DARKE COUNTY — Depression and other mental health maladies affect a great number of Americans.
Those suffering from these issues in Ohio, however, have a “caped crusader” advocating on their behalf.
“I’m here to give back,” says Susann Casore, also known as the “A-OK Lady.” (More on that later.)
A Columbus area resident and so-called “Goodwill Ambassador of Kindness,” Casore landed in Greenville Monday, offering her own story, and with it, hope.
Bedecked in a red cape, red boots, blue top, floral pants and carrying an oversize “smiley face,” Casore told the Daily Advocate that she feels a real connection to those who suffer from mental illness because, in her words, she’s “been there.”
“For 15 years I spent time in 39 hospitals,” she related. “It was only when they correctly diagnosed my illness and provided me the correct medication that I was able to recover.”
The illness she speaks of in this instance is bipolar disorder. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a “brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.”
In addition to time lost in hospitals, the illness cost her precious time with her family, including her ex-husband and two sons, only one of whom still maintains contact with her.
Ironically, before the bipolar symptoms manifested themselves, Casore herself had been helping others as a counselor at a rural school system in Indiana.
“One day I just drove off the highway,” she said. “I loved those kids, but I just couldn’t do it anymore.”
This marked the beginning of her time dealing with the disorder. A turning point, however, occurred years later when a bed-ridden Casore was admonished by a nurse who told her “If you will not get out of bed, you will not get well.”
Further motivation was provided by a friendship with a fellow patient suffering from schizophrenia.
Casore said, “He told me that if it wasn’t for my acts of kindness to him, he wouldn’t be leaving the facility.”
Thus was born Casore’s identity as the A-OK “Acts of Kindness” Lady.
Off and on for 10 years now, Casore has traveled all across the Buckeye State, traveling nearly 5,000 miles total, spreading encouragement at every opportunity.
Casore presents her happy message to people everywhere she goes, but makes a special point of meeting people she feels are most in need — senior citizens, the homeless, hospital patients, and students, among others.
In addition to words of hope, Casore has made a point of handing out small “smiley faces” to everyone she meets. In return, she encourages people to pass them on to others.
“When I talk to people, I ask them what they do,” she said. “Sometimes they say ‘I’m just a homemaker,’ or ‘I’m just a factory worker.’”
“I tell them not to use the word ‘just’ — you’re more than that. I want people to know that they are unique. If you don’t know what makes you special, what makes you unique, how are you going to relate to others?”
For more information on Casore and the Kindness Exchange, visit the website www.thekindnessexchange.org/.