Darkness Visible by William Styron

A friend of mine posted about this small little book on facebook.  I’ve never read any of William Styron’s novels such as Sophie’s Choice and his Pulitzer Prize-winning The Confessions of Nat Turner.  Perhaps I should have read some of them prior to reading his “memoir of madness”, Darkness Visible, but it still enabled me to gain an understanding of  the nightmare he went through while experiencing clinical depression around the time that he was sixty years old.

He published this book in 1990.  The treatment of depression may have changed and even improved over the last twenty years; however, I have a feeling that the struggles those have today in dealing with it have not changed considerably since Styron wrote about his experiences.

He uses the word “madness” in the tagline to the book’s title.  He explains that while this word tends to not be politically correct in talking about depression (and it probably still isn’t), Styron can’t think of a better description.  He doesn’t like the word “depression” because to him it’s not a strong enough word.  It reminds him of a small pothole in the road.  The word he prefers is “brainstorm” but he laments about that word having a different meaning in popular culture.  Styron’s inability to find an adequate word for his disease serves to strengthen his view that part of the terror of depression is not being able to explain it to anyone, particularly those closest to the one suffering:

…virtually any other  serious sickness, a patient who felt similar devastation would be lying flat in bed, possibly sedated and hooked up to the tubes and wires of life-support systems, but at the very least in a posture of repose and in an isolated setting.  His invalidism would be necessary, unquestioned and honorably attained.  However, the sufferer from depression has no such option and therefore finds himself, like a walking casualty of war, thrust into the most intolerable social and family situations.  There he must, despite the anguish devouring his brain, present a face approximating the one that is associated with ordinary events and companionship.

He credits seclusion through hospitalization, time and the undying support of his wife, Rose, with bringing him healing.  He portrays his experience with psychotherapy and medication as mediocre at best; but does not dismiss these as valid forms of treatment.

My guess is that there are more recent books that one could (and maybe should) read for up-to-date treatments available; however, I would highly recommend this short book in attempting to understand what someone suffering from depression may be going through.



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