Charlie Wysocki is back home in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., now, working at his parents' sporting goods store. At night, he's a bouncer at a club called The Station. Three w0021 ----- r g BC-06/14/83-WYSOCK 2takes 06-14 0001 Fighting Depression, Wysocki Shows Bounce By Michael Wilbon Washington Post Staff Writer
Charlie Wysocki is back home in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., now, working at his parents' sporting goods store. At night, he's a bouncer at a club called The Station. Three times a week he practices with the Pocono Mountaineers, a semipro football team.
The accomplishments may not be what you would expect from the University of Maryland's all-time rushing leader, but Wysocki's mother Pat calls them "my St. Jude's miracle." She's just thankful that her son is home from the hospital and adjusting to life as a manic-depressive.
Wysocki, who suffered a breakdown last fall, sounds good over the phone. He speaks clearly and is regaining confidence. "It feels so good to be back to this point," he said recently. "I'm on medication now, my life has changed."
Wysocki thought he knew where his life was going on April 27, 1982, when he invited 300 people to a party at his home. It was the day of the NFL draft and Wysocki figured he'd be selected in the middle rounds; it didn't matter which team, although he'd always been a Dallas Cowboys fan. The middle rounds passed, and nobody from the NFL called. Pretty soon, the 300 people told Charlie they were sorry. And they left. The next day, he waited by the phone all alone. It didn't ring.
Wysocki's embarrassment grew into depression. And after the Cowboys cut him in a summer free agent camp, the depression grew more serious. Wysocki called home every day and told his mother he wasn't getting a fair tryout. One night in September, after returning to College Park, he couldn't go to sleep. He wasn't on drugs, but he felt nervous and jittery, as if he were. The next night he couldn't sleep, either. It went on like that for a week.
On Oct. 19, after a month of not being able to go to sleep, Charlie Wysocki suffered a breakdown. At his parents' insistence, he drove home and was put under a psychiatrist's care for a month.
"I didn't want to go to the infirmary. I didn't want to live," Wysocki said. "I wanted to die. I couldn't cope. My parents told me, 'If you don't come home, we're coming to get you.' So, finally I drove home."
His illness was originally misdiagnosed as schizophrenia and he was treated with antipsychotic drugs that only made the situation worse. In fact, it was so bad the Wysockis were told Charlie might remain unable to move or communicate.
On Christmas morning, his parents had to carry him to the Christmas tree. They had to open his packages because he couldn't move his arms.
On Jan. 6, Wysocki was admitted to a private hospital in Philadelphia, where for the next few months he would try to fight the depression that was precipitated in part by his failure to fulfill his life goal of becoming a professional football player. Robert Patridge, a second doctor, correctly diagnosed him as a manic-depressive and began treating him with antidepressants. It took a month, and then a subsequent manic stage, but Wysocki began to improve. "All I could think was, 'Lord, please help me and I'll be different,' " Wysocki said.
Manic depression often results from a chemical imbalance in the nervous system. It can be hereditary and it can be precipitated by almost anything. Doctors say it's difficult to tell how long a person may have had the potential for manic depression. But they also say those who suffer from it often react initially in their early 20s, when suddenly faced with the decisions of adulthood. Wysocki is 23.
Wysocki remembered back to late October, when his mother took him to his uncle's house. He kept thinking they were whispering about him, saying he wasn't well. He heard his uncle say, "Somebody must have slipped him something." Wysocki kept thinking the ambulance would be waiting at the front door when he got back home, waiting to take him away.
So to avoid that, Wysocki got in his car and drove. He ended up on the Pennsylvania turnpike with only enough money to buy gas; he slept in the car. The next morning, after running into a police road block and being chased by unmarked cars, he was taken to Wilkes-Barre's General Hospital and put in handcuffs. Wysocki said he felt less than human being "cuffed down to the bed so I couldn't move," but he realized nobody on the staff was strong enough to subdue him--he weighed 250 pounds, almost 50 above his playing weight at Maryland--if he "snapped out."
For awhile, he could barely move. He received therapy and medication. But he couldn't talk or feed himself. And when the manic stage arrived, it once took 10 staff members to subdue him.
But gradually, with extensive treatment, Wysocki got better. He says his work with another patient, a man who had undergone a lobotomy and had been hospitalized since 1937, helped him. Because the man couldn't dress himself, Wysocki began to help him every morning. And pretty soon, Wysocki says, he was so preoccupied with helping the lobotomy patient, he helped himself.
Wysocki's mother says it helped him to see that other people had similar problems. His mother said she is also convinced that being dropped by the Dallas Cowboys precipitated her son's reaction. Charlie says not getting drafted "had something do to with it, but Dallas really hurt me.
"When they signed me they said there were going to be only four free agent backs at camp. I get there and see 18 backs. How in the hell can you show somebody something with 17 other backs? That really depressed me. I wanted to leave camp, give the money back. I was doing well and they weren't using me. I thought I was too good to be treated like this. We had a scrimmage against Los Angeles and I only played two plays. I didn't want to let people down. It was a nightmare."
Gil Brandt, the Dallas vice president in charge of personnel development, said he talked to Wysocki about signing but never said how many backs would be in camp. Brandt said there were 11 backs there, and that while he still feels for Wysocki, the Cowboys did everything possible to help him make the team, but "he just didn't have the speed and quickness."
Whenever people who assess football talent talk about Charlie Wysocki, they talk about speed and quickness, vital stats for the computer. He didn't have much speed, and he would tell you that. His mother can't understand why a computer got rid of her son for three-tenths of a second and failed to compile data on desire and determination, of which he had an abundance.
The day that he ran the ball 50 times against Duke, Wysocki said he wanted to run it 60 times the next week. He was never satisfied and his mother says he always was under too much pressure from his own expectations.
Now, Wysocki is making plans again. He wants to finish the six hours needed to earn a degree at Maryland and maybe even go to medical school. And he wants to succeed in football again, to play for the Washington Federals of the U.S. Football League and prove himself with the team that had invited him to its training camp as a free agent.
"I want to play for the Federals," he said. "I want to show them . . . I still want to play football. I still want to show people. My mom wants me to stay at the store and work with her. I know I can play. The sickness has made me stronger. It's a symbol of fighting back."
As long as Wysocki takes his medication and continues his once-a-week therapy, Partridge says, he can continue to fight back, and to play, "because lithium will not interfere with his capabilities and coordination." As for the pressure and disappointment that football can bring, Partridge says that may not be what precipitated his depression anyway.
Right now, Charlie Wysocki is just glad to have another chance.