William Styron was already an accomplished, award-winning author by the mid-1980s when he suffered a devastating episode of clinical depression. His novels The Confessions of Nat Turner and Sophie’s Choice had made him famous and respected in the literary world. Meryl Streep won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of the protagonist in the film version of Sophie’s Choice. To someone who had never experienced clinical depression, Styron must have appeared on top of the world.
Styron’s descent into severe depression, for which he was eventually hospitalized, is chronicled in his extraordinary memoir, Darkness Visible. This short book is beautifully written despite the dark subject matter. Styron primarily focuses on his own experiences with the disease. He discusses medication and psychiatry, as well as hospitalization. But mostly, he reveals what it feels like to live depression.
Styron does an excellent job showing us what it’s like to feel so miserable when everyone around you doesn’t seem to understand why you can’t just cheer up.
You would think that reading a memoir of a rich and famous person’s dark descent into depression would be awful. If they can’t be happy, who can? But Styron--the respected, bestselling author--gives hope to those of us who are not rich or famous who suffer with clinical depression. By sharing his story, Styron reminds us that there is no shame in seeking help. It gets you thinking: I’m not crazy. I’m not alone.