Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness by William Styron is a slender, yet profound, exploration of one man’s struggle with depression. While in Paris to receive a prestigious award, the author becomes increasingly aware of how deeply his depression has rooted itself in his psyche and decides to get help once and for all. His candor in describing his complicated journey towards wellness lends this a strength few memoirs offer.
Styron is best known for his novels, Sophie’s Choice and The Confessions of Nat Turner possibly most of all. I was curious to see how Styron would describe his personal experience, mostly because I am dealing with several people who seem to be struggling with depression. It is easy to forget that, even though in our society we talk more openly about mental health issues, there is still a strong stigma attached to a diagnosis of depression.
Most remarkable for me, was reading Styron’s honest subjectivity. He never projects his personal experience onto others. He concedes that what worked for him may not be the solution for others, reinforcing the idea that each person’s experience is unique. It would be easy for a reader to assume that what’s true for the author is true for everyone who has depression but he never allows this false idea to take root.
I suppose this is what I appreciate most about this book and why I want to recommend it to anyone who knows someone with depression. While it may not give you insight into the specifics of why the person you know is suffering, it will give you a better understanding, maybe even some compassion, about why this is such a struggle. If nothing else, perhaps the insight on the pages will build some patience in your heart and, even where you may not be able to fully understand the profound struggle, you can find room to listen to the person living with depression. At least, I hope that this is what is happening for me, anyway.