Editor’s note: After a recent court hearing, My Buckhannon was approached by a member of Teresa Khan’s family about writing this article regarding her recent probation violation. Their hope is that her story will help people understand the seriousness of mental health conditions.
BUCKHANNON – Many people who travel to Walt Disney Resort in Orlando, Florida, have a map or a predetermined mission.
There’s only so much time to see all the sights, feast on all the food and ride all the rides.
But that was never the mode of operation when Asad Derya Khan, and his mother, Teresa Khan, traveled to the most magical place on Earth.
They would mosey around for hours without a care, eating Mickey Mouse-shaped waffles, laughing, talking and taking in the atmosphere and all that Disney had to offer.
“Our good times were always in Disney,” her son said. “We would walk the parks from 8 a.m. to midnight. We always would laugh and have a fun time. We never would have an agenda, we always would just go with the flow. From eating Mickey waffles to ginormous turkey legs, we were happy.”
“There always were some ups and downs with her moods,” Derya added, “but Disney is like its own anti-depressant, so it always helped.”
Still, even then, he suspected something wasn’t quite right.
“I knew that she had a problem,” Derya said, “but she would always refuse care. I would ask her to go and get treated; however, she would always refuse care, thinking that she was completely normal.”
Walt Disney World is exactly where Teresa Khan, 56, had been planning to go, her son said, when she violated the terms of her five-year probation May 21.
“She was actually going down so low that she wanted to find something happy,” Derya said. “She wanted to hurt herself … so she wanted something that would make her happy. She was trying to find a place that made her happy.
“She knew that whenever she went there, she was happy, so in her mind, she knew that was the only way that she could go and be happy.”
So, Teresa Khan, who was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder and major depression, failed to check in with her probation officer that Tuesday. She took $100 cash, her purse and her medication, and began driving south with the intention of leaving the state, according to a court filing read aloud by 26th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Kurt Hall at her probation violation hearing Wednesday in Upshur County Circuit Court.
She was asleep in her vehicle in the parking lot of the Fayetteville Big Lots two days later, on May 23, when a police officer with the Oak Hill Police Department found and apprehended her, according the file.
“She said she had been headed to Disney World but started feeling sick, so was going to go home,” Hall read aloud from the document.
Khan, who pleaded guilty in December 2018 to one felony count of obtaining a controlled substance by means of fraud, forgery or deception, appeared before Hall at the hearing and admitted to the allegations through her attorney, Karl Kolenich.
Kelley Cunningham, assistant prosecuting attorney for Upshur County, said she, Kolenich and Teresa Khan’s probation officer had reached an agreement that the most appropriate solution was to make the completion of inpatient behavioral health treatment in a psychiatric ward of a nearby hospital a term of her probation.
Hall agreed but questioned Khan about her thought process.
“I can’t really say what happened,” she said, in a barely audible voice.
Hall said he suspected the combination of medicines Khan was taking to treat her mental illnesses weren’t working.
“Something’s going on that’s causing you problems, certainly,” the judge said. “I could find that you violated your probation by absconding. Don’t do this again; don’t put me in that position.”
Following the hearing, Derya said he wanted to say something on his mom’s behalf.
“The first time this was in the news (in December), there was a mixed reaction,” he said. “Some people were sympathetic, but others just don’t understand how serious mental illness can be or believe it’s real.”
“Not many people know, but this is actually Mental Health Awareness Month, and this kind of fell exactly right onto it,” he added.
May is, indeed, Mental Health Month, and according to the National Institute on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 people will experience some form of mental illness in their lifetimes.
Derya said what’s especially complex about mental illnesses is that they’re invisible; you can’t see them, and they manifest and disappear.
“Sometimes, we can have friends that have a form of mental illness, and we can even forget that they have it,” he said. “It is something that needs to be taken very seriously. Sadly, there are a lot of people that think mental health issues are very, very low on the totem pole, whenever it is one disease where you can never know the next thing that will come.”
Some physical ailments are much more predictable, he said.
“Whenever you have something like diabetes or hypertension, you know what to prepare for,” he said. “Whenever you have a mental health disease, it can be anything from suicidal ideation to upping and leaving and believing they’re somewhere else, and it’s a very scary thought.”
Although bipolar disorder is an umbrella term that falls over four more specific conditions, in general, it causes dramatic or sudden shifts in a person’s mood, energy and ability to think clearly, according to information published by NAMI. Manic periods can result in impulsivity, greater risk-taking and impaired judgment, while bipolar depression is sometimes so debilitating it may be difficult to get out of bed. The average onset is age 25.
Derya, who filed a missing persons report with the Upshur County Sheriff’s Department on May 22, said his mother’s mood had bottomed out May 21 when she left. And she wasn’t thinking clearly or logically.
“When I talked to her on Sunday at the Southern Regional Jail, she did not even know that she had been driving [in the southern part of the state en route to Florida],” he said. “She only knew once she actually got to Fayetteville, and then the chemical imbalance in her brain worsened.”
“We have property at Walt Disney World, and that was the only way she knew how to make herself happy,” he said.
Derya also noted finding the correct combination of medications for a mental illness that has high highs and low lows can be a complex process, and sometimes medicines are complicating factors that may exacerbate symptoms.
He said Thursday Khan had been admitted to an in-patient behavioral health treatment facility and was undergoing evaluations.
“She said she feels bad for hurting her family,” he said.
Khan was indicted during the September 2018 grand jury term on 12 counts of obtaining a controlled substance by means of fraud, forgery or deception.
In accordance with a plea agreement, in December 2018, Khan pleaded guilty to one of the 12 counts and waived her right to a presentencing investigation in order to be sentenced immediately; in exchange, the state, represented by Godwin, agreed to dismiss the remaining 11 counts and request alternative sentencing.
She must complete 80 hours of community service annually during her five-year probation term.