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Mike Wallace's Darkest Hour

Those suffering from depression often keep it a secret. Legendary newsman Mike Wallace knows that all too well.

By Mike Wallace, New York, New York

As appeared in

I tried to draw strength from that prayer. And from Mary, who was always at my side, incredibly patient with me and my moods. Still, I'd catch her looking at me, her eyes full of worry.

One evening after we came home from the courthouse, she said, "Mike, you need to go see a doctor. Something's wrong."

I denied it. "The pressure of the trial's getting to me," I said. "I'll be myself again once it's over."

Mary insisted on taking me to the doctor. I told him what I'd been experiencing, even swallowed my pride and asked, "What can you do to help me?"

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"You don't need help," the doctor said. "You're tough. Everybody knows that. You'll bounce back in no time." He warned me about the damage to my reputation if word got out I was having these emotional difficulties.

Mary was still concerned. "I don't want to be right about this," she told me on our way home, "but I think what you're feeling goes way beyond being under stress. It's taken over your life."

Why is it that the people you love so often know you better than you know yourself? It took a complete physical collapse on the heels of a bout of the flu in December to make me concede I might be in as bad shape as Mary feared.

Right before the new year, I was admitted to the hospital, "suffering from exhaustion," a CBS spokesman announced.

The truth, I was to learn from Dr. Marvin Kaplan, the psychiatrist I started seeing, was something I'd never imagined. My defenses were pretty much broken down by then.

When Dr. Kaplan asked me to give him a complete history of my symptoms, I poured out everything to this man who was all but a stranger to me. I told him about the trial; about the doubts that plagued me; about not being able to eat, sleep or enjoy the things I used to. "I just don't see any way out of this," I confessed. "It's like I'm going out of my mind, I feel so low, so...hopeless. No, copeless."

"You feel as you do, Mr. Wallace, because you are experiencing clinical depression. Any stressful change in one's life can trigger an episode, and some people are more prone to it than others."

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Depression? Wasn't that some sign of emotional weakness?

"Depression is a disease," Dr. Kaplan explained. "A disease that millions suffer from. The good news is that almost all depressed people can get better with treatment."

First, he prescribed an antidepressant to relieve my symptoms. "Once it takes effect, it will put a pharmaceutical floor underneath your depression, so that you don't sink any lower." Then psychotherapy to help me gain insight into myself and figure out ways to cope with what was troubling me.

Within a week I was released from the hospital, continued my sessions with Dr. Kaplan and went back to work, nowhere near functioning at full capacity, and still too ashamed to tell people in the office what was going on. They must have wondered why Mike wasn't acting like his usual demanding, abrasive self.

I was due to testify at the trial, so while the CBS attorneys prepared me legally, Dr. Kaplan got me ready emotionally. "You believe that if your side loses, it will be the end of your professional life," he observed. "Why don't we talk about how you will go on if you do lose?" A seemingly simple exercise, but it helped me regain some perspective.

Nearly five long months after the trial began, the day before I was to take the witness stand, the other side dropped the lawsuit. Obviously I was hugely relieved, but why didn't I feel well again?

"That's not how depression works," Dr. Kaplan told me. "You don't just snap out of a serious illness. You have to stay on the treatment and give it time to work."

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I did what he said, and sure enough, within a couple months I felt better. So much better, in fact, that I disregarded Dr. Kaplan's advice and stopped taking the medication. Less than a week later, I happened to fall playing tennis and busted my left wrist.