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McFarling: Ex-Christiansburg rec director thankful he made the call

McFarling: Ex-Christiansburg rec director thankful he made the call

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A phone call put him in handcuffs — and ultimately set him free.

Actually, Art Price made five phone calls on May 26, all in rapid succession. The first was to his 85-year-old mother. Then he called his wife, then his three daughters.

He told them all the same thing: Goodbye.

“Hey, I can’t deal with whatever’s bothering me anymore,” he remembers saying. “I’m just going to take some pills and go to sleep.”

Price did, in fact, empty a bottle of Prozac and lay all the pills out on the table. He’s not sure if he would have taken them all or not.

He’ll never know, because a Christiansburg police officer came to his home at his wife’s urging, placed him in handcuffs and perhaps saved his life.

In the days that followed, other Good Samaritans emerged. Nurses. Psychiatrists. Other patients dealing with their own mental illnesses. Ultimately, the 63-year-old retiree was diagnosed with bipolar disorder — an affliction he suspects he’s been dealing with for decades.

“Believe me, I’m thankful the way it played out,” Price said. “But I wish that I would have gotten help many, many years ago. If anything my story is about, it’s this: Please go get help if you think you’ve got something going on mentally.”

I first met Price almost 20 years ago, in his role as director of the Christiansburg Department of Parks and Recreation. He was friendly, gregarious and a go-getter. He spent nearly three decades with the department in his hometown — the last 24 of them as director — ushering in a slew of improvements.

Price oversaw the construction of the town’s 62,000-square-foot recreation center and the three-field Harkrader Sports Complex — two athletic jewels of the New River Valley. The town’s rec sports offerings grew exponentially for both boys and girls under his leadership. In 2010, he spearheaded a movement that brought the Dixie Youth World Series to town.

“Work-wise, it was great,” he said of his manic episodes. “I was like the Energizer Bunny.”

But most didn’t see the other side of Price. The deep depression that he fell into when his father died in 2005. The defensiveness he battled when little things went wrong or he didn’t feel appreciated. The nights he waited for his wife to fall asleep and then slipped into his man cave, where he’d self-medicate with music, a few beers, marijuana and exercise.

Price was recently diagnosed with bipolar one, which features more severe symptoms of manic episodes and changes in moods.

“It’s like you’re on top of the world,” Price said of his manic periods. “You’re just happy. You’re talking fast. You’re out of your realm. It’s an extreme.

“I was either real high or real low. I think I’ve dealt with it for about 40 years. But this past year or so, I don’t know if it’s a combination of COVID or just some other recreational activities I had going on, but it seemed like my highs would be extremely high and my lows were extremely low.”

Price retired in 2012. Since the start of the new year, he found himself not enjoying many of the activities that had brought him pleasure in the past — walking, reading, making beaded necklaces.

It all came to a head at the end of May. He and his wife, Donita, spent two weeks on vacation at Surfside Beach in South Carolina. Price drank a little more than usual. He toked a little more.

“I never got stoned or drunk, but I was in a real high, enjoyable state,” Price said. “And when I came home, it just hit me. Rock bottom.”

And that’s when he made the phone calls that wound up putting him in handcuffs.

The police took him to LewisGale Montgomery Hospital. Price eventually was taken to see behavioral health specialists at LewisGale Hospital Pulaski, where he met other patients dealing with their own issues.

“The good Lord blessed me with where I went in Pulaski,” Price said. “All the people there — nurses, doctors and the dear friends I made for life — were put there for a reason.

“I’d lost some of my faith, and all my faith came back. God put me in a place where there were people that took care of me.”

He still talks daily with several of the other patients he met in Pulaski. He’s hoping to start a support group for people dealing with mental illnesses.

He says he’s doing well most days, taking medication to control his anxiety and mitigate his manic depression.

Price doesn’t regret making his desperate phone calls; he only wishes he’d made them to the right people. And he wishes he’d made them earlier.

“It’s easy for me to look at you and tell if you cut your leg or you broke your arm, but I can’t look at you and know that you have something wrong inside,” Price said. “If there’s anybody that feels like there’s something ain’t right in your brain — the way you feel, the way you think — do not be ashamed to go get help.

“Because if you do it the right way, you’ll find help.”

Contact sports columnist Aaron McFarling at 540-981-3423 or aaron.mcfarling@roanoke.com.

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