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Lauren Weitzman reflects on her brother's mental illness and untimely passing, remembering the bond they shared over music.

“My brother Steven unfortunately inherited the more problematic genes in our family. He developed a fairly significant bipolar illness in his early 20s, which manifested in some pretty distressing and scary behaviors that bordered on psychotic when he was manic. He fell into a pattern where he would be arrested or taken to the VA hospital, and he lived on the streets a lot.

When Steven was in his late 40s, he was finally getting treatment and medication that helped him start to stabilize. He was living in a community home and was developing relationships with his fellow residents and caregivers. In January of his 50th year, he complained of not feeling well and was planning to go to the hospital the next day, but then he had a heart attack that night and passed away in his bathroom. I have a lot of mixed feelings about it. I’m pretty sad about the life he had but am glad he spent his last years with some stability. His life was often chaotic, but he always had the love of his family around him, even when it was hard for him to let that in. He was a survivor.

Looking back, he gave me so many gifts. We always shared a bond over music, which was a real place of connection for us. Even remembering one instance when I lost it with him is something I’m grateful for because it allowed me to feel anger in its purest form, which is an emotion I don’t typically express. He gave me a different level of empathy and appreciation for what people living with mental illness have to navigate and helped me realized that not having a mental illness is such a privilege in so many ways.”

— Lauren Weitzman with Steven’s guitar, Director, University Counseling Center

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