William Styron’s “Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness” is a slim volume (84 pages) recounting in first person, his deeply personal struggle with crippling depression, the events leading up to his battle with the illness, and many of the terrors surrounding that time.
In language befitting the Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, Styron articulates the hell of depression with stark beauty, comparing many facets of his bleak existence with the optimistic happenings of everyday life going on all around him, and his desperation at being unable to enjoy even the simplest things.
After seeing Styron interviewed on a talk-show, and hearing him say, long after publication of this book, that it had garnered more attention than any of his other novels, Sophie’s Choice and the Confessions of Nat Turner included, combined – he went on to say, as flattering as it was, it puzzled him somewhat and he was growing a little tired of, “…hearing about that damned depression book…”
He said it jokingly, but it made one wonder, all the same; at least it made me wonder.
I was one of the readers who loved that book and loved him for writing it. In fact, coincidentally, at the time I saw Styron being interviewed; I was attempting to write a short note to him, thanking him for writing “Darkness Visible” and also, trying to tell him why it was such an important book and what it meant to me.
In the end, I decided to forget about the interview and proffer my gratitude to Styron anyhow. I did tell him that I hoped he didn’t mind receiving one more plaudit for his “depression book” trusting that his famous sense of humour was intact.
Why did I feel such a need to write to this author?
Styron’s “Darkness Visible”, in addition to recounting in vivid detail the darkness of depression and the depths of despair, talks at length about his reluctance to be hospitalized, and about staying too long on the wrong medication.
In my own sorry state, I remained straddling the abyss far too long, avoiding hospitalization with an irrational fear that bordered on paranoia.
After reading “Darkness Visible”, a book written about a situation very similar to my own, and penned by an author I greatly respected, it was as if I had received tacit permission to enter the hospital.
Styron does not sugar-coat hospitalization, far from it, but he does present it as a viable option. For someone like me, that was all it took. I thought he should know how helpful his little book had been.
Some months later, I received this in the mail:
I was very touched by your eloquent letter. I’m so glad my experience – especially the part concerning the hospital – could have been valuable to you. Your words make me glad I wrote the book and I’m grateful for your thoughtfulness.
By the time I received his note, I was on my way out of my own depression. Had I not been, I’m sure reading William Styron’s very kind words would have helped immeasurably.
As it is, I treasure them still and have the note pasted in the front of my copy of “Darkness Visible”, a tiny tome about depression and the darkest stages of the human condition.
More importantly, in the end, the book is about living through depression, and how almost everyone does, something it is hard remember when one is in the throes of the illness.
For that alone, the book is worth reading and re-reading.