ON Anzac Day Eve this year, a frolicking night out became a wakeful nightmare.
I was a few beers deep, mingling with the crowds at my local haunt - when at some point in the night, I felt a strangeness wash over me.
It was as if a massive wave of panic had managed to infiltrate my brain; adrenaline ran through me and I was thrown into a tailspin.
I assumed this was an anxiety attack and took myself home. Yet the feelings continued; I lay awake in my bed for hours. My stomach turned and my head pulsed with maddening panic, to the point where I debated hospital.
After some time, calculating the beers I'd had versus the way I was feeling, it became clear that my drink had been spiked.
I wouldn't have known it, if it hadn't already happened to me.
Experts believe that the majority of drink spikings occur as a prank. Often it's assumed that spiking occurs with intent to sexually assault someone - however this only accounts for one-third of all spikings. The sad fact is that most of the time it's the result of a cold-hearted lout looking to get laughs. To purposefully endanger someone's life for a joke.
The first time my drink was spiked, in 2012, I nearly lost my life.
I was a night-life photographer living la vida loca in the city of Melbourne. I was on the job ... and with that job came certain benefits, like drink vouchers. Everything was going swimmingly. I must have set down my glass.
My memory gets very foggy then. One minute I was at the bar. The next, I'm in an alleyway, on my phone, complaining about feeling strange.
A flash - I'm on a train, vomiting bile onto the floor. Flash forward - in a car, Dad in the driver's seat. I'm green and blue and every colour I shouldn't be. They claimed they'd never seen anyone that messed up before.
Hours later, I couldn't keep food or liquids down. All I could feel was pain and delirium. Then my chest began to race - far too fast. I screamed in fear and pain as Mum scrambled to call 000. I had to be taken in to hospital due to irregularities of my heart.
That episode led to me getting heart surgery to rectify whatever issue the drink spiking had caused.
Doctors performed keyhole surgery on my heart, feeding wires via my groin, to perform an ablation. Basically they had to locate the parts of my heart that were malfunctioning and burn or "ablate" them.
I spent the next few months in recovery. All from what was most likely someone else's idea of mischief.
Today will forever be known as the day I went to hospital suspecting a drink spiking, on the day an article I wrote about spiking comes out. pic.twitter.com/pYJgg02qED— Brandon Cook (@brandycooklyn) May 12, 2017
Of course, the recovery didn't end there. In the years that followed, I dealt with major psychological issues. I grew mistrustful around drinks. I struggled to consume fluids, even in my own house, because my brain would tell me that my drink was spiked - even if those drinks were accepted from members of my family.
There's only been one study done in Australia on the prevalence of drink spiking, involving only 44 cases - many muddied up as they rely on victims' disclosures rather than actual toxicology reports from hospitals.
This leads people to feel sceptical of those who claim to have been spiked, dismissing them as binge drinkers. The reality is that most don't have the tools to recognise it as a problem, let alone to understand that it's happening to them.
And yet I know that so many people in the community deal with these issues, because venue managers and hospitality staff I know have to handle the outcomes. To the point where it's common practice for staff to get rid of half-empty glasses if they've been left unattended, because you simply can't trust patrons not to put drugs in them.
Yet so many people dismiss the risk of spiking, being careless with their booze and flippant on their nights out.
So look after yourselves on your nights out. Keep a close eye on your drinks. And if you feel that massive wave of panic, do what I was nearly too late to do: Take yourselves to hospital.
There's no shame in seeking care because you suspect that a crime has been committed. And I'd rather go to hospital and be told I'm fine - than go home in a heap, head pulsing with maddening panic, nowhere near fine at all.