In it, he described depression as "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. The publication of Darkness Visible helped break the silence around depression, which many suffered in solitude. It also tackled head-on the pervasive assumption that depression is simply down to individual weakness, particularly when it drives people to suicide. And it argued from weathered experience that anyone suffering from depression must not, whatever happens, give up — indeed, its closing pages are profoundly redemptive, offering hope and guidance to anyone who has been affected by the condition.
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I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of Is come into me. I was not in safety, neither had I rest, neither was I quiet; Yet trouble came. I had first met him during the wild days and nights of the Democratic convention in Chicago, where I had gone to write a piece for The New York Review of Books, and I later was one of those who testified in behalf of him and his fellow defendants at the trial, also in Chicago, in Amid the pious follies and morbid perversions of American life, his antic style was exhilarating, and it was hard not to admire the hell-raising and the brio, the anarchic individualism.
I wish I had seen more of him in recent years; his sudden death left me with a particular emptiness, as suicides usually do to everyone. But the event was given a further dimension of poignancy by what one must begin to regard as a predictable reaction from many: the denial, the refusal to accept the fact of the suicide itself, as if the voluntary act—as opposed to an accident, or death from natural causes—were tinged with a delinquency that somehow lessened the man and his character.
However, the coroner confirmed that Hoffman had taken the equivalent of phenobarbitals. Even so, the sufferer—whether he has actually killed himself or attempted to do so, or merely expressed threats— is often, through denial on the part of others, unjustly made to appear as a wrongdoer. A similar case is that of Randall Jarrell—one of the fine poets and critics of his generation—who one night in , near Chapel Hill, North Carolina, was struck by a car and killed.
Jarrell had been suffering from extreme depression and had been hospitalized; only a few months before his misadventure on the highway and while in the hospital, he had slashed his wrists. But the stigma of self-inflicted death is for some people a hateful blot that demands erasure at al costs. Randal Jarrell almost certainly killed himself. He did so not because he was a coward, nor out of any moral feebleness, but because he was afflicted with a depression that was so devastating that he could no longer endure the pain of it.
This general unawareness of what depression is really like was apparent most recently in the matter of Primo Levi, the remarkable Italian writer and survivor of Auschwitz who, at the age of sixty-seven, hurled himself down a stairwell in Turin in It was as if this man whom they had al so greatly admired, and who had endured so much at the hands of the Nazis—a man of exemplary resilience and courage—had by his suicide demonstrated a frailty, a crumbling of character they were loath to accept.
In the face of a terrible absolute—self-destruction—their reaction was helplessness and the reader could not avoid it a touch of shame. My annoyance over all this was so intense that I was prompted to write a short piece for the op-ed page of the Times. The argument I put forth was fairly straightforward: the pain of severe depression is quite unimaginable to those who have not suffered it, and it kills in many instances because its anguish can no longer be bourne.
The prevention of many suicides will continue to be hindered until there is a general awareness of the nature of this pain. Through the healing process of time—and through medical intervention or hospitalization in many cases—most people survive depression, which may be its only blessing; but to the tragic legion who are compelled to destroy themselves there should be no more reproof attached than to the victims of terminal cancer.
I had set down my thoughts in this Times piece rather hurriedly and spontaneously, but the response was equally spontaneous—and enormous. It had taken, I speculated, no particular originality or boldness on my part to speak out frankly about suicide, and the impulse toward it, but I had apparently underestimated the number of people for whom the subject had been taboo, a matter of secrecy and shame.
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 I have felt it worthwhile to have invaded my own privacy, and to make that privacy public.
And I thought that, given such momentum, it might be useful to try to briefly chronicle some of my own experiences with depression, and in the process perhaps establish a frame of reference out of which one or more valuable conclusions might be drawn. Such conclusions, it has to be emphasized, must still be based on the events that happened to one man. Depression afflicts millions directly, and many millions more who are relatives or friends of victims.
As assertively democratic as a Norman Rockwell poster, it strikes indiscriminately at all ages, races, creeds, and classes, though women are at considerably higher risk than men. The occupational list dressmakers, barge captains, sushi chefs, Cabinet members of its patients is too long and tedious; it is enough to say that very few people escape being a potential victim of the disease, at least in its milder form.
And why were they destroyed, while others—similarly stricken—struggled through? As one who has suffered from the malady in extremis yet returned to tell the tale, I would lobby for a truly arresting designation.
But something along these lines is needed. The depression that engulfed me was not of the manic type—the one accompanied by euphoric highs—which would have most probably presented itself earlier in my life.
To be able to do so will likely forever prove to be an impossibility, so complex are the intermingled factors of abnormal chemistry, behavior, and genetics. Plainly, multiple components are involved—perhaps three or four, most probably more, in fathomless permutations.
That is why the greatest fallacy about suicide lies in the belief that there is a single immediate answer—or perhaps combined answers—as to why the deed was done. With Randall Jarrell it was a declining career, cruelly epitomized by a vicious book review and his consequent anguish. Primo Levi, it was rumored, had been burdened by caring for his paralytic mother, which was more onerous to his spirit than even his experience at Auschwitz.
Any one of these factors may have lodged like a thorn in the sides of the three men, and been a torment. Such aggravations may be crucial and cannot be ignored. But most people quietly endure the equivalent of injuries, declining careers, nasty book reviews, family illnesses.
A vast majority of the survivors of Auschwitz have borne up fairly well. Bloody and bowed by the outrages of life, most human beings still stagger on down the road, unscathed by real depression. To discover why some people plunge into the downward spiral of depression, one must search beyond the manifest crisis—and then still fail to come up with anything beyond wise conjecture.
The storm which swept me into a hospital in December of began as a cloud no bigger than a wine goblet the previous June. And the cloud—the manifest crisis—involved alcohol, a substance I had been abusing for forty years. Like a great many American writers, whose sometimes lethal addiction to alcohol has become so legendary as to provide in itself a stream of studies and books, I used alcohol as the magical conduit to fantasy and euphoria, and to the enhancement of the imagination.
There is no need to either rue or apologize for my use of this soothing, often sublime agent which had contributed greatly to my writing; although I never set down a line while under its influence, I used it otherwise—often in conjunction with music—as a means to let my mind conceive visions that the unaltered, sober brain has no access to. Alcohol was an invaluable senior partner of my intellect, besides being a friend whose ministrations I sought daily—sought also, I now see, as a means to calm the anxiety and incipient dread that I had hidden away for so long somewhere in the dungeons of my spirit.
The trouble was, at the beginning of this particular summer, that I was betrayed. It struck me quite suddenly, almost overnight: I could no longer drink. It was as if my body had risen up in protest, along with my mind, and had conspired to reject this daily mood bath which it had so long welcomed and, who knows, perhaps even come to need. Many drinkers have experienced this intolerance as they have grown older. The comforting friend had abandoned me not gradually and reluctantly, as a true friend might do, but like a shot—and I was left high and certainly dry, and unhelmed.
Neither by will nor by choice had I become an abstainer; the situation was puzzling to me, but it was also traumatic, and I date the onset of my depressive mood from the beginning of this deprivation. Logically, one would be overjoyed that the body had so summarily dismissed a substance that was undermining its health; it was as if my system had generated a form of Antabuse which should have allowed me to happily go on my way, satisfied that a trick of nature had shut me off from a harmful dependence.
While depression is by no means unknown when people stop drinking, it is usually on a scale that is not menacing. But it should be kept in mind how idiosyncratic the faces of depression can be. It was not really alarming at first, since the change was subtle, but I did notice that my surroundings took on a different tone at certain times: the shadows of nightfall seemed more somber, my mornings were less buoyant, walks in the woods became less zestful, and there was a moment during my working hours in the late afternoon when a kind of panic and anxiety overtook me, just for a few minutes, accompanied by a visceral queasiness—such a seizure was at least slightly alarming, after all.
As I set down these recollections, I realize that it should have been plain to me that I was already in the grip of the beginning of a mood disorder, but I was ignorant of such a condition at that time.
When I reflected on this curious alteration of my consciouness—and I was baffled enough from time to time to do so—I assumed that it all had to do somehow with my enforced withdrawal from alcohol. And, of course, to a certain extent this was true. But it is my conviction now that alcohol played a perverse trick on me when we said farewell to each other: although, as everyone should know, it is a major depressant, it had never truly depressed me during my drinking career, acting instead as a shield against anxiety.
Suddenly vanished, the great ally which for so long had kept my demons at bay was no longer there to prevent those demons from beginning to swarm through the subconscious, and I was emotionally naked, vulnerable as I had never been before. Doubtless, depression had hovered near me for years, waiting to swoop down. I felt a kind of numbness, an enervation, but more particularly an odd fragility—as if my body had actually become frail, hypersensitive, and somehow disjointed and clumsy, lacking normal coordination.
And soon I was in the throes of a pervasive hypochondria. Nothing felt quite right with my corporeal self; there were twitches and pains, sometimes intermittent, often seemingly constant, that seemed to presage all sorts of dire infirmities. In my case, the overall effect was immensely disturbing, augmenting the anxiety that was by now never quite absent from my waking hours and fueling still another strange behavior pattern—a fidgety restlessness that kept me on the move, somewhat to the perplexity of my family and friends.
Once, in late summer, on an airplane trip to New York, I made the reckless mistake of downing a scotch and soda—my first alcohol in months—which promptly sent me into a tailspin, causing me such a horrified sense of disease and interior doom that the very next day I rushed to a Manhattan internist, who inaugurated a long series of tests.
Normally, I would have been satisfied, indeed elated, when, after three weeks of high-tech and extremely expensive evaluation, the doctor pronounced me totally fit; and I was happy, for a day or two, until there once again began the rhythmic daily erosion of my mood—anxiety, agitation, unfocused dread. By now I had moved back to my house in Connecticut.
It was October, and one of the unforgettable features of this stage of my disorder was the way in which my old farmhouse, my beloved home for thirty years, took on for me—especially in the late afternoon, when my spirits regularly sank to their nadir—an almost palpable quality of ominousness. Physically, I was not alone. My wife, Rose, was always present and listened with unflagging patience to my complaints.
But I felt an immense and aching solitude. I could no longer concentrate during those afternoon hours, which for years had been my working time, and the act of writing itself, becoming more and more difficult and exhausting, stalled, then finally ceased. There were also dreadful, pouncing seizures of anxiety. One bright day on a walk through the woods with my dog I heard a flock of canada geese honking high above trees ablaze with foliage; ordinarily a sight and sound that would have exhilarated me, the flight of birds caused me to stop, riveted with fear, and I stood stranded there, helpless, shivering, aware for the first time that I had been stricken by no mere pangs of withdrawal but by a serious illness whose name and actuality I was able, for the first time, to acknowledge.
But never let it be doubted that depression, in its extreme form, is madness. The madness results from an aberrant biochemical process. It has been established with reasonable certainty after strong resistance from many psychiatrists, and not all that long ago that such madness is chemically induced amid the neurotransmitters of the brain, probably as the result of systemic stress, which for unknown reasons causes a depletion of the chemicals norepinephrine and serotonin, and the increase of a hormone, cortisol.
With all of this upheaval in the brain tissues, the alternate drenching and deprivation, it is no wonder that the mind begins to feel aggrieved, stricken, and the muddied thought processes register the distress of an organ in convulsion. Sometimes, though not very often, such a disturbed mind will turn to violent thoughts regarding others.
But with their minds turned agonizingly inward, people with depression are usually dangerous only to themselves. The madness of depression is, generally speaking, 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. That fall, as the disorder gradually took full possession of my system, I began to conceive that my mind itself was like one of those outmoded small-town telephone exchanges, being gradually inundated by floodwaters: one by one, the normal circuits began to drown, causing some of the functions of the body and nearly all of those of instinct and intellect to slowly disconnect.
There is a well-known checklist of some of these functions and their failures. Mine conked out fairly close to schedule, many of them following the pattern of depressive seizures. I particularly remember the lamentable near disappearance of my voice. It underwent a strange transformation, becoming at times quite faint, wheezy, and spasmodic—a friend observed later that it was the voice of a ninety-year-old.
The libido also made an early exit, as it does in most major illnesses—it is the superfluous need of a body in beleaguered emergency. Many people lose all appetite; mine was relatively normal, but I found myself eating only for subsistence: food, like everything else within the scope of sensation, was utterly without savor.
Most distressing of all the instinctual disruptions was that of sleep, along with a complete absence of dreams. Exhaustion combined with sleeplessness is a rare torture. The two or three hours of sleep I was able to get at night were always at the behest of the minor tranquilizer Halcion—a matter which deserves particular notice.
He tentatively concludes that his depression was brought about by his sudden withdrawal from years of alcoholism and exacerbated by his overdependence on Halcion , a prescription drug that he took to treat insomnia. As his depression becomes more severe, Styron seeks multiple treatment methods, including psychotherapy , consulting with a psychiatrist , and countless antidepressants , but to no avail. Initially, Styron is able to function better in the morning than in the afternoon and evening, but he soon struggles to even get out of bed. He eventually loses the ability to perform basic tasks such as driving and often contemplates suicide. He is suddenly repulsed at the idea of suicide and is compelled to eliminate his depression once and for all. The following day, Styron checks himself into a hospital, which he had previously avoided on the advice of his psychiatrist, who harbors a strong opposition to institutional treatment. It is ultimately at the hospital that Styron finally emerges from his depression and eventually makes a full recovery.
[PDF] Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness Book by William Styron Free Download (84 pages)
I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of Is come into me. I was not in safety, neither had I rest, neither was I quiet; Yet trouble came. I had first met him during the wild days and nights of the Democratic convention in Chicago, where I had gone to write a piece for The New York Review of Books, and I later was one of those who testified in behalf of him and his fellow defendants at the trial, also in Chicago, in Amid the pious follies and morbid perversions of American life, his antic style was exhilarating, and it was hard not to admire the hell-raising and the brio, the anarchic individualism. I wish I had seen more of him in recent years; his sudden death left me with a particular emptiness, as suicides usually do to everyone. But the event was given a further dimension of poignancy by what one must begin to regard as a predictable reaction from many: the denial, the refusal to accept the fact of the suicide itself, as if the voluntary act—as opposed to an accident, or death from natural causes—were tinged with a delinquency that somehow lessened the man and his character. However, the coroner confirmed that Hoffman had taken the equivalent of phenobarbitals.