Friday, February 13, 2009

Darkness Visible - William Styron

William Styron is the award-winning author of Sophie's Choice and The Confessions of Nat Turner. He also suffers from extreme and paralyzing depression. Styron's memoir captures brilliantly the helplessness of depression, and focuses on depression as a disease as serious as cancer. He explores the stigma attached to depression - and how the silencing of those who suffer from depression has caused major problems in the medical field - with doctors who are reluctant to diagnose patients or who are still convinced that it is within an individual's power to simply "get over it" - without exploration of proper medication and therapy. Though this book is quite short and written as a retrospective, Styron was able to portray the progressive nature of the disease. Toward the beginning he thinks of himself as someone who would never commit suicide, and then at the end, he finds himself desperately in need of hospital commitment to prevent such a drastic action. Styron does not explore possible causes or triggers of his depression - and in a sense this is kind of the point. If there is no "cause" - then there can be no quick fix. Rather, depression is a mental illness with no true beginning or end. While I think looking at the disease in this way helps take away stigma, or the blame mentality our society has about depression - it also does not provide much in the way of help or hope. Because of this, I found that this book would probably be most relevant to people who do not suffer from depression - so that they could get a realistic idea of what it is actually like for those arond them who are suffering, and who cannot verbalize their emotions as eloquently as Styron. It is a book that demands acceptance, and a great compassion for the millions of people who struggle daily with this debilitating disease.

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