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Doctors Discover New Writers' Disease: Post Publication Depression

By Timothy Hurley

Dr. Madrid at the Peoria Institute of Medical Research, PIMR, today announced the discovery of a new syndrome afflicting writers.  Authors, probably because of their solitary nature, sedentary habits, and infrequent bathing are known to be susceptible to another syndrome, Writer’s Block, a not-well researched syndrome characterized by whining and heavy drinking.

The new syndrome, Post Publication Depression, PPD, will be reported in an article in the New England Journal of Medicine in two weeks.  If it does not pass peer review for NEJM, the research team at PIMR plans to submit it to The Journal of Irreproducible Results.  Dr. Madrid said it promises to be a very common diagnosis among his colleagues at the Institute.  He estimates that once practitioners become familiar with the symptoms there could be as many as 150,000 new cases per year in the United States, a minimum of 75 per year in Peoria alone.  This epidemic promises to be a windfall to unemployed therapists, big pharma, and breweries, even though, to date, there have been no successful trials of efficacious treatment.

The syndrome afflicts primarily fiction writers, most often demonstrating a three to six week incubation period following the publication of a new work.  Novel writers are most susceptible, but short story writers make up a substantial percentage of patients.  Flash fiction writers seem to be immune.  Madrid speculates the reason flash fiction writers are spared is their short attention spans, but he has no idea why lack of focus imparts protection from the malady.  The incubation period led researchers to conjecture it might be caused by a virus that writers were exposed to when they came into the sunlight after months of writing in darkened apartments, libraries and bars.  Species crossover infection with a computer virus was ruled out when a study showed none of the afflicted writers’ laptops were infected.  Research into neurotransmitter imbalance was halted when the National Guild of Writers objected to writers selling brain tissue samples to the Institute for study.

Technical writers at large corporations and otherwise employed writers receiving regular paychecks have not been reported with the syndrome, but the variable that explains that anomaly has not been determined.  As an example, Madrid said, Andy Borowitz and Ian Frasier have not suffered since going to work for the New Yorker.  Authors who remain on bestseller lists or show up frequently on television also have been resistant. Questionnaires filled out by David Sedaris and Bill Bryson indicated they felt fine at the time of the study.

Symptoms include a prodromal period of euphoria following the acceptance of a work for publication.  The manic state lasts a week, never more than ten days.  It is followed by periods of dissipation, self-recrimination, and the utter lack of cheer.  Obsessive behavior is common: logging onto Kindle Direct Publishing and clicking on “reports—units sold” and “royalties—past six weeks.”  Sufferers report a compulsion to check email inboxes and a sinking feeling akin to hypoglycemia upon finding no new mail.

The obsessive-compulsive behavior fatigues with repetition and is replaced by hourly trips to a bodega or mall for chips, chocolate, and alcohol.  Writers in florid PPD gather in cafes or on park benches and complain about the decline of fiction reading, print publishing, and civilization.

Research at the Institute into treatment modalities was funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health and AmazonDotCom.  To date, no traditional anti-depressant has shortened the course, which runs six weeks to six months, the longer periods occurring in romance novel writers.

Temporary symptom suppression has been achieved with a regimen of aspirin, vitamin C, and pseudoephedrine.  Surgery has proven useless and prolongs the condition, unless it is neurosurgery and involves the frontal lobe.  The receipt of a royalty payment in a checking or PayPal account terminates the illness, and researchers at the N.I.H. and Centers for Disease Control are investigating why.

Until a cause and treatment are discovered, Dr. Madrid advises writers to avoid slush piles in winter, a possible reservoir for the virus.