Autodidact: self-taught

Dec
15
2012

Darkness Visible

by V. L. Craven

Darkness Visible Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness by William Styron
001. For the thing which/I greatly feared is come upon me,/and that which I was afraid of/Is come unto me./I was not in safety, neither/had I rest, neither was I quiet;/you trouble came. –Job
002. Only days before I had concluded that I was suffering from a serious depressive illness, and was floundering helplessly in my efforts to deal with it. I wasn’t cheered by the festive occasion that had brought me to France. Of the many dreadful manifestations of the disease, both psychical and psychological, a sense of self-hatred—or, put less categorically, a failure of self-esteem—is one of the most universally experienced symptoms, and I suffered more and more from a general feeling of worthlessness as the malady had progressed.
003. Aided by the minor tranquilizer Halcion, I had managed to defeat my insomnia and get a few hours’ sleep. Thus I was in fair spirits. But such wan cheer was an habitual pretense which I knew meant very little, for I was certain to feel ghastly before nightfall. I had come to a point where I was carefully monitoring each phase of my deteriorating condition.
004. …I was close to a total ignoramus about depression, which can be as serious a medical affair as diabetes or cancer.
005. At any rate, during the few hours when the depressive state itself eased off long enough to permit the luxury of concentration, I had recently filled this vacuum with fairly extensive reading and I had absorbed many fascinating and troubling facts, which, however, I could not put to practical use. The most honest authorities face up squarely to the fact that serious depression is not readily treatable. Unlike, let us say, diabetes, where immediate measure taken to rearrange the body’s adaptation to glucose can dramatically reverse a dangerous process and bring it under control, depression in its major stages possesses no quickly available remedy: failure of alleviation is one of the most distressing factors of the disorder as it reveals itself to the victim, and one that helps situate it squarely in the category of grave diseases. Except in those maladies strictly designated as malignant or degenerative, we expect some kind of treatment and eventual amelioration, by pills or physical therapy or diet or surgery, with a logical progression for the initial relief of symptoms to final cure. Frighteningly, the layman-sufferer from major depression, taking a peek into some of the many books currently on the market, will find much in the way of theory and symptomatology and very little that legitimately suggests the possibility of quick rescue. Those that do claim an easy way out are glib and most likely fraudulent. There are decent popular works which intelligently point the way toward treatment and cure, demonstrating how certain therapies—psychotherapy or pharmacology, or a combination of these—can indeed restore people to health in all but the most persistent and devastating cases…
006. The intense and sometimes comically strident factionalism that exists in present-day psychiatry—the schism between the believers in psychotherapy and the adherents of pharmacology—resembles the medical quarrels of the eighteenth century (to bleed or not to bleed) and almost defines in itself the inexplicable nature of depression and the difficulty of its treatment. As a clinician in the field told me honestly and, I think, with a striking deftness of analogy: “If you compare our knowledge with Columbus’s discovery of America, America is yet unknown; we are still down on that little island in Bahamas.”
007. In my reading I had learned, for example, that in at least one interesting respect my own case was atypical. Most people who begin to suffer from the illness are laid low in the morning, with such malefic effect that they are unable to get out of bed. The feel better only as the day wears on.
008. …if these states of excruciating near-paralysis are similar, as they probably are, the question of timing would seem to be academic.
009. But my behaviour was really the result of the illness, which had progressed far enough to produce some of its most famous and sinister hallmarks: confusion, failure of mental focus and lapse of memory. At a later stage my entire mind would be dominated by anarchic disconnections; as I have said, there was now something that resembled bifurcation of mood: lucidity of sorts in the early hours of the day, gathering murk in the afternoon and evening.
010. …it was past four o’clock and my brain had begun to endure its familiar siege: panic and dislocation, and a sense that my thought processes were being engulfed by a toxic and unnameable tide that obliterated any enjoyable response to the living world. … I was feeling inn my mind a sensation close to, but indescribably different from, actual pain. … That the word ‘indescribably’ should present itself is not fortuitous, since it has to be emphasized that if the pain were readily describable most of the countless sufferers from this ancient affliction would have been able to confidently depict for their friends and loved ones (even their physicians) some of the actual dimensions of their torment, and perhaps elicit a comprehension that has been generally lacking; such incomprehension has usually been due not to a failure of sympathy but to the basic inability of healthy people to imagine a form of torment so alien to everyday experience. For myself, the pain is most closely connected to drowning or suffocation—but even these images are off the mark. William James, who battled depression for many years, gave up the search for an adequate portrayal, implying its near-impossibility when he wrote in The Varieties of Religious Experience: ‘It is a positive and active anguish, a sort of psychical neuralgia wholly unknown to normal life.’
011. The pain persisted during my museum tour and reached a crescendo in the next few hours when, back at the hotel, I fell into the bed and lay gazing at the ceiling, nearly immobilized and in a trance of supreme discomfort. Rational thought was usually absent from my mind at such times, hence trance. I can think of no more apposite word for this state of being, a condition of helpless stupor in which cognition was replaced by that ‘positive and active anguish.’ And one of the most unendurable aspects of such an interlude was the inability to sleep. It had been my custom of a near-lifetime, like that of vast numbers of people, to settle myself into a soothing nap in the late afternoon, but the disruption of normal sleep patterns is a notoriously devastating feature of depression; to the injurious sleeplessness with which I had been afflicted each night was added the insult of this afternoon insomnia, diminutive by comparison but all the more horrendous because it struck during the hours of the most intense misery. It has become clear that I would never be granted even a few minutes’ relief from my full-time exhaustion.
012. …self-loathing (depression’s premier badge)…
013. …my failure to have an appetite for the grand plateau de fruits de mer placed before me, failure of even forced laughter and, at last, virtually total failure of speech. At this point the ferocious inwardness of the pain produced an immense distraction that prevented my articulating words beyond a hoarse murmur; I sensed myself turning wall-eyed, monosyllabic, and also I sensed my French friends becoming uneasily aware of my predicament.
014. [regarding parties and celebrations] I would respond like the zombie I had become. The weather of depression is unmodulated, its light a brownout.

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