Your Brain Health Episode 2

Introduction: This is Your Brain Health with noted Neuroscientist, Dr. Kristen Willeumier. Your Brain Health explores strategies to maximize your cognitive functions through life. Here’s Dr. Kristen Willeumier.

Dr. Kristen Willeumier: I’d like to welcome everyone to my new podcast, Your Brain Health, and I’m your host, Dr. Kristen Willeumier. For those of you who are new to the program, I’m a UCLA trained Neuroscientist with a PhD in neurobiology and my area of expertise is in the fields of neurology and psychiatry. I have an avid passion for continuing the pursuit of knowledge in the brain health space, so I’m going to use this show as a platform to interview friends and colleagues in academia from neurology to neurosurgery, as well as a variety of notable people in the world of sport, nutrition and fitness who are making valuable contributions to the field of neuroscience and mental health, in order to improve our overall brain health and fitness. The goal is to have these experts share their wisdom from their respective fields and supportive healthy brain aging and optimizing cognitive function for life. Today’s guest is someone whose mission has touched my heart personally.

 

Given my experience working in the mental health space. I was previously the director of neuroimaging research for the Amen clinics and organization on the forefront of diagnosing and treating psychiatric disorders using clinical neuroimaging. They’re recognized for using natural therapies as a first line approach to addressing psychiatric disorders prior to the use of medications, which is often preferred given that many medications can often result in unwanted side effects. I shared this with you as it will help to inform why I was so moved when I met my first guest today, who is someone who has had his own personal journey with debilitating mental health issues, which he describes as coming out of nowhere. He has transformed the pain and trauma from his journey navigating the mental health world, looking for answers on how to get help into a foundation he refers to as a global mental health movement established to lead people to practitioners. He found to be the key to treating his issues.

 

Eric Cousin has spent 15 years as a sports executive, having worked with the NBA league office leading to senior management positions with a number of professional sports teams. And he was also the chief revenue officer of the NHLs Florida Panthers. Eric and I met through a personal friend who worked at the NBA and I’m truly honored to have the opportunity to connect with him as he has created an incredible platform that I feel people really need to know about. So Eric, I want to welcome you on my podcast today so we can discuss your journey, which I think is so brave of you to share publicly. And as we have previously discussed, there is such a stigma around mental illness and you’ve allowed yourself to be vulnerable enough to share your journey and to create this global health movement, mobilizing your network of athletes, celebrities, and expert practitioners with the goal of creating a safe space where people feel they can go to reach out for help. So I’d love for you to share your story with us today.

Eric Cousin: Absolutely. So first and foremost, thank you for having me.

Host: Such a delight to have you.

Eric Cousin: And it’s obviously been so fun getting to know you for the short period of time we have, but look forward to a long, long friendship and partnership. But yeah just getting more detail and background to what you were describing. You know, I had graduated college and I got what I would consider to be my, quote unquote, dream job and I, and I only give that as a background to say these mental health complications can literally affect anyone even when you are, what is perceived to be your happiest. And for me I felt like I was my happiest because I spent four years at the NBA league office and then I helped start up a WNBA team in Chicago, went out to Phoenix Suns, and head up their sales department, back to New Jersey devils sales and service department. And then I was in Florida with the Florida Panthers as you mentioned, and I was their chief revenue officer. And so in my mind I was that one step away from a team President’s role, which was my ultimate goal getting into the industry.

 

And so for all intensive purposes, everything was perfect, fine and dandy in my world. And I started to notice small changes in things in my personal life. So while I was focused at work, this is about five or six months into my tenure in Florida, I started to notice that I was losing interest in things like going to the gym, meeting out on dates, personal life things like meeting with my friends or seeing my family. And I justified that right as the new normal by saying, Hmm, it must be that I am so focused on this new career that that’s where my interest and energy is going. It makes sense that the other things are falling off. Well that was easy to.

Host: Can I ask you, do you have any history of mental issues in your family? Any genetic?

Eric Cousin: You know, it’s funny though. I’m at a matter of third cousins retreat right now who we were going kind of through the family tree and there is a history of it. But you know, what I’ll say is as I kind of give you the background in terms of how I believe I got here, I do believe there’s some form of genetic predisposition just from seeing the family tree. But there was so much that had happened in my life when I wasn’t focused on mental health at all and the way in which I needed to treat myself from a mental health perspective that I believe so much of what happened to me came from life experiences as well. So I think it was kind of a combination of all of it. But the short answer to your question is yes, it does appear like there has been a thread of anxiety and depression and certainly running through my family for a number of generations.

Host: Excellent. Okay. Continue on.

Eric Cousin: Yeah. So, what happened was those things started to fall off in my personal life. And then when it started to affect my job, that’s when I knew things are really going downhill because my job was my anchor. And long story short is if you saw a robot that you programmed going down the hallway doing everything that you programmed it to do and then you start to see it malfunction where the arms that you had built were no longer working and were kind of all stiff, and the eyes that you had built for it started rolling in the back of its eyes. And you know, it just, it almost seemed like it stopped moving. That was what was happening to my brain, to my body. It was literally like I was this computer that shut down. I couldn’t look at people in the eyes and have conversations. There was no connection between my brain and my mouth and I literally had to go to my owners at the time and ask for time off because I couldn’t get myself out of bed anymore. It got to that point over a one week stretch where I just, it felt like the plug got pulled out on me.

Host: Did anyone around you notice this by the way? Or did it take your own?

Eric Cousin: No, it’s so interesting. I was having a conversation about this today. You know, it because the focus is in your head and you’re thinking about it so often in every second of the day and somehow no one else pointed it out over that week that this was taking place. But you know, looking at my actions from afar, you know, if I’m watching myself, but how could someone miss this? But you know, that’s the thing. When you’re in your own head, you notice it a lot more than others do.

Host: And you took the Initiative yourself to try and seek out answers as to why you’re feeling this way.

Eric Cousin: Well, I don’t know that I had a choice, Kristen. I was that dysfunctional and it got to the point where, you know, great owners, military background said, take as much time as you need. We’d love to have you back. But PS, I spent two and a half years laying in a bed, staring at a ceiling not listening to the radio, not watching TV, not interacting with friends, barely eating. And I went from psychotropic drug combination to psychotropic drug combination, trying to find the magic pills that would get me out of this. Cause that’s all I knew from.

Host: Can you share with our audience because it’s truly extraordinary the number of medications that you had been put on over that two year period. And I really want to illustrate that this is what happens in the field of psychiatry.

Eric Cousin: Yeah. So here’s the interesting thing. So it’s, it’s the number of medications is about 30. The number of combinations was over 50. And then with that, if you take into consideration all the different dosages I was on, I mean it was well over 150 because of the titration up and the titration down. So I’m sitting here praying for each six week period to pass so that I could go to the doctor again and hope that the new combination was going to be my saving grace. And you know, as I came to found out, unfortunately, that that wasn’t ever going to be the case. But you know, these doctors going back to the psychiatry the, there’s a formula, they follow it, they give you an SSRI that doesn’t work. So they try different SSRI. When that one doesn’t work, they say that it needs a booster. So they give you an anti-psychotic with the SSRI. When those two don’t work, then they’ll start mixing in other medications that were meant for something else. Like a Namenda that’s a for Alzheimer’s.

 

And they’ll say, well, there’s a side effect to this that helps the SSRI work better as well, just like the, the anti-psychotic does. And so I was on this just mixture of sometimes five or six drugs at a time and believing what I was hearing. And then I was told, SSRI, let’s switch to SNRI, MAOI, tricyclic’s I literally tried every, every single one there was. And then TMS therapy for 22 sessions, which ultimately sent me into the hospital because I was having suicidal ideations that I had, I was fortunate enough, and I don’t know that this is the same way for everyone who goes through it, but I had the back of my brain that was telling me these are not the right thoughts. You shouldn’t be thinking these things, you know, you don’t want this to happen. But the impulse thoughts in the front of my brain saying, swallow that pill, bottle of pills, jump in front of that train. And I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t control these impulse thoughts that were happening. And that’s ultimately when I went to the hospital, this is now again, two years into my struggle, what ended up being two and a half years. And I got 12 treatments inpatient of ECT.

 

So the shock therapy and one, it didn’t work for me, but to the side effects of what I felt I would wake up after each treatment as if the feeling that people get when they’re woken up in the middle of REM sleep, where they don’t know where they’re at. They don’t know, you know, what their name is. They don’t know who they’re staying with. That was a feeling that I had for an hour after each ECT treatment. So I don’t know if that was the effect of the actual seizure that they were causing or the anesthetic or whatever it was. But that was the way that I reacted after each treatment.

Host: So how did you actually hit bottom here and go up and find these, the keys to success?

Eric Cousin: Well, the interesting thing is when you say bottom, and I’m going long on my story here, so I’m sorry, but the keys to my success were I’m just a stubborn bastard who was like, I got to find a way to get out of this. Now, modern medicine was telling me, you tried every medication that’s out there, you now are down to either TMS or ECT. And Oh, by the way, if ECT doesn’t work, we’re sorry. We don’t have a treatment for you. So that was what I thought coming out of the hospital. Although I left the hospital that day and I was given my shoelaces back in my sneakers. I thought my life was over. I’m basically going to spend the rest of my life in a bed because they’ve tried everything on me and I’m not going to get better.

Host: We are going to have to wrap up shortly, so I want to make sure we get to how you created this extraordinary foundation and global mental health movement, which I really want people to know about.

Eric Cousin: Absolutely. So I shared my story on social media and when I saw the impact on just LinkedIn and Facebook on the number of reads, seeing that a hundred thousand people had read it in the first week on LinkedIn, I started to get calls. I had to track them. I had over 400 calls from around the world from people asking for help. How did I get out of it? Because the symptoms seemed so similar. My thought was me telling my story to a media outlet was going to do nothing because Prince Harry has done that in England and they haven’t gotten any further than we’ve gotten. And we see Kevin Love talking about it here or DeMar DeRozen. What the media does is they sensationalize a story for three days and then they wait for the next victim that they’re going to pray on. So the thought was let’s put all of the resources of all of these people with platforms together under one umbrella globally. And let’s have a consistent message.

 

Our message is, it’s a sign language message, but it’s same here. It basically means one, the name of the organization is, we’re all a little crazy meaning mental health. Well it’s mental health exists on a spectrum and everyone can relate to that tongue in cheek term that you know, we all deal with things in our lives that affect us. And that throw us off a little bit. And the same here concept is I’ve gone through things. You’ve gone through things, let’s be open and let’s talk about it and you can talk about what you’re talking about on your podcast. And Theo Fleury could talk about what he talks about with sexual abuse and Shameeka could talk about what she talks about with suicide prevention. But if we’re all part of the same here community, we’re all a little crazy in there. We could have our individual brands and platforms, but it can stay consistently within the media that it’s part of this overall narrative that we all go through things, makes it easier for people to ask for help.

Host: Well I love it. And I wanted to share with the audience that the, some of the practitioners he has affiliated with the foundation are involved in integrative psychiatry, occupational therapy, yoga, breath work, Qigong, lifestyle therapy, genomics, nutrition, EMDR. I mean it’s quite extensive and I would really encourage you to take a look at his foundation. So Eric, where can people find you?

Eric Cousin: Sure. So funny enough name cause I can’t use a conjunction in a URL, but it’s, weareallalittlecrazy.org. So you literally write out, we are all a little crazy. It’s a.org instead of a.com and you could read the stories of the athletes and celebrities of their own mental health struggles as well as all the practitioners that you just mentioned to find a treatment that can work for you. Just like I was able to find for myself.

Host: It’s truly extraordinary work you’re doing. I need to have you back on the show because we only hit the tip of the iceberg. We didn’t even get to the treatments that work you. So would you come back on my show again?

Eric Cousin: I would be, I would be honored to, and I apologize in advance to the audience for speaking so much about the story itself.

Host: But it needs to be heard. It’s the hashtag Same Here Movement and Eric Cousins of We are all a little crazy. Thank you so much for your time today. You’ve been a wonderful guest.

Eric Cousin: Thank you so much for having me.

Host: Our guest today was Eric Cousin, founder of the global mental health Alliance. We Are All a Little Crazy. For those of you who are struggling with or know someone with mental health issues, I encourage you to seek the support offered through their Alliance. I’m Dr. Kristen Willeumier and thank you for listening.

Conclusion: You’ve been listening to Your Brain Health with Dr. Kristen Willeumier. For more information or to contact Dr. Willeumier, visit DrWilleumier.com. That’s D, R, W, I, L, L, E, U, M, I, E, R.com.