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Excerpt: Darkness Visible by William Styron

Excerpt: Darkness Visible by William Styron

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Read an excerpt of Darkness Visible, William Styron’s stirring account of his plunge into a crippling depression, and his inspiring road to recovery.

In the summer of 1985, William Styron became numbed by disaffection, apathy, and despair, unable to speak or walk while caught in the grip of advanced depression. His struggle with the disease culminated in a wave of obsession that nearly drove him to suicide, leading him to seek hospitalization before the dark tide engulfed him.

Darkness Visible tells the story of Styron’s recovery, laying bare the harrowing realities of clinical depression and chronicling his triumph over the disease that had claimed so many great writers before him. For all who suffer from mental illness, his final words call for hope that it is possible to emerge from even the deepest abyss of despair and “once again behold the stars.”
Read an excerpt of Darkness Visible, William Styron’s stirring account of his plunge into a crippling depression, and his inspiring road to recovery.

In the summer of 1985, William Styron became numbed by disaffection, apathy, and despair, unable to speak or walk while caught in the grip of advanced depression. His struggle with the disease culminated in a wave of obsession that nearly drove him to suicide, leading him to seek hospitalization before the dark tide engulfed him.

Darkness Visible tells the story of Styron’s recovery, laying bare the harrowing realities of clinical depression and chronicling his triumph over the disease that had claimed so many great writers before him. For all who suffer from mental illness, his final words call for hope that it is possible to emerge from even the deepest abyss of despair and “once again behold the stars.”

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Published by: OpenRoadMedia on Aug 25, 2011
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09/29/2013

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Darkness Visible
By William Styron
 Excerpt from Chapter 4One bright day on a walk through the woods with my dog I heard aflock of Canada geese honking high above trees ablaze with foliage;ordinarily a sight and sound that would have exhilarated me, the flightof birds caused me to stop, riveted with fear, and I stood strandedthere, helpless, shivering, aware for the first time that I had beenstricken by no mere pangs of withdrawal but by a serious illnesswhose name and actuality I was able finally to acknowledge. Goinghome, I couldn’t rid my mind of the line of Baudelaire’s, dredged upfrom the distant past, that for several days had been skittering aroundat the edge of my consciousness: “I have felt the wind of the wing of madness.”Our perhaps understandable modern need to dull the sawtooth edgesof so many of the afflictions we are heir to has led us to banish theharsh old-fashioned words: madhouse, asylum, insanity, melancholia,lunatic, madness. But never let it be doubted that depression, in itsextreme form, is madness. The madness results from an aberrantbiochemical process. It has been established with reasonablecertainty (after strong resistance from many psychiatrists, and not allthat long ago) that such madness is chemically induced amid theneurotransmitters of the brain, probably as the result of systemicstress, which for unknown reasons causes a depletion of thechemicals norepinephrine and serotonin, and the increase of ahormone, cortisol. With all of this upheaval in the brain tissues, thealternate drenching and deprivation, it is no wonder that the mindbegins to feel aggrieved, stricken, and the muddied thoughtprocesses register the distress of an organ in convulsion. Sometimes,though not very often, such a disturbed mind will turn to violentthoughts regarding others. But with their minds turned agonizingly
 
 
inward, people with depression are usually dangerous only tothemselves. The madness of depression is, generally speaking, theantithesis of violence. It is a storm indeed, but a storm of murk. Soonevident are the slowed-down responses, near paralysis, psychicenergy throttled back close to zero. Ultimately, the body is affectedand 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 thoseoutmoded small-town telephone exchanges, being graduallyinundated by flood-waters: one by one, the normal circuits began todrown, 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 themfollowing the pattern of depressive seizures. I particularly remember the lamentable near disappearance of my voice. It underwent astrange transformation, becoming at times quite faint, wheezy andspasmodic—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 beleagueredemergency. Many people lose all appetite; mine was relativelynormal, but I found myself eating only for subsistence: food, likeeverything else within the scope of sensation, was utterly withoutsavor. Most distressing of all the instinctual disruptions was that of sleep, along with a complete absence of dreams. . . .At any rate, my few hours of sleep were usually terminated at three or four in the morning, when I stared up into yawning darkness,wondering and writhing at the devastation taking place in my mind,and awaiting the dawn, which usually permitted me a feverish,dreamless nap. I’m fairly certain that it was during one of theseinsomniac trances that there came over me the knowledge—a weirdand shocking revelation, like that of some long-beshroudedmetaphysical truth—that this condition would cost me my life if itcontinued on such a course. This must have been just before my tripto Paris. Death, as I have said, was now a daily presence, blowing

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