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Book Title: Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness|
Format files: PDF
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ISBN 13: 9780679736394
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The author of the book: William Styron
Date of issue: January 8th 1992
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Darkness Visible: When the Question is Whether Life is Worth Living
William Styron, (June 11, 1925 – November 1, 2006)
"Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.--Edmund Kean, (4 November 1787 – 15 May 1833), celebrated Shakespearean actor
Preamble-January 18, 2015
It is 1:20am cst. My thoughts swirl over the important content of Styron's brief memoir originally delivered as a lecture in Baltimore, 1989. The information contained in this little volume is too important to trust to hastily dashed off thoughts, without the benefit of careful consideration. So a night's sleep is called for. And, truthfully, to consider how much of myself I choose to reveal within my review of Styron's story. For much of what he has to say, also applies to me, as it does to many among us. Yet, I am not unaware of the stigma brought about by confession. My inclination is truthfulness leads more to seek help. I did. It has made all the difference. For I emerged from darkness, once again to see the stars. There is much joy in the night sky, but a terrible loneliness in the dark, without even a match to strike to hold to a candle's wick.
The Heart of the Matter-January 25, 2015
It has taken considerably more time than one night of good sleep to bring myself to write an adequate review of Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness. For I did not stop with this brief but brilliant account by William Styron. I continued on to with Reading My Father by his youngest daughter, Alexandra Styron, an absorbing, intimate memoir detailing what it was like to be William Styron's daughter in good times and in bad. The bad included not only the time Styron so articulately described in this work, but in his continuing battle clinical depression. His battle did not end with the publication of Darkness Visible in 1990. Rather, Styron was revisited by "the black dog," the "dark river," "the abyss," a number of times before his death in 2006. No, Styron did not die by his own hand. He endured cancer of the mouth, and died of complications from pneumonia. A review of Reading My Father will follow at some point, hopefully in the very near future. As I type, a copy of William Styron, A Life by his biographer James L.W. West III is at the right corner of my desk. Yes, I am making a study of Styron's life and his works, a number of which I have read at this time, but not all of them. Many, some published posthumously have a great bearing on Styron's life view, his state of mind during some of the most difficult points in his life.
There was something else I had to give considerable thought to before writing this review. I indicated that in my "hastily dashed off thoughts" now appearing in what I have called the Preamble to the main body of this review. Those of you who have read my reviews know that I have often included personal details of my life. This will be the most personal review I have ever written. Not only will you read of Styron's thoughts on the nature of depression, but you will learn of mine, something that I struggled to hide for many years, quite successfully, until, I, too, slid off the edge of the world in much the same fashion as did Styron. It is not so much that confession is good for the soul, but that with each voice speaking about the debilitating anguish of depression, perhaps those who do not understand it will not view those who suffer from it weak human beings, would be shirkers of responsibility, or simply spineless beings. Styron did much to dispell that stigma. However, many people who share those misconceptions, quite frankly do not read William Styron. I have come to wonder if they read much of anything. I also have a few things to say about the pharmaceutical industry and the manner in which they pitch their products in endless streams of mindless commercials.
On Darkness Visible as a work of Literature
William Styron wrote an extraordinary document. It draws on literary allusion after allusion. Note the very source of its title. Paradise Lost by John Milton. For its subject matter it is remarkably succinct, a mere ninety pages. It is remarkable for its clarity. Styron is remarkable for his revelation of his illness, it is the taking off the mask that those battling depression wear so well, for so long. Styron reveals his self medication with alcohol, perhaps an addiction, though he never calls it alcoholism. Yet he reveals that he frequently wrote under the influence of alcohol and could not do so without a fluent flow without the aid of alcohol. At the age of sixty, the mere taste of alcohol resulted in pure revulsion. He was devastated by insomnia night after night. He discloses that he was an auto-didact. He was a master at self-diagnosis. Before seeking psychiatric help he had pondered over the Diagnostic Statistical Manual, what I call the ultimate cookbook containing all the diagnostic recipes for disorders large and small for psychologists and psychiatrists. To further complicate matters, though Styron does not admit it in Darkness Visible Styron was a hypochondriac extraordinaire. We can thank daughter Alexandra for that information.
Styron cracked apart in 1985 on a trip to Paris to accept the Prix Mondial Cino Del Duca, awarded for his lifetime achievement in producing works reflecting on great humanism. The award was offered by the wife of his French Publisher. Del Duca had published Styron's first novel Lie Down in Darkness in 1953, and had published each of his ensuing works. It was to be a day of festivities. However, Styron had already sought an appointment with a psychiatrist in New York. The prize was $25,000.00. Immediately after the award was presented, Styron in an absolute panic, immobilized by anxiety, told Madame Del Duca he could not attend the luncheon being held in his behalf. Which drew an angry "Alors!" With arms thrown high. Styron, even in his frozen state, apologized, did recognize his gaffe and told her he had a problem psychiatrique and that he was sick. Apology accepted. Styron and his rock, wife Rose, suffered through the luncheon, Styron unable to choke down hardly a bite. A flight on the Concorde the next morning began a rigorous pyschiatric treatment. Ultimately hospitalization. Styron seriously contemplated suicide.
So. Some central thoughts from Darkness Visible, each of which I hold to be absolutely true, which I will interlace with my own confessions, the devil take the hindmost. The names of some of my principal players have been changed to protect the innocent and the guilty, for there are both.
“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. It thus remains nearly incomprehensible to those who have not experienced it in its extreme mode, although the gloom, "the blues" which people go through occasionally and associate with the general hassle of everyday existence are of such prevalence that they do give many individuals a hint of the illness in its catastrophic form.” --William Styron
No words have come so close to describing what it feels like. "You're just down in the dumps. A little time, you'll feel better in no time." Time passes, there's no change. "This moodiness of yours is getting old. Snap out of it. Do you think it's pleasant being around you?" No, I didn't think it was. "If you're not happy here, go somewhere else. If you do, I'll take you for every cent you've got."
My first marriage. Twenty-six years. Many years were loveless. We had two children. When my son graduated from high school, I left work early one day, gathered clothes together, the kids came home to find me packing. I explained their mother and I couldn't get along anymore. It wasn't their fault. Nor was it their mother's. She was a good woman. I would never say a bad word about her.
The divorce took two years. My former wife fought all the way. I was an Assistant District Attorney. There was a limited pot of money. There would always be a limited amount of money. It took two lawyers to convince her of that. Even then, I gave her everything, keeping my books, records, fishing equipment, and camping equipment. Everyone leaves their own legacy. She alienated by children by blocking every phone number I had access to. The children in my photographs of them never grow older. My son married. I had told him when he and his wife had a child he would understand what it meant to be a father, perhaps we would be reconciled someday. We did for almost two years. His mother gave him fits, his wife told me. We are once again estranged. My daughter has never reconciled with me. She has a child I've never met. I was first told I was dealing with depression during my divorce.
One does not abandon, even briefly, one’s bed of nails, but is attached to it wherever one goes. And this results in a striking experience- one which I have called, borrowing military terminology, the situation of the walking wounded. For in virtually any other serious sickness, a patient who felt similar devastation would by 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 must try to utter small talk, and be responsive to questions, and knowingly nod and frown and, God help him, even smile. But it is a fierce trial attempting to speak a few simple words.”-William Styron
I became an Assistant District Attorney in 1979. Several factors led to that. Two women who had cared for me as a child had been murdered. One by her husband. The other by her son. I had loved each of them. Later in law school, as a law clerk in the District Attorney's Office, two young men robbed a Mom and Pop grocery store. The father of two students with whom I had attended school throughout my life was murdered. His death changed their lives forever. I would become a righter of wrongs.
I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain—and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.
Within six years I was a specialist in prosecuting child abuse. I was bestowed somehow with a high degree of empathy. It can be a gift and a curse. I became known as Mr. Mike. I had a unique ability to talk with children. I became known as Mr. Mike, first by children, then by police, social workers, and the name stuck. I was called in to interview very young children who had witnessed their fathers kill their mothers. I became a protector of mockingbirds.
The caseload was relentless. I was a man capable of great tenderness mixed with the ability to turn mean. I was described as a lawyer who had an uncanny ability to connect with a witness on the stand. I often worked late into the night in trial preparation. My former wife complained I cared about other people's children more than my own. She could not understand it when I told her I knew ours were protected but the others were not.
I was and remain haunted by the eyes of the dead, particularly the eyes of dead children. I have flashbacks at times.
What Styron said about being expected to smile,is true. I wore a mask. Exceptionally well. I was a cop's DA. My best lawyer friend resorted to a John Wayne phrase calling me "a man with a lot of hard bark on him." I could exchange gallows' humor jokes with the most jaded Homicide Investigator.
Although our office had an on-call system, Investigators usually called me. Frankly, I was very, very good at my job. I was a fine trial lawyer. I lost very few cases. I did lose control of my emotions more than once on closing argument before a jury and cried. I considered it a weakness even when the jury convicted.
During all my years as a prosecutor I lost count of the number of crime scenes I attended, the number of dead I saw, the number of autopsies I witnessed, the exhumation of a dead child I obtained an order for, and the subsequent re-autopsy.
I had no outlet to talk about my work. My former wife did not want to hear about it. "It was too depressing." Yes. I guess it was.
“When I was first aware that I had been laid low by the disease, I felt a need, among other things, to register a strong protest against the word "depression." Depression, most people know, used to be termed "melancholia," a word which appears in English as the year 1303 and crops up more than once in Chaucer, who in his usage seemed to be aware of its pathological nuances. "Melancholia" would still appear to be a far more apt and evocative word for the blacker forms of the disorder, but it was usurped by a noun with a blank tonality and lacking any magisterial presence, used indifferent to describe an economic decline or a rut in the ground, a true wimp of a word for such a major illness.
It may be that the scientist generally held responsible for its currency in modern times, a Johns Hopkins Medical School faculty member justly venerated --the Swiss-born psychiatrist Adolf Meyer -- had a tin ear for the finer rhythms of English and therefore was unaware of the semantic damage he had inflicted for such a dreadful and raging disease. Nonetheless, for over seventy-five years the word has slithered innocuously through the language like a slug, leaving little trace of its intrinsic malevolence and preventing, by its insipidity, a general awareness of the horrible intensity of the disease when out of control.”
― William Styron
Our pharmaceutical industry does nothing to indicate the seriousness of clinical depression. It's a simple as just adding a little pill to help the anti-depressant you're on. And all delivered in a seconds long cartoon commercial. What kind of message does that send to people who have never dealt with the condition, those who have just had the commonplace blues.
Looks serious, doesn't it?
And where are the men in those commercials? Alright, so the statistics show women report depression more than men. How about, women are more forthcoming and truthful in reporting depression. After all, that male ego is such an impediment to admitting to what is viewed as a weakness. Interesting that according to the American Foundation for Suicide in 2012 over 78% of suicides were committed by males while slightly over 21% were committed by females.
Since Darkness Visible
William Styron was repeatedly prescribed Halcion by more than one physician for his insomnia. Halcion was banned in Great Britain in 1991 on the basis of its connection to depression and possible suicidal behavior. The FDA still allows its prescription in the United States. The drug is currently the subject of litigation in various jurisdictions.
Considerable progress has been made in pharmacology for the treatment of clinical depression since Styron published Darkness Visible.
Why I'm Still Here
I fell off the edge of the earth twice. Call it a crack up. Call it a nervous break down. Throughout my life I have been consumed by the fear of failure. Formerly the Director of a Not for Profit Corporation, I was placed under a degree of stress I was incapable of handling. I had long been associated with the program as a board member. The President of the Board had succeeded in removing two Directors preceding my taking the position. When that President initiated the same tactics against me, I became frozen by anxiety, incapable of focus, unable to function. Men closely identify themselves with their work. The loss of what they do is essentially the same as the loss of their identity. That was the case for me. Did I consider whether life was worth living anymore? Yes, I did. Clinical Depression is a chemical imbalance. Restoration to health requires a combination of psychological therapy and psychiatric pharmacology. I was fortunate to find the right combination.
I entered a second stage of crisis after being my mother's care giver during her final illness. It was a long hard death for her. I very unrealistically thought I could help save her life. I lived in a state of denial. She finally was hospitalized in intensive care for a month. The end was inevitable. The morning she died, I found myself lost once again. What was left for me to do. An adjustment of my medications was necessary. Within two months, I had found myself once again.
Each time I considered life wasn't worth the living, one thing kept me from taking the final step. It was the same thing that kept Styron alive. For him, it was the effect it would have had on his family. For me, it was the effect it would have had on my mother and my wife, the lovely woman with whom I found happiness relatively late in life. The second time, my wife. I have seen too many people devastated by the suicide of a loved one. But it took the right help to make me remember that. The help is there.
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Read information about the authorWilliam Styron (1925–2006), born in Newport News, Virginia, was one of the greatest American writers of his generation. Styron published his first book, Lie Down in Darkness, at age twenty-six and went on to write such influential works as the controversial and Pulitzer Prize–winning The Confessions of Nat Turner and the international bestseller Sophie’s Choice.
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