Denver, CO

Untreated bipolar disorder can wreak strange havoc fast

David Heitz
Krys Amon/Unsplash

Red flags should have convinced me that I was losing my mind a few years ago, but I ignored them.

I began to struggle with trauma-induced psychosis after my dad died in 2015. I ended up selling the house dad left me and moving to Denver on a whim in 2018.

I did not feel safe in Rock Island, Ill., where I grew up.

I ran out of money and became homeless in just a few months in Denver. I was buying everything in sight. When I no longer felt safe at my apartment, I began to stay in expensive hotels.

I have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. I went into a manic spin shortly after my dad died.

I did so many strange things you would expect I would have figured out I had problems and sought mental health treatment.

But I could not wrap my head around having a mental illness. Why? Because my mental problems are trauma-induced.

In short, I felt like a victim. The mental illness was not my fault. But as long as I feel like a victim, I will be a victim.

I can’t let those who hurt me win like that. Today, I acknowledge I have been through a lot and I also acknowledge my mental illness. I take several medications to remain stable.

But this realization didn’t happen overnight.

Here are several incidents when I should have known I was losing my mind.

I fled my Glendale Apartment. When I closed on my house, I jumped on an airplane and flew to Denver. I had sold or given away most all my possessions. The plan was to fly into Denver, stay in hotels a few weeks and rent an apartment.

That’s exactly what happened, but I regretted renting the apartment. The building was in the Denver suburb of Glendale. And Glendale is one square mile of weirdness. The mayor’s wife owns a strip joint and the cannabis dispensary next door to it. The dispensary is decorated in the theme of America’s war on drugs.

It’s worth visiting if you ever come to Denver and enjoy cannabis.

At any rate, after only a month in my apartment I felt the need to get out of there. People were banging on my windows, jumping up and down on the floor upstairs, and harassing my dog. I ended up giving back the dog to the shelter when I became homeless.

When I left the apartment, I took only the dog and the clothes on my back. I went back there once to retrieve some items, but the apartment had been ransacked. Several of my belongings were missing.

The apartment complex had taped notes all over my door. They retaliated against me every time I would complain of noise. I have no idea what all the envelopes were for.

I never went back to that apartment again. I began to stay in fancy hotels.

I accessed $2,500 after becoming homeless but spent it all in a few days. Eventually, I ran out of money and ended up homeless at Union Station. But a glimmer of hope remained. I had almost $3,000 in my PayPal account. I could do a lot to remedy my situation with $3,000.

Eventually I got back into my PayPal account with the help of a library social worker. She even wrote a letter for the district attorney’s office explaining why my card was declined at a local IHOP. PayPal had explained on a conference call that my account had been locked for some reason.

When I got the money, I went from homeless at Union Station to the seventh floor of The Art hotel. The Art hotel in downtown Denver is considered the finest in Colorado. Room fees well exceed $200 per night.

From the Art hotel, I went to Hyatt House. I stayed on the 16th floor there.

While I stayed in luxury hotels, I apparently did not care that soon I would be back at Union Station.

And that’s exactly what happened.

I handed out $20 bills to the homeless in downtown Denver. When I was down to my last thousand dollars, I decided to hand out twenties to the homeless. I told them all that I had been homeless too and was about to be homeless again.

I have no idea why I felt the urge to give away money. I can tell you I felt like I was high on ecstasy that day. I felt like someone had spiked my soda at a restaurant.

I remember everything seeming very bright and almost unreal that day. I felt like I was living a motion picture.

I would walk up and down 16th Street Mall singing and repeating mantras. When I would become triggered, I would make a spectacle of myself. Indeed, I looked “crazy” in every sense of the word. I’d march the mall singing “Yankee Doodle Dandy” but changing the words around. I often complained loudly about things that happened to me in Rock Island, Ill. Nobody cared about my trauma. But I didn’t seem to get that.

Sometimes I would sing the theme song from “Today.” I would say, “From NBC News, this is Today! With Savanna Guthrie. Hoda Kotb. And David Heitz. Live! From Studio 1A in Rockefeller Plaza.”

I thought the federal government was going to save me. At the end of the day, as I spiraled into homelessness, I assumed it would just be temporary. I thought that the federal government would somehow intervene and help me.

I thought this because I had reported political corruption in my hometown Rock Island, Ill. to the federal government.

I did speak to the FBI a few times, but they never expressed any interest in helping me. In fact, they threatened me once.

I was completely delusional to think justice would be served. I really was.

I always knew God would help me

People ask how I survived the streets. I simply accepted homelessness as the hand God dealt me.

People who live with uncontrollable anger or fear like I did need to keep in mind that a doctor treats symptoms. If you are experiencing symptoms of mental illness and need treatment, it’s not a judgement call or an attack on your character.

Nobody wants to be miserable on in a perpetual state of panic. And nobody wants to end up unmedicated and homeless on the street.

If you’re behaving strangely and think mental illness may be to blame, seek help. Don’t let yourself become homeless, or worse.

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I have been in the news business more than 30 years, spending much of my career at some of the best newspapers in the country. Today, I specialize in Denver local news, health reporting, social justice issues, addiction/recovery/mental health news, and topics surrounding homelessness and human trafficking.

Denver, CO

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