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Author Topic: William Styron on depression and hypochondria  (Read 243 times)

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Offline atleswoolf

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William Styron on depression and hypochondria
« on: September 04, 2014, 01:13:34 PM »
I'm a literature professor, and sometimes when I doubt the words of my doctor and friends, the words of great writers can help to calm me.  I was reading DARKNESS VISIBLE by William Styron (who's probably most famous for SOPHIE'S CHOICE), and came across this passage about his depression and the resultant hypochondria.  Since I'm experiencing almost precisely the same symptoms myself, I found it reassuring. 

"I was on Martha's Vineyard, where I've spent a good part of each year since the 1960s, during that exceptionally beautiful summer.  But I had begun to respond indifferently to the island's pleasures.  I felt a kind of numbness, an enervation, but more particularly an odd fragility -- as if my body had actually become frail, hypersensitive, and somehow disjointed and clumsy, lacking normal coordination.  And soon I was in the throes of a pervasive hypochondria.  Nothing felt quite right with my corporeal self; there were twitches and pains, sometimes intermittent, often seemingly constant, that seemed to presage all sorts of dire infirmities.  (Given these signs, one can understand how, as far back as the seventeenth century -- in the notes of contemporary physicians, and in the perceptions of John Dryden and others -- a connection is made between melancholia and hypochondria; the words are often interchangeable, and were so used until the nineteenth century by writers as various as Sir Walter Scott and the Brontes, who also linked melancholy to a preoccupation with bodily ills.)  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 irreplaceable mind -- that is going haywire." 
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I meant to write about death, only life came breaking in as usual.  -- Virginia Woolf, Diary, 17 February 1922.