Shortly after being diagnosed, treated and hospitalized for bipolar disease, Jane Pauley returned to work at NBC on September, 10, 2001.
On the following day, she and the world watched in horror as the terror attacks unfolded – an event she would later draw a parallel with her condition.
Unlike many who suffer from bipolar, the legendary broadcast journalist saw her condition first surface at the age of 50 – a situation she said was totally unexpected.
She was unaware of any family history with a link to the disease and was considered by many in the news industry to be mentally rock solid. In fact, she recalls, an NBC News executive once claimed she “had the best mental health in the industry.”
But everything changed after she was hospitalized with hives that had caused her throat to become dangerously swollen. As a result, she was treated with medicine that included steroids, which she later learned triggered a hypo-manic episode, characterized by sky-high emotions — one of the tell-tale signs of bipolar disease.
The doctor, she said, noticed her over-exuberance as she bubbled with excitement and was “full of ideas and enthusiasm and plans,” some of which involved working on her memoir.
Several months later, she was hospitalized for depression.
“I look at 9/11 and see a parallel,” Pauley said.
“When 9/11 happened, the entire country was suffering from unrecognized vulnerabilities. And like me, after those planes crashed into the towers and in Pennsylvania and in Washington, the whole country was suffering from fear and depression. It was kind of an appropriate metaphor.”
Her coverage of the attacks, incidentally, led to an Emmy Award, which exemplifies the fact that folks who have bipolar can return to a normal and productive life with proper care.
Those themes are some of the topics Pauley will touch on when she speaks next Friday night on behalf of Oaklawn Psychiatric Center at Goshen College.
Pauley, an award-winning television icon and a pioneer among female broadcast journalists, was a co-host on NBC’s Today show from 1976 to 1989 and later anchored the network’s news magazine, Dateline, for 12 years.
Pauley is a member of the Broadcast and Cable Hall of Fame, has won multiple Emmy Awards and received the Edward R. Murrow Award for journalistic achievement.
She’s currently in her third year with the Today Show, where she works on “Your Life Calling,” a regular feature aimed at people 50 and older who are interested in reinventing themselves.
That theme coincides nicely with her memoir, “Skywriting: A Life Out of the Blue,” a New York Times best seller.
On the side, she has become a recognized advocate for mental health and children’s health. She said she speaks about mental illness a half dozen times a year and was excited when she was invited to return to her native state to talk about bipolar disease for Oaklawn.
Her message next week will be upbeat and personal, she said.
“My appearance on television seems to have reminded people about my history with bipolar, so I do get a lot of invitations — more than I can accept.”
Pauley said people occasionally stop her on the street and said she can tell when they conversation begins to shift toward bipolar disease.
While she doesn’t offer medical advice — or would ever accept medical advice from a celebrity — she does offer some general thoughts.
She said the greatest challenge is for patients to become fully compliant with a treatment plan. Side effects from the medications can be harsh and that it often takes doctors years to find the right treatment plan.
Pauley lives in New York City with her husband, cartoonist Garry Trudeau. They have three grown children.
“It’s a chronic medical condition. If I want to be productive and a good wife and mom, I have to take care of myself and I do.”
She said she feels fortunate that she has not suffered another episode for more than 10 years and credits her dedication to sticking with a treatment plan.
In the meantime, she’s more than happy to serve as an advocate.
“I’m completely comfortable talking about what happened because I think it could do some good,” she said.