WINCHESTER – Keygan Mullineaux was 15 when he started hearing voices in his head. Two years later, he attempted suicide and became catatonic, leading some doctors to believe he would never make a full recovery.
But thanks to a loving mother and a passion for video games, the Winchester resident, 17, goes beyond his potentially crippling mental health issues and envisions a bright future.
Keygan has already endured a lot in his young life, including the death of a younger brother and his mother sent to jail on charges related to his former drug addiction.
“It’s become too much for him,” said his mother, Kelly Dodson, in an interview Monday at Esports Arena at Shenandoah University in Winchester.
In March, Keygan swallowed two handfuls of Tylenol. He survived the suicide attempt, but his kidneys suffered permanent damage.
Dodson, who has been out of prison for nearly a decade after regaining her sobriety while behind bars in 2008, was focused on helping her son.
She was unaware, however, that Keygan was suffering from something called schizoaffective disorder, which can trigger hallucinations, mania, depression, delusions, and disorganized thought processes.
She also didn’t know he was self-treating with marijuana.
In April, Keygan smoked weed containing DMT, a potent drug that causes hallucinations. Since Keygan was already suffering from schizoaffective disorder, the effect of DMT was so strong that he became catatonic and was hospitalized in a mental institution in Maryland.
“It was the most serious case [involving a DMT-related mental breakdown] in this unit for the past 20 years, âsaid Dodson.
Keygan slowly recovered from his catatonic state about three weeks after being admitted, but there was little reason for optimism.
âKeygan at the time thought he was communicating with his late sister,â Dodson said. “They told me at one point that if he didn’t start to recover, they were going to send him to long-term care.”
Dodson refused to believe the doctors and nurses who doubted his son’s chances of having a normal life. Thanks in large part to her relentless perseverance, Keygan was healthy enough by June to return home to Winchester.
The 17-year-old now suffers from severe short-term memory loss, so his mother works with him every day to make sure his medications are working and his surroundings don’t become overwhelming. Dodson even gifted his son a support dog, Alexis, who has become Keygan’s constant companion and learns to recognize when the teenager becomes confused, agitated, or overwhelmed.
âIt’s come a long way but it hasn’t stabilized yet,â Dodson said.
Two of the people Dodson contacted during his quest to help Keygan were Tina and Rodney Culbreath, founders of the Winchester-based nonprofit I’m Just Me Movement. The Culbreaths agreed to speak to Keygan, that’s when they learned how much he enjoys playing video games online.
âIt’s a community that he connects with,â said Tina Culbreath.
Coincidentally, an esports summer camp was offered at Shenandoah University in Winchester, which is one of the first colleges in the country where students can earn degrees qualifying them for lifelong careers as producers, video game creators, artists and writers. The Culbreaths contacted Joey Gawrysiak, director of SU’s esports program, and covered the cost of Keygan joining the camp held in the college’s esports arena on Millwood Avenue.
âWe asked students to work together to understand what’s going on in esports and gaming as an industryâ¦ and how to be a healthy player,â Gawrysiak said Monday. “Keygan participated in all of these lessons.”
Thanks to the camp, Keygan realized that he could turn his passion for video games into a high-tech career. He’s set a goal of going to college to learn skills like computer coding and video production that he can use to work in the video game industry, which Variety magazine says generates nearly $ 200 billion in revenue per year.
âI want to stay in esports,â Keygan said on Monday, with a focus on producing live streams of competitive gaming events such as the World Cyber ââGames, the League of Legends World Championship and everything related to his favorite Xbox game, “Call of Devoir.”
Meanwhile, Keygan has decided to share his story in an attempt to reach others who, like him, silently suffer from mental illness.
âHe wants to help other people,â Dodson said.
One of the first people he hopes to help is his mother. Keygan said he wanted to get his driver’s license soon so he could drive his 20-month-old sister to preschool and give his tired mother a break.