Meet Nico

Photo Credit: Jennifer Larson

My name is Chris, but family and friends call me Nico.

It’s February 2016. I walk into Fairview Hospital. “I’m going to do one of two things,” I tell them.  “Jump off of the parking garage or get sober.” It was death or it was life. I didn’t know which one I wanted more.

The first time I was admitted to a psychiatric unit, I was 10-years-old. My parents divorced years earlier, and I was frustrated about not being able to see my dad. I had kind of like a nervous breakdown. I had a lot of anxiety and depression that went untreated. I remember often blaming myself for things that weren’t my fault. I wasn’t able to do all of the fun things that I wanted to. I isolated at times, and I just felt different.

I graduated from high school, and attended chiropractic school. At a party with some friends one night, I sniffed heroin. I was hooked. My anxiety got worse. I got behind in school. I was always nervous about the lies I was telling to cover up my drug use. Eventually, I stopped going to school.

After about a year of using, I got tired of my life, and went to my mom for help. I was prescribed a drug that helps with heroin addiction. I was sober for three years. I got a job in the financial services industry, had a nice apartment, and met my girlfriend, Elyse.

I still experienced depression and anxiety – times when I wanted to stay in bed in a very dark room and anxiety that would cause my thoughts to race — repeating over and over again in my head. Still, things seemed to be moving in the right direction.

In 2013, I was laid off. Suddenly, I had a lot of time on my hands. I re-engaged with old friends. I used again. All of my recovery exploded. I lied. I lost my apartment. I had to move into my girlfriend’s mom’s house, but got kicked out because of drugs. Addiction exacerbated my mental health challenges.  At times, using drugs allowed me to suppress symptoms and escape problems. But, then I’d get sober, and feel desperate and suicidal. It was a cycle that I didn’t know how to stop.

I went to seven different treatment centers in 2 ½ years. My family had to distance themselves from me. I jumped from place to place or lived outside. When you’re homeless, you lose your dignity. It’s a crummy hotel at best — a park bench at worst.

In 2015, my girlfriend, Elise and I, had our son, Cole.  My grandparents let us move in with them, but I kept using drugs, and they got fed up. I ended up homeless again.

By February 2016, I’d had enough. It was really hard for me to see my family hurting. My son was 7 months old, and it killed me that I wasn’t there for him. I had a lot of shame and guilt. That’s when I walked into Fairview. It took 24 hours for a bed to open up for me on the psychiatric unit.

When I got out of the hospital, I went to a treatment center for men with mental illness and chemical dependency, then to a half-way house. When I left, I went to Dakota County to find housing and other resources. They referred me to Guild Incorporated. I figured I’d end up homeless and suicidal like I had so many times before. Frankly, I didn’t know how much more I could take. Jenni, a Guild staff member, listened to me. I didn’t feel any judgement from her. It was the first time I’d met with someone, associated with social work, who heard me out.

Jenni explored my housing options, and set up a meeting with me and staff from Guild’s Supportive Housing Services team. Vicenta, from the team, told me it was her goal to work herself out of a job – to get people back on their feet. That same day, she asked me if I wanted to look at an apartment. I moved in four days later. It was a transformative moment. My Guild team found a psychologist for me near my apartment, and helped me create a goal plan. They let me know about resources to meet other needs, including transportation. They encouraged me to stay on top of my physical health. They found recovery support groups and meetings I could attend and gave me the calendar of activities at the Community Support Program.

Guild’s Employment Services team convinced me I had worth to employers, and helped get my confidence back on track.

With hard work and help from Guild and my support system, I’ve been sober for over 2 years and I’ve had my own apartment for nearly 2 years.  Instead of worrying about where I’m going to stay, I get up, read the paper, eat breakfast, and get ready to go to work. When I have a day off, I usually hang out with my son. He’s 3 now. We go fishing, take a walk, or go to a park. When he’s not with me, I go to the gym, or have lunch with a good friend.

My life is structured; I have a calendar that I stick to. I have a reason to be here.  I’m a lot happier, and more confident. Depression and anxiety used to demoralize me; they took away my will to move forward. Even though I still have symptoms, I have a support system now. More people are willing to be there when I need help.

Without Guild, I don’t think there’s any question that I’d be dead or still using drugs and out on the street. That’s not a life; that’s just existing.

I struggle, but I know that a lot of people have it so much worse than me. If I can help one person survive – to get a better chance at life – that’s what I want to do. I want to help to reduce the stigma of mental illness. I’ve moved forward in my life, and I feel like I can keep going. With your help, Guild gave me the tools to succeed. And I don’t want to let them down.


May 15, 2018

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