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  • Writer's pictureJeff Schober

The Trials of Travis

Updated: Feb 19, 2021

Buffalo native has struggled with manic depression, family issues,

and addiction — and believes his story can motivate others in need

February 9, 2021: Travis Weber. © photo by Steven D. Desmond

Although he’s only 27, Travis Weber reflects that he has already lived four or five different lives, all of them riddled with obstacles.

Travis has battled manic depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD, and addiction. As a boy, he bounced through foster homes around Western New York until settling with a family in Springville, who eventually adopted him. He learned to cook, working as a chef at various local restaurants. During his early twenties, both parents died within five months of each other, leaving him alone in the world again. Around this time, he spiraled deeper into drug use, attempted suicide, and was declared legally dead three times in one night.

Travis’ road hasn’t been easy, but he is still standing. Now he’s willing to publicly discuss his experiences, as a way to offer hope for those who grapple with mental illness and struggle to make it through a day.

“I have a big heart,” he said, words tumbling quickly. His voice is deceptive, sounding younger than his myriad experiences would suggest. “I have a lot of love and care to give, and I want to help people who don’t always understand what’s going on around them.”

Travis has demonstrated that good people can fall into bad circumstances. He has lived daily challenges, wading through a minefield that remains largely invisible to the outside world.

These are the trials of Travis.

Moving to the country

Travis was born on the east side of Buffalo, into a tumultuous home where his birth father was a biker and his mother struggled with three children.

“I give my bio mother respect for doing the best she could,” Travis said. “But she and my bio dad were big into drugs and alcohol. My bio dad was abusive. From what I can remember, I was in and out of foster care. My final home was with the Weber family in Springville.”

One of the foster homes that Travis remembers is located at 37 Newton Street in Buffalo, with the Central Terminal nearby. © photo by Steven D. Desmond

He arrived there around age 13. Travis admits that between mental health issues and his own past drug use, his memory is sometimes cloudy when it comes to dates and childhood events.

Travis recalls being a foster child who lacked the resources to process his complex feelings. Whenever he was placed into a different home, he wondered, who were the new people standing in front of him? Why was he taken here to live with them?

“I was a city kid who moved to the country,” he said of his final move to Springville. “That brought a whole new chapter. I dealt with a lot of persecution and bullying for the way I dressed and was brought up.”

At a young age, he was hired as a dishwasher in a restaurant. He quickly came to admire the chefs, and set his goal to become a cook. Travis proved to be a hard worker. If an owner or manager needed an extra hand, the first call was to Travis. In less than two years, he was promoted to working on the grill.

“That’s when I fell in love with cooking,” he said. “I’m looking at these guys on the line. They’re partying and getting girls, and I thought this was the life I wanted. I had a glamorous picture at the beginning that turned into my downfall.”

The job involves constant pressure and expectations.

“Inside a kitchen, you’re on high alert from when you walk through the door until the time you leave. I worked 12 to 18-hour days. I was so tired, and it was hard to make it through a shift. A couple cooks introduced me to cocaine. Most addicts start with alcohol or weed, but I used cocaine to make it through the day.”

Travis is an experienced cook. Here, he serves french fries at Kissing Bridge. © photo by Steven D. Desmond

Because of his manic depression, Travis had already been prescribed Tylenol with codeine.

“A lot of drugs I used in the past helped me get through each day,” he said. “I fell in love with the person I became. With drugs, I was more social. I could stay up later. I could get an hour of sleep and be ready to go the next day. I thought it was helping me when it was actually hurting me.”

A giving spirit

His new family and community provided roots. During the 2009-10 school year, while a student at Springville Middle School, Travis connected with social studies teacher Andrew Beiter, who advised the Student Human Rights Club. The club’s purpose was to improve the world by focusing on humanitarian issues.

“One of the nice things about Travis is that he lights up a room,” Beiter reflected. “He’s resilient, and optimistic, and you know he’s alive and open with his love for you. We instantly hit it off, and kept in touch.”

Beiter, 55, has taught for more than two decades and was inducted last fall into the National Teachers Hall of Fame. He credits the Student Human Rights Club for taking his career in a different direction.

During Travis’ time in middle school, the club committed to raise money to build a classroom for kids in Sierra Leone. They undertook bake sales, penny drives, and a day of silence. Through their efforts $10,000 was sent to Africa.

“Back in the heyday of the club, Travis ate that up,” Beiter said. “He’s got a real understanding for the underdog and people who have nothing. One consistent thread in his personality is his ability to live his life for others.”

Becoming a club member was a turning point for Travis. He calls Beiter a mentor and said that learning about others gave him “a different perspective on life.”

Sometimes, Travis' mind races and he struggles to fall asleep. © photo by Steven D. Desmond

“Travis’ fingerprints are all over my (National Teachers Hall of Fame) award,” Beiter said. “I’m not saying that of false modesty. His energy helped the club grow, which was a catalyst to my career. Our paths are co-joined in many ways.”

A dozen years later, Beiter continues to steer Travis toward the right track. When Travis fell into drug addiction, Beiter connected him with people who could aid his recovery. As a teacher, he claims he’s in a lifetime contract to help his students.

“Remember those inflatable dolls shaped like a bowling pin?” Beiter asked. “You could punch it and knock it over and it would come right back up. That’s Travis. He’s almost like a biblical figure. God has thrown every test at this kid and he keeps coming back with a smile. In another context or situation, he would have gone to college and been able to deal with his learning disability.”

Rehab setbacks

The home in Springville was a good fit. Although the legal process took several years, the Weber family adopted Travis. Paperwork was finalized on this eighteenth birthday.

“I speak about my adopted parents as my parents,” he said. “They raised me and brought me into the person I am. Being adopted by them was something I wanted. Having it happen on my birthday was pretty sweet.”

For much of his life, Travis has struggled with mental health. Manic-depression remains a constant concern, dominating his waking hours.

“I have to force myself to wake up every day. I have to force myself to get through it. Some days are good, others are bad. I might not want to get up, but I have to force myself to smile. I don’t want others to see the depressive side of me. People with depression go through feelings and anxiety that even they don’t understand.”

People mean well when they try to be reassuring, but that has the potential to backfire, Travis explained.

Crossed arms: Travis' arm in the foreground features a tattoo with his adopted last name, and the day in which he was formally adopted. © photo by Steven D. Desmond

“You never feel like you’re good enough. People say, ‘Why are you feeling this way? You shouldn’t feel like that.' Everyone is telling you how you should be, and you wonder why you can’t do it. It brings you down even more. With manic-depression, you’re in a constant battle with yourself.”

While staying in a rehabilitation facility to address his drug issues, Travis called home in the summer of 2018 to ask permission to visit his parents. His mother, Lorraine, answered the phone.

“I can’t talk now,” she said. “Your dad is dead on the floor.”

Travis didn’t hear from his mother again until the next day, when he learned that his father, Dale, had suffered a fatal heart attack after stepping out of the shower. With emotions raging, Travis considered walking out of rehab, but made the difficult decision to remain.

“Because I knew what was going to happen if I left,” he explained.

From the treatment facility, he was granted permission to attend his father’s funeral. There his mother told Travis that her lung and thyroid cancer had returned, and the prognosis was not good. Already on edge, Travis was overwhelmed with emotions.

Once he was released from rehab, he visited his mother, disturbed by her declining health, unsure how to help.

“I started hitting bars with so-called friends,” he said. “I relapsed a few times because I didn’t know how to deal with everything.”

Frustrations built, and on a warm summer night, upstairs at his mother’s house, Travis tried to take his own life.

“I got annihilated drunk, took a few painkillers, and used cocaine,” he said. “I got to my mom’s house and I was listening to music. Normally, music helps, but the song I was listening to broke me down. I said to myself, ‘Dude, what do you have going? You’re a cook in a restaurant but you’re pissing it away.’ I was thinking about what would happen if my mother dies. I remembered a friend from high school who tried to kill herself with ibuprofen. It slows your heart.”

Travis didn’t want to reach out to anyone. In that moment, he was no longer willing to ask for help.

“I was done with everything,” he said. “I didn’t see a glimmer of light anymore. I swallowed the whole bottle of ibuprofen 800mg. I waited until my heart slowed down and called an ambulance, thinking I’d be dead before they got there.”

He did not consider his mother’s feelings.

“This is where mental health becomes a factor. Now that I’m older I can imagine what my mother would feel like watching her son get carried out dead on a stretcher. But I was only thinking of myself at the time.”

The shirt was cut from his torso on the night he tried to kill himself. Travis keeps the shirt tacked to a wall in his apartment as a reminder of how far he has come. © photo by Steven D. Desmond

He woke up in the emergency room, with IVs and a catheter snaking into his body. Travis later learned that he died twice in the ambulance and again at the hospital. From there, he was put into an induced coma.

A short time later, in October, his mother passed away, leaving Travis alone again.

“Whenever the anniversary of his parents’ deaths comes around, he gets messed up about it,” said Keith Fredriksen, the owner of the South Buffalo apartment building where Travis lives. “Travis seems to be able to build relationships and destroy them quickly.”

Fredriksen, 59, manages bars and restaurants at Kissing Bridge Snow Sports in Glenwood, and the two met there after Travis’ parents passed away. Travis struck him as outgoing and a hard worker, someone who takes an active interest in others. Upon learning Travis’ story, Fredriksen offered him an apartment to live in. But the experience has not been without issues.

“I guess I have a soft spot for people,” Fredriksen said. “Travis has his demons and needs to be reminded to keep himself where he’s going. He gets in trouble if he has too much time on his hands. A regimen is good for him. If you ask him to do something, he’ll be there. His personality has gotten him through these messes, and he recognizes what others have done for him. I forgive him for his mistakes, but not everyone does. If I didn’t, he’d be thrown to the wayside.”

‘Would I be sad to die?’

Today, Travis holds a production job at a Buffalo company, making enough money to pay his monthly rent and buy food. Because of his debts, he lives near the poverty line. He doesn’t own a car. If he’s late for work, the boss gives him an earful, which Fredriksen believes helps hold Travis accountable. Travis continues to exist near the edge, and falling off the cliff again is a real possibility.

Travis drives a forklift at his job in South Buffalo. © photo by Steven D. Desmond

“I don’t think I’d ever hurt myself again,” Travis reflected. “But people with mental illness can never make that guarantee. We never know what will happen in our own head. Everything that I chose in life got me to this point. Now I see the glimmer of hope. I don’t always wake up happy, but now I see what I want to achieve and that keeps me going. I push myself to get there.”

Travis is candid about the dark thoughts that plague him.

“If I got hit by a car, would I be sad to die?” he asked rhetorically. “No, I wouldn’t. I’d be relieved my life was over and done and I didn’t have to worry about it any more. That’s pretty messed up for a 27-year-old to say, but you don’t know what brings people to that point. I look forward to a spot where I won’t have to put up with pain and suffering, because every day is a struggle. I could be having a great day, and in a glimpse, anything could happen to turn my mood down, to the point where I don’t care if I live or die. But I’m at a spot now where I don’t believe I’d hurt myself.”

Agreeing to share his story, Travis admits, is part of his personal agenda.

“I’ve been trying for the past couple years to become the person I want to see in my life,” Travis confessed. “I have depression. I have anxiety. But what am I doing with that? Am I helping anybody? I’d like to talk to schools or groups and help them understand what it’s like to suffer from this. When you go through a predicament, people should be able to reach out.”

Travis declares that he’s been sober from his “drug of choice” for a while, although because of his shaky memory, it’s difficult to pinpoint an exact date.

“Occasionally, I’ll have a drink here or there,” he said. “A lot of people in recovery look down on that. I’m not technically sober in their eyes. But I still want to be a 27-year-old kid that can function in everyday society. It took me a long time to come to this point where I can have a drink and not use. A lot of people can’t do that. It doesn’t work for everybody, but it works for me. I’m thankful throughout everything that I still have such a strong willpower. What helps keep me sober is the dreams and goals I have. For an addict, you have to find what keeps you going. What’s the one thing you wake up for every day?”

Travis remembers his time recovering at the Erie County Medical Center. © photo illustration by Steven D. Desmond

For Travis, it’s the future promise of serving as a resource to some young person in the foster care system. Or a teenager struggling with identity or mental health issues. Or the hope of falling in love. His experiences reaffirm that during dark times, it’s okay to seek out others who can lend support.

His mentor, Beiter, recognizes the severity of Travis’ challenges.

“These are lifelong issues that he needs to deal with,” Beiter reflected. “He still has a long road ahead. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. He’s lovable and coachable. Travis is in a good spot now. His story provides a measure of hope for all of us.”

© 2021 by Jeff Schober

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