Manic episode was 'complete chaos' for Lethbridge man who hopes his story helps those suffering

·5 min read
Lethbridge, Alta., resident Jason Wegner, 24, considered himself a
Lethbridge, Alta., resident Jason Wegner, 24, considered himself a

For Lethbridge, Alta., resident Jason Wegner, you can trace it all back to the summer of 2017.

He had been exhibiting some signs of hypomania in the year prior: risky behaviour, unusual shifts in mood and rapid changes in his behaviour.

Wegner's family has some history of mental illness, including an uncle with bipolar disorder.

So when Wegner experimented for the second time with psychedelic drugs in 2017, specifically magic mushrooms and LSD, it changed everything.

That summer, Wegner travelled to Africa as a leader on a service trip with the WE Charity to help build a school. He found himself in a full-blown manic episode for 16 days.

'Complete chaos'

For Wegner, having a manic episode meant he was thinking 100 thoughts every day, all the time.

"It's complete chaos," he said. "You can't control your emotions. You're happy one moment, crying the next."

Wegner was told multiple times to stop rambling. But he couldn't control what was running through his head.

"I had many far-fetched ideas, like running Pink Floyd concerts in Tanzania, Africa, writing a novel, getting a PhD and several other corporations and charities I was going to run all within the next 10 years," he said.

On the trip, Wegner couldn't control his emotions and was very antagonistic with those around him.

During that period, he constantly journalled his experience, writing more than 300 pages of notes in 16 days and recording more than two hours of audio journals.

Joel Dryden/CBC
Joel Dryden/CBC

When he returned from Africa, Wegner immediately moved out of his parents' house. He had been living there while saving for a down payment.

Continuing to take hold

Shortly after, Wegner was fired from both of his jobs at the campus bar at the University of Lethbridge and as a caterer. In the first instance, he almost punched a groom on his wedding night after an altercation about tips.

Within a week of coming home, he also spent thousands of dollars on technology, including $3,000 on a stereo from Denmark. He had to go to Sweet Grass, Mont., to pick it up, where he said he promptly got into arguments with locals about politics and education.

Extremely concerned, Wegner's parents urged him to go see a doctor.

"I avoided seeing the doctor like a plague, because I didn't want my superpowers to be taken away," he said. "I didn't think there's anything wrong with me. I thought everything was wrong with everybody else."

Joel Dryden/CBC
Joel Dryden/CBC

Wegner reluctantly agreed to speak with Dr. Kerry Bernes, a professor at the University of Lethbridge and clinical psychologist.

Bernes said that when Wegner first came into his office, Wegner said he planned to become not a professor of one thing, but of "all things."

"He spoke for 55 minutes straight, with me, mom and dad not being able to talk," Bernes said. "Absolutely, he was in a clear manic episode."

Because Wegner was engaged in impulsive and dangerous activities, Bernes felt it was necessary to get him to the hospital as soon as possible.

But Wegner thought that he had proved his sanity in the meeting, and after leaving Bernes's office, began "ranting and raving" on the streets of downtown Lethbridge.

Paramedics arrive

The next day, thinking no one was listening to him, Wegner began a vow of silence.

Joel Dryden/CBC
Joel Dryden/CBC

In late August 2017, after cycling from the west side of Lethbridge to the north side down the busy Whoop-Up Drive, Wegner agreed to stay the night at his parents' house.

Unable to sleep, he took a book to the backyard to do a little "night reading."

"That's when my mom called the ambulance and called 911 and had an ambulance arrive at our house," he said.

At this point, Wegner had a dishevelled look. He had been wearing the same clothes for three days, and was covered in writing all over his body and clothes.

Joel Dryden/CBC
Joel Dryden/CBC

After some disagreement, Wegner agreed to go to the hospital — but only because he wanted to prove everyone wrong.

Treatment begins

As soon as Wegner arrived at the hospital, a doctor in emergency diagnosed him with bipolar 1 disorder, and he was started on medication.

It wasn't smooth sailing. He refused treatment, took another vow of silence and wrote down his entire life story on four pieces of purple paper.

"My dad visited me every day, and he just relentlessly told me like, you have to do everything that the doctors say. You have to comply," he said.

Slowly, he began to come down from the mania. He had many side effects — it took 22 medication changes over the course of an entire year to get things straight.

Submitted by Bariyaa Ipaa
Submitted by Bariyaa Ipaa

When he left the psych ward, the recovery really began. It was hard for Wegner to find the strength to even go for a gentle walk. At university, he couldn't read or focus. He had severe depression for seven months.

But through hard work alongside Bernes, Wegner slowly made progress. He began losing the weight he gained on medication, more than 75 pounds.

The pair built up his concentration and focus to the point where he ended up with a straight 4.0 GPA.

Today, Bernes said Wegner is living what he would call "the good life." But many people who suffer from manic episodes might not realize that the disorder is treatable, he said.

"What we want to say is, let's not quit the treatment, if it takes 22 or 52, or 102, medication changes, we can't stop," he said.

LISTEN | Jason Wegner talks about his new memoir and shares stories about his manic episode in this interview with CBC's The Homestretch:

Today, Wegner is a recent graduate of the University of Lethbridge and hopes to become a high school English or social studies teacher.

He still takes his medication today, which helps him live a normal existence with a normal range of emotions.

He wrote his entire story in his memoir, Manic Man: How to Live Successfully with a Severe Mental Illness, which is available online and in Lethbridge bookstores.

"I wanted to connect with people who are recently diagnosed or have been living in this for a long time, to try to give them a map as to how they can recover," he said.

"I wanted to share my story, so that people can see that there's still hope, even if you have a severe mental illness like mine."

CBC Calgary has launched a Lethbridge bureau to help tell your stories from southern Alberta with reporter Joel Dryden. Story ideas and tips can be sent to joel.dryden@cbc.ca.

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