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Pauley: ‘I was suffering from bipolar disorder’

A little over a year ago, Jane Pauley decided to take a break from her successful 30 year career in television. She had planned to write a book, spend more time with her family. But behind that camera-ready smile, Jane Pauley was struggling, hiding deep dark secrets. “Today” host Matt Lauer recently sat down with Pauley to talk about what's been going on the past few years.Since she was 25-yea
/ Source: TODAY

A little over a year ago, Jane Pauley decided to take a break from her successful 30 year career in television. She had planned to write a book, spend more time with her family. But behind that camera-ready smile, Jane Pauley was struggling, hiding deep dark secrets. “Today” host Matt Lauer recently sat down with Pauley to talk about what's been going on the past few years.

Since she was 25-years-old, Jane Pauley has been a part of the NBC television family.

She’s recognized wherever she goes. But who is Jane Pauley?

The real Jane Pauley

Matt Lauer: “I’ve known you now for about 10 years – maybe a little bit more. And I don't know whether I’m alone in feeling this way but for all the years I’ve seen you in front of a camera, and for as many living rooms as you've been in during that time, I never got the feeling I really knew an awful lot about Jane pauley. Is that by design?”

Jane Pauley: “No!  I probably am more shy than people realize. But I’m shy when I leave a studio and I am just myself.”

Lauer: “A little insecure?”

Pauley: “Pretty much – pretty much so.”

Lauer: “But it seems to me that over the years you've been a bit reluctant, reticent, to share an awful lot of your personal life with viewers and even with colleagues sometimes.”

Pauley: “I guess I never took for granted that you know people were really that fascinated.  But as …”

Lauer: “Not reluctant. Maybe just you didn't think people were interested?”

Pauley: “Yeah, yeah. I wouldn't presume. I would not take for granted that my personal life – because I knew better than anybody – that it was just a life. It was surprisingly an ordinary life.”

It was an ordinary life with some extraordinary circumstances. In her new book, "Skywriting: A Life Out of the Blue," Jane writes about growing up in Indiana.

Pauley: “My parents were terrific – mother was a church organist [and] my father was probably the most respected person in our church outside of the minister and sometimes maybe that much. The neighbors all called him – a gentleman.”

But when Jane was in her late 20s she was devastated by the realization that her father was an alcoholic. 

Pauley: “It was stunning. I cannot tell you how earth shattering that was, because our parents were teetotalers. There was never alcohol in the house. It was never served.”

Lauer: “How long do you think he'd had this drinking problem?”

Pauley: “A month after this discovery – he’s sober, he's out of this rehab thing, and he starts to hemorrhage. That’s the answer to the question, you know, how long or how much he'd been drinking, is he nearly died – weeks after we discovered it.”

Is Jane away writing a book?

Lauer: “[In] 2001 – I was your colleague, working in this building. And Jane disappeared. She was gone. And I’m sure you know the rumors that swirled around this building.”

Pauley: “I was kind of aware. But …”

Lauer: “Jane's writing a book. Jane is…”

Pauley: “That was true.”

Lauer: “Jane is very ill.”

Pauley: “Oh.”

Lauer: “Jane might have cancer and we talked to each other in the halls, and say, ‘do you know what's happening with Jane? No. I don't know Jane that well.’ So, there was a big mystery as to where you were. Where were you?”


'[L]ife had become a little hard to navigate and it was becoming harder to prepare for the “Dateline” interview. I had had some months of depression. Not serious enough to keep me from work. So, I guess you'd call that a mild depression.

Jane Pauley

Pauley: “I had seen a doctor and I mean, I knew, I had had like ongoing things. I was still working. But life had become a little hard to navigate and it was becoming harder to prepare for the “Dateline” interview. I had had some months of depression. Not serious enough to keep me from work. So, I guess you'd call that a mild depression. It was becoming worse. And I was being treated for it with anti-depressants.”

Lauer: “This was a balance issue here. You were unable to find a balance, it seems.”

Pauley: “Yeah.”

The diagnosis that changed her life

What the doctor said next, blew Jane away.

Pauley: “He explained that he thought I might be suffering hypomania. I’d never heard the word before. But it sounded to me like big time mania – really bad, big mania. It was not that. It means mild mania. But the bottom line was he was saying I was suffering from bipolar disorder.”

Lauer: “But when he said this to you, Jane, did you collapse? Did you break down? Did you say, ‘you must be wrong?’ Did you say, ‘I need a second opinion?’”

Pauley: “No. No, I didn't argue. Because I knew for too long, I’d not been – I’d not been well. I hadn't felt well in almost a year.”

Jane's husband, cartoonist Gary Trudeau had watched his wife suffer, and was ready for her to get help.

Pauley: “The diagnosis was a shock and a relief. Someone was taking charge of this. He was going to get his wife back.”

The condition is classified as bipolar three, which surfaced in Jane due to a combination of anti-depressants and steroids she had been taking for a case of hives.

While on the medication, Jane had wild mood swings, which led up to three weeks under psychiatric observation.

Pauley: “The first night, I’m in bed in a hospital room and I realized there's a woman sitting in a chair. And that she's going to be there the whole night. And I turned over.  And she told me I had – my arms had to be outside of the covers and at that point, you know, I … burst into tears.

Lauer: “I am under psychiatric evaluation?”

Pauley: “Uh-huh.” 

Lauer: “Did you have thoughts of suicide?”

Pauley: “No.” 

Lauer: “But you understood for a brief moment, the thinking of someone who may?”

Pauley: “Yes … and that was a red flag to this doctor.”

Lauer: “You are now taking lithium.”

Pauley: “I am now.”

Lauer: “How do you feel differently?  I mean, on a daily basis, what's different today than as compared to the way you felt back before you went into the hospital?”

Pauley: “I definitely am better.”

Lauer: “Do you feel altered?”

Pauley: “Yes. I’m changed. You know, lithium is a salt. (Laughs) It's just a salt.

Lauer: “Basically.”

Pauley: “It just is stabilizing. It allows me to be who I am. A mood disorder is dangerous. You’ve got to get those dramatic waves of highs and lows stabilized.  It’s dangerous if you don't.”

‘The Jane Pauley Show’

Today, life for Jane Pauley is all brand new.  Not only does she have a new book out, but a new show. After 30 years in broadcasting, “The Jane Pauley Show,” a one-hour daytime talk show, is set to debut.

For Jane, it's fitting that the show tapes in the same studio where Tom Brokaw introduced the then 25 year old “Today” show co-host to the nation.

Pauley: “Right over my shoulder, it is this studio, 8G, right around the corner by the way, from the Saturday Night Live, which is why I used to know some of the originals — you know, Bill Murray and Belushi, they used to come and steal our coffee and our donuts and it was just a perfect place for my network career to be born and nurtured. It's a wonderful, wonderful studio.”

Renovated and ready to go, the studio's design is brand new. And for Jane, so is the format. Not surprisingly, it has sparked a case of pre-show jitters.

Pauley: “Well, I’d be lying if I said, ‘oh, I’m not worried at all.’ There are so many things that are you know, fair to be worried about.”

Lauer: “This is a different animal than your years with the ‘Today’ show and your years on ‘Dateline.’ Are you suited well for this new animal?”

Pauley: “Matt, I think it's probably the best format I’ve ever done – in terms of my – particular skills and my interests. I love working with an audience. I love working with actual people who, you know, if they're moved, you see it. If you say something they're stunned by, you see their jaws drop.  If they’re amused, they laugh – that kind of reinforcement, I totally adore.”

But in her new book, "Skywriting: A Life Out of the Blue,"  Jane reveals that three years ago she was diagnosed as being bipolar, and now takes lithium to stabilize her moods.   

Lauer: “What do you say to a cynic who says, "Okay, she's starting a talk show?  She wants the audience on her side and what better way to get them on her side than to come out with this great, tell all story of look where I’ve been over these last several years."

Pauley: “I don't think I would have picked mental illness, if that's what I was looking at.  The book was actually in process before I even got sick.”

Lauer: “Do you ever worry that there's going to be a small percentage of the viewing audience out there, Jane, that's going to say, ‘Let's turn on this show, and see what she's like on lithium?’”

Pauley: “You know…”

Lauer: "Let's see what she's like."

Pauley: “Whatever. You know? Either that or, ‘Let's see how bad her hair is today.’ Or you know, I don't care if it's … I don't feel like I really have anything to lose.”

With a very public career, Jane Pauley has worked hard to keep her personal life private.  But the format of a one-hour talk show may sway the TV veteran to open up. 

Lauer: “How much of this story are you willing to tell on a daily basis? In other words, you're going to be dealing with issues that affect women, depression, emotions, families, relationships. Are we going to be hearing a lot of, ‘well, remember in my last two years, here's what happened to me?’”

Pauley: “I don't think so.”

Lauer: “Are you a reference point for this show?”

Pauley: “I think once the audience knows, they don't need me to remind them. I think the audience simply will know I have a little more life experience than they used to think I had.”

Lauer: “Let me read you some names – Howie Mandell, John Walsh, Caroline Raye, Sharon Osbourne, Gail King, Martin Short, Donny and Marie. This is a tough thing to do an hour talk show, and survive.

Pauley: “I've already told my children that they should understand that this venture  mommy is beginning … not a sure thing. And I have already defined success as when I said ‘yes’ when I was given this opportunity. And I thought, I still have a long life ahead of me, this is at least as interesting an opportunity as I will ever have.”

Lauer: “If it doesn't go the way you want it to, if failure is in the future, you're not worried about what that might do to what seems like a slightly fragile balance right now?”

Pauley: “I'm not afraid of failure. I’m afraid of not being prepared for the interview tomorrow. (Laughs) That scares me. I've had a 30 year career in television.  I think whether this show goes on the air for five, ten years or whether it for one reason or another doesn't succeed, I still get to keep that. I still get to keep the career I’ve already had. So, if anybody can go into this thinking yeah, I can take that chance, I’m as well positioned to do so as anybody I know.”