Monday, April 9, 2012

Mike Wallace and Me; Depression, Suicide and Survival!

     This past weekend marked the end of an era and a life, Mike Wallace, the long time 60 Minutes correspondent passed away at the age of 93. It is ironic that I can share a commonality with this man, though, not as a writer. He was a famous, award winning journalist, and I am, and will always be, just an amateur writer without delusions that I can achieve his greatness. In fact, he and I are from nearly opposite sides of the political spectrum, as I am more in line with his son Chris, a Fox news commentator, so politics is not the corresponding ground.  No, that is not what we shared; it was a disease, and one that nearly killed both of us!
    It is difficult for many to learn that mental illness is non-discriminatory and that it can affect someone at any age. When the public listens to such a respected and apparently healthy man talk about hitting the “dark malaise”, and trying to end their life as Mike Wallace once did, many will take notice. He once spoke in front a congressional committee to argue for more funds for research of depression, so he put his name on contributing to help other people who were suffering. Those arguments continue to this very day, and it is a battle we are losing.
     It was prior to being diagnosed, and with ever increasing hopelessness that Mr. Wallace decided to attempt to end his life with pills, and even left a note. Fortunately, his wife found him and his life was saved. Not many years after that, I did a similar action on two occasions, as it became the only solution to ending the silent, and powerful, emotional pain. Like Mr. Wallace, my life was saved, but it eventually led to some life altering experiences. Again, we shared the miraculous intervention of someone saving our own lives, and we both decided to reach out to other similarly afflicted with such clouded thoughts.
     The public has so many misconceptions and false fears about mental illness. The ignorance displayed in the form of stigmatizing those afflicted is an issue devilishly difficult to overcome, but Mike Wallace did just that. He interviewed and challenged some of the most powerful and treacherous leaders in the world, and always did it with dignity and intellect. Because of his work and not letting his affliction stand in the way, the journey of recovery became just a little easier for people who followed him.
     To better illustrate, many will find it incredible that in spite of battling a mental illness, and of surviving a suicide attempt, he was to go on and win many awards and the respect of many people. His final award was presented to him just four years ago at the age of 89. This was quite an accomplishment for someone with an illness that a percentage of the population still considers a character flaw, or a weakness. No one will ever accuse Mike Wallace of being weak emotionally, being of limited intellect and most importantly, that he ever possessed a flawed character.
    With my work in mental health, I have met several prominent individuals, though I never met Mike Wallace. However, in most of my talks, I did consider him up as a positive example, one who overcame mental illness and exceeded at life. If I had met him, I would have liked to sit down over a beer and discus not what I could do to improve as a writer, but a subject more momentous. I would have compared notes on what it was like to eventually recover, and how it felt for him to stand up as such a courageous role model which helped many people suffering in silence. I would have liked to ask him what more people like us could do to create more insight and understanding to the general public? What more can we do to assist people who continue to suffer in a prison of silence like he and I experienced?
     Mike Wallace will be remembered for his contributions to journalism and all the awards he deservedly won. However, his having the courage to admit he suffered from a mental illness and tried to kill himself will undoubtedly contribute too many frightened individuals deciding to get help and prevent more tragedies. His speaking out to let people know not to suffer in silence and to get help has saved lives. That contribution to humanity, though never quantified, will have an even greater impact than much of his work as a journalist!
     Rest in peace, and thank you Mike Wallace, the world is a better place because of you!

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