It’s two in the morning. Or maybe three. You’ve lost count. Outside, vines climb the walls of your apartment building. They weren’t there earlier. At least, you think they weren’t. Hard to tell in the dark. Lights flicker with the occasional passing car. Everything sounds illicit this late—early—and you wonder what the world is getting up to. Whether they suffer from the midnight disease, too.
It’s a myth that all writers are insane. Mentally unstable, if you prefer the vernacular. While many suffer from depression, addiction, and bouts of anxiety, few actually fit the favorite television image of the manic writer, talking to voices in her head. Jonathan Swift had to be restrained near the end of his life to keep him from tearing out his own eye. H. P. Lovecraft suffered from night terrors. Virginia Woolf experienced multiple mental breakdowns. The rest of us can be found in the throes of the midnight disease.
You think I’m crazy. That you would know if you suffered from a malady torn from the pages of a Poe tale.
Answer this: when was the last time you slept? I mean really slept—visions of unicorns, cupcake mountains, waking rested after an uninterrupted eight hours, sleep?
You’re not alone.
Sure, you could call it insomnia. Stress, anxiety, depression… all little minions of awful that come with the writer package and make it near impossible to sleep. The symptoms, yes, but not the causes.
The difference between your boring, garden variety insomnia and the midnight disease is that the midnight disease has no prejudice. It’ll strike at any time. Grab hold of your mind and crawl through your synapsis, sticky, like the vines on your apartment building that may or may not still be there.
Michael Chabon wrote, “The midnight disease is a kind of emotional insomnia; at ever conscious moment its victim—even if he or she writes at dawn, or in the middle of the afternoon—feels like a person lying in a sweltering bedroom, with the window thrown open, looking up at a sky filled with stars and airplanes, listening to the narrative of a rattling blind, an ambulance, a fly trapped in a Coke bottle, while all around him the neighbors soundly sleep.”
While the neighbors soundly sleep, whether in their beds or in their cars on the way to a nine-to-five they hate, or while kissing their husbands and wives they don’t love anymore, or scrolling—always scrolling—through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, for something, anything, to wake them up.
But you—you’re awake.
You know the rate at which grass grows and paint dries and the time it takes for a single hair to fall from the flick of your cat’s tail to the carpet which still needs to be vacuumed but you can’t bring yourself to do it because there are still so many words to write.
So you sit. In your chair. On the floor. In the café. At your desk. And you write. Your fingers caress the keys and that tap-tap-tap sends micro chills down your spine. Like cold water on the back of your neck. Keeping you awake. Writing. Staring at the blinking cursor.
It’s enough to make a person go mad. Enough to make a person start seeing monsters.
But you’re not a person. You’re a writer. When you see a monster, you hold it in your mind’s eye and study the delicate curve of its talons, breath in the stench of its breath, and write a symphony in the key of its growl. Monsters are our bread and butter and so we welcome them with open, if not a little shaky, arms.
But monsters aren’t the only things that hide within the midnight disease.
Truth likes to lie languidly across the entrance to the disease, drawing out all the baddies that hide in dark corners. Those times that you don’t like to talk about, but can’t stop writing about. The one that broke your heart. Who’s heart you broke. The secrets that seep into our words without our permission to be torn apart by those who read it.
Desires—be they a handsome stranger or a way to jump through time or the discovery of magic under your own roof—can be found within the borders of the midnight disease, if you look for them.
The midnight disease lurks at the corners of your eyes, propping them open for just a little longer. Calling out to the monsters. The baddies. The vines. Can you feel it?
Of course you can. You’re nodding with me now. Or nodding off.
Sleep while you can. I’ll be waiting for you here, at the dark side.
Katrina Monroe and the Dark Side of Fiction
The Midnight Disease
Katrina Monroe is an author, mother, and professional haterologist. Her favorite things to hate include socks that fall down, grape-flavored anything, and the color 'salmon.' Grab her books here.