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FINDING PEACE By Nikki Cataldo

Like most people, I learned at a very young age that friends can be fun! Playing together, laughing together and just running around being a kid. Super fun, right? What I didn’t know then, was the true value of what having good friends could be. I didn’t know that someday one or more of those friends just might save my life.

I was a carefree, fun, loving little kid until about the age of 14. It was at that age that I found out just how difficult life could be. My life was changed forever by an event I had zero control over. My “childhood” was over even if I didn’t know it at the time. After that, I changed from

a carefree child into an angry, troubled and depressed girl. I left childhood behind and decided I wanted to either grow up or disappear altogether. I started getting into trouble, stopped caring about grades or school events.

In fact, the only thing I still cared about were my friends. I tried to just have fun all of the time. I disappeared from the stress of the world and spent all of my time and energy on having a good time no matter what the cost.

Over the next few years, it became more and more difficult to just have fun. I was becoming increasingly depressed and withdrawn. I was 19 years old the first time I tried to commit suicide. I was living in Redding at that time and found myself in a psychiatric hospital on a 24-hour hold. One of my best friends back home drove up there, picked me up and brought me home to my mother. I refused therapy stating, “I’m not going to some old quack who’s just going to repeat back everything I say to them!” Instead, I just went back to trying to have fun 24/7

with friends. This worked!! Or so I thought anyways. As time went by, the pressure began to build again. I tried anything to feel better. Drugs, alcohol, men and later women. I felt periods of happiness, but nothing really worked for long. I couldn’t hold down a job or maintain relationships. I was a mess both inside and out. I knew without a doubt that I would never live past the age of 30 and I was okay with that. I figured a normal, good life just wasn’t in the cards for me.

I was 28 years old the second and last time I tried to commit suicide. I decided I was done with the struggle. I didn’t talk to anyone about it as I had a few times over the past 10 years. This was it. In all my efforts to not feel anything, I had always stayed away from using any sort of drug through the use of needles. For one,

I hated needles, and for two, needles were for junkies. I had decided the best way to for me

to be sure this attempt didn’t fail was to inject myself with a large dose of methamphetamine. I mean, huge rock stars that were used to using needles regularly died on accident all of the time, right? It took me two weeks to find the drugs

and someone to show me how to use a needle.

I bought as much as I could and went home. I didn’t call anyone or reach out in any way. I didn’t want to be stopped. I prepared it all and shot it into my arm. Within seconds, that same friend from years ago walked through my door. She knew immediately that something was wrong and called 911. She saved my life, again. I was forced into treatment. My friends started keeping tabs on me and I met some

new friends along the way. I still felt empty. I still felt hopeless. I still felt depressed. I just couldn’t shake where my life had taken me and the path I had chosen to get there. I had no real purpose or meaning in my life. I was no longer running from my feelings, but I still felt all of the despair. I was working stupid little jobs and had absolutely no idea what to do with my life. I was talking to another friend about it one day. She said, “Nicole, maybe you need to find a way to work through your own pain by giving back to others.” She suggested I put in an application to work at a dual diagnosis treatment facility where she was an administrator. She said, “the pay is crap, and you’ll have to work in residential for a long time in order to move up since you don’t have the educational background but who knows, maybe you will find peace.”

I was 30 years old when I got that job. She was right. The pay was crap. The work was difficult. Sometimes it took everything just to get up

and go into work. But like I said, she was right. I started to find peace. I found that in helping others, I was helping myself. I was building on something. I got really good at it too. I have saved a couple lives myself over the past 15 years. I am no longer with that company but being there laid the groundwork for my current position. I have moved up. Way up! I am not only a case manager working with mentally ill adults, but I am a peer support specialist. That is just a fancy term for, utilizing my own life experiences to help others find meaning in their lives. Out of my pain, I have helped so many others work through theirs. I am not going to say that every day is all sunshine and rainbows, but that is life.

And life is good! That is how I found peace with a little help from my friends.

Nicole Cataldo (pictured left)

has been working in the mental health field since 2002. She is currently a Personal Services Coordinator/Case Manager and Peer Support Specialist working with mentally ill adults. She has an Associate’s Degree in Criminology and Emergency Response and is trained as an EMT as well. She was born and raised in Sonoma County, California in 1972 and still resides there today.

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