When I first became active on social media, I was pleasantly surprised to find a number of mental health advocates who were so open about sharing their stories of living with mental illness to the public. Rudy Caseres was one of the first advocates I connected with. What impressed me the most about Rudy was his willingness to share his ups and downs of living with bipolar disorder. Attaining stability hasn’t been easy, and I find myself cheering him on because he is the type of person who pushes forward and embraces each triumph. He is the type of person who will motivate you and lead by example (even if the role might have been awkward at first, I find that to be one of his most endearing qualities). Therefore, I’m excited to have Rudy contribute to my blog as he discusses his motivation to share his story and become a speaker for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
To have a sense of belonging — I used to not know what that felt like for the longest time. I was always the last person to be picked in team sports. I never got the lead role in school plays. I’ve been rejected by more women than I can count. Fun, fun, fun.
So, naturally, I was not too optimistic when I entered the world of mental health advocacy. To begin, I was already apprehensive about discussing my bipolar disorder in public. I had not yet told my dysfunctional family and was dreading having to explain myself to them. But I knew I could not hide the truth any longer. I did not want to feel ashamed.
It just so happened that during this time I began to be consumed by mania. I convinced myself that I was never mentally ill and that I didn’t need anyone’s help to “conquer the world.” Even though I kept telling myself it would never happen, I eventually crashed into a terrible depression. It felt as if the bottom had fallen out inside my brain. I had a real illness.
As debilitating as that experience was, I did not want it to get in the way of telling my story to the world. Well, such a task is easier said than done! My brain had tricked me into believing I was hopeless. Just getting words to appear on my laptop screen felt insurmountable. I was ready to give up on life just days after believing I had complete control over the world. This is bipolar.
I struggled at first to find peers I could be myself with. I felt insignificant amidst all of the established and well connected advocates. At first I tried to fit in like the new kid on the playground. But, like I experienced during middle school, I felt left out. Rather than giving up like I had with so many goals, I began reaching out to people online with similar stories who were also struggling and feeling lost. I was amazed by how many wonderful people were out there speaking up about mental illness in their own little corners of the world. We accepted each other and they encouraged me to also speak up and not settle for pessimistic fatalism. It was as if none of us were lost as long as we had each other’s back. So, speak up I did. Not only do I continue sharing my story online (like this wonderful blog ran by one of my many allies in the mental health world!), but I am also a speaker for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) where I share my story across the Greater Los Angeles area.* And, someday across the world!
My friends and I don’t always get along and, for sure, mental illness can make one do and say very regrettable things. But we’re all one great big, very interesting family. We have to live with our terrible, terrible illnesses, but we’re still eager to make our mark.
Despite our minor differences, we all want to live in a world that possesses the following: no one is ashamed of their mental illness, no one is discriminated based solely on their mental illness, and the word ‘mental illness’ does not have such a negative connotation. It is possible. I believe this. They do, too.
I never used to consider myself an ‘advocate.’ But, now that I know what ‘advocate’ truly means, I own the title proudly. This world is constantly revolving. People fall off while others are getting on. Some even get back on. I’m still new to this. But, I’m not the only one. I brought my family with me and together, we’re ready. We are the new advocates and we have found our place.
*Opinions expressed in this story are solely my own and may not necessarily reflect those held by NAMI. I’m only speaking for myself.
Bio: Rudy Caseres is a public speaker and writer sharing his story of living with bipolar disorder. He loves engaging with people far and wide, both online and off. You can follow him on Facebook and find the rest of his social media presence at RudyCaseres.com. Mr. Caseres was born in San Pedro, Los Angeles, CA and currently resides there today.