"Thoughts on William Styron's Darkness Visible" by Walter Richters

Late on a Wednesday night in this fortress of deprivation known as prison, I read a novel titled Darkness Visible by William Styron. This novel finally gave words to the wordless and stood up for the tragic mute on matters of describing their monstrous illness and great tormentor of mind and soul. This book, wonderful in its ability to represent all who silently suffer, lit up emotions deep within me. I felt feelings of familiarity and the urgency to shout out to the four corners of the Earth that William Styron found a way to describe to the millions of human beings who are otherwise incapable of understanding, the full gravity of suffering this dark beast within causes.

The sad truth is that the majority of silent sufferers fail through no fault of their own to explain to the healthy of mind just how paralyzing, painful, imprisoning, and hopeless this very serious illness actually is. In many ways society remains stuck in the 1950s when it comes to treating mental illness and showing compassion to those who suffer from it. There are far too few facilities in existence designed to properly treat the ailments of the mind because humankind has not made it a priority. There are far too many prisons filled with but unequipped to treat the mentally ill. All too many times the mentally ill are told by strangers as well as those who are closest to their own hearts that mental illnesses such as depression are just labels created to coddle the weak. Far too many time the sufferers are told by people who have no idea what it means to suffer from depression, anxiety, and the like that they need to “buck up” or “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” This kind of “tough love” is especially cruel.

Imagine figuratively if you will being locked in a cage with a dark, formless creature whose sole purpose for existence is to oppress your mind into an exhausted state of defeat. Now imagine that while you are in this cage , you are in the center of a massive crowd of people who do not see the cage or the creature and therefore do not understand why you don’t join them. The crowd cannot understand how bad you are suffering from this excruciating pain or why you fail to perform even the most basic functions of self-care, much less the more rigorous functions of modern society. This is chronic depression.

Now imagine a second formless beast in the same cage, this one fiery red, who then places you in a constant state of utter panic and terror. You become fearful for your life and are completely convinced that some way, somehow, you are doomed. You then cannot sleep, cannot eat, suffer aching pain, have the shakes and you begin to experience cold sweats and nightmares. While you are in this agony, people in your life who do not think mental illnesses are real cannot understand why you do not partake in frivolous activities and then they become offended. This is generalized anxiety.

One last time I call upon your imagination that you might envision yourself suffering from these terrible conditions for hours, days, months, years, and even decades. This is unending suffering. Perhaps then you can understand why thousands of human beings each year kill themselves and why thousands more hole up inside their homes. Still history has shown us examples of human beings who have long suffered from mental illnesses, but who still left a positive mark on the world. People like Abraham Lincoln, Edgar Allen Poe, and Vincent VanGogh, to name a few. Having read Darkness Visible, I am surprised by the stark similarity that the author’s descent into madness has mirrored my own. Without fail, Styron has intelligently mapped out and one might even say decoded the mystery of depression, which always seems to baffle so many who do not suffer from it. It is my hope that society finally becomes aware.  

Gary Miller3 Comments