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William Styron on Depression

The acclaimed author was afflicted with depression in 1985. We spoke to him about that experience.

By William Styron

As appeared in

William Styron, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, was struck with depression in 1985. Five years later, at age 65, he wrote about overcoming this “catastrophic soul disease” in his powerful book Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness (Random House). We recently spoke to Styron about his experience with depression:

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I never thought for a moment it would hit me. I didn’t even know what depression was. It can strike like lightning. The figures show that on average twice as many women are afflicted, but it can hit anyone.

People around the person who suffers from this illness must realize that the patient is going to be incapacitated through a great part of each day. The suffering is so intense that most people who are going through it feel that it’s going to go on forever.

Depression varies from person to person, but it does seem to run in cycles. For many, the worst horror comes in the morning. It prevents one from getting out of bed. Usually it lets up during the latter part of the day.

If people see the pattern they can be far more responsive, patient and protective of the depressed person’s needs.

The illness is treatable, and it is very important to find a professional whom you can talk to. The sufferer almost always has a failure of a sense of future. You cannot conceive of a day in which this pain begins to go away.

It requires an enormous amount of faith in oneself and in the capacity to get well to avoid the worst resolution. Only a small percentage of people–and I have to be blunt about this–kill themselves. That leaves a large majority who are going to get well.

The paradox is that they don’t believe it. They have to be told over and over again. It is essential for anyone who is in the position to deal with the sufferer to constantly assure the person day in and day out that he or she is going to get well.

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My wife, Rose, was able to see something horrible was happening to me and was endlessly patient in helping me try to feel better. And I also found help reading chapters from the Bible, like Job. I read the Book of Job a great deal.

I’ve been a writer for a long time and I’ve always had response to my work, but nothing approaching the thousands of letters I’ve received from people all over the world after the publication of Darkness Visible.

Although I wrote the book to get my own experience off my chest, it’s gratifying to learn that it has been of such help to others.

 

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