As part of our support community on Slack, we regularly invite mental health leaders to do open and honest Q&A sessions with our members. We discuss topics surrounding mental illness coping and recovery, advocacy, reducing stigma, and more.
Eric Kussin is an 18-year professional sports executive, who got his start at the NBA League Office. After five years with the League, he went the team business route and rose the ranks with the expansion Chicago Sky, Phoenix Suns. He then switched over to the NHL, working with the New Jersey Devils, & Florida Panthers. However, a debilitating mental health crisis stopped Eric’s career and life in its tracks for over two and a half years. After many failed treatment modalities, he was lucky enough to learn healing practices that enabled him to dig out of his abyss, and found a higher calling, launching a non-profit at the end of 2017 called, We’re All a Little “Crazy,” The Global Mental Health Alliance. The Alliance is comprised of athletes and celebrities, along with media members, expert practitioners, advocates, and everyday heroes who’ve come together to make talking about mental health a common topic for “5 out of 5” of us. Their #SameHere Movement has swept across college campuses in the US from Cornell to USC, K-12’s, Corporate Offices, and Professional Sports Teams in just over a year. The Movement has recently begun to expand globally as well, with events in markets outside of the US. To “keep his foot in sports,” Eric recently accepted a role as the lead sales consultant for the new professional lacrosse league: The PLL, which launches this summer.
Please welcome Eric Kussin! Eric is an 18-year professional sports executive, who got his start at the NBA League Office. After five years with the League, he went the team business route and rose the ranks with the expansion Chicago Sky, Phoenix Suns. He then switched over to the NHL, working with the New Jersey Devils, & Florida Panthers. However, a debilitating mental health crisis stopped Eric’s career and life in its tracks for over two and a half years. After many failed treatment modalities, he was lucky enough to learn healing practices that enabled him to dig out of his abyss, and found a higher calling, launching a non-profit at the end of 2017 called, We’re All a Little “Crazy,” The Global Mental Health Alliance. The Alliance is comprised of athletes and celebrities, along with media members, expert practitioners, advocates, and everyday heroes who’ve come together to make talking about mental health a common topic for “5 out of 5” of us.
Hey Eric Kussin. Thanks for being here. I own a business and feel like I just can’t physically do it at the moment due to my depression and anxiety around the holidays. What do you think would be a good way for me to not feel too guilty about that? I find I can beat myself up for it. I also find that I see the world in very black and white like “If I can’t do this now I will never be able to”
You’re welcome. The problem with this space generally is that it is seen in black and white…We are told that 1 in 5 are “sick” and 4 in 5 are healthy. The truth is we all live on a mental health continuum where we are ALL affected to varying levels. There is nothing to feel guilty about at all…I’ve yet to meet someone who hasn’t experienced anxiety or depression in some form.
What kind of healing practices did you learn about that helped you?
Thanks for asking – what worked for me and I recommend to others is called STARR practices. Stress and trauma release and rewiring. I believe that stress and trauma build up in our system just like plaque builds in our arteries. We can cleanse our systems w practices like qigong meditation, yin yoga. Tapping, havening, etc.
So a focus on eastern/alternative medicine?
Some are eastern. But some are not – it’s a mixture of different practices that rid the system of the stress and trauma that overwhelms us. If you look at our homepage there is a list and an explanation of all of them.
hey Eric, thanks for being here. Were there ever times during your mental health crisis that you felt close to giving up? How did you convince yourself to keep going? What would you say to someone struggling to see the light at the end of tunnel in their own mental health crisis?
Interestingly enough…I never had a thought of ending it and giving up. I did have suicidal ideations – but fought them off and asked for help when they got too strong. That said, what I tell people who feel hopeless is – our brain tricks us into believing that…that there is not hope. But we can rehab our CNS just like we can a knee or ankle. There are always ways to climb out of how we feel – they may just not be the traditional way
Congrats on all your success! What does your morning routine look like?
Thanks for asking – in the morning I always do a morning gratitude practice – thinking of 3 things I’m thankful for. Then I do 20 minutes of what’s called the Sudarshan Kriya. It’s a series of breathing patterns.
Thank so much for being here Eric. Finding and using a support system/community has been so hard for me…also so important for me. What does your support system look like and how do you use your support system to maintain your mental health and your success?
My family and friends have both been supportive- support has not been the issue. However support does NOT mean that they know what to say or understand what I’m going through. At first my thought was…no one else understands. But now I accept that. My thoughts have changed too – as long as someone says they are there for me and they will be by my side, I wont get frustrated that they don’t understand on a deeper level what they experience is like.
It’s nice to have you here and thank you, I struggle with mental health a lot, and sometimes it’s hard to go to work especially on bad days when it’s gotten awful. Do you have any tips on what helped you to battle it while you were working?
Thanks for asking about work. It’s really hard sometimes because our systems just feel overwhelmed. People think not getting out of bed is being “lazy” but we know all too well, that’s not the case. What I try to do is remind myself that what I’m going through isn’t permanent. That it won’t define me for the long term.I try to picture a cloud above me that – yes it is above me – but no it’s not going to permanently stay there. That alone helps me to motivate when I feel like “I can’t do this.” Knowing there will be relief is huge.
Thanks again for being with us. How does sleep impact your mental health and what do you do if you don’t get enough?
Yes a little insight on insomnia please?
Our bodies function on energy. If we don’t sleep long enough – our rest and digest system doesn’t have time to do it’s magic. Hormones, immune system, heart rate etc. When we don’t sleep, our autonomic nervous system that performs these functions stop working to their potential and it causes further problems.
To those who asked about insomnia, my go to is a practice where I breathe 20 times in and out of my nose for long breathers, then 40 for medium breaths, then 40 for short bursts of breaths and I do that three times in a row.
hello! Have you found any specific coping skills you could use on a daily basis or even just anytime?
coping mechanisms – my favorite is aromatherapy and an essential oil called olbas oil.
I’ll be sure to check it out. I should have the money to purchase some soon.
if not – try alternate nostril breath. You can google it if you aren’t sure what it is but provides balance and calm
I have a ton of trouble sleeping and feel like that has a HUGE effect on my mental health state, and the problem tends to compound the less sleep I get. I imagine that running a non profit and being so business minded means that your brain goes at a pretty fast rate(which I relate to, so I’m projecting here) so my question is: do you have any trouble sleeping and if so do you have any nightly rituals that have helped with that problem(if it exists). Thanks for being here and starting such an amazing foundation!
Thanks for asking and thanks for the kind comments. sleep has always been an issue for me – Yes here is what happens – folks wired like “us” get super motivated and excited and we go and burn the midnight oil….and then we crash…but we neglect normal rhythmic sleep. We think this is a good thing because, hey, we love what we are doing and we are being productive. But the truth is, it actually is burning us out – and we are neglecting dealing with what’s beneath our engines…the best analogy I’ve heard is – if two men/or women are asked to chop as many trees as they can in the same forest for 6 hours and one goes straight for all 6 and one stops to sharpen his/her axe, who chops more trees down? it’s usually the one who stops to sharpen their axe. Even though they work “less” they are more effective in the time that they do work. I try to remind myself of that every time I’m going at it and working through for hours straight – we must stop and sharpen our axes – mindfulness, breathing practices, etc. In the long run, we will get more done.
What have you tried to fall asleep at night? I’m sorry you are struggling – have you tried the powder mix called “calm”? I find it as a great agent for sleep right before bed….doesn’t make you groggy but does give you an extra agent to help you get some sleep.
thanks so much for the answers! I definitely need to remind myself to sharpen my proverbial axe. That’s a great analogy and I will keep it in mind. Thank you for the in depth answers, you’re awesome
My pleasure dude. We have to all feel in this together. We ALL go through mental health challenges. Mental health is not only about those of us who reach disorder level alone. That’s why we say this is a topic for 5 out of 5, not just the 1 in 5 diagnosed. totally hear you in the brain always on and always trying to work a million miles a minute. I think that our ambition is sometimes our biggest impediment to getting to the source of what ails us. Productivity feels good so we stay with that and keep going. But the key is to slow down and work on the hard stuff underneath the surface or else it builds and compounds like that red air balloon example.
Eric Kussin what is the best way to handle mental illness when there is no support system?
I’m sorry you don’t have a support system. Have you looked to see if there are meet-up groups in the community? The reason we created a Heroes platform where people share their stories of challenge and triumph is because of what you asked about. I know it’s online but at @weareallalittlecrazy on Instagram, you’ll find a very supportive group from around the work who all shares their stories and root each other on. I invite you to join and even share your story – if you dm us we can send you a form. It’s usually so freeing to put out there what we are challenged with and to get support from an online community.
What are some ways I can help my family better understand mental illnesses? My mother is having trouble coping and she doesn’t know how to cope or help me when I have my different episodes. My mental health is a huge stress on our relationship. Also what more can I do when my positive coping skills aren’t working for me? I’ve done everything from meditation, different forms of exercise, old and new hobbies (coloring, puzzles, drawing, etc), watched different movies, TV shows, and so much more, and still having issues.
Here is how I explain it to my parents (though it’s much easier in person than on text). I describe a balloon that fills with “air” and that “air” is our life experiences – “good” experiences and “bad” ones…the good is like blue air and it fills the front part of my balloon and the bad experiences are like red air and they fill the back part of my balloon over time – if I keep pushing the red air to the back, it stays separate from the blue and I can function. BUT… when the red air expands too much and I do nothing about it, it mixes into the blue and I get this purple haze, and that’s disorder… because of genetics – some of us have a smaller “balloon” and therefore can handle less stress and trauma before the red air starts to affect us. Everyone is wired differently and so that smaller space means we are affected more easily at events that are overly stressful and traumatic. You can say you are working to rid the red air from your balloon through things like yoga and meditation and breathing practices…but it takes time and it’s not as simple as 1 + 1 = 2. Why certain ones aren’t working? It’s just like the gym – why does running work to lose weight for some but elliptical does not. The good thing is there are TONS of practices for us to keep trying to make a routine out of. I’d definitely recommend checking out that STARR practices page on weareallalittlecrazy.org Lots of options to make your own routine and never feel like you are running out of ways to cope and heal
Thank you so so much Eric. I’m definitely will try out all of your suggestions! I really appreciate it.
My pleasure – sorry that it’s hard to fully explain on text. But for parents just know that – even after all this time and hearing me present, my parents still don’t fully “get it.” But…I ask them to be supportive and understand that what I’m dealing with they cannot physically see inside of me. But that doesn’t mean it’s not affecting me. The pages we have on social where folks open up I do believe has opened their eyes to just how common mental health dips are. Yes some to the level of disorder but some just situational drops that put us in places where it is hard to cope. if we feel like we are not alone – even if others may not fully understand, it makes the journey less scary
How do you explain to your family that you cannot simply beat anxiety and depression? I’m a 39 year old man, known to everyone I know as the guy who never knew failure and never quits. They all rely on me as the rock, the problem solver, the one that no matter how bad it gets will always find a way. I’m having a hard time keeping everything together and they just don’t seem to comprehend me not just being able to flip the switch and overcome it.
Yes the interesting thing is – folks who have your profile are usually the one who deal with this stuff MORE often. Why is the question… the answer is we take on so much – we try to accomplish so many things, we try to solve others problems, we are people pleasers. just like again that balloon example, your “system” can only take so much…
It’s odd though because I simply don’t care what most people think of me. It’s the ones I’m responsible for that I can’t just turn it off and walk away.
You are 39 – when I had my crash when I was 35. I don’t think it has to do with caring who does or doesn’t know…I totally get you on that… it just has to do with those who take so much on their plate, eventually it comes crashing down here is another way to look at it – your “base” has been like a stable base of a Jenga game your tower never looked like it would topple over because you could handle more and more pieces getting removed.
I understand why, I just don’t know how to explain it in a way that doesn’t get the “fix it then you are fine” type response.
We ALL get to a point, no matter how strong our base, where that tower is too heavy at the top and the base can’t sustain more being taken from it. Your answer is because helping everyone else – you didn’t get “here” overnight so healing and refortifying your base and draining that red air from your balloon doesn’t happen overnight. This is why a lot of athletes struggle with depression – for so long they could just work harder than everyone else. Here with mental health it’s not a matter of just plowing through it’s a matter of diligent practice to actually cleanse the system and fortify that base.
I feel more like I’m on a battlefield taking enemy fire than in my own home. How do I take the weight off without alienating everyone I care about?
If they know you are the hard worker you are who has always fixed things they don’t get it…do you tell your family – “I am here for you, I will do anything for you, but…I need time to shut down my own system, to plug in my own battery so I can be my best FOR you.” If you make it about how you can help them more in the long run…they may better understand why you need your windows to shut it down.
Yes, but they start making negative comments towards me and once I crawl back inside myself like that I usually don’t respond nicely. It becomes a war of words because I can’t properly explain, and they can’t just be supportive or at least leave me alone to deal with it.
Well that sounds like their lack of understanding is riling YOU up…best you can…can you try to take a step outside yourself and say – “I get it, they don’t understand, but I’m going to set boundaries for myself. Boundaries where I carve out 15 here or 20 there to go through a meditation or breathing practice”
I lack most emotions, suppressed them long ago. So when I am in fight or flight I get very hard to deal with.
No matter how they don’t understand – I know I will be better for them – so I’m not gonna yell back, I can totally relate to that. But – you are self aware, that is so key. If you know you are in fight/flight – you can say to yourself – “I can’t possibly engage without fighting with my family if I answer back with the anger inside me.”
I never yell or raise my voice, I just have a way with words I guess.
Well do they take that “way” as being combative? Even though you aren’t yelling? I’ve found that the more we just accept how others don’t understand – and we just let it be, but still make time for ourselves to heal and destress and decompress, the healthier we become. As hard as this is, sometimes you gotta do it for yourself, which indirectly is for them.
Yeah and when I react to something they say that is an attack and not true, it’s war
That makes sense – because they don’t understand what you are feeling/not feeling inside you can only explain to others how it feels so many times before they get it or they don’t. If they don’t, instead of explaining yourself with no results, just set those boundaries and promise yourself you are gonna bite your lip, as you carve out time to rest your mind and cleanse what’s going on inside you. Boundaries are a weird and dismissive word but they are often needed if we are going to heal to be better versions of ourselves for us, and for our loved ones.
Sorry this is a tough one for you. I think many/most of us can relate!
Thank you all for your question. Appreciate all the back and forth. This is a topic that’s very in-depth and very hard to tackle on text in an hour. But let’s keep chipping away!
Thank you, Eric Kussin !