Having grown up in Redmond, WA, Eric Seitz has been a Cascadian his whole life enjoying hiking, art and horticulture but he views himself and what it means to be Cascadian differently than he used to through his travels and experiences.
“My idea of what I mean when I identify as a Cascadian has also changed over the years,” he said. “I don’t even necessarily identify as a Cascadian specifically but just to be a good person and to support things that any community would want whether that’s like clean air, clean water to drink, or good neighborhoods to be in.”
After graduating high school, Seitz ran away from home and spent his time traveling all over the country. He started living from couch to couch and then on the streets.
“Then I got into drugs and stuff and that became pretty lonely in a way and it just got overwhelming for me just because I have an addictive personality. When I do something I do it 100 percent. So I got into that and I ended up just being on the streets for a long time and that’s when I ended up in Harborview for three months when I got an infection from IV drug use and it almost killed me. I got into nursing after that just because I saw how these experiences could help other people in those situations. I just went 100 percent the other way.”
Seitz said the near-death experience in the hospital was only one factor that helped turn him around. The other was his niece who, at four or five years-old, noticed he was more distant and asked him why he didn’t love her anymore.
“That just destroyed me,” he said. “She’s my favorite person in the world and I realized just how that affected other people and not just myself.”
Seitz describes the experience in detail during his interview with NPR’s Seattle station, KUOW. He said that after that, although still difficult, his cravings were much more manageable and was able to quit the drugs.
“I went from one skipping school day away from failing high school with a 2.0 to then being a 4.0 student at one of the best nursing schools in the country. It just shows that people have a lot of capacity to improve and as a community to do what we can to support people that don’t have all those resources whether that’s somebody who has what I had which was more of a mental health thing or whether that’s minority populations who don’t have the resources that everyone else does.”
Seitz expressed the importance of his family support in his recovery and his privilege for that support. Because of this, he felt he needed to give back to his community and help those who were in a similar situation as himself many years ago who may not have the same resources he did.
Seitz decided to get his nursing degree at Central Washington University and is now a street nurse and volunteers with the needle-exchange program Vocal-WA and Puget Sound Medic Collective. He also works with homeless youth in Wallingford.
“The only thing I really to tell people is that I do all the thing I do because obviously I want to do them,” he said. “What’s most important is even if I want to do it I need to make sure it’s going to help other people not just myself and to really try to figure something out whether that’s like a hobby to make sure you’re giving back to the community.”
While in Ellensburg he worked with other needle exchange programs in rural areas and helped start a mobile exchange there. He also volunteered helping recovering sex workers and inmate support and STD education.
Seitz has travel experience in the Andes when he spent 4 months in the summer teaching health education for children and in the Amazon during another summer. There he traveled in a mobile truck and helped remove tumors from tribespeople caused by oil water contamination.
“There was this mom and daughter that had cancer too, both of them and the daughter was like 8 years-old,” he said. “We had to travel three days to get to the place to do the surgeries… they couldn’t do the treatments because they couldn’t afford to do the traveling that it took to get over to the city. They had to pick which one to get the treatments. That was just really hard seeing how the ability to drive down rainier is affecting these indigenous folks in a world we don’t even know and can’t see. It’s a really powerful thing for me.”
The idea that the small impacts people make here in Cascadia affect other parts of the world is something very influential to Seitz.
“The traveling has been used sort of toward the struggle to put perspective on what we have here in the U.S,” he said. “I like study abroad programs for younger kids, high-schoolers and college students to at least get a different experience of what it’s like. Just help them realize that it’s the only way to improvement and that things we are doing totally affects other countries in the world in ways we don’t even realize.”
He also thinks this is something that coming together as a community can help resolve.
“At least making a social change,” he said. “Just changing the minds of people slowly over time is a good thing. At least doing something here if we can’t do it across the whole U.S.”
Coming together as a part of Cascadia is also something that Seitz says has a lot to do with common value systems in our bioregion that many people may not have had a name for until they organized as a community.
“What inspires me is the willingness to just be involved,” he said. “That’s one of my biggest ideals is to do regular volunteering and community action like work and doing stuff that you don’t get paid for but you have a passion for it. Most people I meet have a passion for having a better situation in their lives and their neighbor’s lives. I like the collectivist nature of the folks I meet as well even though we live in a very individualistic society it’s like a start to create a collective mind.”
Taylor McAvoy is a Junior at the University of Washington pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Journalism. She has been a writer and photographer for the university's newspaper The Daily for more than a year focusing on editorial reporting and arts event coverage. She is currently vice president elect of the Society of Professional Journalist’s (SPJ) University of Washington chapter. She is also working on her own as a freelance journalist and photographer.