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With a clarity of thought and a mastery of articulating some of the most obscure aspects of the human psyche, Styron writes of the agony of depression from personal experience but also with an almost sterile distance and objectivity sometimes. It got me thinking if it was a prerequisite for the discomfort that this intense a self-disclosure could be. 

Modest and devoid of self-delusion, the book is written with a sensitivity towards the world and the self.  Through a critical look at one’s own failures of judgement, Styron demonstrates the realisation of the torment of depression when it grips you and the carelessness with which society (even today) dismisses the extent of suffering caused by the condition.

His explanation of ‘hypochondria’ in depression is a revelation on the workings of the complex human mind.

It is easy to see how this condition is part of the psyche’s apparatus of defense: unwilling to accept its own gathering deterioration, the mind announces to its indwelling consciousness that it is the body with its perhaps correctable defects not the precious and irreplacable mind that is going haywire.’

My book is full of post-it notes marking passages that had me awestruck by his impeccable articulation of the inexplicabilaties of depression. 

When he talks of what helped him heal he says ‘For me the real healers were seclucion and time.’  Mental health professionals will often discover through their practice with clients (if they pay careful attention) with depression that therapy is most effective in the early stages, the stages of recovery and in supporting caregivers and family members in the darkest, most excruciatingly painful phase of depression.  

He is careful to not dismiss anything that could help anyone get through it and says to people who do not find relief through therapy 

Even those for whom any kind of therapy is a futile exercise can look forward to the eventual passing of the storm, if they survive the storm itself, its fury, almost always fades and then disappears.’

In its darkest phase depression refuses to see the possibility to get better which is why death seems like a tempting release from the pain. Reaching out for therapy and enduring it when its not really making you feel better is tough in this phase. He talks of many writers, poets, artists who suffered depression in the book and of his own susceptibility to it seen through his earlier works.

Until the onslaught of my own illness, I never gave much thought to my work in terms of its connection with the subconscious – an area of investigation belonging to literary detectives.’

Ending on the relief that the first rays of light bring to the depressed mind he concludes ‘And so we came forth and once again beheld the stars.’

This book has been both a solace and a resource to understand myself, people around me and clients I might have had through depression. It is a must read for mental health professionals but also caregivers and people who go through this condition often without any understanding its workings.