Marcel Proust, Andy Warhol and three people I never heard of Alice James, James Boswell and Daniel Paul Schreber. I haven't read the book, but in the conversation the most interesting person he discussed was Charles Darwin.

Apparently, Darwin was sickly even as a boy. It is hard to say how much of this was real illness and what wasn't. The captain of the HMS Beagle, (Robert FitzRoy) almost didn't allow him on the voyage to the Galapagos Islands due to his poor constitution. History would be quite different if he hadn't. While on the journey, Darwin only worked two hours a day and spent the rest of the day nursing his woes. He complained about pain in his hands, was obsessed with his nose and had stomach problems. Throughout Darwin's personal diary he keeps track of his flatulence and kept a privy in his study. I will have a completely different picture in my mind now when I see a Darwin fish on people's bumpers.

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