On Mood Swings: The Psychobiology of Elation and Depression

By Susanne P. Schad-Somers | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER TWO
Portraits

How the Diagnosis of Depression
Is Made

The novelist William Styron (1988) wrote of his own experience with depression:

What had begun that summer as an off-and-on malaise and vague, spooky restlessness had gained gradual momentum until my nights were without sleep and my days were pervaded by a gray drizzle of unrelenting horror. This horror is virtually indescribable since it bears no relation to normal experience. In depression, a kind of biomedical meltdown, it is the brain as well as the mind that becomes ill—as ill as any other besieged organ. The sick brain plays evil tricks on its inhabiting spirit. Slowly overwhelmed by the struggle, the intellect blurs into stupidity. All capacity for pleasure disappears, and despair maintains a merciless daily drumming. The smallest commonplace of domestic life, so amiable to the healthy mind, lacerates like a blade.

Fearing suicide and not trusting either psychotherapy or antidepressant drugs to adequately protect him from self‐ destruction, Styron hospitalized himself until the suicidal danger had passed, and the depression had lifted of its own accord. Styron wrote the essay from which I just quoted, in response to the many literary inquiries into Primo Levi's so-called "failure of nerve" that was assumed to have precipitated Levi's suicide.

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