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David Baxter

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Thank you, William Styron
Friday, December 1st, 2006
by Deborah Gray

?The madness of depression is the antithesis of violence. It is a storm indeed, but a storm of murk. Soon evident are the slowed-down responses, near paralysis, psychic energy throttled back close to zero. Ultimately, the body is affected and feels sapped, drained.? ~ William Styron, Darkness Visible

William Styron wrote the book that literally changed my life, and that of many other people. In 1990 he published a slim volume entitled, Darkness Visible: A Memory of Madness, a memoir of the battle with depression that brought him to the edge of suicide.

Before he wrote Darkness Visible Styron was known as the prize-winning author of Lie Down in Darkness, Sophie?s Choice and The Confessions of Nat Turner, among others. I read Sophie?s Choice years ago and found it, perhaps ironically, fairly depressing. Not surprisingly, Styron theorized that his underlying depression had colored his writing for decades.

For me Darkness Visible was a revelation. I?m not even sure why I picked it up. Perhaps, as often is the case, the subconscious knew what to do when my conscious mind was in denial. I had no idea, at least consciously, that I suffered from depression. I did know something was wrong, but couldn?t identify it.

As I read Darkness Visible (in one sitting if I remember correctly) I started crying. I couldn?t believe that there was a name for what was afflicting me. I almost immediately made an appointment with a psychiatrist, who confirmed the diagnosis. I was relieved. If something can be named, in my way of thinking, it can be dealt with somehow.

Although other writers had explored their own depressions before Styron, none seem to me to measure up to Darkness Visible in its ability to light up all aspects of the disease. Styron picked depression apart and wove it back together with clarity and a somber beauty.

So often we fumble inarticulately while we?re trying to describe the experience of depression to ourselves or others. It?s a difficult thing to describe if even if you are gifted with words and virtually impossible if you are not. Styron himself noted in Darkness Visible, ?Depression is a disorder of mood, so mysteriously painful and elusive in the way it becomes known to the self ? to the mediating intellect ? as to verge close to being beyond description.? Styron?s writing crystallized the thoughts and feelings of depression and gave us an eloquent voice to express them.

William Styron was a private person. He could easily have written Darkness Visible simply to exorcise his demons and not for publication. I for one will always be grateful that he did publish it. It?s hard to say how many more years I would have lost to depression if I had not read it.

William Styron wrote the following in Darkness Visible about an op-ed piece he wrote for The New York Times about suicide and depression which prompted an ?enormous? response from the public. However, from what his family and friends say, it also applies to the response he received after writing Darkness Visible:

?The overwhelming reaction made me feel that inadvertently I had helped unlock a closet from which many souls were eager to come out and proclaim that they, too, had experienced the feelings I had described. It is the only time in my life that I have felt it worthwhile to have invaded my own privacy, and to make that privacy public.?​

I think anything I write to describe the impact that this book had on me will be woefully inadequate. I feel like a mall artist trying to do an homage to the Sistine Chapel. So I?ll just keep it simple. Thank you, William Styron.

William Styron died on November 1 of pneumonia at the age of 81.
 

Halo

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What a coincidence, I just read this article earlier this evening when I was reading through Deborah's blog.

David, have you heard of the book that Deborah is referring to? I remember picking it up in the bookstore but not knowing whether it was worth the read given its small size.

Thanks for posting it :)
 

Halo

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I think after reading Deborah's blog it has intrigued me even more to pick up the book even though the size of it may be small it sounds like it is well worth the read.
 

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