Stories of Hope: An Interview with Rudy Caseres
This is part of a series featuring individuals who share their life experiences with mental health issues. Recently, I asked mental health advocate Rudy Caseres about his personal journey and his thoughts about advocacy. Here’s our interview:
DS: When did you first become aware of concerns related to your mental health? How did these issues affect you before you sought treatment?
RC: I first started becoming aware around the time I was in junior high school. I was often depressed and my grades were suffering. I felt alone and that I didn’t have any real friends. I was suspended three times for taking out my frustration on others and each time I had to get evaluated by a child psychologist in order to return to school. Nothing was really done to help my mental health during this time, though. My friends and family just thought I was weird or weak.
It wasn’t until after I had a major breakdown while I serving in the US Army that I came to terms with my illness and sought help. I still struggle with not letting my illness negatively impact my personal relationships. Whether it is acting out on my irritability or ignoring people for days due to my depression and anxiety, I still need to do a lot of work to improve how I manage dealing with others.
DS: Was there a turning point that led you to decide to seek help and what diagnosis did you receive?
RC: It was after a catatonic episode while serving in the US Army that led me to seek help. It wasn’t much of a choice at the time so I stopped seeking treatment for almost two years. At the time I was diagnosed with schizophrenia because of my catatonic episodes, despite not having psychotic symptoms.
It wasn’t until a year ago that I experienced my first manic episode and had my diagnosis switched to bipolar disorder. That said, I am depressed most days and am hardly ever manic. I have had some wild rapid cycling episodes that can last only a day. Not fun.
DS: Tell us about your treatment, and what have you found that has been effective for you?
RC: My bipolar disorder is considered treatment-resistant due to having tried over a dozen different pharmaceutical medications with no positive results. Even though I still hold out hope I’ll eventually find the right psychiatric treatment, I personally believe telling my story both online and in front of audiences has helped me immeasurably.
With all the criticism that social media gets these days, I must stress that it has been the greatest thing to ever happen to my life. Without Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., I would have never met such amazing advocates such as yourself and too many others to list. I absolutely feel as if I belong to a community. Something I have always struggled with “In Real Life.”
DS: How are things going for you now? What have you learned that has helped you stay positive and healthy?
RC: I’m still struggling with bipolar disorder every day. Thankfully, I was finally awarded a service-connected disability from the VA (Department of Veterans Affairs), so I’ll be taken care of financially for the rest of my life. Even though I love my online community, I still strive to make an impact in my hometown.
I am a certified NAMI Peer-to-Peer presenter as well as a NAMI Ending the Silence presenter. Telling my story is something I am passionate about and I hope to keep sharing it with bigger and bigger audiences. I am also currently serving on my local neighborhood council board which is my first foray into politics. As of right now, I don’t have any serious plans to run for higher office but the only thing sure about me is that nothing is for sure!
With all of these great opportunities I’ve been afforded recently, it has motivated me to keep moving forward and to not limit my ambitions. A year ago I would have never imagined being a mental health advocate with an online following and attending events at Los Angeles City Hall. I have nothing but optimism for the near future.
DS: What would you like to say to encourage others who are still working on their journey of recovery?
RC: I would tell them to not put all their faith in a “miracle drug” or even a single therapist or psychiatrist. The one thing I personally believe is essential in any journey towards recovery (or even just an attempt at recovery) is self-care and self-knowledge. I’ve learned so much about myself and how bipolar disorder affects me and how to fight back in the past year alone.
I’m ready to take on all challenges even if this illness still scares me immensely. There’s no such thing as “happy pills” and no therapist will ever do all the work for you. That I can say for sure. But a diagnosis of bipolar disorder is not the end of the world. It’s a divergent path, yes, but it is a path worth seeing through to the end.
DS: What are your thoughts about being a mental health advocate?
RC: I have come to see the limits of the label “mental health advocate.” Does that mean I can’t write about anything else or that I can’t tell jokes or I have to constantly fear using the wrong vernacular? I’m a storyteller, first and foremost. Many of my online posts have no mental health connection whatsoever. That doesn’t mean I don’t care as much as other advocates. I just have so much more to offer.
But I can say with absolute confidence that I am every bit as passionate about mental health and bipolar awareness as any other advocate. No matter what, I will always believe this to be my calling in life. Whether or not I am considered a traditional mental health advocate by my peers is something I choose to not be concerned with. I am a voice and I will be heard.
About Rudy Caseres
I am a voice for people who live with mental illness. I have bipolar disorder and deal with catatonic episodes. I share my experiences across various social networks and in person as a live storyteller. I’m very active online and welcome all friend requests and private messages on my Facebook page. I have lived my entire life in San Pedro, Los Angeles, CA. You can reach me via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or my website.
Thanks so much to Rudy for sharing his terrific story of hope!
Here’s a question: Would you like to share your story of hope? I plan to feature more personal accounts like this from time to time on my blog. If you are interested in sharing your story, please notify me via my contact page. Also, please subscribe to my blog and feel free to follow me on Twitter, “like” my Facebook page, or connect on LinkedIn. Thanks!