(Author’s Note: Much of this story was told to me by friends and family. I keep a daily journal and also pulled memories out of that. This time for me is still quite fuzzy, and I wrote this as a therapeutic way to process and piece together everything. I want to share to help others feel less alone.)
I was living on my own for the first time in Banner Elk in an old farmhouse renovated into four apartments. I had just gotten back from Minnesota. It was a spacious apartment that varied from being immaculately cleaned and borderline disgusting. Trying to hold two part-time jobs, hiking all my favorite trails, and reconnecting with friends still on campus I stayed fairly busy.
Things started to shift as more leaves fell off the trees. I started buzzing. Feeling high without any drugs. Sounds were louder, some more intriguing and some drove me in a fury of rage. Lights were brighter, more stimulating. My happiness was bubbly and I felt capable of doing whatever I wanted.
I was submitting photographs to National Geographic with the firm belief I was the next big thing. These photographs were shot on my phone, are well… average. My hobbies began to increase and I was going to get rich off painting planter pots (don’t ask, I’m still unsure to this day). Bouldering was a fun hobby I did all through college. I’d go out by myself and climb over forty foot high boulders with no helmet or landing pad. I just knew I wasn’t going to fall. Life just felt so fucking good.
I started hearing footsteps in the apartment above me. Texting my upstairs neighbor a million times (let’s call him George), “Are you home?”
George, a twenty year veteran with PTSD, often replied, “No, I’m in class.”
I increasingly became convinced the apartment was haunted and some ghost was occupying the room above me. Laying in bed at night making an argument to myself I needed sleep, yet feeling no need, I thought constantly of who the ghost might be. My body was buzzing with electricity. Eventually, I think I just gave up on sleep altogether and did arts and crafts all night. Who needed it, am I right?
Then I got a speeding ticket for doing almost 80 in the middle of Blowing Rock. A small mountain tourist town, where the speed limit was 35. Four hundred dollars to a lawyer made that mess go away. I wasn’t worried there was no way I was going that fast and money had no value.
Stealing from Wal-Mart became a game. They were never going to catch me. I was lucky as hell I never got caught. At night I began roaming the parkway, playing a daring game of passing cars in curves. Every time it snowed my neighbors judged me for hanging outside in rain boots and shorts with no jacket, but I didn’t feel the cold. All the while mold grew on food in the fridge and dishes left out. I’d forgotten about the need to eat.
The fun began to dissipate when my skin started to crawl and I kept finding myself in strangers beds. At no point in my twenty-two years was I a ‘slut’. Sex was never on the top of my list, and now I felt a crazed urge for sex. Sometimes I’d wake up in my bed to a strange man. There was a time or two when I went back to my car to head home, I would find my dog curled up in the back. In the middle of the mountain winter.
I started drinking and smoking pot heavily to make it all go away. Self-medicating. Life was getting more blurry. I wasn’t in the driver’s seat anymore, and I wanted off this ride.
Whispers and shadowy figures began to fill my ears and eyes. I wanted them to go away and leave me alone. George and I conducted stakeouts at an abandoned house behind our house. I had reported seeing a white pick up coming out of the driveway multiple times (no one else has ever seen this truck). There were people in that house plotting something. Who were they?
Looking back I wondered if George and my untreated mental energies were just fueling each other, or if George was just bored and going along with my delusions. Or maybe, both. I spent hours researching the house trying to uncover any clues.
We broke into the apartment adjacent to mine convinced someone was coming and going when we weren’t looking. Going through the few belongings in there, we never found anything interesting. A few weeks later we broke back in only in our horror to discover everything was gone and we never saw it leave.
Things reached a fever pitch, when I called my mom ranting, “THEY ARE COMING TO GET ME!”
My mom was confused and concerned, “What?”
“I took a couple of Adderall to make them go away, my heart’s beating fast.” I was frantically pacing. It has been over a year since I’d taken the Adderall for an ADHD diagnosis I received last year. I’m pretty sure I had also been drinking and/or smoking pot that day as well. “THEY ARE COMING! I CAN HEAR THEM!”
This continued a few more moments before I hung up promising to check-in later (yeah, sure). My friend, (let’s call her Jenna), came over for dinner, we’d made these plans earlier in the week. I couldn’t eat it tasted like cardboard and I kept hearing whispers. I was frantic. It was about the time I went to the bathroom and couldn’t walk, was when Jenna realized that I needed help. She called our other friend (let’s call her Beth) since she didn’t have a car and didn’t want to drive mine. The two of them drove me to the hospital. They had to talk to the front desk since I was incoherent. Beth and Jenna had to fill out the paperwork since I couldn’t even write my name or say where I lived.
A nurse-led us back to a room and I ran into a wall. Beth grabbed a hold of me and led me to the room. The nurse asked a few questions, all of which Beth and Jenna tried to answer. My heart rate resting was around 182 bpm. Tachycardia. They gave me potassium and fluids. I kept asking repeatedly if it was nine o’clock yet. It was closer to eleven. I was discharged, no follow-up, no concern, no questions, despite all the red flags presented.
They dropped me off around one am. I stayed awake for 76 hours. Every time I stood up, I felt like I was going to pass out. My heart was still racing. I was in utter chaos. My friends had texted my mother. She had called but never showed up. My godmother called but never showed up. I was all alone in my chaos. The lack of response on their part convinced me they didn’t care because it was all made up. I was being dramatic about how I’d been feeling.
Beth ended up taking me to a different hospital on the third day. I didn’t want to go but was too weak to fight her. This hospital showed more concern but still not enough. Especially when my heart rate showed up as 174 bpm resting and Beth informed them it had been that way for three days. For comparison, the average resting heart rate is between 60 and 100 bpm. An EKG revealed a heart murmur. A blood test revealed that the Adderall had wiped out all my potassium. The doctor estimated that for my size, 110 pounds, I probably had close to 150 to 200 mg of Adderall. The chemical equivalent of meth. The average adult dose is 5 to 60 mg. More potassium, more fluids, and some hospital grade sedatives, again I was discharged.
Two hospitals discharged me on the same day of admittance after being presented with obvious signs of mental instability. Because you know fluids solve everything.
Not even two weeks later, thinking I could outrun my problems. I fled town, leaving most of my belongings behind. I got a job and alternated between sleeping in my car and at random houses. My new coworkers thought I was off. The house I found a room in kicked me out shortly after for lack of hygiene and overall cleanliness. I was hitting rock bottom. My credit card was maxed out. My bank account in the negatives.
In a stroke of luck, I met a nice guy who for whatever reason let a disheveled woman, with a car packed full of junk, and a dying emaciated dog move in. Giving me some stability as I slowly made my way out of the chaos. He says when he met me my hair was greasy, my clothes wrinkled, and I had rashes from lack of hygiene. I was a mess.
Fast forward a little over a year later, when I finally sought help. I felt like a small child when the psychiatrist read aloud the DSM-5 criteria for a manic episode, trying to get it through my thick head that I was bipolar. I had everything.That time in Banner Elk came flooding back, it had a name. A classic case, I was finally normal at something. The irony is Adderall can trigger mania and if your already manic, it can make it worse.
It all started exactly like the DSM-5 said and slowly slid into psychosis. If the hospitals had been better educated on psychiatric illness they should have admitted me for observation. I might not have had my second manic episode the following winter.
Today I think about how blessed I am that I didn’t get pregnant since I didn’t always take my birth control, I didn’t get an STD, and the heart murmur wasn’t permanent. I walked away scarred but alive. It’s been three years and I’m still paying off debt from both manic episodes. I’m still coping with anxiety from incidents that happened from putting myself in bad situations. And most importantly I’m still working on self-forgiveness. I share this story for anyone out there who has experienced something similar. I know one thing, anyone who has come out alive on the other end, is strong as hell.