How Teacher Hannah Upp Was Lost and Found Twice

Missing teacher Hannah Upp found. (Facebook)On Thursday, Hannah Upp, a teacher from Maryland, was found unharmed after family and friends reported her missing two days earlier.

Upp’s disappearance was all too familiar. Five years ago, she sparked a New York City-wide search after she vanished at the start of the school year.  At the time, Upp, then 23 and a Spanish teacher, went for a jog near her apartment, and three weeks later, was found by a ferry crew; she was badly sunburned and floating in the Hudson River.

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She had no memory of the three weeks, nor did she remember how she ended up in the murky water. Trauma experts believed that she suffered from a rare disorder known as dissociative fugue. The sudden and spontaneous amnesia is characterized by a loss of identity, coupled with prolonged, seemingly directionless wandering.

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It’s unclear whether a relapse was responsible for Upp’s most recent disappearance. Montgomery County police were alerted to her disappearance on Tuesday, after she failed to show up for her job as a teaching assistant at a Maryland-area Montessori school. A co-worker spotted Upp, now 28, around the time she was supposed to be in class. She was out walking, miles away from the school. Her personal belongings were then found on a footpath, according to police, prompting concerns about her well-being.

Then, on Thursday police found Upp in the Wheaton area of Montgomery County, not far from her school, unharmed. The Facebook page Friends Holding Hannah Upp, launched after her disappearance, confirmed: “HANNAH IS BACK SAFE. We don't know details, but we know that she is home and safe Hannah and her family are tremendously grateful for your thoughts and prayers."

Montgomery Count police were still investigating the incident on Thursday afternoon and have not yet responded to Yahoo Shine's request for further details. 

According to Dr. Daniel Schacter, a professor of psychology at Harvard University who has researched dissociative fugue cases, the aftermath is key to unraveling the mystery.

“Almost by definition, patients in a dissociative fugue state are not aware of who they are, so you have to wait until they come out of that state of amnesia before looking at their experience and what happened,”  Schacter, also the author of "The Seven Sins of Memory," told Yahoo Shine.

In a 2009 interview with the New York Times, Upp had little recollection of her 2008 disappearance. “I went from going for a run to being in the ambulance," she explained. "It was like 10 minutes had passed. But it was almost three weeks.”

In terms of breaking the fugue, there are no clear-cut recovery methods. "In the case I studied, the patient's memory cleared up pretty quickly and in response to a strong cue that reminded him of an event associated with the onset of the incident," said Schacter said. "But others have gone for longer amounts of time. It’s a complex phenomenon." 

It's also not a condition linked to physical brain damage or specific mental disorders. 
Researchers are still unclear what causes the condition but emotional stress has been linked to individual cases. According to reports, Upp's recent vanishing took place about week after she started her new teaching job. With Upp's first disappearance, also in early fall, some theorized the stress of returning to her demanding teaching position may have served as a trigger.

For now, Upp's friends and family are just grateful to have her back. Now those closest to her are  requesting "space and time," according to a Facebook update, "as they spend time together and process these events."

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