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Darkness Visible

July 3, 2008

A few weeks ago I was in the library searching for something or other and in my travels came across this wee gem of a book which I’d recommend to anyone interested in mental illness, especially depression.

In the eighty four pages of Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness, William Styron describes his descent into depression through reflection on melancholia, despair, physical ailments, social phobia, alcohol, therapy, hospitalisation and eventual recovery. He gives an extremely moving account of his preparation for suicide, feeling like an observer to an oncoming disaster in an almost theatrical fashion. His attempts to write a farewell note seemed too ridiculous for they sounded either pompous or comical so he tore up all his efforts and resolved to “go out in silence”.

“Late one bitterly cold night, when I knew that I could not possibly get myself through the following day, I sat in the living room of the house bundled up against the chill; something happened to the furnace. My wife had gone to bed and I have forced myself to watch the tape of a movie in which a young actress, who had been in a play of mine, was cast in a small part. At one point in the film … the characters moved down the hallway of a music conservatory, beyond the walls of which, from unseen musicians, came a contralto voice, a sudden soaring passage from the Brahms Alto Rapsody.

This sound which, like all music – indeed, like all pleasure – I had been numbly unresponsive to for months, pierced my heart like a dagger, and in a flood of swift recollection I thought of all the joys the house had known: the children who had rushed through its rooms, the festivals, the love and work, the honestly earned slumber, the voices and the nimble commotion, the perennial tribe of cats and dogs and birds … all this I realised was more than I could ever abandon, even as what had set out so deliberately to do was more than I could inflict on those memories and upon those, so close to me, with whom the memories were bound. And just as powerfully I realised I could not commit this desecration on myself. I drew upon some last gleam of sanity … “

Eloquent and straightforward. Enjoy.

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