Ex-sports exec describes three-year battle with ‘mental illness’

Eric Kussin was kind of a big deal in the National Hockey League, where he was the chief revenue officer for the Florida Panthers.

So it’s unusual, to say the least, that he’s posted his email address and cellphone number, asking people to contact him if they’ve experienced personal trauma/professional stress and need some help.

Writing on Medium last evening, Kussin described a three-year fight with PTSD, depression, and anxiety.

Over the course of the next two-plus years, I spent most of my days laying in a bed, staring up at the ceiling, praying for each day to end so that I could fall back asleep and escape the hell. I didn’t watch TV, didn’t exercise, didn’t listen to the radio and rarely had the energy nor cognitive ability to speak to friends. I went many stretches without eating. My mind was blank, and I was living through a nightmare I saw no end to. My only weekly activity involved going to doctors to try talk therapy (when I was capable), and different treatment modalities including “cocktails” of prescription drugs. Over that time, I tried the following drugs all in various combinations, prescribed by four different psychopharmacologist experts I saw for various periods of time over that stretch. Most of these drugs fell into one of four main categories of anti-depressants (SSRIs, SNRIs, MAOIs, and Tricyclics) while others were “add-on” drugs that were meant to support the main drug at work.

He listed 33 different drugs, all with their own side effects.

I thought my life was over, and nothing around me mattered. However, something in the back of my mind told me to keep fighting and keep trying different treatments until something got me out of that hole. I had to turn this around and find purpose to my struggle.

Things didn’t start to improve until February, he writes, when he found a psychotherapist who combined Eastern and Western therapies. He’s back at work for an ad agency in New York now.

After providing my background, he explained to me that this consistent “dysfunction, numbness and misery” I was feeling was due not only to a chemical imbalance in neurotransmitters like serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine, but also other PHYSICAL malfunctions in my brain and central nervous system. These malfunctions involved the speed of various brain waves, and caused parts of my brain that were supposed to talk to one another, to stop talking, while parts of my brain that weren’t supposed to talk to one another, to start doing so. The PTSD (which was his core diagnosis), Anxiety, and Depression caused these physical malfunctions in my brain; however, everyone’s genetics are different in how a brain is able to physically handle the rigors of life’s traumatic experiences…and everyone’s life experiences are obviously very different. In our fast-paced jobs, daily stress is the norm, and everyone is susceptible. Where the previous treatments mentioned above had failed me, rested in the fact that they were pills and procedures that alone insufficiently corrected the balance of my neurotransmitters, and ignored my brain wave malfunctions. They also ignored the lack of production of important chemicals coming from my adrenal glands, chemicals I was no longer producing due to my body’s continued attempts to balance out previously high-stress situations.

He says he wants to start an organization that will work to convince people that what’s called mental illness is a physical malfunction of the body.

Organizations that do that exist already, but too many people aren’t quite ready to accept the assertion.

Maybe they should give him a call.

  • jon

    I have some mixed opinions on mental illness being treated like a tradition disease.

    If some one wants treatment, they should have access to it. Period.

    But as some one who has a learning disability… I don’t want to have a disease, or a physical mality (though last working theory for anyone who cared to talk about it was that I’ve got a missing/under developed portion of by my brain, had it since birth more than likely… an actual physical mality…)
    Sure if I ever need a head brain scan I’m going to ask if they can find that part of my brain… (It’s got some crazy medical/latin sounding name).

    But I’m high functioning… I’m higher functioning now than a great deal of “normal” “healthy” people… I’m not sick, I’m not broken, and I’ve got no desire to be “healthy”. Heck my job deals with numbers, and my propensity for math might even stem in part from lacking a section of my brain… (same condition as the guy “rain man” was based on.)
    But that is the thing with high functioning mental illness… where is the line, who has a physical illness, and who has different brain chemistry… if you are truly high functioning then I think the choice should fall to that person… I don’t think there should be a stigma around it (another part of why I never got the brain scan, an actual medical diagnosis comes with a stigma)

    …mixed feelings… and I’ve got no great solutions…

    • Eric Kussin

      Thanks for the comment, Jon. I’m sorry for what you’ve had to endure, but it sounds like you’ve been successful in all you’ve set out to do.

      With respect to categorization, my only point is, diseases that involve a lack of serotonin or a malfunction in brain wave activity (or similar malfunctions) being called “mental illness” just exacerbates the stigma that there is something wrong with these folks (something “abnormal”). If there is a chemical in the body that someone is deficient in – like serotonin, why is that different than someone being deficient in insulin production? They’re both things that the body produces. They’re both part of the physical body.

      Unfortunately, because of the stigma of “mental illness” people with deficiencies in brain chemicals are treated way differently and told to keep things quiet for fear of how society will treat them. If we make it more open and accept ppl for having a disorder that is part of their physical body, much like more accepted illnesses are, more people will feel comfortable opening up, more people will be comforted by others, there will be less of a judgement and potentially lives will be saved.