In 1989, the writer William Styron became one of the first celebrities to publicly acknowledge his battle with depression, in a magazine article that would, the following year, be extended into the memoir Darkness Visible. People suffering from depression around the world appreciated Styron’s act, and many wrote to him to say so. His description of his experience spoke to people in a profound and deep way, and over the following decade, the author of Sophie's Choice and other bestselling novels became an advocate for and prominent face of the depression awareness movement.
Here are some of the most resonant passages in Darkness Visible, based on highlights from ebook readers. Perhaps one or more of these will resonate with you, too:
On what depression is: “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.”
On the origins of his own depression: “Loss in all of its manifestations is the touchstone of depression. . . . I would gradually be persuaded that devastating loss in childhood figured as a probable genesis of my own disorder; meanwhile, as I monitored my retrograde condition, I felt loss at every hand. . . . One dreads the loss of all things, all people close and dear. There is an acute fear of abandonment. Being alone in the house, even for a moment, caused me exquisite panic and trepidation.”
On how depression feels: “In depression this faith in deliverance, in ultimate restoration, is absent. The pain is unrelenting, and what makes the condition intolerable is the foreknowledge that no remedy will come—not in a day, an hour, a month, or a minute. If there is mild relief, one knows that it is only temporary; more pain will follow. It is hopelessness even more than pain that crushes the soul.”
On the struggle: “In the absence of hope we must still struggle to survive, and so we do—by the skin of our teeth.”
On the manifestations of depression: “Of the many dreadful manifestations of the disease, both physical and psychological, a sense of self-hatred—or, put less categorically, a failure of self-esteem—is one of the most universally experienced symptoms, and I had suffered more and more from a general feeling of worthlessness as the malady had progressed.”
On the physical side of depression: “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.”
On educating others: “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 borne. 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.”
On recovery: To quote Dante, as Styron does at the end of Darkness Visible, “And so we came forth, and once again beheld the stars.”
To further explore the memoir, download the book club guide for Darkness Visible here.