Wallace felt 'lower than a snake's belly' Newsman tells of his fight with depression.

April 19, 1991|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Evening Sun Staff

Depression made Mike Wallace's arms ache and his legs tingle.

It made his head swim; it eroded his confidence; it came between the interviewer and his next question.

Depression made Wallace "feel like a fraud and a fake and like everything that had been good in my life had been blind luck. I really began to feel lower than a snake's belly," said the veteran CBS News reporter and correspondent on "60 Minutes."

Wallace came to Baltimore yesterday to share his insights on depression with more than 500 mental health professionals at the Mood Disorders Research/Education Symposium at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

In a sometimes light-hearted, turn-the-tables program that could have been called "35 Minutes," Wallace answered questions posed by Dr. J. Raymond DePaulo Jr. in a segment titled "A Patient's Perspective."

Wallace, 72, talked freely of the depression that gripped him in 1985 and 1986 and of the anxiety that returned several weeks ago, after he had a pacemaker implanted.

Calling himself "pessimistic by nature," Wallace said when he first began to feel bad, he thought it was "the blues" or a reaction to stress. After all, in 1985, he was on trial, as part of a $120-million libel suit against CBS by Gen. William Westmoreland.

"Libel. That's like you being charged with malpractice," Wallace said to DePaulo, director of the Affective Disorders Clinic at Hopkins.

Wallace saw his family doctor, who had treated him for 10 to 15 years, about the aches, tingling and the "spaciness" that so affected his concentration he would not know the next question to ask during an interview.

"I sought help; I needed help desperately," he said. But the doctor did not read the symptoms, which also included loss of appetite, weight and sleep, Wallace said.

Several months into the libel trial, Wallace collapsed and was hospitalized. After that, his depression was diagnosed. "With drugs and talk, I was able to lift the pall," he said.

The anti-depressant that Wallace's psychiatrist prescribed "began to quiet the agony," he said. Then, the doctor "began to talk to me.

"First of all, we've got to get you ready to testify," Wallace remembered the psychiatrist saying. "Then, Mr. Wallace, we have to get you ready to lose."

Wallace said he knew then that the doctor understood him, and the healing began. In a few months, after Westmoreland withdrew his suit, Wallace said he begged off the medication. "I wasn't feeling great, but I was feeling better."

Several months later, Wallace broke his wrist and "in 24 hours, I was in depression the second time," deeper than the first, he said. Wallace went back to the psychiatrist and the regimen and, this time, stayed the prescribed 6 months.

Within 6 to 12 months, "your confidence comes back," and with it appetite, sex life and concentration, Wallace observed.

Since then, Wallace has been free of depression, taking only nightly medication "to sort of smooth things down," he said.

When his pacemaker was implanted recently, "it triggered a little bit of anxiety," Wallace conceded.

Wallace tells his story "as a payback" for the fine care he got when he was ill and in hopes of helping others.

"I didn't know what depression was," he said, remembering when he first began to suffer from its symptoms. "Hearing something like this would have helped."

Wallace said the years since his depression have been "the most satisfying of my life. I know myself better. I've come to understand that not everything, by God, depends on that next question."

This story is being reprinted today because of a production error in yesterday's editions.

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