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After finding mental health balance, Eric Swieter worries about life without wife

Austin American-Statesman - 12/30/2019

Eric Swieter spent much of his young life in boarding homes and psychiatric facilities.

His adoptive parents first noticed something was off when he was about 5. Several years later, he was getting into screaming and fist fights.

He was diagnosed as schizophrenic and having major depression, and at 13, went to live in a psychiatric hospital in San Antonio.

Eric wouldn't have a real semblance of home anywhere until many years later, after he met his now-wife Catherine at a boarding house in Austin.

"I knew I loved her before I met her," he said.

The Swieter family is part of Statesman's Season for Caring, which every year donates thousands of dollars to local nonprofit organizations. The Swieters were nominated by Hospice Austin.

Eric. 46. had ended up in the Capitol city after a suicide attempt had landed him at Austin State Hospital. He had overdosed on several of his medications -- one of several times he tried to kill himself.

"I didn't really want to die. I just wanted help, and I did what I had to do to make people pay attention," he said. "Back in the day, nobody understood mental health. They thought lock them up and keep feeding them drugs and throw away the key."

Eric would continue to be sedated on psychotropic medications several more years, as he participated in drug research studies to make money. It earned him free rent at the boarding house in Northwest Austin, where he met Catherine in 1999.

From around the corner, he heard her voice calling out loudly.

"I knew she was the girl for me and that I was going to marry her one day," he said.

Catherine, 65, was struggling to stay sober from heroin. The two would sit together outside and smoke cigarettes. It was a fast and easy love. They remained clean, wed and have been together ever since.

Today, Eric Swieter takes only two medications at bedtime to help with his depression and sleep but still has nightmares of traumatic events from his childhood. Catherine Swieter now has Parkinson's disease, COPD and kidney failure. Doctors say she has a year to live.

On a recent Monday, the couple sat outside their North Austin apartment holding hands. Eric Swieter admitted he was scared, of what life would like when Cathy's gone.

"You are not ready and never will be ready," he said. "There's no coming back from death."

But Catherine assures him she'll sneak down from Heaven to visit.

"I truly love you," she said, squeezing his hand. "We'll be together when I die I promise. There is going to be angels. It's going to be an easy-peasy thing."

Eric doesn't look convinced, but he squeezes her hand back anyway and kisses her cheek.

Many of the things on their wish list have been met by donors. They still need twin bed sheets, a food processor, Capital Metro bus passes and Access passes, gift cards for clothing, a body pillow and fresh paint for their apartment.

To find out more about the Swieters or help fulfill one of their wishes, contact Hospice Austin at 512-342-4700, hospiceaustin.org.

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