By William Styron
Random House Large Print (1991)
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - May 3, 2010
Rosalyn Carter pointed out in her 2010 book Within our Reach that one in four people in the United States suffer from a mental disease.
Best-selling author William Styron (1925-2006), known for his The Confessions of Nat Turner and Sophie's Choice and other books, the winner of the Pulitzer Prize and other awards, suffered from severe depression, just like the famous painter Vincent Van Gogh and all too many others. But he pulled through and describes his descent into madness and his recovery in this book with his narrative skill.
Styron had achieved public acclaim by 1985 for several of his books and had come to France to receive an award. He had suffered bouts of depression prior to 1985, but the depression hit him hard in France and caused him to act improperly to the people who were praising him.
He describes his depression as feelings of self-hatred, worthlessness, anxiety, and a failure of self esteem, despite his success and public acclaim. His mind was disordered and he lost his ability to think rationally and he did foolish things. He emphasizes that depression is so unusual that people who never suffered from it cannot imagine it. He says that the word "depression," called "melancholia" in 1303, understates the severity of the disease and suggests that a more powerful name, perhaps "brainstorm," should be used.
He describes his embarrassing behavior at the award ceremony, the story of the famed writer Albert Camus who also suffered from depression and who he suspected committed suicide, and sketches the life of others who suffered from the disease, such as Abbie Hoffman, Abraham Lincoln, and a famous beautiful actress who became ugly when she suffered from the disease. He describes his psychiatrist who mouthed platitudes like an ignorant clergyman and encouraged him to talk, his seven week hospitalization, group therapy, art therapy, and medicines, none of which worked, and all of which heightened his feeling of hopelessness. But he got well because, perhaps, the illness simply ran its course. This last observation should give people suffering from the disease some hope.
Dr. Israel Drazin is the author of fifteen books, including a series of five volumes on the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible, which he co-authors with Rabbi Dr. Stanley M. Wagner, and a series of four books on the twelfth century philosopher Moses Maimonides, the latest being Maimonides: Reason Above All, published by Gefen Publishing House, www.gefenpublishing.com. The Orthodox Union (OU) publishes daily samples of the Targum books on www.ouradio.org.