Jane Pauley on bipolar disorder

Doonesbury’s War – washingtonpost.com

AT 55, JANE PAULEY IS STILL BEAUTIFUL, and she still projects frank vulnerability, or vulnerable frankness, or whatever is that subtle combination of qualities that made her America’s preeminent morning-show host in the 1980s. We’re meeting for breakfast because there is something Trudeau wouldn’t really talk about, and Pauley will.

In 2001, Pauley nearly lost her mind. After receiving steroids to control a case of the hives, she began doing oddly intense things. How intense? She bought a house one day, for no good reason, on impulse, from an ad on the Web. Misdiagnosed with depression, she was hospitalized under an assumed name, to protect her privacy. Eventually, she was found to have a bipolar disorder — triggered but not caused by the steroids — for which she is still undergoing treatment. Pauley chronicled her struggle in a 2004 memoir, Skywriting .

Trudeau was largely absent from Skywriting , and he had been guarded with me about the effect of Pauley’s illness on him and the family. He volunteered only two things: “I was told by a doctor that 40 percent of marriages just don’t survive it, so from the beginning I knew we were up against something really significant”; and, “The disease subverts your basic survival instinct in the sense that the people who you need to help you survive are the same people you are attacking.”

So that’s what I ask Pauley about.

“Yes,” she says, dryly, “there is a free-floating anger that needs a target and will find one.”

For a year or so, Pauley says, before her symptoms were under control, Trudeau and the family lived with her irrational rages. The twins were hunting for colleges, Trudeau was pressed by deadline after deadline, and Mom was a fulminating piece of work — demanding, histrionic, impossible. “It was just incredible torment for them,” Pauley says. “Garry was keeping the house together. It has to have been the most painful part of his life.”

Pauley has recovered with the help of lithium, a drug she says she will be on for the rest of her life. Things are mostly fine, she says, except for some side effects, such as a persistent tremor to the hands. She looks murderously at her coffee cup, which the waiter has overfilled, almost to the brim.

“For example, I can’t risk trying to pick that up.”

Wow. So of course, this is the part of the Trudeau article that resonates most strongly with me. I hope perhaps one day, Trudeau will be able to talk about bipolar disorder, maybe in his strip, and let people know how much it means to someone with bipolar for people to stick with them throughout this illness.

Of everything I’ve had to deal with in having bipolar, losing friends was the worst, hardest, still most painful part. The people I needed to stick by me didn’t – and the pain from that will never go away.

I am so, so thankful to those who stayed, like my wonderful husband, and the good friends who didn’t just walk away. They will never know how much that means to me.