#Same Here Founder’s Personal Story Behind The Global Mental Health Movement – Eric Kussin – HPP 97
Mental illness stigmatization remains one of the biggest issues in the battle against the global mental health crisis. It’s very taboo to openly and publicly discuss our mental health, and the struggles that we all face from time to time. #Same Here founder Eric Kussin is on a mission to change that by bringing together personalities from the MLB, NHL, NFL, NBA/WNBA, MLS, Pro Boxing, Pro Volleyball, international sportsmen and women, announcers, actors, performers and musicians who are willing to tell their stories about mental health struggles.
In today’s episode, #Same Here founder, Eric Kussin shares his personal story of fighting against a severe mental health crisis, how he was misdiagnosed for years, the missing part of the equation, and what led him to founding a global mental health movement.
The business side of the sports industry – 01:51
“So I was thrust into this position for this team marketing group where I presented to all 30 teams, anywhere from 12 to 15 players at a time, on how revenues are generated (ticket sales, sponsorship, sales, arena revenues, TV rights) and explaining to them how their salary cap is a percentage of that revenue. So the more that revenue goes up, the more their salary cap goes up, the more their percentage of that salary cap, in terms of their salary, goes up”
The start of a mental health crisis – 07:04
“I didn’t know what mental health was, just this cognitive fog. And I just remember describing, sentences aren’t coming clear in my mind; when people are asking me questions, there’s no quick responses. When I want to get food I’m thinking about what I want to eat, but there are no urges. There’s no interest for things in particular. And that was the early signs of then just this rapid decline over about a week span, where I woke up one morning and it was like pushing myself out of quicksand to get out of bed, like having cinder blocks on my feet. Walking into my closet, the closet looked like a bomb had gone off even though everything was organized, right? When your brain is not, and the executive function is gone you can’t make sense of anything”
Battling mental illness- 16:15
“But I describe it to people like if you have a computer, and there’s cords in the back of the computer that’s making the computer work, and you go and you snip those cords, the computer’s not going to function. That’s what it felt like being in my brain. I described it as waking up every morning with a blank brain”
Discovering the solution – 20:34
“Looking back on being told, ‘This is your last resort,’ is one of the main reasons why I’m in this space right now. Because I don’t want anyone to ever have hear that again from anyone, a loved one, a doctor, a practitioner, anyone”
A revolutionary movement – 34:50
“And I think, because of the stories of the people who were calling me, and because of the shortfalls that I saw on all those websites and those campaigns, it was more like, how many friggin’ people is this impacting? And that’s where the whole concept of shifting from one in five with disorder to five in five whose mental health has been impacted, became the brainchild of what do we do”
Healing Practices- 40:39
“I didn’t feel better during the three days of the course, but 30 days into that practice, I remember waking up, and I looked at the controller next to me on the bed and I said, ‘Oh my god, I want to turn the TV on.’ And then the other thought was I wanted to have scrambled eggs for breakfast. So the two things that I hadn’t had for so long, which was a desire for anything, came back to me in that day. It felt like a miracle”
Keith Kurlander, Dr. Will Vanderveer, Eric Kussin
Eric Kussin 00:00
I describe it to people like if you have a computer and there’s cords in the back of the computer that’s making the computer work, and you go and you snip those cords, the computer’s not gonna function. That’s what I felt like being in my brain. I described it as waking up every morning with a blank brain.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 00:16
Thank you for joining us for the higher practice podcast. I’m Dr. Will Van Derveer, with Keith Kurlander. And this is the podcast where we explore what it takes to achieve optimal mental health. I’m really excited to introduce our guest today, because Eric Kussin really embodies the journey that a person can make from a pinnacle of Career Achievement to complete and total wipeout, with a very severe mental illness to a journey of discovery and recovery. And using the practices of integrative psychiatry to develop purpose and meaning post traumatic growth, and really to take adversity and turn that into doing good for other people. Eric heads up a nonprofit called we’re all a little crazy, quote, crazy, unquote. And his website is called same here global.org. And the mission that he’s on is to raise awareness and shift the story about trauma from the old story, which is only one out of five people experienced trauma to the story that reflects what we all know about the massive, pervasive impact from that five out of five people are impacted by trauma. So this is a great opportunity to hear about the full spectrum of what can happen in a person’s life. So let’s welcome Eric Kussin.
Keith Kurlander 01:48
Hi, Eric, welcome to the show.
Eric Kussin 01:49
Thanks for having me, guys.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 01:50
Yeah, glad you’re here.
Keith Kurlander 01:51
Glad you’re here. excited to dive into you know what I know a little bit about your story, you know, just what led you to creating the same here and I was amazing, you know, movement that you’re really behind? And why don’t we start with talking a little bit about your story. And then we’ll kind of build into the same here throughout the episode. But let’s start a little bit about you and kind of rewinding to your career in sports. And maybe just give us kind of the highlights here of how you were involved in the sports industry. What was your ambition there? Where did you think you were going? Let’s start there.
Eric Kussin 02:25
Ya know, it’s nice to talk about something unrelated to Mental Health First, right? You know, you go back into the history books. So I knew, you know, at a young age, I always wanted to be involved in sports on the business side of things. So I had done internships all the way back to high school for a USBL team called the Long Island sir. Then when I got to college, I worked for the New York Jets and their Jets fests which is kind of like a fan interactive football Museum, Park IMG International Management Group, which has since become an endeavour, and then a British basketball team when I studied abroad in London. So you know, I kind of had this take on or I play sports, I play as many sports as I can. I’m six, four, I’m not six, eight, and I’m athletic, but I’m not very athletic. So you know, if I want to continue this on, it’s gonna be in the office setting. And so was fortunate enough that senior year, I sent some resumes out to the four major leagues in New York, hoping that I could stay in the main city and rejection, rejection rejection, but got a call from the NBA league office. And so that was in October of my senior year, which led to lots of phone interviews, and ultimately being hired by a gentleman named Mark Needham, who’s now the Deputy Commissioner of the NBA. So it’s Adam Silver’s our Commissioner, and then he’s just beneath them. So Mark at the time was running a department called marketing partnerships, which is essentially working with the corporate partners at the NBA and incorporating them into the various marketing properties at the NBA had like slam dunk contest, or the marimba jam van, all-star Saturday night, and so loved that experience. But also, you know, didn’t love the sponsorship side of things, per se. And so there was an opportunity, David Stern, at the time, when I was there was a commissioner, he was looking for someone who understood the basketball player side of things. So I’d played them, but then, you know, had enough knowledge on the business side to be able to go around and present to the players on what we called the business of basketball. So I was thrust into this position for this team marketing group, where I presented to all 30 teams in the you know, anywhere from 12 to 15 players at a time on how revenues are generated ticket sales, sponsorship, sales, arena revenues, TV rights, and explaining to them how their salary cap is a percentage of that revenue. So the more that revenue goes up, the more their salary cap goes up, the more their percentage of that salary, Kevin, in terms of their salary goes up. And so we’re all partners in this and I love that position. But this then kind of led to the rest of my career with your question Keith, have, you know, from an ambitious standpoint where they want to go, you know, when they start in sports, a lot of people have this idea of I want to be a general manager, right. I want to run a team one day and there was an opportunity shortly into that span when I was with the team marketing group where a position opened up under Stuart Jackson, who was the head of basketball operations at the time, and I had to make a decision between going that route or this is going to be shocking to people going in and still working for the NBA but traveling five days a week, Chicago to help a WNBA team that was the first expansion team that wasn’t owned by an NBA team. So the Chicago Sky to help them get their ticket sales operation started. And so for six months I spent on the ground, you know, making calls, I really wasn’t much of a structured sales staff. But what I learned there about, you know, when you’re selling women’s basketball without the help of an NBA team in the summer in Chicago, you really, you know, learn trial by fire, and I got a chance to come on there, they made an offer to become their Director of Sales and Service, which at 26 years old, coming from a place where you loved what you were doing, and you were getting present to your idols to then working in the WNBA side of things, nothing against the women’s sports, just the revenue smaller, the crowd size is smaller. I love the women’s game, but I was told at the time, but my mentors, like it’s a hard thing to pass up, you gotta take this opportunity and so was with the Chicago Sky for two years that led to an opportunity with the Phoenix Suns, Mercury and row runners for three years and the area that you’re asking about Keith, so it was revenue generation, usually people in sports go up one of two revenue ladder sides, it’s either the ticket sales side or the sponsorship side. And the tickets are the larger revenue source. So if you eventually want to get to what’s called chief revenue officer, and then team president or CEO, usually half the globe, one of those two revenue sides, get the chief revenue officer spot and then go from there. So oversaw the group sales staff in Phoenix for all those different properties that led to an opportunity to become the VP of sales and service with the New Jersey Devils highlight, they’re going to the 2012 Stanley Cup final, unfortunately, losing to the LA Kings. So you get that far and you lose is not the best then leads towards the chief revenue officer spot overseeing tickets and sponsorship sales, with the Florida Panthers. And six months in, that’s where my story kind of turns away from sports.
Keith Kurlander 07:04
Okay, great. That was an awesome, quick brain dump, which is useful, just like that was your trajectory, you thought you were on that trajectory indefinitely. For a long time, at least, you thought you were, you know, whatever was gonna be CFO, President, whatever it was, you wanted to be in sports, being very involved in running the team. From a business perspective, then, like you said, Now comes your story of a complete, what would you say catharsis, a complete change in your entire world.
Eric Kussin 07:36
So he calls it a crash, right? You could call it one of the worst experiences of your life, but one of the worst experiences of your life can also turn in the long run to be one of the best experiences of your life, right? As long as you know, you’re still here, and you’re able to learn from it and your perspective shifts, right. So at the time, you know, I was six months into my tenure there. So we’re talking the beginning of 2015, to give some historical perspective, and I just started noticing I was losing interest in everything outside of the office, my desire to go hang out with friends go to the gym, my desire to play in rec leagues, and watch my teams on TV was just escaping me. And probably like most executives, you know, you have so many doctors that listen to this, no matter what industry you’re in, when you love what you do every day, and you get that dopamine hit from waking up and doing it every day. It feels good, right? So even when these other things in your life that create balance that feel good go away, you don’t necessarily sound the alarm bell, because if one thing that you’ve been doing your entire life is something you continue to go to the well on over and over and over again, you stick with it, right? So for me, that was kind of my excuse, the best way I could describe it is Hey, works going well, I’ll go into work earlier, and I’ll leave even later. I’ll get in at 630 instead of seven. I’ll stay until 1230 in the morning until midnight, after games. And so what started to happen was I started to notice and you know, I’m giving you all more detail than I typically do when I share these stories because of who your audience is. But I remember driving about a 45-minute ride from my apartment to work and I would drive either to work or then come back from work and I’d be on the phone with a couple friends who had been through similar things right? I didn’t really 2015. I didn’t know what mental health was, just this cognitive fog. And I just remember describing like sentences coming clear in my mind when people are asking me questions, there’s no quick responses. When I want to get food I’m thinking about what I want to eat, but there’s no urge. There’s no interest in things in particular. And that was the early signs of then this this rapid decline over about a week span where I woke up one morning and it was like pushing myself out of quicksand to get out of bed like having cinder blocks and like walking into my closet the closet looked like a bomb had gone off even though everything was organized right? When your brain is not in the executive function it is gone. You can’t make sense of anything and what do we do when we feel that we test ourselves one of the extra As I did, I looked at this picture of my nieces who are the most important people in the world to me. And I could remember their first names, and I couldn’t recall their middle names. And that freaked me out. Because now something you know, it’s one thing, you can’t do something at work, you know, maybe you’re losing your skill set, or you forgot something. You can’t remember the names of people who are the most important people in your lives, you know, it’s pretty scary. And so remember, one of these days I you know, in that one week period, were just started to fall I came in, we had a game that day, and I closed the door behind me in the office, and I’m looking at everyone out in the in the sales floor, and it felt like Grand Central Station out there. And the folks who are old enough to remember this, the computer looked like light brights to me, instead of a clean line, the email, and we had prospects coming out to the game that night. And the prospects were I was to address them in the suite. That’s your role as chief revenue officers to talk about the direction that the team is going in to get them psyched about joining the organization as a season ticket holder as a corporate partner. And I just couldn’t put a sentence together. I remember writing down on the sheet of paper. Hi, my name is Eric Houston. I’m the chief revenue officer with the Florida Panthers. And then it was just nothing else came to mind. And fortunately, our team president Matt was in the suite and I passed it off to him. And I went back to my desk and Vinnie Viola, who’s still the owner there. And Matt, who’s still the team president there, came to my office after the game was over. And they said, in a very supportive way, right, which is still not even common in a work setting, Eric, you know, what’s going on? How can we help you? We can tell that you aren’t feeling your best. And I said, Guys, I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know if I have a brain tumor had a hemorrhage, you know, like some kind of aneurysm, like you know, your mind goes to all these different places if it’s this mental health thing people are talking about, but I’m not only not being the best employee for you right now, I’m not being the best human I could be for myself. I’m not even being a human right now. I need to figure out what’s going on with me and Vinnie looked me in the eyes, he’s got a, they both actually west point grads, and he said, we never leave a soldier out in the battlefield, because as much time as you need one month, two months, three months, come back the ground running. So I’ll pause for a second there if I could keep going because you know me, but at least that portion now I’m at my wit’s end. And I’m waiting for, you know, what do I do from this point moving forward?
Dr. Will Van Derveer 12:15
So it sounds like at that point, Eric, you were still not sure what was going on? I mean, you didn’t, you had not obviously encountered a mental health crisis before you’re full on in your career. You’re in your 20s, you’re on fire, and you just get stuck in your tracks.
Eric Kussin 12:33
I wish I was that young, though. Almost all that accurate, but I was 35 at this point. Okay. And actually, the age will come back, as I share what I learned and what had happened to me is really interesting, right? Because I am 35. This is happening. But to your point, well, like, no one teaches us this stuff growing up, right? So when my owner says you have, you know, take as much time as you need one month, two months, three months, come back, hit the ground running you here three months, your identity as an individual is often tied to what you’ve done. Every day for the last 13, 15 years, whatever it is, you’re thinking, how am I going to get back to that place. And so the only thing I thought of because the only education I’d gotten was from watching television commercials, where you see a sad face, or a cartoon character, become a smiley face, 15 seconds into a 32nd commercial when they introduce the medication, and the clouds go away, the sky becomes blue, the birds are chirping, and everything’s great right now, I didn’t think it’d be that easy. But in fairness to what most people probably think about mental health, we grow up and we take this magic pill called an antibiotic when we’re saying when we have strep throat, bronchitis or pneumonia, right. And in two days, we sleep while the medication does what it needs to do. And it makes us this thing called better. So if we’re indoctrinated into that at a young age, and that’s the process of when you’re feeling lethargic and rundown, well, guess what mental health makes you feel lethargic and rundown, right? So that’s where I went to find the right magic pill that’s gonna pop me out of this. And so
Keith Kurlander 14:01
Was this like very new to you in terms of like, it just sort of creeped up out of nowhere? Were you partying a lot? Like, was it just sort of like, Whoa, I have no idea what the hell is going on right now to me, I’m totally experiencing something I’ve never in my life had any sense of at this moment in time or where you’d like yeah, I’ve been doing things. I’m partying hard. I’m in the sports industry. And maybe it’s taking a toll like what was your framework?
Eric Kussin 14:29
And that’s so interesting, yes. Right. Because I would never have looked at any of the symptoms, so to speak, that I had experienced, let’s call it from high school on as symptoms of mental health because we’re not talking about mental health, right. So at that point, it felt like this just happened out of nowhere and the rug got pulled out from underneath me looking back on it. There was a time period when I played sports because I played goalie and soccer where I felt like the ground was tilted like I was falling either down the ground or I had a walk up it right. They were doing tests on my inner ear to see if I had an inner ear problem. That was probably anxiety related, right? Then I had feelings that I can now describe and understand as dissociation, right? Looking in the mirror and not feeling like you’re yourself, right. And so looking back on all these years of things that, you know, I was probably feeling at the time, when you’re not taught that these are symptoms of, you’re just thinking I’m, I’m this weirdo who feels a little bit different in these different ways. Okay, there’s probably something, you know, going on in my brain in a physical way, or I would get anxious about things. I’ll throw a thought out there like, well, we’re floating around on this planet Earth, it’s spinning around, while it’s revolving in the middle of space, like, Can I feel that as I’m looking up? And do I feel like I’m like, kind of, like, these ridiculous things that I think people, you know, take for granted that so many other people feel that are part of anxiety and anxious thoughts, but that when we’re feeling them, we’re like, I’m probably the only one in the world who has this friggin weird going on. But yeah, those things were building up over time. And when you hear you know, the story later on, if some of the major traumas that happened, it was a compound of all them together. But hopefully, that helps explain, Keith is like, I wouldn’t have known any of those things work out how I’m feeling at 30. Yeah,
Keith Kurlander 16:15
Yeah, you had no framework to even understand what mental health and mental disorder was at that moment in time, you’ve no framework for that you weren’t thinking that way. You just knew that you were in some kind of crisis, and you couldn’t engage well, and you were feeling a lot of it building up over time. So give us the highlight of the crisis itself. So what were you kind of going through for the next period of time? What did it look like?
Eric Kussin 16:44
So for two and a half years, I laid in a bed staring at the ceiling, I didn’t watch TV, I didn’t listen to the radio, I barely answered my friends text messages, I had to be reminded to eat my brain stopped functioning. There’s no other way I can describe it, if I could try to put clinical terms towards it from folks like you who know the terms a lot better than I do. But I describe it to people like if you have a computer, and there’s cords in the back of the computer that’s making the computer work, and you go and you snip those cords, the computer’s not going to function. That’s what I felt like being in my brain. I described it as waking up every morning with a blank brain. And not surprisingly, there are groups on social media that are called loss of thought process, blank brain, right, like so. So I didn’t know this at the time right. Now looking back on it, I see that those groups are there. But I felt like I’m going through this. And again, that’s probably why I defer to getting the MRI to see if I had a brain tumor or something like that. I couldn’t follow the plot in the movie. I couldn’t leave the house. I have pictures of myself not getting a haircut for a year because I had this weird fear of getting in front of a barber because I had to have a conversation with them. And I was afraid of a conversation. I mean, thinking back to that level of dysfunction is amazing. When you were asking well, like and Keith actually, for that matter, you both were asking like what context that I have of what I know about mental health. I knew what mental illness was right? I knew what disorders were, but I was under the impression that you either genetically had them lying underneath you. And they came out and then you had to find the right pill for it or not. Right. So that’s all I’m thinking right now is I’m in my first doctor’s appointment with a psychopharmacologist that two and a half years, I left the office people are shocked when I say this, with five prescriptions on my because the doctor told me I have a shitload of anxiety on top of a shitload of depression, and I need heavy artillery to knock it out of my system. first visit five prescriptions versus five prescriptions, which then leads to the 50 different combinations over that two and a half year span. One of the doctors was someone who sat me next to his whiteboard and made four rows SSRI, snri, ma li tricyclic, and started checking off which one I tried and explained to me why, well, if this one didn’t work, then we need to try this one. If this one didn’t work, we need to try this one. Probably the worst side effect one was parney, the MA where my blood pressure went down to 90 over 50. And so I crawled on the floor because if I stood up, I would have collapsed. Dad drove me and we probably should have got an ambulance looking back on it but drove into the hospital. They try to treat me with sailing, you know, to get my blood pressure up. That doesn’t work. And then I had to get this drug called Florinef inpatient for three days and told never to try that drug again. So
Keith Kurlander 19:24
So, you’re on a two and a half year serious episode here. You’re in a crazy medication trial for two and a half years. Were you suicidal during this time? Or you didn’t even have enough energy to be suicidal?
Eric Kussin 19:37
No, it’s fascinating. So I wasn’t right. Other than I had thoughts of like, the passing thoughts of harm to other self harm, nothing that like would act on right. And I think that’s so important to share openly. I don’t think brands affect anyone in any way because of what we see in the world with violence. And we always want to know what was the motive behind this and then we’ve got an entire study of Mental Health where people talk about that harm or self harm to others is part of this equation. And we’re not we’re trying to step away, oh, well, if someone shot up a group, sorry, that had nothing to do with mental health, why? because we’re afraid that we’re gonna be branded that people know, you could say in the same breath, this person likely had mental health complications going on, where at the same time 99.9% of people have mental health complications are not going to shoot up a building. You can say both of those things at the same time. And not brand anyone who’s dealing with something major as they’re going to be a murderer, right? Sorry that I went on my little soapbox there. But I think it’s,
Keith Kurlander 20:34
It sounds like you were having what we could call it most intrusive thoughts of interest, self-harm to self-harm to others, and they were kind of flying free. And it wasn’t a major thing you were really wanting to do, it was just kind of bothering you.
Eric Kussin 20:46
except for so you know, and you guys are all friends with Dr. Cleaners on our alliance. This is his explanation looking back, but I was told to do TMS therapy transcranial magnetic stimulation. And so I put the helmet on my head because they gave me that one instead of the halfmoon shape one. And 23 sessions in 23 days in a row were open on weekends, I couldn’t fall asleep the night of the 23rd. And the morning, the 24th. I vividly remember it, you know, I’m holding my hands up to show it as an example. I’m sitting on my hands and my butt is on both of my hands. Because now that intrusive thought comes this impulsive error message playing on repeat of swallow that bottle of pills in front of you swallow the bottle, swallow the bottle, swallow that bottle. I couldn’t stop that thought. I mean, that’s all it was. And for everyone listening, I know we sometimes listen to lived experience people we listen to researchers, I think it’s important for us to listen to lived experience people because oftentimes we shame people until How could someone have made that choice, I had never even thought of pills as an option before. I didn’t want to die. In fact, I reached out to my family and asked for help at that point, I just couldn’t stop that thought from circulating in my head. And so that was you know, I was fortunate to be taken inpatient to the psych ward at that point and went to the psych er, and then was transferred to this facility off campus where it was supposed to be their top treatment facility center and think doctors will be interested in here this part is, I meet with the attending psychiatrist, she’s got her top doc plaques all over the wall, she looks at my chart looks at me and says, Eric, you’ve tried everything there is your last resort is to do shock therapy. And, you know, with the work that you all do, you know, looking back on it, you know, Keith, you were asking, you know about my track with sports and thinking I was gonna do this the rest of my life. Even up until that point, when I’m sick for two and a half years, I’m thinking that when I eventually get better, I’m gonna go back to sports. Yeah, looking back on being told this is your last resort is one of the main reasons why I’m in this space right now. Because I don’t want anyone to ever hear that, again, from anyone, a loved one, a doctor, a practitioner, anyone. And so when you’re told that and you don’t have friends or talking about these things, and by the way, no one else on the psych ward floor of the 30 of us, were getting shock therapy at that time. So I’m thinking I’m the most messed up of the messed up group. I do the 12 sessions over five weeks of getting my brain shocked and seizure. And I don’t have to, you know, for your folks, I don’t have to go into detail what that is. But you know, it was pretty horrible. I lost, you know, all memory when I would wake up for about an hour afterwards. I had to get nurses to hold me down male nurses, because they were afraid that if they strap me into the bed that I was going to tip the bed over. And so they wanted me grounded, you know, so they held onto my shoulders and my knees each time I woke up because they would ask me questions, I wouldn’t have answers. But I leave the hospital after that five week period feeling no better than I had the two and a half years prior thinking my life is over unless Merck or Pfizer invents some miracle pill that pops me out of this. And that’s where the story turns for the positive. So my parents are both former educators, dad was a principal and my mother was a language teacher. And they go to these continuing education courses all the time. So they went to this one called integrative breathing practices. And I didn’t know what the term integrative meant because I’d never done breathing practice in my life. So I didn’t really register with what they were going to and my mom ran home from the course at night. Eric, you gotta meet this woman, Donna, she’s an integrative psychologist treats you differently than all the other practitioners you’ve been to and they know that for sure, because they’ve been in the appointments with me because I need to be handheld to these appointments during that two and a half year period. So I am in this woman’s office, and I’m in there alone at this point, and I sent her a couch. Every doctor I’d been to up until that point, the first question was always the same. Eric, what are your symptoms and would list my symptoms? Okay, based on your symptoms, here’s your diagnosis. And I was diagnosed with everything from ADD to ADHD to PTSD to OCD to Melancholic Depression, Anna Donna Depression, Bipolar Two and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. So she didn’t ask me about my symptoms. She just said Eric Tell me about your life. Right? And so it was kind of refreshing, you know, not that my memory was fully there, but I just started sharing. I’m the middle of three boys whose sports praise my family. So she said, okay for the middle three boys, tell me about your older brother. And this is where I think there’ll be a lot of commonality for people hearing the story is, I had never told the story in this order for it because you usually when you’re asked about things, it’s like, oh, what’s your relationship with your mom like, or you know, tell me where you went to school. You’re never usually asked to tell me about your life generally. So I just went back to some earliest memories and eight years old, you know my older brother in a sporting accident and broke his femur bone, literally. Braxton half is in a body cast for a year in homeschool heels from that and a month later, late 80s gets diagnosed with a Ll Childers form of leukemia. So five years of chemo and radiation, but goes into remission. Months later, after we get that report. He’s in a Jeep Wrangler with his friends open top open back, car loses control, kids driving with their permits typical things that happen, flies in the back because there’s no seatbelt lands on his head on the parkway cracks his head open loses partial vision, his eyes in ICU for a month hillstrom that goes to college gets diagnosed between junior and senior year with a relapse of the Leukemia from childhood. Now they want to get a stronger chemo regimen to really knock the cancerous cells out of his body. But what we know about chemo is unfortunately, it does, you know, kill a lot of the healthy cells as well. So I’m up at school at this point, we trade places he’s in law school, while he’s getting the chemo treatments, I get a call from my father who’s got 105 fever, should come to the hospital and meet them would meet with the neurologists there find out that his body’s going into septic shock fallen into a coma, the coma now we don’t know if he’s gonna have any brain activity. If he ever does wake, you know, we don’t know how long he’s gonna have to stay on the machine or if he’s ever gonna wake from it. So that goes on for a month, two months, three months. And the third month he finally wakes up and gets his full cognitive faculties about him. But his kidneys fail from the rigor of the septic shock and has to go on dialysis. We all get tested to see who’s the closest match my father is, donates a kidney to them that’ll end I get that first job at the NBA that I was talking about earlier. And that first year, three of my close friends passed away unexpectedly of heart conditions, one on a treadmill, his wife, six weeks pregnant just can’t make this shit up. So it’s interesting, right? Because you were asking me about age. And I was saying I was 35 when the crash happened. So I’m talking to this woman, I’m probably 36, 37 at this point. These things happened to me 13 years prior. And her response to me is Eric, is there anything else you want to tell me that happened in your childhood that impacted your mental health? And my immediate reaction was What do you mean impacted my mental health? These things happen to my brother, they happen to my friends, they didn’t happen to me. And, you know, this is where I start to get my education on what stress and trauma is. Do you want me to pause there for a little bit? Or?
Dr. Will Van Derveer 27:54
Well, I think it’s such an important message that you’re bringing that you live to. And first of all, I just want to say how sorry I am that you went through that and struggled for I mean, you went all the way through AECT, or having a practitioner asking the right questions. And it’s such a deep, shared mission that we feel, you know, with you now. And we’re going to talk about your mission in a few minutes. Again, I’m looking forward to getting that too. But it’s such a massive blind spot in mental health care practitioners, too. I mean, what we’re talking about here, specifically in this story, I think, is that the so called, you know, symptoms of depression, actually have a resolvable, healable root cause that if we just try to medicate, and you know, play whack a mole with medications, we’re never actually going to get that person well. And they’re going to be if they survive, they’re going to be condemned to a life of not fulfilling their potential and not being able to give their gifts in the world, and not being able to impact the people that they care about in their community in the world. And the incredibly potent ways that you are now in your life. So, man, it’s just, it’s really impactful to hear your story, and I appreciate it so much.
Eric Kussin 29:07
Well, first of all, thank you for the sentiment and what you’re sharing is what’s broken my heart about what I see out there, right. And, you know, we’ll probably have a whole other show on you know, the star type exercises and stuff like that, but I heal through breathing practices, you know, and I went to this course where I’m the only man only one under 40 at the time and only one born in this country. So it’s been eight Indian lemons and nine yoga mats and I’m, you know, a fish out of water. But I learned about the vagus nerve, right? And I think teaching people about why the practices that are out there actually work on the neurobiological changes that happen over time and creating psychological flexibility. You know, these things aren’t taught to us. It’s kind of like doing meditation because it relieves stress. Okay, how does it do that? Right? Like that’s hard to get people to buy into it. So, you know, well, you’re talking about with like, other people not being able to fulfill so when I shared my story with I just shared with you and in a lot greater detail, believe it or not it took 35 minutes to read it. I was joking with you guys, the first time we ever talked is I put it on LinkedIn because I wasn’t a social media person. And it gets read over 150,000 times in those first three days, and I had over 400 calls come in from as far as China. Now why do I bring that up because of your comment. I did not have a person on any of those calls. And I called those people back sounds hyperbolic, but I’m not blessing even though my diagnosis ultimately was PTSD, in the long run, that was a label they gave me there wasn’t a single person who shared Eric I have PTSD also. So I can relate to that. Or Eric I bipolar, it’s different from PTSD in this way. Instead, everyone was sharing a lived experience story with me from the loss of a child to SIDS for five years ago, and they’ve never been the same to there was a married woman who was with the love of her life soulmate, but she broke up with her boyfriend in college 10 years ago, and they dated for four years, and she had a knot in her stomach, the morning she had to do it, and she knew is going to change the course of their lives. And that stayed with her since, right even though she’s married to this man now, and everything’s great. And what that made me realize was, the common thread that ties the human experience together is not disorder. It’s not this thing called mental illness. It’s the challenges we face. And I’m not I’m not trying to, you know, make it like it’s only about life experiences. I know genetics are a part of it. I know lifestyle is a part of it, right? But it’s a combination of all these things together. And finally, a human being who has the perfect genetics, skates through life without any stressful or traumatic events and lives a perfect lifestyle. You can’t find that right? So if that’s the case, I went to all these, you know, nonprofit websites and none of this has meant in a way to knock any of them in terms of their programming because I think there’s amazing groups doing amazing work out there. But marketing and our message is so friggin important right and so all I saw on all these websites were consistently the same things three things in particular that I felt like we’re moving us further away from While you were talking about is helping people better understand this topic reach their potential, not just coasting through life, survive or even worse be struggling their entire life. It was you know, this incessant focus on the one and five with mental illness that, okay, if that’s the focus 20% of people’s a lot of people okay, maybe we’re shaking people, not really, because if you don’t have another name for what the other four and five people have, you’re telling them that they’re healthy, find normal and Okay, there’s nothing to see here. Second thing was that they all had that, you know, campaign, which is an action word followed by stigma, stop the stigma, stop the stigma, break the stigma, racist stigma. The term stigma means there’s a group of people forming opinions and judgments about another group of people in an unfair way. So we started the Keith, Will and Eric foundation for mental health. And we just were out there rallying cry, stop the stigma, stop. That’s a great rallying cry for us and the people that we’re representing. It’s not a great rallying cry for the people who don’t understand mental health because they’re like, What the hell are you talking about? Either I’m not stigmatizing anyone, or Yeah, I am. But don’t tell me what I should or shouldn’t do right? You’re not meeting people in the middle. And then the third thing was the way that all the celebrity stories were being shared. All these sites were linking to Us Weekly, and People Magazine where the stories were like Britney Spears has depression, so she shaved her head, or Lindsay Lohan has anxiety, she dresses like a hot mess. And you go to today, Kanye West has bipolar and says crazy stuff about his family on social media. One in five, let’s stop stigmatizing them. And the damn looks like people who run off basketball courts and panic attacks and shave their heads. That doesn’t help the majority of society understand that this topic is for all of us. And then neurobiological changes happen through the things that we live through experience and what our lifestyle is. To get everyone to start proactively working on these things. I’ll stop my little rant here in a second. I was comparing it to American Heart Association, right? We all grew up in school, they taught us by second grade Jump Rope for Heart and hope for heart. They didn’t wait until we had heart disease or had a heart attack before they started working on things with us. That’s one of the biggest charities in our country. Yet you look at all the biggest charities for mental health in our country. They’re all talking about here’s what to do for depression, here’s what to do for anxiety. Why? Why are we waiting to clap one, I have my theories from a, you know, donation revenue generation, you know, subsistence standpoint, my skeptical view of why the focus is there, but I’ll hold that back for this talk.
Keith Kurlander 34:27
Let’s pivot this though into the Same here. So you know, you’re obviously looking around you went through a journey where you’re like, Oh, my God, like society wasn’t there for me. And the way I needed is what I’m hearing like, it wasn’t constructed in the way that any of this made sense to you. You gotta figure it out on your own. So then talk a little bit about the birth of the same here and what the intention is behind it.
Eric Kussin 34:50
Yeah, and Keith, you know, wasn’t there for me, but I’m very fortunate that my family was there for me, right. And I know a lot of people don’t have that luxury, right. So I looked at it less like Wasn’t there for me. And I think because of the stories of the people who were calling me. And because of the shortfalls that I saw on all those websites in those campaigns, it was more like, how many friggin people is this impacting? And that’s where the whole concept of shifting from one and five with disorder to five and five was impacted, became kind of the brainchild of what we do, right? And so then it led to like, okay, five, and five means that mental health lives on a continuum, and we fluctuate up and down, if we live on a continuum, what name can I create, that shakes the trees on, I’m gonna not say 80%, I’m gonna say 90% of people out there who need to hear this topic in a different way. Why 90% because by their own admission, these groups that say one and five, they also say that 50% of that one and five, don’t get help. So that means we’re dealing with the foreign five, who the topics, not four, and then 50% of the other 20%, right, so you combine them together, that’s 90% of our society, these messages aren’t targeted towards. And so I thought of, you know, I’m looking at your guys’s rooms in the back, and I can say something like, Hey, will you know, that plant looks crazy good in your office, or Hey, Keith, that exercise bike looks crazy good in your office, or I can say something to you and more literal sense. Like, you know, you’ve been acting a little crazy lately, right? And in either of those cases, whether I’m talking about the plant, or saying none of those cases is a threat to the plant, the bike or how you’re acting? Am I saying that plant that bike, the way you’re acting is mentally ill, we use it to burn crazy in everyday language. And so the challenge is that the space of mental health is like we don’t use that term. We can’t, you know, we can’t. Okay, well, what term Are you going to use? That shakes people that get them interested in this topic. Because if you use brain and mind health, good luck, because you’re going to continue to talk to the same people. And so that was the birth of we’re all little crazy, crazy, and quotes. So people knew that we weren’t being serious about the term. And in fact, we’re making fun of the term normal by saying there is no normal. We’re all on this crazy spectrum. Right? So that was the birth of that and then looking at the way that the celebrity stories were being shared. It was okay, if the media takes these stories and creates train wreck two week windows, where they’re the darling that we look at and we stare at, oh my god, look at the awful things that they went through and look at what they turn into. Let’s take the control away from the media, even if it starts in a grassroots way. And I reached out to Theo Fleury, who you guys we’re going to talk to because he was one of the few celebrities who was not sharing his disorder label. He wasn’t out there saying I have PTSD. Let’s talk about what PTSD is. Or I’m an addict, let’s talk about an addict is he talked about being raped as a child by his male hockey coach, he talked about growing up in a volatile household where his father was had addiction issues, where his mother, the new term scrupulosity with kind of inflicting pain on children when it’s too intense from a religious standpoint, and what might happen if you don’t act certain ways based on what’s told to you and what the ramifications are. And so he dealt with trauma growing up, and that was what he was sharing. And so what I saw was, can we create this alliance of people, athletes, entertainers, musicians, doctors, CEOs, all of whom hold hands together, and say, same here, right? Like, you and I were the same. And I can say that to two people I’m on the call with right now with well, and Keith, or I can say that the 3000 people if I’m presenting individually to a group of students at William and Mary, that I know that we’re the same y in at least one aspect of our lives, we’ve all faced challenges, because that’s part of the human experience that ties us together and think about how seem when you sit in circle when you’re five years old. And you see another kid’s name is Keith, oh my god, your name is Keith too or you are born on this date also, that binds us together, when there’s similarities and you see how different that is, then stop the stigma that doesn’t bring people together, similarities do right. So what you guys are a part of and why it’s awesome to talk to you and to do these things. And what Dr. Plenary has been taking a real lead on is, if you look at the world from a 30,000 foot view, if the three of us were on a plane together, and we had 50 randoms, that were on the plane with us from every, you know, background possible, and we said point to the trees that represent mental health. Some would point to the fern trees, some would point to the evergreen trees, some would point to the pine trees. And the three of us would say to them, no, guys, it’s every one of those trees. It’s all one big forest, right. And so what we’re doing by all connecting this way, asking you guys to be part of presentations that we do with the Golden State Warriors, or the LA Clippers, or the Department of Defense, or K through 12 School is to say, if we connect this network of the beauty of what you guys are doing in the education space, and getting doctors out there who are more able to help patients kind of where I was at that time. And we hold hands with the celebrities who have larger platforms and we hold hands with the brands that want to Talk about mental health in a consistent and positive way, we can make change happen. Whereas the opposite of that is what happened with Prince Harry. That was my guiding light Prince Harry shared in a very vulnerable open way right around the time when I went through what I went through, but the UK was still at a 30 year high in suicides. That was the indication to me that you can get LeBron James comments done, you could get Michael Phelps like public spaces that on no individual celebrity, no matter how big their platform is, makes changes in a space, it’s got to be consistency across many aspects of society with all people holding hands rowing in the same direction.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 40:39
It’s such a beautiful, expansive vision, Eric, and I think you’re the guy for the job. And it’s just, it’s awesome to see how much progress you’ve made just in the years since we talked to you. One thing I want to make sure that we kind of give the listeners which is a little bit of the icing on the cake is or maybe the cherry on Sundays, you talked about breathing, I want to close the story with, you know, the kind of happy ending, if you will. And, and I’m wondering, after, you know, just if you could take us through and in a nutshell, you found this, you were on your mat with eight Indian, the ladies, you’re doing your breathing. So what was the journey that got you to where you’re in this very empowered, impactful position that you’re in now,
Eric Kussin 41:23
Thank you for asking, And one thing I always leave out also people ask about my brother knock on wood, still two beautiful daughters bodies on the best shape because you can’t get to the gym because his joints roll mess, but you know, to still be with us and still be productive and enjoying life is pretty awesome. So that being a side note, this stuff with healing was I did a practice called the Sudarshan Kriya, which, you know, essentially, the Kriya takes you through breathing in three different speeds, you know, a longer in now breathe a medium, and then a shorter one. And creating that flexibility within the vagus nerve so that you’re not locked in one place, right? Where that tone is all messed up. And so 30 days into that practice, I didn’t feel better the three days of the course. But 30 days into that practice. I remember waking up, and I looked at the controller next to me on the bed and I said, Oh my god, I want to turn the TV off. And then the other thought was I wanted to have scrambled eggs for breakfast. So the two things that I hadn’t had for so long, which was a desire for anything came back to me that day. It felt like a miracle, right? You know, I was sharing a little facetiously before about saying, oh, meditation just takes away stress. No, since I learned a little bit about the science of the vagus nerve inflammation in the cells, the way the hormones are released and why breathing helps with those things. I then went on this Odyssey after I started feeling better. I went to Jakarta, Indonesia to study shagang meditation for a week and a half. I got with David Birch Shelley who invented you know, tra Aires met, you know, Stephen C. Hayes who invented act therapy. And the way that my mind sees it is I’m not saying this is a novel idea. But this is what helps me understand and then explain to other people is, when we go to the gym for our body, the three of us could be taken by the same personal trainer who says, Keith your body for whatever reason, you’re an endomorph person that you know, like all those different terms, right? You’re gonna do better on the elliptical, whereas Eric, you’re doing fast twitch muscle fiber, things that get your heart rate up doing weights, that’s gonna be better for you, and stairmasters gonna be better for you. Right? Well, if different things work for different people. And even when they work, we get bored of the different things when they work. That’s why there’s a gym, because there’s all these different exercises to try to do and to keep us motivated. That’s not what headspace is right now. That’s not what calm is right now. And that’s no disrespect to those companies. Like, I understand they’re taking advantage of the space. That’s air right now. But you know what we have to get to we again, we call them star stress and trauma, active release and rewiring the star exercises, that is a gym for the brain that you know, that’s exactly what you all are championing is teaching these practitioners, ways in which they can help different people who are dealing with different things. So that maybe this is a good way to end, Will you know, a doctor that I think you all are pretty familiar with, Dr. Richard Brown, sometimes goes by Dave Brown in New York. I was lucky enough that he, you know, was my doctor that I was handed to by my psychologist Donna, and I left his office the first appointment, and very different from the doctor in the hospital who said this is your last resort. He kept writing down and he said, Eric, here’s 15 things we could potentially try after we do alpha stem after we try some of these supplements after we get on a yoga regimen. And after these 15 there’s another 15 and after that there’s another 15 and I can’t say this strongly enough for the practitioners out there. When a patient hears that there’s options that give them hope. When a patient hears this is a last resort that takes away hope. So the more you can tell these patients that there’s more options for them, I think the more people can fight through those ideas and continue to try and push themselves. Because they know that there’s a potential for help out there.
Keith Kurlander 45:09
Well, last question, we asked everybody, this, you’ll probably have fun with this one. If you had a billboard that every human being would see once in their life, and there’s a paragraph on it, you know, five 710 sentences, what would you want every human being to see once in their life?
Eric Kussin 45:25
Wow, I can’t wait to hear what other people have said, I gotta look back through the archives on this. But you know, mine would be every experience that we have, is part of this Rolodex in this movie, almost that our mind captures that we’re then able to look back on draw from each of those experiences that we’ve had, and whether we would deem those to be positive or negative. The perspective with which we gain from each of those experiences allows us to live a happier, more fulfilling life, because now we can look at the little things that happen in our lives, and actually appreciate them for the miracles that they are.
Keith Kurlander 46:09
They serve being on the show.
Eric Kussin 46:11
My pleasure, guys, thank you for having me. Appreciate the genuine question.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 46:15
Okay, great talking with you again, Eric. And again, thanks for a really powerful work, you’re
Eric Kussin 46:19
doing the world. Appreciate it. Thank you guys. Likewise for all the work and
Dr. Will Van Derveer 46:27
We look forward to connecting with you again on the next episode of The Higher Practice Podcast, where we explore what it takes to achieve optimal mental health.