For most of the 7 million Americans with bipolar disorder, they’re diagnosed before they turn 24. But for Jane Pauley, she was fine up until age 50.
“When I was 49 I was not bipolar. When I was 50 I was,” the CBS Sunday Morning anchor, now 68, explained on CBS This Morning.
Pauley said that her doctor realized she had bipolar disorder after she was given steroids to treat a case of hives.
“It unmasked what doctors described as a genetic vulnerability to a mood disorder, and by that time I was in pretty deep trouble,” she told hosts Gayle King, Anthony Mason and Tony Dokoupil for their “Stop the Stigma” mental health week.
Pauley said that she “changed,” and her moods, though upbeat and cheery, became erratic.
“I got better and felt much better, and then I felt really great and started having plans, and other behaviors that my husband didn’t know who I was,” she said. “When the doctor finally recognized, ‘Oh I know what’s going on here, this is bad,’ he called my husband and said, ‘Your wife is very sick.’ And Gary [Trudeau] was almost relieved, because he knew, ‘Oh maybe someone can help get my wife back now.’ ”
That was in 2001, and Pauley decided to step back from the public eye and spend three weeks in a psychiatric ward. But she didn’t listen to her doctor, who suggested cover stories so she didn’t have to tell people she is bipolar.
“The only time in my life, and we’re closing in on 20 years, that I experienced stigma was that day, day one, when I realized that my doctor was giving me a cover story to tell employers that I was being treated for a thyroid disorder. Which was true, but it wasn’t the whole truth,” she said.
And though Pauley agrees that there is a stigma around mental illness, she doesn’t want to “fight” the stigma, and said she takes issue with CBS This Morning’s “Stop the Stigma” theme.
“As a communicator I know something, words have power. And the word stigma is its own stigma,” she said. “… So every time you say stigma, it is a reminder for people like me that I’m fighting two wars. It’s not enough that I have a disorder that’s pretty serious, but I’m also fighting this front. So my goal is that we fight stigma, which is real, but we fight it with sophistication.”
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